The nForce2 chipset made a pretty big splash in the enthusiast market for the AMD Platform. Packed with features, screaming performance and a price point that showed seriously good value for money made it a winner all round. Various versions and even a revised 'Ultra' edition appeared, and despite the fact that AMD have released the 64 bit processors to market, folks still want and need a decent 32 bit AMD platform, which for the foreseeable future will be the nForce2 chipset.
It therefore makes sense that manufacturers are still releasing motherboards based upon this chipset, each seeking to out perform or out least out 'feature' the rest. We all thought that had stopped with the impressive NF7-S v2.0 motherboard that matured into one of the best nForce2 motherboards on the market. However this isn't the case, as now have the AN7 motherboard making waves and bringing new features to the plate.
- Supports AMD-K7 Socket A 266/333/400 MHz FSB Processor
- NVIDIA nForce2 Ultra 400 chipset with MCP-T
- Integrated 128-bit memory controller
- Supports Advanced Configuration and Power Management Interface (ACPI)
- Accelerated Graphics Port connector supports AGP 8X/4X (0.8V/1.5V)
- Three 184-pin DIMM sockets
- Supports 3 DIMM Un-buffered DDR 266/333
- Supports 2 DIMM Un-buffered DDR 400
|SATA 150 RAID
- On board SATA PCI Controller
- Support 2 channels SATA 150 RAID 0/1
- On board Realtek 10/100 LAN
- 3 ports IEEE1394 Supports 400 Mb/s data transfer rate
- 6-Channel AC 97 CODEC on board
- Professional digital audio interface supports optical S/P DIF In/Out
- NVIDIA SoundStormTM Technology with real-time Dolby Digital 5.1 encoder
|ABIT Engineered Technology
- ABIT µGuru" Technology
- ABIT SoftMenu" Technology
- ABIT FanEQ" Technology
- ABIT MaxFID" Technology
- ABIT CPU ThermalGuard" Technology
- ABIT FlashMenu"
|Internal I/O Connectors
- 1 AGP 8X/4X slot, 5 PCI slots
- Floppy Port supports up to 2.88 MB
- 2 x Ultra DMA 33/66/100/133 Connectors
- 2 x SATA 150 Connectors
- 2 x USB headers, 1 x IEEE 1394a header, 2 x CD-IN
|Back Panel I/O
- 1 x PS/2 Keyboard, 1 x PS/2 mouse
- 1 x Serial Port connectors, 1 x Parallel Port connector
- 1 x S/P DIF Input, 1 x S/P DIF Output
- Audio connectors (Front Speaker, Line-in, Mic-in, Center/Sub, Surround Speaker)
- 2 x USB, 1 x IEEE1394 Connector
- 2 x USB, 1 x RJ-45 LAN Connector
- 245 x 305mm ATX form factor
When you compare the specifications to the previous nForce2 ultra 400 board ABIT released, the NF7-S you can see only a few differences. The AN7 is missing one Firewire header and also the iRDA header, but most notable is the inclusion of the new µGuru technology.
The box for the AN7 is surprisingly plain with only the µGuru being shown off to any great extent and just a blurred image I assume meant to indicate speed. Compared to what I'm used to seeing from ABIT this very toned down. Inside however everything is packed up in individual boxes which is great; allows you to use only what you need without having to store it all in one big box.
The extra's are ok but no way near up to the levels of the MAX series boards, which for ABIT's latest nForce2 motherboard you would expect a decent package overall. The Documentation is the best I've seen with any motherboard package as ABIT include a manual for the board, a manual for the µGuru, and a quick installation guide as well. ABIT also thoughtfully include a sticker labeling all the jumpers and headers on the motherboard to put in your case.
Priced at not much more than the NF7-S and with the Athlon64 out and about, the AN7 is very much a mainstream board for the AMD 32bit platform (perhaps this is the reason for the less than stellar extra's package?). The AN7 layout is very busy and filled especially in the top half but nothing seems to be overly cramped. Note the rounded corners on the now familiar orange PCB.
The socket for the CPU is nicely placed out of the way at the very top of the board. ABIT have chosen to once again include the now removed from AMD specifications mounting holes which are still used by many high performing cooling solutions. However with the CPU being placed right at the top and on the edge like it is, cooling solutions like the Prometia MACH II could have some issues mounting the hermetic cell. Irrelevant to the majority of users but thought I would mention it considering the likely audience and market (overclockers) for this board. Whilst the socket itself is pretty much clear of obstructions, moving towards the I/O panel we can see a bank of capacitors and mosfets along with the power connectors for the board. Having the power connectors here means they will drape wiring across the HSF for the CPU, so not the best placement.
The same shuriken style circular Northbridge heatsink as used on the NF7 is present using the standard push in clamps making for a nice easy swap for the watercooling crowd. ABIT have used only a dab of thermal paste and we advise you to swap this for some properly applied paste to get the best results.
The AGP and PCI slots (1 and 5 respectively) have a generous 1 PCI slot height gap between them to allow for oversized graphics cards, which is a great idea. Considering the onboard features 5 PCI slots should be plenty so no complaints there. Positioned at the bottom near the last PCI slot you can also see the Silicon Image SATA Link chip that provides the RAID 0/1 for the SATA150 connections and below it the 2 SATA headers. The AGP slot has the holding clip at the end and is far enough away from the Ram slots so as to not pose a problem for ATI Cards but the FX5950 being a lot larger still interfered with removal of Ram.
On the opposite side at the far bottom edge is the Diagnostic LED which will display different error codes in the event of a problem. Up above is the ALC658 chip responsible for the onboard Audio. This is actually an update on the original ALC655 chip used by previous boards and provides both optical in and out onboard. The ram slots are coloured 2 violet and 1 blue to indicate the Dual Channel slots but without the manual just having 2 different colours isn't enough to indicate which slots pair up. I've still yet to see any manufacturer come up with an acceptable 'at a glance' indication scheme for this, but for reference the singular slot must be filled to enable dual channel mode with either of the remaining two. Also at the edge near the top of the board is the floppy connector. This is a good place to put it as it should put it at just above the height of a standard floppy bay and allow for the extra reach to those with cases that have the floppy bay up top.
Below the ram slots we find the IDE headers, and as they did for the IC7 Max3, they are turned 90 degrees to face towards the front of the case rather than the side. Being on the edge like this is going to make cable tidying very easy indeed. Behind the IDE headers are the battery and the CMOS reset jumper. As has become standard for ABIT the jumper itself features a tail to make it easy to grab. Just below the battery is the headers for your IDE LED, Speaker, power switch, etc; this is personally not a placement I find ideal as being right on the bottom edge can make for a fiddly time as your fingers are pressed against the case bottom. Also in this area is the MCP-T.
Above the battery is the BIOS chip and to the left we find the µGuru chip, covered in a holographic sticker. We'll get more into this chip a bit later but suffice to say it is a system management chip that can control/monitor things such as fan speeds, voltages, and even FSB frequencies.
Few bad areas but mainly a good overall layout. The only really bad point is the power connector placements but I guess with a board like this that is full of onboard features something has got to give. One thing is certain; ABIT still aim the layout and features to be of best and most efficient use to the enthusiast but those with extreme cooling solutions and large mounting systems for the cooling might find the placement of the ZIF socket too high.