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ABIT AI7 ABIT AI7: We take a look at ABIT's latest Pentium 4 solution, featuring the Game Accelerator and the µGuru hardware monitoring.
Date: January 23, 2004
Manufacturer:
Written By:
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Funny how when building a new rig, I would choose the motherboard I used based on past experience with a brand, included feature set, and cost. That last one is a doozy, I mean, at the heart of my new system lies a piece of equipment that can make or break performance, and I use cost to determine what I will use& I hate to say it, but dollars still come into play when I am building a new rig today.

Lucky for me, and several of you, many manufacturers have been making cost effective high performance motherboards to drive our performance needs and keep a few dollars in our pockets so we can buy that "next" level of cpu. Today I get the opportunity to explore such a motherboard, the ABIT AI7.

The AI7 is the latest i865PE (Springdale) based motherboard from ABIT. Included is ABIT's "µGuru" technology, which adds additional end user reporting functionality and control while running a windows based operating system, unfortunately, nothing here for the nix users.

The AI7 motherboard is so complete, I am starting to wonder what I need PCI slots for (I am currently using none). They even included a Molex to SATA Power converter . Let's go over the specifications.

Specifications

Processor
- Supports Intel Pentium 4 /Celeron CPU (Northwood)
- Supports Intel Hyper-Threading Technology
- New power design for Prescott CPU
- Front Side Bus: 800/533/400MHz
Chipset
- Intel 865PE / ICH5-R
- Supports Dual Channel DDR 400 Memory
- Supports Advanced Configuration and Power Management Interface (ACPI) & FMB 1.5
Memory
- Four 184-pin DIMM sockets
- Supports 4 DIMM Dual Channel DDR 400 memory (Max. 4GB)
AGP & Serial ATA RAID
- Accelerated Graphics Port connector supports AGP 8X/4X (0.8V/1.5V)
- 2 channels Serial ATA 150MB/s data transfer rate with RAID 0 / 1
LAN
- On board Realtek 10/100 LAN
USB 2.0 & IEEE 1394
- 8 ports USB 2.0 Supports 480 Mb/s data transfer rate
- 3 ports IEEE1394 Supports 400 Mb/s data transfer rate
Audio
- On board Realtek ALC658 6-channel CODEC
- Automatically Audio Jack Sensing
- S/PDIF Input & Output Interface
ABIT Engineered Technology
- SoftMenu" Technology
- TweakGuard"
- ABIT µGuru Technology: ABIT EQ", FanEQ", ABIT OC Guru, ABIT Audio EQ, FlashMenu", Black box
Internal I/O Connectors
- 1 x AGP, 5 x PCI slots
- 1 x Floppy Port supports up to 2.88MB
- 2 x Ultra DMA 33/66/100 Connectors
- 2 x SATA 150 Connectors
- 2 x USB 2.0 headers
- 2 x IEEE 1394 headers
- 1 x CD-IN, 1 x AUX-IN
- Front Panel Audio Connector
- CPU/Classis/Power/FAN1/FAN2 FAN Connector
- 20-pin ATX Power Connector
- 4-pin ATX Power Connector
Back Panel I/O
- 1 x PS/2 Keyboard, 1 x PS/2 mouse
- 1 x Printer Port, 1 x COM port
- 1 x S/PDIF In connector, 1 x S/PDIF Out connector
- 1 x Audio connector (For Front Speaker, Line-in, Mic-in)
- 1 x Audio connector (For Center/Sub, Surround Speaker)
- 2 x USB 2.0, 1X IEEE 1394 Connector
- 2 x USB 2.0, 1 x RJ-45 LAN Connector
Miscellaneous
- ATX form factor (305 x 245 mm)
- Hardware Monitoring Including Fan speed, Voltages, CPU and System temperature

I have been using ABIT motherboards for some time now, and like many of you, have become very comfortable with their "Softmenu" system, which has continued to develop over the years. By no means am I ABIT biased; my motherboard stable currently contains an ABIT IC7, ABIT NF7, MSI 645 Ultra, ECS K7S5A Pro (can you say cost) and an Asus P3V4x (yes, it is old, but it still rocks). So as you can see, my motherboard tastes are all over the place. If I were to say what motherboard manufacturer I favored, it would have to be one that makes a high quality affordable one&

The ABIT AI7

Installing the AI7, like many new boards that have several rear connectors, was somewhat painful. How was it painful you ask? Well, a couple of cuts / scrapes later I got it installed. The section in particular I am speaking of is the rear I/O plate. There used to be one or two grounding tabs that you had to lift or slide the board under, now there are at least four, some have five or more. The really painful ones are the IEEE-1394 tabs, OUCH.

Well I get past the pain and install the CPU and memory; you might notice at this point that the CPU Socket is angled at 45 degrees from the H/S support. I am not sure if this is to be "unique" or if there is some advantage (trace runs or cooling) to having the CPU positioned this way, unfortunately, it is covered up as soon as you put the H/S Fan on it.

As for the memory, ABIT was nice enough to color code which slots go with which when you are running it in Dual DDR mode, nice touch.

Next I install the add-on cards, which is only the video card at this point. It's nice to be able to install the memory or video card in either order, as with the AI7 setup, neither interferes with each other. Lastly, I connect the SATA / IDE / Floppy cables, everything else is laid out nicely with the exception of the floppy cable. Why would they put that at the bottom of the board?

There are several nice touches that ABIT includes to allow you to get up and running quickly. First off is the "Quick Start" guide, this is a concise three page (per language) manual that goes over the basic setup of your hardware, this would include the USB/IEEE-1394 Headers. Second is a "Jumper Settings" sticker that you can place on the inside of your side panel (unless its clear that is), I have seen this on HP/Compaq servers, and it's a nice point of reference if someone else needs to get into your machine. Might even help those that don't open the case much.

The BIOS

A look at some of the BIOS pages shows what we have all come to expect from ABIT, and a little more. ABIT has included "GAT", aka Game Accelerator Technology, to allow first time overclockers a better comfort level with memory timings, not that even an enthusiast is comfortable with memory timings.

The BIOS is probably one of the top 10 reasons someone would build their own PC instead of buying it off an assembly line. The assembly line ~$400 PC's are fixed; you get what you get, with minimal ability to modify performance.

ABIT uses the Phoenix Award BIOS, which has been their staple since the early days. You can see that the bios screens used on the AI7 are inline with what we are used to seeing from ABIT.

My favorite, Softmenu, has a new added feature called "Instant OC", press the F8 key and the settings you have changed are implemented immediately . Within the "softmenu" submenu, you have the ability to control the CPU speed, North Bridge multiplier, and DRAM Ratio, as well as the voltages and frequency of the AGP/PCI bus.

The CPU voltages allow you to apply up to 1.9V, a little high for my taste, but if you have a good water cooling solution, you could use it and keep the cpu within temps. DDR voltage allows you to 3.0V, a very aggressive setting as most motherboards stop in the 2.8V range.

Going into the "Advanced Chipset" submenu, we find the now familiar "Game Accelerator" section. This allows you to boost performance relative to typical gaming. Under the "Onboard PCI Device" submenu, there was an interesting setting, I enabled and disabled "Enhance Performance" with no change to the NIC throughputs. The manual says that this setting makes the NIC the first priority on the PCI bus. With my setup, this is irrelevant.

NEXT


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