The ABIT IC7 we've previously reviewed proved to be very speedy and stable. The only drawback was the missing features found on the high-end IC7-G, as well as some issues running at a 1:1 CPU and Memory ratio (resolved with a later BIOS update) over 250 FSB.
Going back to the drawing board, ABIT made some drastic changes to the IC7 by adding their patented OTES cooling technology, Secure IDE, fixing the 250+ FSB 1:1 memory issue, as well as other optimizations now that the 82875P has matured. Today, we'll be reviewing ABIT's newest flagship, the IC7-MAX3.
You can read the full , but I will go over some of the important stuff now. As with all of their top-end boards, ABIT tosses everything in but the kitchen sink, which is a good thing since having a sink thrown at you can do more than stub your toe.
Naturally, 800FSB CPUs, AGP8x, Dual Channel DDR and (Intel's Communication Streaming Architecture) CSA are all supported thanks to the 875P MCH. Designed for enthusiasts, the Northbridge is kept cool with a very nice orb heatsink.
The ICH5R Southbridge takes care of business by supporting USB 2.0, SATA (RAID supported), six-channel audio, as well as legacy ATA100 and 10/100 Ethernet. The 875P also supports Hyper-Threading, so those of you with HT apps and compatible OS will get a bit of a performance boost.
Although the board natively supports Intel RAID Technology, ABIT included a Silicon Image SATA controller for additional IDE and RAID support. There is also an Intel Gigabit Ethernet controller, which isn't a standard now, but if you got the wiring and appropriate routers, you'll have the fastest Intranet on the block. For sound, the robust Realtek ALC650 makes another appearance here.
All the features thus far were found on ABIT's previous IC7 boards, so what makes the IC7-MAX3 so special? Well, it's no secret that the hot spot on any motherboard is the CPU area. The CPU generates a lot of heat, as does the Northbridge, and the surrounding mosfets and capacitors.
Introducing the OTES
You already have cooling for the CPU, and a heatsink/fan covers the MCH, so to address the other heat sources, ABIT implemented their OTES cooling technology to take care of that.
What is nice about this is that no case mods will be required to install this board, though you'll need to use the modified back plate, which is included. In practice, there is a fair amount of heat vented out the back of the case through the OTES fan, and I shudder to think how much heat was trapped there before.
The ABIT IC7-MAX3
Lately, ABIT has made some nice changes to their packaging where smaller boxes contain the manuals, drivers, cabling, and other accessories. This packaging will keep things organized for one thing, as well as preventing these accessories from bouncing around during shipping.
There is a special back plate supplied for the IC7-MAX3 to accommodate the newly designed back I/O panel of the motherboard, and the OTES cooling. ABIT also tossed in a round IDE and floppy cable, as well as four SATA cables. No regular IDE ribbon cables are provided, though this may not be an issue with some of you. Personally, I'm not a big fan of round cables, but my opinion may be in the minority.
The Secure IDE allows you to encrypt your hard drive with a physical key. The encryption level is 40 bit, which should be more than enough for the home user. You need to attach this between your hard drive and IDE connection to use it. It's a shame that SATA users are out of luck here, as I would have liked to make use of this device.
Removing the packing boxes reveals the ABIT IC7-MAX3. The layout is similar to that of the IC7, but it's worthwhile to go over a few key areas. Looking at the socket area, you'll see the OTES cooling setup covering all the primary mosfets and capacitors.
Although most heatsinks should be fine, there will be some inconvenience with the standard Intel cooler. As you can see above, the space is a bit tight where the clip connects to the socket. Although installing the heatsink wasn't difficult, I had a bit of trouble removing it. I only have a few Intel coolers (Swiftech MCX4000, Vantec Aeroflow and a CopperX), and they all fit. It's just tight.
Along with the AGP8x, you have five PCI slots for your expansion needs. Considering the quality of the onboard peripherals, I think this should be more than enough slots for the majority of users.
Thinking of putting together a server or high-end workstation? With six SATA connections, four from the Silicon Image controller, and two standard IDE connections, your storage options are pretty impressive.
Rounding things off are the ram slots and the back I/O panel. In order to enable Dual Channel mode, you'll have to install the ram in pairs in slots 1+3 or 2+4. Other than the fan for the OTES system, you have four USB, surround sound, the NIC and PS/2 connections.