955X-based mobo shoot-out
We test the top LGA755 motherboards
Common to this trio of motherboards is Intel's ICH7R southbridge, replete with four on-chip Serial ATA 2 ports, HD audio and copious amounts of USB 2.0 connectivity. ABIT carries over a few of its better features from other deluxe models. The large ASIC just below the four SATA ports is ABIT's µGuru monitoring/tweaking chip. It provides a wealth of voltage/speed manipulation options. To the right is the customary big-headed clear CMOS jumper, and below that is the useful debug LED display that stops at a number or code, during the POST sequence, if something goes awry. It's also nice to see colour-coded motherboard-to-case pins, as well.
Intel's ICH7R doesn't provide support for FireWire, so each manufacturer here has to integrate ASICs themselves. Texas Instruments continues to be ABIT's high-end provider of choice, with both the company's TSB82AA2 and TSB81BA3 ASICs working in tandem to deliver two 1394b ports and a single 1394a port.
Moving on around and past the two PCI slots and the backwards-facing slot that ABIT uses to add an audio riser card, we see two x1 PCI Express slots just below the longer x16 slot that's reserved for graphics cards. ABIT's Fatality motherboards concentrated on performance and overclocking before all else. The AW8-MAX, however, is a well-rounded board in most respects, including features. Adding to the four on-chip SATA ports are another couple run off Silicon Image's Sil3112A PCIe controller, which sits to the right of the board's clock generator. Keeping the features flowing are a couple of Broadcom BCM5789 Gigabit Ethernet controllers. It's just as well that the i955X chipset supports up to 22 PCI Express lanes.
The need to use an additional audio riser card becomes apparent when you look at the I/O section. ABIT's Silent OTES system takes up a chunk of space, leaving room for a single FireWire port (1394a), good ol' PS/2 and four USB 2.0 ports.
Intel's i955X chipset is one where partners usually show just how many goodies they can add on to their respective boards without overcomplicating layout. ABIT's done a pretty good job of both keeping up features count high and ensuring that layout and accessibility remain clean.
ABIT's extra-large box is required to hold the motherboard, soundcard and two accessory boxes. ABIT needs to add an additional audio riser card due to the lack of space present in the I/O section. Like the others, it's driven by Intel's High-Definition ICH7 audio and, in this case, the audio stream is converted by Realtek's ALC882M eight-channel codec. Similarly, it also meets Dolby Master Studio Technology's specifications. We'd be surprised if many i955X boards don't feature the Dolby Master Studio sticker on the box.