Abit AT7-MAX2 Motherboard Review

Admin - 2007-02-24 21:56:21 in Motherboards
Category: Motherboards
Reviewed by: Admin   
Reviewed on: January 14, 2003
Abit
GF City Computers
Price: $155 USD

Introduction:



Abit has been one of my favorite, if not my favorite, motherboard company of all times. I like their motherboards because they pack them with high performance parts, the bios is always overclocker friendly, and their tech support is good. Today, we'll be looking at the Abit AT7-MAX2 Socket A motherboard which uses the VIA KT400 chipset. The last motherboard that we reviewed was a few months ago, on the Asus A7V8X. This board did well on the benchmarks so it should make a good candidate for comparisons in our Abit AT7-MAX2 review.

When Abit launched their MAX (first series) motherboard, they shocked everyone when they didn't included PS/2 ports! I don't think the computer industry was ready to give up their PS/2 ports, not yet anyway. Abit's whole idea about the MAX series motherboard was to get rid of older and outdated legacy ports like the PS/2 ports, Serial ports, Parallel port, and ect. They also gave the MAX series USB 2.0 thorought, along with on-board sound and LAN.


Since then, Abit has came out with the MAX2 series motherboard and it includes some new technologies such as the Serial ATA (SATA 150). Abit has also brought back the PS/2 ports! I think that was a very good call on their part, and they should do much better with the MAX2 series motherboards because of that.



Features



  • DDR400 Support
  • Serial ATA (SATA 150)
  • Raid (ATA 133)
  • AGP 8X (Version 3.0)
  • (6) USB 2.0 Ports (Fast USB)
  • (2) Firewire Ports
  • 6 Channel Audio
  • S/PDIF Out
  • 10/100 LAN
  • 4 Dimm slots (up to 3.5GB)

    Specifications:



    Processor

    - AMD Socket A Duron (100MHz FSB) Processors up to 1.3GHz
    - AMD Socket A Athlon (100/133MHz FSB) Processors up to 1.4GHz.
    - AMD Socket A Athlon XP Processors up to 2600+

     Chipset
    - VIA KT400 / VT8235
    - Supports Hi-Speed UniversaSeriaBus (USB 2.0)
    - Supports Advanced Configuration and Power Management Interface (ACPI)
    - Accelerated Graphics Port connector supports AGP 4X/8X (1.5V/0.8V)

     Memory
    - Four 184-pin DIMM sockets
    - Supports 2 DIMM DDR 333/400 (Max. 2GB)
    - Supports 3 DIMM Un-buffered DDR 200/266 (Max. 3GB)
    - Supports 4 DIMM Registered DDR 200/266 (Max. 3.5GB)

     SerialATA
    - On board Marvel88i8030 Controller x 2
    - Support SATA data transfer rates 150 MB/s (1.5G bps)

     RAID
    - High Point HPT374 IDE RAID Controller supports Ultra DMA 33/66/100/133
    - RAID 0/1/0+1(striping + mirroring mode for boosting performance and data security)

     Audio
    - 6-ChanneAC 97 CODEC on board
    - Professional digital audio interface supporting 24-bit SPDIF OUT

     Media XP (Optional)
    - Supports card reader function for Memory Stick™, Secure Digital™ and Type I/II CompactFlash
    - Supports Wireless Remote Control and S/PDIF Out / Mic In / Headphone Out / USB 2.0 / IEEE 1394

     System BIOS
    - SoftMenu™ Technology to set CPU parameters
    - Supports Plug-and-Play (PNP)
    - Supports Advanced Configuration Power Interface (ACPI)
    - Supports Desktop Management Interface (DMI)
    - Write-Protect Anti-Virus function by AWARD BIOS

     LAN
    - On board 10/100Mb Operation supports ACPI & Wake on LAN

     IEEE 1394
    - Supports IEEE 1394a at 100/200/400 Mb/s transfer rate

     InternaI/O Connectors
    - 1 x AGP, 5 x PCI slots
    - Floppy Port supports up to 2.88MB
    - 4 x Ultra DMA 33/66/100/133 Connectors
    - 2 x SeriaATA 150 Connectors
    - 2 x USB headers, 1 x IEEE 1394a header
    - 1 x CD-IN, 1 x AUX-IN

     Back Panel I/O
    - 1 x PS/2 Keyboard, 1 x PS/2 mouse
    - 4 x USB, 2 x IEEE 1394
    - 1 x S/PDIF Output
    - Audio connectors (Front Speaker, Line-in, Mic-in, Center/Sub, Surround Speaker)
    - 2 x USB, 1 x RJ-45 LAN Connector

     Miscellaneous
    - ATX form factor
    - Hardware monitoring - Including Fan speeds, Voltages, System environment temperature



    What's Included

  • Manual
  • Motherboard Faceplate
  • CD (drivers)
  • Floppy (raid drivers)
  • USB 2.0 redirect ports
  • IDE to Serial ATA converter
  • Nylon Ties and Clamps
  • (2) ATA 133 IDE Cables
  • (1) Serial ATA Cable
  • (1) Floppy Cable



    Closer Look:





    On this motherboard you will find a total of four 184-pin DIMM sockets that supports DDR 200/266/333/400. You may use all four slots for DDR 200 & 266 and you can install a maximum of 3.5Gb of registered memory and 3Gb of un-registered memory. You may only use two DIMM slots if you choose to use DDR 333 or 400 for a maximum of 2Gb of memory.




    The two IDE controllers support ATA 66/100/133 devices.




    This board has a Marvel 88i8030 Controller x 2 to support SATA data transfer rates of 150 MB/s. SATA is a brand new technology and it's hard to located hard drives that support SATA. Right now, SATA on this motherboard won't do you much good but when SATA support hard drives hit the market, you'll be ready for them. Abit did include a IDE to SATA converter for your existing hard drives. However, you will not get 150 MB/s transfer rate since the hard drive is limited by older technology (ATA 100).




    As always Abit chooses HighPoint Technologies to control the onboard RAID functions. The HighPoint HPT374 chip is capable of controlling four-channel Ultra DMA/ATA133 devices, which is 8 Ultra DMA/ATA 133 disk devices, with a PCI burst transfer rate up to 133MB/Sec. Among other features it supports; RAID 0, RAID 1, RAID 0/1, JBOD (Span), hotswap, and bootable disks.




    The VIA VT8235 chip makes intergraded USB 2.0 possible on this motherboard. USB 2.0 is the newer and much faster USB standard which is what all USB devices will soon support. However, you need not to worry about buying USB 2 devices because USB2 is backwards compatible, which means it can run USB 1.0 devices (older USB devices).




    The AGP port on this motherboard is version 3.0 which supports up to 8X video cards with up to 2.1GB/s of bandwidth. This insures that the AGP port isn't the bottleneck for future high performance graphics cards. This AGP slot also has a locking mechanism to keep your AGP video card from coming out of the slot. This is great for people that frequently attend LAN parties or for anyone that moves their computer around often for that matter.




    The CPU layout is like other Abit motherboards I have had, and it seems to work fairly well. There isn't a compasiter in the way of the heatsink installation, which is good. However, I wish they would flip the socket around 90 degrees so that heatsink installation would be much easier.




    This motherboard has a P4 style power connector. Not all power supplies will have a wire to fit this, if yours doesn't, don't worry as connecting it is optional. This extra connector helps to balance the wattage on your power supply and it can help a lot if you have tons of case fans or you are overclocking your system. Bottom line is if your power supply has the connector, plug it in.




    Now, lets have a look at the butt of this motherboard. I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw all of the USB ports! What you see, is only the start of them too! There is two USB ports on the motherboard so that you can run a two more redirect USB ports to the back of your computer. Abit couldn't have put this many USB ports on a motherboard at any better time. I think in 2003 we'll see a lot of people switching to USB from LPT, Serial, and PS/2. Another technology we will see grow even more is firewire or sometimes referred to as IEEE 1394. Abit has accommodated this board with two firewire ports to support any firewire devices that you may have. Unfortunately, I don't have any firewire devices so I can't take advantage of these ports.




    As I have already said, Abit has brought the PS/2 ports back with the Max 2 series motherboard because the demand for PS/2 was so high. I was ready to give up my PS/2 keyboard, but then they brought the PS/2 ports back from the dead. On the back of the motherboard you will also find a 10/100 Mbps ethernet port. I really can't understand why Abit didn't make this port support 1000 mbps, maybe they felt the demand isn't high? I still think they should of made it support gigabit, because it wouldn't have cost much more to make the board for such a seaming less feature.

    This motherboard has an onboard Realtek ALC650 sound chip. This chip allows 5.1 surround sound and it also has AC3 support. This sound chip is very decent to say the least, but nothing compares to a Sound Blaster Audigy sound card. The black square looking port is the 24-bit SPDIF out. There is also a mic and a headphones jack which are good for lan parties.

    Configuration:



    BIOS

    Abit knows exactly what we overclockers and power users want in a motherboard and in a BIOS. We want the ability to customize, adjust, and tweak every aspect of the BIOS without using any jumpers on the motherboard. The main menu was really the same old thing that everyone has seen so I didn't take any pictures of it. Instead I jumped right in to the heart of the bios, the Soft Menu III setup screen. On this screen you can adjust the FSB, Multiplier, FSB Ratio, and your voltages. The FSB can be adjust from 100 to 200 in 1 Mhz increments. The best thing about this is that they have done away with the FSB menu style (like you still see on the Multiplier). Now you can simply type in the FSB you want, which is much easier and more adjustable. Under the FSB setting you will find the Multiplier setting. The Multiplier setting is menu based and has a range of 5x to 22.5x which will allow support for future CPU's.




    The FSB ration leaves plenty of room so that you can achieve good overclocks. This is the first time that I have seen the 5:2:1 ratio setting. This should make for some interesting overclocks.




    I was astonished to see that the Vcore was adjustable from 1.1 volts to 2.325 volts. This is very good for overclockers because there really shouldn't be any need for a voltage mod to be conducted on this motherboard since the vcore can be adjusted to go that high. A few motherboard support voltage this high but you had to move a jumper on the motherboard, which was always a pain.




    The PCHealth information screen had one new feature that my Abit KX7-333 didn't have, the CPU Surface Temp. The CPU Surface temperature is well, the temperature on the surface of your CPU. This temperature will be almost identical to a CompUNurse probe reading. The CPU Core temperature will be the most accurate temperature reading that you can get from the CPU. All of the other features are well known, like the CPU shutdown temperature (you should turn this on), CPU fan failsafe, and CPU warning temperature.




    The Dram Clock/Drive screen allows you to adjust your memory settings. The DRAM clock can be setup to high as 200Mhz but when we set it to this setting our PC-3200 memory prevented the system from booting. The default settings on this screen will work fine, but if you are looking for a performance boost you can adjust many of these settings to achieve just that. The CAS setting can do 1.5 but our memory could only handle 2.0. I plan on buying some better memory and maybe with that, the system will boot with all of these settings on high.




    From the Advance Screen (not shown) you can go in to the On Board PCI Devices screen. From this screen you can manually turn off USB 2.0, Firewire, and the ATA 133 Raid Controller if you don't plan to use it. If you're not going to be using RAID you can turn it off to reduce boot up time and also to free up a IRQ.



    Testing:



    Benchmarks

    Testing Setup #1 (Abit AT7-MAX2)
  • Abit AT7-MAX2 Motherboard
  • Athlon XP 1800+ Thoroughbred CPU
  • 256MB PC-2100 DDR Memory
  • DangerDen Water Cooler

    Testing Setup #2 (Asus A7V8X)
  • Asus A7V8X Motherboard
  • Athlon XP 1800+ Thoroughbred CPU
  • 256MB PC-2100 DDR Memory
  • DangerDen Water Cooler



    CPU Benchmarks



    The SiSoft Sandra CPU tests were so close, it isn't even funny. The Abit AT7-MAX2 beat the Asus A7V8X in all of these tests, but only by a few points. It's really too close to tell which board is the best performer.




    I found it interesting that the Asus A7V8X beat the Abit AT7-MAX2 in the PCMark2002 Pro CPU test, but again there is only a few points difference between the two.

    Memory Benchmarks




    During the SiSoft Sandra & PCMark2002 Pro memory tests, the points were close but the winner was definitely the Asus A7V8X.

    Hard Drive Benchmark



    Finally there is a score that clearly shows which board is better in the category. In the hard drive category, the Abit AT7-MAX2 is clearly the winner. Both boards were set to ATA-66 (highest support by my hard drive), and they both were tested under the same conditions.
  • Testing (Cont.)



    Benchmarks

    Graphics Benchmarks





    NBench is a program, made by AMD, that measures the ability of a CPU to render complex 3D scenes. Since NBench is created by AMD, it has been optimized for AMD setups such as ours. The AT7-MAX2 won in this test by a small margin. In the 3DMark2001 SE benchmark we see that the A7V8X won by almost 200 points! I would have thought that the AT7-MAX2 would have won since it beat the A7V8X in the NBench test, but this was not the case. Comanche is a great game for benchmarking and we have recently added it to our benchmarking. The A7V8X had a better average FPS than the AT7-MAX2 by about 1.5 FPS, which noticeable. During the Unreal Tournament 2003 Fly-by benchmark the Asus A7V8X again proves that it is the superior board when it comes to graphics and use of memory.

    Overall Benchmark Average




    This is something new we are starting to do with our benchmarks. We take the average from all of the tests performed and get the two numbers in the graphic. This shows which board is the best "all-around" board in graphics, memory, and CPU performance. Because these boards were so close in the tests, this average doesn't show a large margin between the two, but in future tests we plan on testing more than two motherboard for comparisons. The average shows that the AT7-MAX2 is the better all-around board when it comes to performance, despite the fact that it almost lost every benchmark to the Asus A7V8X. I think the hard drive benchmark helped the AT7-MAX2 in our Overall benchmark.

    Conclusion:

    The AT7-MAX2 wasn't everything that I expected because of the performance factor. I really thought that this board would have out preformed the Asus board by a long shot, but it did not. On the other hand, maybe if I was to adjust all of the settings and tweak the BIOS on both boards, the Abit would stand to be the better board by a larger margin. However, that's just me speculating and I won't know until I have done that. What we do know is that the Asus A7V8X is very comparable in performance to the AT7-MAX2. Since both of these boards are so close in comparison by performance you'll have to look at other reasons as to why you would be one over the other. The three things that come to my mind are; cost, features, and personal preference. I did a quick search on pricewatch.com and found that the Asus A7V8X w/ RAID costs $121 & the Abit AT7-MAX2 costs $145. This is likely due to the fact that the AT7-MAX2 is a little newer than the A7V8X. I think features would have to go to the AT7-MAX2 because of the wide range of vcore, fsb ratio, and multiplier settings in the bios. Also, because of the number of USB 2.0 ports on this board. I have been a very big Abit motherboard fan ever since I can remember, so my personal preference definitely goes to the AT7-MAX2. If you're an overclocker you'll definitely want to buy the Abit board. If you're looking to save $20 bucks, by all means look in to buying the A7V8X board.

    Pros:


    Cons: