ABIT AV8 - More Socket 939

Introduction:

With the recent release of the new 90nm core of the A64 socket 939 chip, and the hopes of higher overclocks with the new, we will likely see a rush of people who have been waiting to change platforms finally take the plunge. Costs continue to go down on the newer socketed processor and the motherboards that support it, which will also fuel the drive to upgrade. Though it may still be hard for some to justify upgrading from a higher overclocked socket 754 A64 CPU, socket 939 is the future for AMD, and likely will support the dual core cpu from AMD in the not-to-distant future. We have already looked at socket 939 in detail here.

Today, we have another socket 939 motherboard to look at; this time the offering is from Abit. We have looked at many Abit products in the past, and have always been satisfied with the quality and the performance we have seen from them. So, let's take a look at the Abit AV8, and see if we are just as pleased with it as we have been with other Abit products in the past!


The Abit AV8

 

Now that we have seen the general features, let's check out the layout of the board.

The Layout

There was really nothing bad that stood out to us as we looked at Abit AV8. We have seen this layout, or at least a similar variation of it on other Abit boards, so we have become used to it.  All connectors are near the edge of the board, which makes things very nice for installs and for keeping cables out of the way.

Here we see the 4 DIMM slots that officially support Dual-Channel mode up to DDR400. You can install a maximum of 4GB memory. As you can see in the picture, the DIMM slots are also color coded to help you properly run your ram in dual-channel mode. There was plenty of clearance for the clips on the DIMM slots with our video card installed, and we think with any other card you would install as well.  You can see that right under the DIMM slots we have the floppy connector, which is nicely tucked away in the corner.

The North Bridge is passively cooled by a nice bluish aluminum heat sink. Using the stock HSF retention was a little bit problematic on this board, as it also was on another board we reviewed recently. The area around the cpu retention is crowded, and a first time DIY could easily damage a capacitor or something else on the board. This being said, the new A64 hsf is much easier to install than the previous generation AMD offerings.

On the bottom right of the board, we see the two IDE connectors and the SATA connectors. The SATA connectors are controlled by the VT8237 Southbridge. The IDE connectors are "flipped" on their side, which is a nice touch if you have a case that is large enough. Smaller cases tend to be a little too crowded to see the benefit of this. We also see the front panel connectors, the battery and the LED diagnostic lights.  The southbridge, bios and uGuru chips are also located in this area.

In the top left corner of the board, just behind the I/O ports, we find the ATX 20 pin and 12v connectors. This proved to be an acceptable location for both, as they never interfered with anything we happened to be doing throughout this review.

 

Sound/LAN/IEEE 1394/IO Ports

Sound is provided by the Realtek ALC65, which supplies 6-Channel sound with SPDIF. The VIA chip also supports 3 ports of IEEE 1394 at 100/200/400 Mb/s transfer rate. The LAN is also supported by VIA, but is done so by their PCI solution, and is not on-chip. The LAN is a 10/100/1000M LAN PCI Ethernet Controller.

The I/O port is a typical layout. As you can see, it comes with the ps2 keyboard and mouse connectors, 1 serial and 1 parallel port, optical S/PDIF input and output ports, 5 audio ports, 4 USB 2.0 connectors, a 1394 connector and a Gigabit LAN connector.

The BIOS

The ABIT bios has always been a personal favorite of mine. They are easy to navigate and usually give you all that you could want and need. We will highlight a few sections of interest in the bios.

The most interesting part of the bios is certainly the uGuru page. This gives you a wealth of info and the ability to have full control over the setting of your cpu and other important aspects. When you come into this page, it is actually divided into two parts: OC Guru (which is what most of us hardcore overclockers want to see!) and Abit EQ.  As you can see from the picture, the Abit EQ page is the page that you go to if you want to see all the things that can be monitored. Let's look at them:

Here we see the voltage monitoring. You have the ability to set the computer to shut itself off if any of these voltages gets out of whack. This is a very nice option, and could save your board in the extreme event that something just went haywire!

We also see the temps under the Abit EQ page. Only three are given, and once again, you have the ability to force a shutdown if any of the temps reach that threshold.

Ok, now for the juicy stuff! The OC Guru, which is under the uGuru page, is where you have all the tweaks for your fsb, multipliers, dividers and voltages.  Abit has included a multitude of settings to adjust to help you squeeze every ounce of performance out of your rig. We can see on this page that the fsb starts at 200 and goes all the way to 410 fsb! That is pretty amazing! We have multipliers available from 11 on down to 4.  Our retail 3500+ chip is locked after 11. That is true for all retail chips other than the FX series. The AGP/PCI lock does work on this board, unlike some of the other boards that first came out for the Socket 939 platform.

Vcore is selectable all the way up to 1.85, which should be enough for the air-cooling overclockers, but those going for broke with water and phase change would like to see at least 2.0! AGP voltage is selectable up to a respectable 1.65. Rarely does this do much for overclocking, so this is a fine limit.

We were very surprised to see the vdimm only go up to 2.8v. Abit has been generous in the past, allowing some of their boards to go up to 3.2v for the memory. The die hard overclocker in me wants to scream at this limitation! I would once again plead, "GIVE US OUR VDIMM!" Northbridge voltage is not something that has commonly been found on motherboards, and in our overclocking adventure it did little for us to increase this -- even up to the limit, 1.65 volts.

Another uncommon voltage to see in the bios was the southbridge voltage selector. This also had little if any affect in our overclocking. It is selectable up to 2.65. The last voltage on the page is the HyperTransport voltage. This was nice to have, and setting it up to 1.35 helped us to gain a few fsb higher.

Another very important page in the bios is the DRAM configuration page.  Abit has given us plenty here as well. You can set your ram divider from this page. The available dividers are: 400ddr, 333ddr, 266ddr and 200ddr.  A very important setting here is the DRAM command rate. This is selectable at either 1T or 2T. For best performance, you will want to keep 1T enabled if at all possible.  In our overclocking of the board, even though we could go higher by changing it to 2T, our benchmarks decreased considerably when we did that. Our suggestion would be to overclock as far as you can using the 1T command, and leave it there.

The Integrated Peripherals page will let you setup all your IDE drives, your SATA drives, and your Raid configuration. This page also lets you set up your sound, LAN, and IEEE 1394 devices, as seen in the second picture here.

Well, that is all of the interesting aspects of the Bios.

 

The Bundle

Abit always does a great job in packaging their boards. It is very attractive, and gives you what you need. The board comes with the backplate, 2 SATA connectors, and IDE and floppy connector. It also comes with the Driver/Utility CD, the RAID install floppy for windows, a USB/1394 header, and colorful, thorough documentation.

OK, let's get to the performance!

Test Setup/Benchmarking

Testing Procedure :

All testing was done on a fresh install of Windows XP Professional build 2600 with Service Pack 2 and DirectX 9.0c. All benchmarks were completed on the desktop with no other software programs running. No overclocking was done on the video card during any of this review.

Now for the results!

Memory Bandwidth Testing:

Everest 1.1 :

Everest 1.1 is a professional system information, diagnostics and benchmarking program for Win32 platforms.  It extracts details of all components of the PC. It also tests the actual read and write speeds of your memory to give a fairly accurate look of true memory performance.

 

ScienceMark 2.0 Beta:

ScienceMark 2.0 is different from other benchmarks, in a sense the benchmark tests a series of different memory bandwidth algorithms. To top it all off the assembly source for these copy routines is available online to help assure the benchmark is not biased towards any one platform in particular.

Results: The Abit and the MSI are neck and neck in these benchmarks. Actually it is really to close to call here, as both boards performed stellarly! . The dual channel on chip memory controller certainly allows AMD to score much higher than the single channel onboard solution in these tests.

Professional Testing

FutureMark; Bapco SYSmark2004:

SYSmark2004 provides an application-based benchmark that accurately reflects usage patterns for business users in the areas of Internet Content Creation and Office Productivity.

 

MAXON; CINEBENCH 2003:

CINEBENCH 2003 is the free benchmarking tool for Windows and Mac OS based on the powerful 3D software CINEMA 4D R8. The tool is set to deliver accurate benchmarks by testing not only a computer's raw processing speed but also all other areas that affect system performance such as OpenGL, multithreading, multiprocessors and Intel's new HT Technology.  Again, higher Frames/Second and lower rendering time in seconds equal better performance.

 

POV-Ray 3.6.0:

The POVRay benchmark is great for showing the performance levels of various processors and compilers by timing how long it takes for POV-Ray to render a standard image with standard parameters.

 

Futuremark; PCMark2004:

PCMark 04 is the latest version of the popular PCMark series. PCMark04 is an application-based benchmark and a premium tool for measuring overall PC performance. It uses portions of real applications instead of including very large applications or using specifically created code. This allows PCMark04 to be a smaller installation as well as to report very accurate results.

 

Results: Once again, both boards put up good numbers. The MSI bests the Abit in Sysmark, but we see the Abit pull ahead of the MSI in the rest of our professional testing. Let's move on to the synthetic testing!.

Synthetic Testing

FutureMark; 3dmark2001 SE, Build 330, 3dmark 2003, Build 340

 

Massive Development; AquaMark3:

The AquaMark3 executes a complete state-of-the-art game engine and generates 3D scenes designed to make the same demands on hardware as a modern game. The utilized game engine, the krass? Engine, has been used in Aquanox and AquaNox 2: Revelation as well as in the upcoming RTS Spellforce by Phenomic Game Development. AquaMark3 utilizes recent hardware features of the new DirectX 9 API, such as PixelShader 2.0, while staying fully backward compatible to DirectX 8 and 7 graphics hardware.

 

SuperPi 1.1e :

SuperPi calculates the number Pi in this raw number crunching benchmark. The benchmark is fairly diverse and allows the user to change the number of digits of Pi that can be calculated. In this benchmark we ran SuperPi to 4 million places.

Results: The Abit once again has a great showing here, leading in the 3dmark scores, pretty much neck and neck in aquamark, and then besting hte MSI by 2 seconds in superPI! Nice going Abit!

Let's move on to some more benchmarks.

Game Testing

Epic Games; Unreal Tournament 2003:

Using the full installation of Unreal Tournament 2003 along with the newest patch gives us a very nice real world benchmark!

 

FutureMark; 3dmark2005*

Results: *While we understand that 3dmark 2005 is fairly new and unproven, we still thought it would be interesting to throw it in here under the gaming benches. It is designed to be an indicator of how gaming performance can be in comparing systems. Though we would say it has not proven itself to be a good benchmark between different branded video cards, it may prove to be useful in judging the differences in similar systems such as we are doing here between these two motherboards. Once again the benchmarks are very close, UT 2003 is essentially a tie, but in 3dmark 2005, the MSI pulls slightly ahead.

Overclocking/Conclusion

Overclocking:

Many of you just skipped over the first several pages and came right to this point: HOW DID IT OVERCLOCK? Well, I encourage you to read the rest of the review, but this board did not disappoint in the overclocking area. Let me stress something one more time before I show you the results though. The setting of 1T on the DRAM command rate showed to be of great importance. Sure, you can run things with a higher fsb, but the 1T command rate is going to get you your ultimate performance. Now, even though I just said that, we did set the command rate at 2T for our ultimate overclock so we could see how high we could go. Once again, more vdimm would have been welcomed, as we would love to see what this board could do with the 3.2v option and 1T command going a little further. So, do you want to see what we got? Ok, here is our best 1:1 overclocking. Our ram was the hindrance here, as it could go no further with the vdimm available.

And finally, using a divider, we were able to reach this:

Conclusions:

This board brought me a lot of satisfaction! Once I got the ABIT AV8 set up and running, it was fast and enjoyable to work with. ABIT has built another quality board that is a great performer! The board overclocked very well, and with faster ram, I am sure we could have even pushed it higher with the memory at 1:1.  Using the divider, it was nice to see this board take off. 300 fsb is not out of the question at all with this board and the right ram/CPU combo. The only gripe I have, and I am sorry to beat a dead horse, but the lack of higher VDIMM options just leaves me frustrated. I just wonder what this thing would do with 3.2v! This board kept up with the nf3 chipset it was matched against, and if you compare it to our earlier review of the Asus Socket 939 offering, it also matched up very well against that. The bundle was satisfactory, but in this day, there is going to be little to make a board stand out other than the bundle. With the A64 having the memory controller right on the chip, it looks like most of these boards are going to perform right at the same level. That said, ABIT has a name that stands for confidence, and this board does nothing to hurt that reputation in my book.

Legit Bottom Line:

If you are ready to take the plunge into the world of A64 and a 939 pin motherboard, we would not hesitate to recommend you buy the Abit AV8. You will not be disappointed with its performance, or with the company that stands behind it!

The Abit AV8 is definitely worthy of the Editor's Choice Award