With all the fuss about the new Intel chipsets, DDR2 memory, new CPUs and PCI Express, one might wonder if there is a path for people who want to upgrade their PC, but want to stick with their AGP graphics card and DDR memory. The good news is that ABIT already has a product ready if you fancy a new Socket-T processor, but don’t want to replace your AGP GeForce 6800 Ultra that finally arrived in the post last week.
The ABIT AS8 is one of the first hybrid boards on the market. You might be a little disappointed when you find out that the chipset is the older i865PE rather than one of the new PCI Express chipsets, but as there is no support for AGP in Intel’s new chipsets, this is one of the few ways around the upgrade problem.
There is of course the option to wait for VIA to release its new chipset with support for AGP and PCI Express, but if you want to go Intel only, then I’m afraid you’re going to have to stick with an older chipset.
ABIT has managed to put together a very good motherboard here and the AS8 has pretty much every feature you could possibly wish for, but it is not a perfect board. Let’s take a look at the good points first, with the main one being support for the Socket-T processors and the new four-pin CPU fans. The AS8 has one AGP slot and four PCI slots, which might not be as good as some boards, but the new CPU socket takes up a bit more space than the old one.
As with any other i865PE board you’ll find support for S-ATA and eight USB 2.0 ports, on top of this, ABIT has added FireWire and 10/100Mbit Ethernet as well as 5.1-channel sound. As ABIT is using ICH5-R the S-ATA connectors can be set up in a RAID configuration. Around the back are two PS/2 ports, single serial and parallel ports, optical S/PDIF in and out, discrete 5.1-channel sound outputs, four USB 2.0 ports, a single FireWire port and the Ethernet port.
A bracket is supplied which hosts a further two USB 2.0 ports and one six-pin and one four-pin FireWire connector. This leaves a USB header that can be used with a case that supports front USB ports. One of my favourite features with ABIT motherboards is the LED display that shows up POST 80 debug codes - this makes it very easy to locate problems on the motherboard with the help of the manual.
The angled IDE connectors on the edge of the board are another great feature, making it a lot easier to create a tidy installation. However, ABIT should have paid a bit more attention here as the bottom IDE connector covers half of one of the motherboard mounting holes, making it impossible to fasten the far-side lower corner of the motherboard to your case. This might not be a major issue, but it is annoying nonetheless and should have been addressed before the board went into production.
The new chipset heatsinks are of a design that is completely new to me. The main cooler has the fan standing on its side blowing cool air across the tall heatsink and on towards the back of the graphics card. This might even aid the graphics card cooling to some degree as the chipset doesn’t tend to get that hot. The ICH has also been given a heatsink with an ABIT logo, but this is a case of looks over function as there is no real need for a heatsink on the ICH.