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It wasn’t so very long ago that a motherboard was just that, a large PCB that served as a home and an interconnect for the various components that made up your PC. In those days the only real consideration you needed to make before buying a motherboard was which chipset to opt for and which company was offering the best warranty and after sales service. How things have changed.
These days we see motherboards that come equipped with all manner of hardware and software based capabilities that allow us to tweak voltages, increase stock frequencies, control fan speeds in accordance with system temperatures, create and manage RAID arrays, run self diagnostics, produce multiple channels of audio and much, much more.
From their early days as nothing more than a digital switchboard, modern motherboards are now fully fledged control centres in every sense of the word, and with so many duties to perform there’s new emphasis on the stability of the BIOS, the quality of the individual components and the experience the manufacturer has in piecing hardware and software together in one, efficient package.
With so many products offering such a vast array of features how can you possible be expected to know which one is right for you? Well, it seems one of the ways to identify a quality motherboard is to look for a name consisting of four or less letters. Okay, so I’m not being entirely serious, but there is some truth in the fact that probably the four best known names in the enthusiast and mainstream motherboard market, Abit, Asus. MSI and Epox do fit the four letter criteria. Although the likes of Gigabyte, Chaintech and AOpen might have something to say about that.
Epox seems to have fallen from grace slightly since the glory days that made it the overclocker’s motherboard of choice but Abit, Asus and MSI continue to produce consistently fast and stable boards with a little of something for everyone. And it’s an ABIT board I’m looking at today, the AI7.
The AI7 is abased on Intel’s insanely popular i865 chipset, a mainstream version of the high end and theoretically faster i875 chipset. I say theoretically because it didn’t take long for motherboard manufacturers to realise that they could actually increase performance of the i865 in line with the i875 with nothing more than a little BIOS trickery. Of course Intel wasn’t happy about this but there’s no way any company with an eye on its bottom line could resist offering i875 performance from the cheaper i865 chipset. Abit has christened its version of this tweak “Game Accelerator” and claims that it offers up to 30 per cent better performance.
The “AI” part of the AI7’s moniker is particularly apt as this board comes equipped with Abit’s recently announced µGuru technology (pronounced Micro Guru), which is probably as close as we’ve come to artificial intelligence for motherboards. This little chip (actually a custom Winbond W83627HF) offers a host of new features designed to take functionality to new levels. Let’s have a quick rundown of what it offers:
Abit EQ: This is essentially a self-diagnostic feature whereby a range of hardware parameters are monitored in real time. These parameters include memory and CPU voltages, chipset voltage, the +5V and +12V power supply, AGP Voltage, CMOS battery condition, CPU and Northbridge fan speeds and CPU, system and power circuit temperatures. Based on these parameters the board can be set to shut the system down in order to prevent damage should readings venture outside a user defined high and low limit and/or adjust fan speeds based on current temperatures.
Abit OC Guru: This is a Windows based overclocking utility that allows manipulation of Front Side Bus frequency (in Turbo Mode) or Front Side Bus frequency, memory, CPU and AP voltages (in F1 mode). Settings can be set, saved and recalled for a variety of different situations and in the event of instability due to an over ambitious overclock, the system automatically reboots using its previous settings.
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