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Abit AX78 - Abit AX78
There's a neat OTES cooling system that links the Northbridge to the cooler on the power regulation hardware, which has four phases plus an extra phase for the memory. Also, the power connectors are superbly located and the memory slots have loads of space around them - all good stuff!
We also like the position of the four SATA connectors and IDE connector, which are laid down so they don't get in the way. Unfortunately, the floppy connector is at the foot of the board so you'll have to trail the ribbon cable across the top of your hardware, and this inconvenient positioning is a sign of things to come.
There's an LCD POST debug display and a flick switch on the I/O panel to clear the CMOS. Abit is clearly expecting you to overclock your Phenom like billy-oh with a consequential need to diagnose and fix problems when you overstep the mark. Perhaps no-one told Abit that Phenom doesn't overclock so the endless BIOS options to change every voltage or clock setting are irrelevant. Worse than that the memory performance of the AX78 is rather poor compared to the 790FX. This is the first AMD 770 I've seen so I can't be sure whether it's a chipset issue, a driver problem or something to lay at the door of the Abit BIOS but the memory test in PCMark05 is 20 percent slower than the 790FX. I tried two types of memory at 1,066MHz and 800MHz including the GeIL Evo One that I reviewed recently and when that didn't work I reinstalled Windows Vista which also made no difference. Graphics performance in PCMark05 and 3DMark06 was also slower than the 790FX, to the tune of ten percent, so it's not an isolated incident.
Then there's the I/O panel, which is a strange sight to behold as there is a large amount of fresh air. There are two PS/2 ports, six audio mini jacks, optical output, the BIOS flick switch, four USB 2.0 ports and Gigabit LAN. You can connect more case-mounted USB ports to the three headers on the board but it's a shame there aren't at least two more USB ports on the I/O panel and the absence of Firewire is also an issue.
I've had great success with Abit motherboards in the past and use an IP35 Pro as my preferred platform for testing mainstream Intel components. It's possible that Abit simply had a bad day with the AX78 but it seems more likely that they were somewhat stumped by the AMD 770 chipset. The list of features is rather short and the performance is unimpressive to say the least. On the upside, the price of the AX78 is very low so it's still worth considering if you want to go dual core.
The Abit AX78 is a cheap and competent AMD motherboard and if you fancy the low cost dual-core CPU route, it is worth a punt. If you think you want quad-core, though, we'd stick with Intel.