As AMD is progressing further down its Athlon 64 roadmap one would expect the motherboard manufacturers to follow, but there is still a huge market for the Athlon XP family of processors, especially as the cost of the Athlon XP chips is dropping by the day. The Asus A7N8X-E is a prime example of the latest generation of Socket-A motherboards with a wealth of features that just can’t be ignored if you’re looking to build an Athlon XP system.
As with many other boards the A7N8X-E is based on the nVidia nForce2 chipset and Asus is using the Ultra 400 flavour as well as the MCP-T. This means that there is support for the Athlon XP 3200+ and PC3200 memory. The MCP-T adds integrated 10/100Mbit Ethernet, Dolby Digital 5.1-channel sound and FireWire to the more common features such as USB 2.0. Asus has taken advantage of all of the integrated features in the chipset and thrown in a few more for good measures. There’s a Silicon Image S-ATA RAID controller with support for two S-ATA drives, a Marvell Gigabit Ethernet controller and to top it all off, an Asus 802.11b WiFi card.
I’m not entirely sure why Asus has decided to fit three different network controllers on this motherboard as the wireless and the Gigabit option should have been more than enough. If however, you plan to use the A7N8X-E as an internet connection sharing system, then everything you need is in the box. This would obviously be more costly than a wireless router, but it can still be used as a PC.
A quick mention of the Asus WiFi@home card - this is a standard 802.11b, 11Mbit/sec adapter, but Asus has, somewhat foolishly in my opinion, decided not to supply a PCI card. Instead Asus has integrated a proprietary connector which you can find on most of its current range of motherboards. This means that if you change your motherboard at a later stage and go with a non Asus product, you will not be able to use the WiFi@home card with it. That said, you’d probably want a faster wireless card by then anyway. The supplied antenna could be an issue, as it is the type that has to stand on top of the PC or a desk, rather than the stick type that doesn’t take up any space. Of course you should get better reception with this kind of antenna.
The software is easy to configure and you can choose to use either it or the standard Windows XP wireless settings. The advantage of using the Asus utility is that it gives you the option of using the WiFi@home card as a wireless access point or as a standard wireless network card. It is pretty straight forward to use the Asus utility once you figure out that you have to drag and drop the different connections to use it as a wireless access point.
At the back of the motherboard you’ll find the standard PS/2 ports for your mouse and keyboard, four USB 2.0 ports, two Ethernet ports, single serial and parallel ports, outputs for 5.1-channel analogue sound as well as a coaxial S/PDIF connector. Asus also supplies a bracket with a six-pin and a four-pin FireWire port and one with a further two USB 2.0 ports.