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ABIT AA8-DuraMAX

ABIT was one of the first companies to bring overclocking features to its entire range of motherboards. ABIT has always been at the forefront and was the first manufacturer to bring out a legacy free motherboard, and although it was never a huge success it was the first board in the MAX range. Since then, the following MAX boards have all offered something out of the ordinary, with more features than anyone could possibly take advantage of.

The AA8-DuraMAX is however, not quite as impressive as its ancestors as it doesn’t seem to have any of the trade mark high-end features, nor the distinctive black look that once adorned the MAX boards. The most striking feature is the new chipset heatsink, which has the fan mounted on its side rather than on the top. This has been done not just to improve the cooling of the chipset, but it also blows air across the back of the graphics card and should help to cool this as well.

The AA8-DuraMAX has all of the standard features of the i925X chipset which means that you get four SATA ports with support for Matrix RAID and a single IDE connector, as ABIT hasn’t fitted an extra IDE controller to the board. This could be a real issue if you’re planning on upgrading your current PC and want to keep your hard drive.

There is of course support for Intel’s 7.1-channel High Definition Audio and ABIT has added discrete outputs for all of the channels, all of which are part of the I/O panel on the back of the motherboard together with optical S/PDIF in and out. A Realtek Gigabit Ethernet controller is also included, but sadly this is connected to the PCI bus rather than to the much faster PCI Express bus - this will hinder the performance of the Gigabit Ethernet connection and add congestion to the PCI bus.

What is good to see is that ABIT has stuck with the post80 debug LCD, which makes it easy to locate any problems that you might be having with your motherboard. ABIT has also included its microGuru technology, which adds more advanced overclocking features and some neat applications that are standard with all microGuru boards.

In terms of expansion, ABIT provides one x16 PCI Express slot and three x1 slots, along with two standard PCI slots. The I/O panel consists of two PS/2 ports, a parallel port and a serial port, which is not in line with ABIT’s past MAX boards, optical S/PDIF in and out, discrete 7.1-channel audio outputs, a line in and microphone connector. There are also four USB 2.0 ports here, a single FireWire port and an Ethernet connector. ABIT also supplies a bracket with a further two USB 2.0 ports and one six-pin and one four-pin FireWire connector.

This leaves one spare USB 2.0 header on the motherboard, which is handy if your case features front mounted USB connectors. There are five fan headers on the board, although one of them is taken up by the chipset cooler and another is the four-pin type for the new Intel CPU coolers.

In terms of layout, most things are where you would expect them to be, but the floppy drive connector is placed very far down on the board, below the bottom PCI slot, not exactly an ideal location. It is nice to see an angled IDE connector, as this allows for tidier cable routing in most ATX cases. The AA8-DuraMAX comes with four memory slots and supports up to 4GB of DDR2 SDRAM.

The supplied manuals are targeting the more technical users that already know how to assemble a PC, covering the BIOS settings in favour of how to install the motherboard. This is what we’d expect though, as ABIT has been the choice of the hardcore technical user for a while now. It’s a shame that the manuals are still in black and white, as it is so much easier to navigate technical manuals in colour. There is also a separate manual for the microGuru applications.

The AA8 DuraMAX is slower than the Gigabyte, not by much I have to add, but enough to make a difference. But ABIT does have one plus point and that is the much lower price compared to the Gigabyte board. At £109.99 it is one of the cheapest i925X boards currently on sale.

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