AOpen AK86-L

The first board up is from AOpen and it’s the most basic of the boards on test in terms of integrated features. The AK86-L is based on the VIA K8T800 chipset which offers USB 2.0 and S-ATA RAID as part of the package. AOpen has not included any option for IDE RAID, but you could use a third party S-ATA to IDE bridge if you want to use IDE drives with the VIA RAID controller.

The rear I/O panel consists of two standard PS/2 connectors, a parallel port and a serial port. There are also four USB 2.0 ports, an RJ45 connector and three audio connectors. This doesn’t set the AOpen apart from many other motherboards, but at least there’s nothing missing.

Onboard features consist of Realtek Gigabit Ethernet and 5.1-channel Realtek audio. Realtek is not the best choice for onboard components, but it is the predominant brand in this market segment.

The overall board layout is not the tidiest we’ve ever seen, especially with both of the ATX power connectors at the rear of the board. This will make the installation quite messy in most cases, unless you have very long power cables. At least the two power connectors are close to each other which does minimize clutter somewhat.

The AOpen is also quite narrow which limits the placement of the IDE and floppy connectors and sadly these are all at the bottom of the board, which makes it hard to use this board in some larger tower cases. The S-ATA connectors are also placed right next to the IDE connectors, which is quite sensible.

As far as accessories in the box go, things are a bit thin on the ground. All you’ll find is the normal IDE and floppy cable as well as an S-ATA data and power cable. There is no bracket for the optional four USB 2.0 ports which is a shame.

A good feature is that there are four free fan connectors on the board, while the chipset is passively cooled. The thing here is that AOpen has managed to include a fancy fan controlling feature in the BIOS called SiltenTek. This allows you to set the fan speeds either in the BIOS itself of through a Windows utility. It worked really well and you can either set it to auto depending on the temperature or to limit the fans to a max speed or go manual. It’s a shame that more motherboard manufacturers don’t offer options like this as it can make a huge impact to the noise your PC makes. Lowering the fan speed just a little bit gets rid of whining noises that can be very irritating.

The BIOS is pretty straight forward but there are a few unique AOpen features here. One interesting feature is the AOpen JukeBox that allows you to play audio CDs before you boot in to an operating system. You can even download new skins for it if you don’t like the default look.

The manual is of AOpen’s normal high standard and you also get a quick setup sheet that is very helpful if you already know what you’re doing. A driver CD and a copy of Norton Antivirus 2003 are also included in the box.

In terms of benchmark scores the AK86-L lags behind somewhat, which is odd since there is very little apart from poor board design that should affect the performance of an Athlon 64 motherboard. This is due to the fact that the memory controller is now part of the CPU and unless there are some flaws in the board design or BIOS, there shouldn’t be any drastic performance swings between boards based on the same chipset.

But where AOpen makes a stand is on the price. At £93 inc VAT this is by far the cheapest Athlon 64 board we’ve seen. Price isn’t everything but this is a reasonable board for the asking price with the features you would expect. Hopefully the performance issues will be fixed in a future BIOS release from AOpen.

Verdict

The AK86-L is a cheap board with basic features but weak performance in SYSmark 2002. If money is really tight it’s worth considering, but don’t forget that the Leadtek offers more features for only an extra £5.

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