AOpen is part of one of the worldâ€™s largest computer and electronics manufacturers, namely the Acer group. Although AOpen is completely independent, such pedigree does show through and AOpen has a wealth of products in its portfolio covering pretty much everything you need to build a complete PC apart from the processor and hard drive.
The AX4SPE MAX is AOpenâ€™s top of the range 865PE board and offers a wide range of features, although it is note quite as impressive as some of the boards it is up against here. AOpen is using the Intel ICH5R that adds native S-ATA RAID support to the board through two connectors. A further Silicon Image S-ATA RAID controller adds two more connectors for a total of four. It is worth noting that these can not be added together in one RAID as they are on different controllers. There is also no IDE RAID on the AX4SPE MAX but you can purchase third party S-ATA to IDE converters if you would like to use IDE drives with the S-ATA RAID controllers. Networking is handled by a Broadcom Gigabit Ethernet controller, although we would have preferred an Intel CSA based controller here as it frees up the PCI bus from the network data. This is however a minor issue if youâ€™re not using Gigabit Ethernet.
Sound is provided by the very common 5.1-channel Realtek ALC650 chipset. The advantage here is that AOpen supplies a rear bracket with both coaxial and optical S/PDIF in and outputs which adds a bit of extra value, especially of you own a MiniDisc recorder or similar.
As with most of the high-end products on test AOpen has also fitted Firewire to the board and you get two ports on a bracket. Other useful features include AOpenâ€™s Die-hard BIOS that adds a second BIOS chip to the board that can save your sanity in case BIOS flash goes wrong. The AX4SPE MAX also features AOpenâ€™s Dr Voice that adds voice diagnostics trough the integrated speaker.
AOpen does offer a few interesting features of its own, one of them being SiltenTek which gives you advanced control over the fans in the PC and you can make them run virtually silent. AOpen also offers a Windows based BIOS upgrade utility similar to many of the other manufacturers. A truly unique feature is AOpenâ€™s WinBios that allows you to adjust all your BIOS settings from within a Windows application, although you have to reboot the PC for the changes to take effect.
On top of the mentioned brackets, you get a third bracket with two USB 2.0 ports as well as a game port. Two IDE cables and a floppy cable as well as two S-ATA data cables and one S-ATA power adapter is also included.
As expected the manual is excellent and AOpen supplies an easy installation guide in colour with basic instructions on how and where to connect everything to the board. A copy of Norton Antivirus 2003 is included in the box but apart from this it gets a bit scarce on the software front.
There are however two problems with the AX4SPE MAX, the first being that it didnâ€™t perform as well as we expected. Itâ€™s not the slowest board on test, but it is fairly average in Sysmark 2002 and didnâ€™t do much better in PC Mark 2002, 3DMark 2001 SE or even Sisoft Sandra. The second problem is that it is more expensive than the MSI 865PE Neo2-FIS2R by nearly Â£6 at Â£127. Despite a lower price, the MSI board offers superior performance and a few extra features.
The AX4SPE MAX is a decent motherboard, but there are better options on test for the asking price in terms of features and performance.