- Review Price: £139.00
All of the products in the Fatal1ty range incorporate some rather unique selling points that target the hardcore gaming market. The products are of course endorsed by Jonathan ‘Fatal1ty’ Wendel whose tag they carry.
Personally I wouldn’t buy a product just because it’s endorsed or named after someone famous, at least not unless it had something really special to offer. But Abit has managed to create something out of the ordinary with the Fatal1ty products, not so much in terms of usable feature, but rather in terms of bragging rights.
This is the first board to have LEDs fitted to the back – these illuminate the board and parts of the case internals. To go with the whole red theme the LEDs are of course red rather than the popular blue ones that seem to be fitted to just about every electronic device on the market. There are some more red LEDs fitted to the top of the board around the OTES cooling setup. This is one of the most elaborate MOSFET cooling solutions I have come across as not only does it have heatsinks on the MOSFETs, but it also has a plastic shroud with two fans.
The plastic shroud also helps to route the hot air from the CPU cooler and vent it out of the case with the help of the two 40mm fans. A third 40mm fan is standing on its side on the chipset heatsink and again draws hot air away from the CPU cooler, although this air ends up on the backside of the graphics card. The plastic shroud makes it awkward to fit CPU coolers to this board. However, it makes it even harder to remove the CPU cooler, especially if you use the standard Intel cooler. This is because one of the push pins gets caught underneath the plastic shroud, so this has to be removed before you can take off the cooler. Abit even supplies a small leaflet which explains how to remove the plastic shroud before you fit the CPU cooler.
Staying on the cooling subject, Abit has also included the OTES RAMFlow cooler as part of the package. This consists of two 40mm fans attached to a plastic frame that fits over the memory slots. Abit produced the OTES RAMFlow to help cool the DDR2 memory modules that are used with this board as DDR2 memory runs a lot hotter than DDR memory. However, there is a small flaw with the OTES RAMFlow, not in terms of the design, but rather how you connect the fans. The problem is that there is no three pin header close to the memory slots which means that you either need an adapter so you can attach it to a MOLEX connector or you’ll have to stretch it across the motherboard to the lower left hand side where the only spare fan connector resides.
As the Fatal1ty AA8XE is quite an old board by now – it was announced in November of 2004 – it’s using the 925XE chipset. There are no real disadvantages with this though; unless you want to use DDR2 667MHz memory as the 925XE chipset still supports the 1066MHz bus. You also don’t get the advantage of the latest SATA-II interface and some other tweaks that Intel applied to ICH7.
For some this might be a deciding factor in what motherboard to purchase, but until Abit updates its Intel Fatal1ty board, you have to live with a product that’s a couple of features short of cutting edge. But it’s not all bad news as the Fatal1ty AA8XE still comes with a pretty solid feature set.
What you get are dual Intel Ethernet controllers, one Gigabit and one 10/100Mbit controller. This might seem slightly odd, but the idea is that you use the 10/100Mbit controller for gaming and the Gigabit one for heavy file transfers between machines on your network. FireWire is also part of the package with one six-pin port fitted to the rear I/O and a further two sharing a bracket with two USB ports – one six-pin and one four-pin.
The onboard sound solution is rather unusual in as much as all the ports are on a small riser card. However, this means that Abit has sacrificed a space on the motherboard which could have been fitted with a normal slot rather than the back to front x1 PCI Express slot that now occupies that space. The riser card is plugged into the slot just like any other expansion card and it offers outputs for 7.1-channel audio as well as optical S/PDIF in and out, line-in and a microphone port. The sound follows the Intel High Definition standard.
There are four SATA connectors which, in combination with the ICH6R offer a wide range of RAID configurations. On top of RAID 0 and 1 the ICH6R also supports Intel Matrix RAID. The downside is that there is only a single IDE connector, so this board is not ideal for upgraders. In terms of expansion slots there is a single x16 PCI Express slot, two x1 slots and two PCI slots, which should be more than plenty for most users.
The rear I/O has the least ports I have seen on any recent motherboard, mainly due to the fact that the OTES fans take up most of the space here. What you get is the aforementioned FireWire port, two PS/2 connectors, four USB 2.0 ports and the two Ethernet connectors.
A couple of other features worth mentioning are the debug LED display which shows error codes if something goes wrong with the board or any of the components plugged in to it. A feature I particularly like is the two miniature switches on the board for power-on and reset – this is really handy when you’re assembling your PC and haven’t wired up the front case connectors yet.
On top of the already mentioned accessories you also get four SATA cables, a SATA power splitter, round IDE and floppy cables as well as an optical SPDIF cable with a TOSLINK to 3.5mm adapter. The manuals are very detailed, but there is no quick setup sheet in colour, but Abit does supply a multi-lingual quick installation guide in black and white at least.
The BIOS offers a wide range of overclocking features thanks to Abit’s micro Guru features. You get very good control over all of the system fans that are connected to the motherboard. However, as a wide range of BIOS tweaks is one of the selling points of this board, you wouldn’t expect anything less.
Having used a 3.46GHz Pentium 4 Extreme Edition processor to test this board, the scores are slightly lower than some of the recent boards we’ve looked at. An overall SYSMark 2005 score of 212 is nothing remarkable, but still an acceptable score. This is also the first board we have used with PCMark05 and as such it’s hard to compare the scores with anything else.
Overall the Abit Fatal1ty AA8XE is a pretty attractive board for the Intel gamer, but it’s also quite expensive at £139.24 inc VAT. It does have some cool features, as long as you want extra lights and an unusual cooling system on your motherboard. However, you’re going to have to really want a Fatal1ty board to put your money down, as there are many similar products available, even from Abit itself.
The Abit Fatal1ty AA8XE is possibly the modder and gamers’ ultimate board, if they’re set on an Intel solution. For me though, the Fatal1ty branding isn’t enough of a draw, and I’d probably look elsewhere in Abit’s catalogue.
Score in detail
Unlike other sites, we thoroughly test every product we review. We use industry standard tests in order to compare features properly. We’ll always tell you what we find. We never, ever accept money to review a product. Tell us what you think - send your emails to the Editor.