- Review Price: £100.00
With the introduction of Intel’s new Socket-T one would think that Socket-478 is dead a buried, but I doubt that will be the case for a very long time – PC users have probably invested too much money in their current platform to just throw it all out and start from scratch.
AOpen’s latest and greatest i865PE board is the AX4SPE Max II, which comes with a range of good features that anyone looking at buying a Socket-478 board ought to be interested in. At first glance the AX4SPE Max II doesn’t look all that impressive as it has a fairly standard board layout and there are no special connectors around the back. Dig a little bit deeper in the box though and you realise that AOpen has actually included a lot more features than you initially think.
On the motherboard there are no less than six S-ATA connectors, of which two are native to the Intel ICH5 with the remaining four belonging to the Silicon Image S-ATA RAID controller, which is capable of RAID 0, 1 and 0+1. Looking closer at the motherboard you’ll also find a FireWire controller and AOpen supplies a rear bracket with two six pin FireWire connectors.
As the AX4SPE Max II is based on the i865PE chipset it’s good to see that AOpen has included Intel CSA Gigabit Ethernet, which means more bandwidth for the PCI bus. The AX4SPE Max II is also the first motherboard based on the i865PE chipset I have come across that features 7.1-channel AC’97 sound and this has been done by using a Realtek ALC850 chipset. Don’t get this confused with Intel’s new High Definition Audio though, as it is very different. There is no support for 192kHz/24bit audio as is the case with the new standard, but the supplied bracket to which the extra audio connectors are fitted comes with optical S/PDIF in and out as well as a coaxial output.
The AX4SPE Max II also comes with AOpen’s Die-Hard BIOS, comprising of two physical BIOS chips on the motherboard. This has been done to prevent bad BIOS flashes and protect you from certain viruses that can damage the BIOS. Another feature that we have seen in the past from AOpen is a powered PCI slot, which is meant for high-drain cards such as RAID or SCSI controllers. Another familiar feature is Dr. Voice – a diagnostic utility that will tell you if something isn’t right with your PC.
The layout of the AX4SPE Max II is pretty good with most of the connectors in the right place, although the 12V AUX connector is located very close to the CPU socket and it might be difficult to route the power cable neatly to it. There are three spare fan connectors apart from the one for the CPU cooler.
The back panel consists of the regular two PS/2 ports, four USB 2.0 ports, two serial and one parallel port, an Ethernet connector and the audio connectors.
All the connectors are colour coded, including the front case connectors, which makes setting the board up a lot easier, even for someone that doesn’t have a lot of PC building experience.
Apart from the FireWire and Audio brackets, there is a bracket with two USB 2.0 ports and a game port supplied. You also get two IDE cables, a floppy drive cable and finally two S-ATA data cables with matching power adapters. I would rather have seen some of the ports supplied on the brackets to be part of the standard connectors on the motherboard, perhaps by removing one of the serial ports, but this is a matter of personal preference over real functionality. A copy of Norton AntiVirus 2004 is also included, which is a useful freebie.
The manual is, as always with AOpen, excellent and all the pictures are in colour which makes it a lot easier to pin-point things on the motherboard. You also get a setup sheet that covers the basic installation procedure.
AOpen also offers a wide range of handy software and BIOS utilities that add some extra functionality to the board, such as its SilentTek fan speed adjustment and the WinBIOS utility that allows you to change your BIOS settings from within Windows.
All well and good so far, but one critical aspect of every motherboard is performance. Luckily the AX4SPE Max II doesn’t let itself down here as it is one of the fastest Socket-478 boards we have tested recently with a SYSmark 2004 score of 167. It performs similarly well in the remaining benchmarks, all of which you can take a closer look at on the graphs page.
There is however one caveat with the AX4SPE Max II – with a street price of £100 it definitely resides among the more expensive Socket-478 boards out there, especially since the price of Intel motherboards has plummeted over the last couple of months in anticipation of the new Socket-T arriving. Overall the AX4SPE Max II is a good motherboard, but the high price works against it as you can get similar boards for around £15-20 less, although you might not get the 7.1-channel audio support.
The AOpen AX4SPE Max II is a quality motherboard with a lot of features, but there’s nothing that really sets it apart from any other i865PE motherboard and the high price ultimately robs it of an award.
The AOpen AX4SPE Max II was tested using an Intel Pentium 4 3.0GHz Northwood processor, 512MB Corsair XMS TwinX 3200LL memory, Seagate Barracuda 7200.7 S-ATA hard drive, AOpen Aeolus GeForce FX5900 XT graphics card.
Score in detail