A gamer's dream come true
If it’s possible for George Foreman to devise a mean, lean, fat-burning machine, than it shouldn’t be much of a stretch for the world’s greatest videogame player to design a mean, lean gaming mobo, should it? We can’t picture Jonathan "Fatal1ty" Wendel standing over a PCB and popping in TSOPs by hand, but Wendel says he did have a lot of input in the design of the AA8XE board.
Some of the features are classic Abit, including the dual outside thermal-exhaust system (OTES). The OTES features two system-controlled fans and heatsinks, which directly vent heat from the board’s voltage regulators and processor outside the case. Pretty smart. Wendel’s design influence is more apparent in the LEDs that leave the bottom of the mobo awash in a menacing red glow.
The fans that clip onto the memory modules are a little gimmicky, but they could help cool things down inside a cramped case. The handy power and reset buttons located on the board are better features. These can be really useful when troubleshooting the board while it’s outside the case. Combined with the integrated two-digit LED that gives you POST-code info, it should simplify diagnosing booting issues.
You’ll encounter this board’s most controversial element when you examine its I/O specs: The AA8XE is practically stripped. In Abit’s marketing materials, Wendel tells potential customers “features that gamers don’t use were removed from the board, freeing up performance and allowing us to add features you would actually use.” While it’s true that poorly implemented “extra” features only add to overhead, a feature that’s useless to one person will be essential to someone else. While the other two boards we examined offer dual Gigabit LAN connections, the AA8XE delivers only a Gigabit/Fast Ethernet combo. The other two boards also offer twice as many SATA connectors and three times the PATA ports. Storage freaks should look elsewhere.
We do appreciate the consideration Wendel and Abit paid to audio: The AA8XE uses a riser card for all its audio connectors; theoretically, this helps decrease interference from the motherboard. The next logical step would be to get the CODEC completely off the board, but this is a good initial effort. The board’s support for Dolby Digital Live is also a plus. This real-time encoding technology can convert any audio signal into a 5.1-channel Dolby Digital stream and output it to a SPDIF connector.
In our performance tests, the AA8XE did well after we properly set the clocks on the processor. By default, the AA8XE overclocked our 3.46GHz P4EE chip to 3.53GHz. Such minor overclocking should run fine, but for our tests, we manually clocked the chip back to stock speed so we weren’t comparing apples to oranges. That Abit feels confident enough to OC out of the box is a good sign. All things being equal (save the mysteriously fast Asus board), the AA8XE is about what you’d expect from a 925XE motherboard that isn’t overclocked.
Having said that, we realize the board is intended as an overclocker’s gaming motherboard and nothing else, but we also know that most builders (including us) would pass it over for a part that offers far more storage options. --Gordon Mah Ung
+ George Foreman: OTES, POST LED, excellent BIOS, and an audio riser card make the board unique.
- Eric Foreman: Not enough SATA and parallel ports; too few fan headers.