Articles: Mainboards
 

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Closer Look

As far as the supported CPU and memory types are concerned, ABIT Fatal1ty AN8 is a pretty standard solution for a Socket 939 mainboard. Fatal1ty AN8 can work with any Athlon 64 processors designed for Socket 939, and features 4 DDR DIMM slots for system memory: two slots per channel. The DIMM slots are color coded: you have to install identical memory modules in pairs in the slots of the same color in order to enable the dual-channel model of the memory controller. Like all competitor products of the kind, the reviewed mainboard from ABIT supports up to 4GB of system memory. When all four DIMM slots are occupied the memory working frequency is automatically reduced to DDR333. However, due to this particular fact the Athlon 64 memory controller guarantees stable hardware functioning with this number of memory banks.

The expansion slots also do not prepare any surprises for us. ABIT Fatal1ty AN8 features three regular PCI slots, two PCI Express x1 slots and one PCI Express x16 slot for the graphics card. Since Fatal1ty AN8 is based on NVIDIA nForce4 Ultra chipset, it doesn’t support SLI configurations.

I was somewhat surprised with a slot, which is the closest to the processor socket. It looks very much like a PCI Express x1 but rotated by 180 degrees. I have never seen any slots like that on other mainboards. On the ABIT Fatal1ty AN8 board this slot is none other but a reincarnation of the good old AMR/CNR slots, which already sank into oblivion a while ago. However, the slot laid out by ABIT engineers doesn’t represent any new industry standard, but is simply designed to support AudioMax sound card shipped together with the mainboard.

We have already pointed out a few times that the sound quality on many NVIDIA nForce4 based mainboards leaves much to be desired. The manufacturers are trying to solve this problem differently. MSI, for instance, integrates Sound Blast Live! PCI chip from Creative onto its mainboards. ABIT engineers also decided to eliminate this drawback, but in another way. This is exactly the reason why they laid out the sound tract on a completely separate PCB, which should be installed into this mysterious slot.

From the technical point of view, the sound solution implemented as an external AudioMax sound card doesn’t look like anything very special. ABIT Fatal1ty AN8 uses the AC97 tract of the NVIDIA nForce4 chipset. However, its analog part including the Reaktek ALC658 AC97 codec has been moved to an add-on riser card to be installed into the slot specifically designed for it. This allows ABIT to better protect the analog part of the sound tract against distortions caused by other electronic components on the mainboard PCB.

As far as the Realtek ALC658 codec used on the AudioMax sound card is concerned, it is also a little bit different than the Realtek ALC850 solution they usually use on nForce4 based mainboards. On the one hand, ALC658 codec belongs to professional solutions and provides better signal-to-noise ratio. But on the other hand, this is a six-channel codec, while the combination of nForce4 with the Realtek ALC850 codec supports eight-channel sound systems. AudioMax sound card features five audio-jacks (it supports Universal Audio jack is supported), an optical SPDIF In and Out.

Now let’s see what advantages we get from a professional sound codec, which has in addition been moved to a separate riser card. But this is where the first surprise comes from. The thing is that ABIT Fatal1ty AN8 is supplied with two versions of a sound driver: one from NVIDIA (version 4.57) and another one from Realtek (version 3.70). We don’t know yet, which driver version is preferable that is why we will test the sound quality on ABIT Fatal1ty AN8 two times with different drivers.

The results obtained in case we used an NVIDIA driver are given below:

Frequency response (from 40 Hz to 15 kHz), dB:

+0.26, -0.30

Good

Noise level, dB (A):

-83.0

Good

Dynamic range, dB (A):

82.8

Good

THD, %:

0.0065

Very good

IMD, %:

0.028

Good

Stereo crosstalk, dB:

-81.5

Very good

IMD at 10 kHz, %:

0.023

Good

General performance: Good

The driver from Realtek showed slightly different results:

Frequency response (from 40 Hz to 15 kHz), dB:

+0.27, -0.31

Good

Noise level, dB (A):

-79.5

Average

Dynamic range, dB (A):

79.4

Average

THD, %:

0.0088

Very good

IMD, %:

0.269

Average

Stereo crosstalk, dB:

-78.8

Very good

IMD at 10 kHz, %:

0.036

Good

General performance: Good

As we see, NVIDIA drivers ensure better sound quality. However, in any case we have every right to state that ABIT managed to reach the desired goal. The sound quality this mainboard provides is noticeably better than the sound quality on the majority of nForce4 based mainboards out there due to the use of a professional sound codec and its location on a separate riser card.

 
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