AOpen AK86-L (VIA K8T800)
Mainboards from AOpen haven’t been on many of our reviews so far. However, those products that did make it into our test lab, always left a good impression. This company uses a lot of advanced technologies to make its products look more attractive against the competitors’ background. So, let’s have a look at the Socket754 mainboard from AOpen, AK86-L.
It surprises from the start. I haven’t yet seen a PCB with the chipset placed this way. It is hard to say whether it brings any advantages. Actually, there is no need to put the North Bridge close to the memory slots in mainboards intended for the Athlon 64, as the memory controller sits in the CPU itself. The design of a Socket754 mainboard usually has the DIMM slots in the neighborhood of the processor socket.
With all its peculiarities, the PCB design of the AOpen AK86-L can hardly be called a success. The user is most likely to have difficulties connecting and installing the system components. The biggest problem appears to be the connection of ATA-133 and Serial ATA-150 hard disk drives. These connectors are all placed in the middle of the front part of the PCB and if you install a long graphics card (like a GeForce FX 5900 Ultra), it will be impossible to do anything with the connectors. The opposite is true, too. The cables attached to the connectors make it impossible to install the graphics card at all. The ATX power connectors are behind the CPU socket: the wires tailing from the PSU will hang over the CPU cooler, preventing proper airflow and risking to get chewed up between the fan blades. The FDD connector is far at the left edge of the PCB – its cable won’t go the best way throughout the case. Well, it’s rather hard to find any properly placed connector on the AOpen AK86-L. Even the two onboard connectors for the additional USB ports have crept under the AGP slot: if your graphics card has a big cooler, you won’t be able to use those connectors at all. Summing up, we cannot say anything good about the design of the AOpen AK86-L, unfortunately.
The package of the AOpen AK86-L is no horn of plenty. They didn’t even put in any brackets for the back panel so that one could use the onboard USB connectors. Maybe people at AOpen saw that the connectors were placed quite badly, and they shouldn’t encourage users to use them? Anyway, the rear panel of the AOpen AK86-L board contains only four USB 2.0 ports, which might not be enough, considering how many USB peripherals are available in the today’s market.
The functionality of the mainboard is mostly determined by the South Bridge, VIA VT8237. As for extra onboard controllers, we have only a network chip. The South Bridge doesn’t support Gigabit Ethernet, so AOpen used a Gigabit PCI network controller, Realtek RTL8110S. The implementation of the sound on the physical level is given into the hand of the new six-channel codec from Realtek, ALC655. This codec supports the AC’97 specification version 2.3 and accordingly supports technologies for easier connection of analog audio peripherals (like Jack Sensing). In fact, the Realtek ALC655 is a functional analog of the AD1985, which is used by ASUS in its P4C800 series mainboards, for example. Again, although the AOpen AK86-L has onboard connectors for the SPDIF output, there is no bracket for the back panel with this connector laid out.