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The rest of the mainboard’s capabilities are those of the South Bridge, as I have just said. So, the AOpen AK86-L has two ATA-133 and two Serial ATA-150 ports. Serial ATA drives can form a RAID 0 or 1 array. The implementation of the USB 2.0 interface is pretty curious though. The VT8237 South Bridge supports eight USB 2.0 ports: four of them are placed onto the mainboard rear panel. Four more are scattered around the PCB, although there is no bracket to output them to. The second COM port is missing in the rear panel. It is onboard, though. You can attach a special cable to it, if you have one.

The CPU voltage regulator circuit is a three-phase one, with high-quality Low ESR capacitors, 3300 uF each. The Vcore is initially set a bit high, about 0.3V above the nominal. Although this mainboard doesn’t support Cool’n’Quiet, AOpen implemented its own technology for reducing the noise from the fans, aka SilentTek. Just like any other technology of the kind, SilentTek can reduce the rotational speeds of the CPU and system fans depending on the temperature. There are several variants of configuring SilentTek; the AOpen AK86-L can control the speeds of the coolers quite flexibly, even stop them altogether. This makes sense, as the Athlon 64 3200+ dissipates only about 2.2W when idle. Experiments suggest that this processor feels all right with simple passive cooling under minimal workloads. The utility AOpen offers for controlling SilentTek is simple and user-friendly; it can also serve as a tool for hardware monitoring. By the way, the mainboard measures the CPU temperature with high precision, using the CPU-integrated thermal diode. So, SilentTek is a highly interesting technology and a big plus for the AOpen AK86-L. Yet, I think SilentTek would be even better if it were accompanied with Cool’n’Quiet. Regrettably, the AOpen engineers didn’t share my opinion.

The AOpen AK86-L can take in three memory modules of DDR SDRAM. The BIOS Setup cannot enable the ECC check, and offers only the standard frequencies of DDR200/266/333/400, but you can have a good time playing with timings. You can tweak CL, tRC, tRFC, rRCD, tWR, tWRT, tRAS, tRP and DDR Clock Delay.

The AOpen AK86-L doesn’t offer much for an overclocker. Yes, this mainboard can change the FSB frequency in a range of 200-255MHz with 1MHz increment, but cannot change the CPU multiplier. The control over the CPU voltage is limited, too. Besides the standard value of 1.5V, the BIOS Setup lists only 1.525V and 1.55V that look like a laugh into the face of a hardcore overclocker. Vmem can be raised above the nominal to 2.7V with 0.05V increment; Vagp is set to 1.5V, 1.53V, 1.56V or 1.6V.

The frequencies of the PCI and AGP busses grow along with the FSB clock-rate; this is the feature of the VIA K8T800 chipset. Keep this in mind, since the BIOS Setup of this mainboard tells you that the AGP and PCI frequencies never go up at overclocking. In fact, it is the problems with PCI devices and the AGP graphics card that may become the barrier to overclocking the system. For the AOpen AK86-L, the main problem at overclocking may become the insufficient Vcore, which cannot be increased with regular means.

Among the advantages of the AOpen AK86-L, I would like to mention the proprietary Watch Dog ABS technology that resets BIOS Setup settings into default values when the mainboard cannot start up for 5 seconds. There is also a protection system against installation of antique 3.3V graphics cards that may damage new mainboards.

Summing up the things I have said above, and considering the AOpen AK86-L has no stability issues whatever, I would recommend this mainboard if you are OK with the “install and forget” principle. If you want to experiment, change the components often or overclock the CPU, you’d be better off buying another mainboard.

 
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