07/19/2007 | 08:57 AM
When we reviewed Asus P5K mainboard, we took a quick look at the entire Asus mainboards lineup on Intel P35 Express chipset. We did the same thing when checking out MSI P35 Platinum. Now it is time for us to pay due attention to abit mainboards on the same chipset.
I suggest that this time we take the mainstream solution as our basis and will discuss its differences from the budget and high-end modifications. So, let’s get started!
abit mainboard series on Intel P35 Express chipset was launched as “Off Limits” family. Despite this challenging family name, the board is called simply abit IP35.
Four-phase processor voltage regulator circuitry uses solid-state capacitors and the MOSFET transistors packed into convenient groups are covered with a heatsink. It also helps cool down the chipset North Bridge with the help of a heat-pipe transferring the heat away from it. The ICH9R South Bridge provides support for six Serial ATA ports, and the hard disk drives connected to them can be united into RAID arrays. The additional IEEE1394 controller delivers one port to the mainboard rear panel, while the other one is laid out as a pin-connector on the mainboard PCB. Besides the IEEE1394 port, the mainboard rear panel also carries two PS/2 ports for keyboard and mouse, six sound jacks and an optical SPDIF, four USB ports and a network RJ45 connector.
The youngest member of the abit mainboard family is called IP35-E. It is based on the same PCB layout as abit IP35, but boasts slightly fewer features.
The board still has three heatsinks, but there is no heat-pipe here. The South Bridge has been replaced with the ICH9 chip and there are only four Serial ATA ports supported. Also there is no additional IEEE1394 controller. These are about all the differences.
The top mainboard in the family is called abit IP35 Pro and it is built on its own original PCB design, although it is still similar to the layout the previous two mainboard models are using.
The chipset cooling system has been enhanced significantly: the heatsinks are of a different shape and there is a second heat-pipe added. All the capacitors on this board are solid-state now, and not only the ones in the processor voltage regulator circuitry. There is a POST-code indicator, Power On and Reset buttons. One of the PCI Express x1 slots has been replaced with a PCI Express x16 with x4 throughput capacity. The mainboard rear panel no longer caries the IEEE1394 connector – it moved to the PCB, however there is a second RJ45 network port, an SPDIF Out and two eSATA ports instead.
This brief description gives us a very general idea of the mainboard features, so I suggest we took a closer look at our today’s main hero – abit IP35 Pro mainboard
The mainboard is not selling very widely; there are only 10 resellers on PriceGrabber.com at this time, who offer this solution at a price between $183.76 and $224.86.
Let’s start with the colorful box the board comes in. The front side of the box with abit IP35 Pro reveals brief technical specifications of the mainboard against the background of an all terrain motor vehicle with a pretty strange name for a car. It says “Snake” on the side of it. A series of pictures on the reverse side of the box illustrates some key features that the manufacturer is especially proud of:
Overall, the box is quite ordinary, of pretty average size. However despite this fact, there was enough room in it for two additional boxes with all accessories very nicely arranged in them.
There is nothing extraordinary among the bundled accessories. The kit includes a mainboard user manual, abit uGuru guide, a CD disk with software and drivers, and a mainboard layout scheme sticker that can be placed inside the system case. Besides, the mainboard comes with black FDD and HDD cables decorated with the abit logo, six red SATA cables with metal clips and a bracket with two additional USB ports and two different IEEE1394 connectors.
When I check out the abit IP35 Pro photographs, I for some reason got the impression that it features pretty light-weight heatsinks. Maybe this association was triggered by the similar looks of the MOSFET heatsink and the old Zalman CNPS2000 and 3000 coolers shaped as flower blossoms. However, it proved a solely exterior similarity. Unlike Zalman FHS (Flower Heatsink), abit heatsink features very solid base and pretty thick fin array.
It is a very efficient design. The advantage of thin heatsink fins is that you can fit much more of them within the same available space and this way increase the heat dissipating surface area. However, there is certainly a downside to it, too: thin fins cannot transfer the heat at longer distances, it dissipates fast and the very ends of the fins as well as the middle part of them in some cases remain cold, i.e. do not really work. Thin heatsink ribs should be short, or should receive heat from multiple sources for their maximum efficiency.
For example, the MOSFET heatsink on MSI P35 Platinum mainboard is designed in a very smart way from this standpoint. The heatsinks ribs are thin, but they are heated up by MOSFET transistors at the bottom, one heatpipe in the middle and two other heatpipes on the sides. As a result, the entire surface of these heatsink rib plates works efficiently, although they are thin and relatively tall.
The heatpipe on abit IP35 Pro mainboard comes from the chipset North Bridge to the heatsink base, which also takes the heat from the processor voltage regulator transistors. In this case it would be very unreasonable to use a heatsink like Zalman FHS, because the heat would be dissipated without ever reaching the ends of the fins. In our case, the heat is accumulated in the massive heatsink base and is distributed along the thick fins, so the entire heatsink is working efficiently.
The chipset North Bridge is topped with an even larger heatsink:
It is hard to judge by the looks only without real temperature measurements, but from my experience the MSI “roller coaster” would be the most efficient chipset cooler at this time.
At the same time, I cannot claim that it is the best chipset cooling solution out there, because it is evidently more expensive to manufacture and doesn’t allow installing some of the large CPU coolers. If we compare abit IP35 Pro chipset cooling solution to, say, Asus P5K, it will definitely stand out due to larger heat dissipating surface of its heatsinks.
So, I think it would be logical to prefer very rational chipset cooling solution on abit IP35 Pro to the inconvenient beauty of the one on MSI P35 Platinum and the minimalism of the one on Asus P5K.
When we discussed the cooling system of abit IP35 Pro we forgot to mention that it all starts with a small heatsink on the ICH9R chipset South Bridge. The heatpipe then takes the heat off to the chipset North Bridge heatsink.
Here you can also see the IDE and Serial ATA connectors positioned sideways. The FDD connector is not in the best place, but still not as far away as on most contemporary mainboards, where it is pushed beneath the expansion slots. Above this connector you can see Power On and Reset buttons as well as the POST-code indicator. The front panel connectors are all color-coded. The only additional controllers in this area are the input-output Winbond W83627DHG chip and the abit uGuru chip also made by Winbond.
The area around the expansion slots looks very unusual, because the engineers have obviously preferred the good old PCI slots to the new but still not very widely spread PCI Express. It looks like all the additional onboard controllers have moved here, too:
We can see two Gigabit Realtek RTL8110SC network controllers, an IEEE1394 controller from Texas Instruments and an 8-channel Realtek ALC888 sound controller. There is a special three-pin connector for sound cards with HDMI output right next to the connector set for the front panel sound output.
It took me a while before I found the Parallel ATA controller on the board. It turned out that JMicron JMB363 controller was hidden beneath the heatpipe next to the mainboard rear panel connectors, where it also delivers support for two eSATA ports.
Besides all familiar connectors, the mainboard rear panel also has a special Clear CMOS lever, although if you still prefer to clear CMOS in an old-fashioned way, there is a good old jumper for that, too. I believe it is a very convenient feature, although I didn’t have to use it even once, as you will see later on in this review.
If we take a real critical look at the abit IP35 Pro mainboard design layout, we will be able to find a few drawbacks. For example, the installed full-size graphics card blocks the memory slot clips, the location of the FDD connector and the four-pin additional power supply connector for dual-graphics card configurations could have been better, there are no LPT or COM ports… however, in my humble opinion, all these drawbacks of abit IP35 Pro design are not very dramatic, while the above described advantages are obvious.
For your convenience here is a detailed list of all abit IP35 Pro technical specifications and features:
The BIOS of abit IP35 Pro mainboard is based on Phoenix-Award code. When you access it, the main page offers you to save or load one of the five available settings profiles by pressing F6 or F7 respectively.
Almost all overclocking friendly options are gathered together in uGuru Utility section. So, by clicking on it you get directly to the OC Guru page:
If you remember, abit mainboards used to raise the default FSB frequency by 4MHz. this time it is 6MHz higher, but you can still enter any desired frequency manually using your keyboard:
Reduce the frequency multiplier, and you get the resulting processor frequency value displayed right away. The memory frequency can be set with a set of supported dividers:
You won’t need to calculate the resulting memory frequency either, as it will be reported in the information line:
PCI Express bus frequency can be adjusted in the interval between 100MHz and 200MHz. The voltages can be adjusted on a separate page called Voltage Control:
You can see a pretty extensive list of available adjustable voltage parameters. Note that you cannot set the processor Vcore below the nominal value. You can adjust processor core voltage up to 1.8950V with 0.01V increment.
The memory voltage is also adjusted with a very small increment of only 0.025V within a pretty impressive interval of 1.8V-3.0V!
Other available voltage settings are not as interesting, I must say. The only other parameter you might want to check out is the MCH 1.25V Voltage: the chipset North Bridge voltage that can be pushed up to 1.72V with variable increment.
Now let’s go back to the OC Guru page. By clicking the right arrow you can get to ABIT EQ section:
This section offers you extensive temperature monitoring:
You can also monitor different system voltages:
As well as rotation speeds of multiple fans:
You can monitor the rotation speed of six fans connected to the abit IP35 Pro mainboard. Moreover, you can make their rotation speed dependent on certain temperatures and hence automatically adjustable.
By the way, unlike many other contemporary mainboards, abit IP35 Pro can control the rotation speed of a three-pin fan plugged into the four-pin processor cooler connector.
To adjust the memory timings, you need to go outside the uGuru Utility section, where you can change the timing settings one by one.
The last BIOS section worth mentioning is the CPU Feature section, where you get access to processor supported technologies:
Well, no one has ever managed to exceed the BIOS features of abit mainboards supporting uGuru technology. But will abit IP35 Pro prove up to our expectations in practical tests? I was very concerned about the performance and overclocking tests, because I really liked the board so far but at the time of the review there was only BIOS version 1.0 available. And as we all know, early BIOS versions are usually pretty raw and do not reveal full overclocking potential of the mainboards.
Well, let’s hold our fingers crossed…
This is usually a pretty long chapter of every mainboard review on our site. This is where we share all the frustrations and problems we face during our overclocking experiments, describe the search for optimal voltage settings, numerous reboots and CMOS clearing… But this time, you won’t find any of that here: it’s been long since I came across a mainboard that would overclock CPUs that easily.
Our tests were performed on the following testbed:
Since I already knew what the Intel Core 2 Duo E6300 CPU is capable of, I raised its voltage to 1.45V and set the FSB to 490MHz right away. After that I increased the memory voltage to 2.2V and the system booted without any problems. System couldn’t pass the tests, but it didn’t discourage me: the stability issue was fully resolved by raising the North Bridge voltage from the default 1.25V to 1.33V.
Later on I reduced the processor Vcore a little bit, to 1.435V, because it turned out that abit IP35 Pro doesn’t lower it as much as ASUS mainboards do. And that was it.
As for the performance, it was pretty similar to the performance of MSI P35 Platinum mainboard. No wonder, since the chipsets are the same. The only difference is that we managed to achieve these results fast and easy.
MSI P35 Platinum
abit IP35 Pro
Everest, Memory Read, MB/s
Everest, Memory Write, MB/s
Everest, Memory Copy, MB/s
Everest, Memory Latency, ns
SuperPi 8M, sec
CINEBENCH 9.5, Rendering
Fritz Chess Benchmark
The performance is almost the same, abit IP35 Pro is a little bit faster because we managed to reduce the memory timings unlike the settings on MSI mainboard.
However, Fritz Chess Benchmark seems to have a completely different opinion about it: it states that MSI mainboard is still faster.
Speaking of the memory working frequency, I can state that in synchronous mode we didn’t get beyond 980MHz because of the limitations imposed by our test CPU. In asynchronous mode our memory subsystem ran at about 1100MHz frequency, a little higher or lower, depending on the selected divider.
A few days of testing, even though it is pretty indepth, cannot reveal all the highs and lows of a product with 100% certainty. Only continuous use of a platform for a long time can show a real picture. Over the past year that Intel Core 2 Duo processors have been around, my preferences towards the mainboards supporting them have changed a few times already.
Of, course, my love at first sight was Gigabyte GA-965P-S3 mainboard. easy and quick overclocking on an inexpensive mainboard like that, what could be better? However, later on I have to give it up, because it lost stability during continuous operation in overclocked mode, would reset all settings to defaults every now any then without warning. Besides, I almost burned my entire testbed because of the pins hanging from beneath the processor socket on the reverse side of the PCB that were closing on the metal plate of the Tuniq Tower 120 cooler (the new revisions of Gigabyte GA-965P-S3 mainboards do not differ from this defect any more, it has been fixed).
Then another mainboard, Asus Commando, totally won my heart. It was an excellent mainboard! I couldn’t find any serious drawbacks about it during our test session, as well as a few months down the road. Now however, that the new Intel P35 Express chipset is out, we know that the mainboards based on it do not suffer from performance drops because of FSB Strap change, unlike the boards on the previous generation Intel P965 Express. Asus Commando mainboard works very fast until you hit 400MHz FSB, but once you pass it, the performance drop is inevitable.
And today I found my new ideal - abit IP35 Pro. I have to confess that I didn’t believe in this board at first. We all know that the company was famous for their excellent mainboards before, but all the latest solutions we looked at in our lab made us pretty nostalgic about the good old times. I didn’t have too many hopes, especially since we only had the very first BIOS version at the time of tests. However, abit IP35 Pro proved absolutely terrific!
I am going to keep this board as a testbed for the processor overclocking experiments and will let you know if any issues ever pop up. Although I already found one small “issue”: sometimes if you need to perform an emergency restart with the Reset button, the mainboard may suddenly “forget” about fan rotation speed management, although the settings weren’t changed. At first I had to clear CMOS and rest all the same parameters again to make sure that the mainboard would resume managing the fan rotation speeds. But later on I found out that it is enough to simply shut it down and power back up again, for the board to “remember” about the cooling fans management. So the hint: use traditional shut down and reboot means instead of the Reset button. So, it is not really an issue at all.
abit IP35 Pro has a ton of advantages: smart PCB layout, wide range of features, noiseless and efficient abit Silent OTEC cooling system, excellent BIOS options – you can continue this list on your own, I guess: six fan connectors with adjustment option, solid-state capacitors, sufficient accessories bundle… So, all in all this is what I can say about it summing everything up:
According to the results of our test session, we decided to award abit IP35 Pro with our Editor’s Choice title :