First Look at ABIT DiGiDice: What Does a Barebone Smell Like?

We reviewed one more very interesting barebone system: DiGiDice solution from ABIT, which is remarkable not only for its outstanding functionality, promising configuration and extensive overclocking friendly features, but also for the extraordinary attraction like nice rosy odor the working system emits… Curious? Then check out the review now!

by Vasily Melnik
01/26/2004 | 11:29 AM

ABIT products have always been very popular among hardware enthusiasts. It was mostly true for a number of mainboards, which could work unbelievably fast after you make a few manipulations with their BIOS Setup. Frankly speaking, no one expected ABIT to forget these principles in such a popular field as barebone systems. But, let’s start from the very beginning…

ABIT DiGiDice: Closer Look

 

At first let’s say a few words about the ergonomics and functionality of this set. ABIT DiGiDice is designed in a very popular “Hi-Fi” style and looks more like a mini-system or a small music center, but definitely not like a computer case. However, the manufacturer is not the only one in the today’s market offering a PC case of such a design and construction. Almost all contemporary barebone systems are now designed to match the exterior of consumer electronics devices.

On the left of the front panel there is a pretty large LCD display with vivid blue highlighting, a Shuttle controller wheel also highlighted with the same blue, and hot-keys for fast applications launching:

When you press any of the hot-keys, there appears an icon at the bottom of the LCD display in the status line, and the indicator shows the playback/copy time countdown.

All these manipulations can be also carried out with the help of an infrared remote control unit. As you can see, to the right of the hot keys there is an infrared receiver diode.


This is the assembled barebone system.
The cover on the right of the case is closed.
This is the way ABIT DiGiDice system will look like in 90% situations.


This is the ABIT DiGiDice set with the remote control unit
and the removed cover for 5-inch bays area.

In the right part of the front panel under the cover there are two 5-inch bays for optical drives, audio jacks, USB and FireWire ports, and a built-in card reader supporting Smart Media, MMC/SD, Memory Stick, Compact Flash and Microdrive standards. The cover can be moved inside the case along the right side of the barebone if necessary, which makes it much easier to reach the above listed ports and connectors.

But let’s return to the LCD display available on the front panel of our system. Note that this is not a fully graphical display, but a sectional one, i.e. it can display a set fixed of icons provided by the manufacturer. However, despite this fact, it can extensively indicate the system status: it displays the current time, power status, volume level. Moreover, thanks to ABIT EQ Program (ABIT’s brand name hardware monitoring technology), we can also see the rotation speed of the processor and system coolers, CPU temperature and temperature inside the case, CPU working frequency.


Inside ABIT DiGiDice: drive holders have been removed.


Inside ABIT DiGiDice: drive holder chassis is installed.
There is hardly any room left.

Now let’s take a look inside the system. Of course, assembling barebone systems is not an easy task. In order to find out the right way to install all the necessary components you will have to study carefully the accompanying documentation and manuals and you will definitely need at least some experience with assembling computers of non-standard configurations. If the manufacturer has taken care of the first requirement and supplied all the manuals, then the second requirement is completely your problem. Of course, you will need some skills in operating the screwdriver.

Keeping in mind that there is very little free room inside the case, the CPU heatsink is fastened not with a traditional retention bracket but with four spring screws, which appeared much harder to screw in, than we had expected. Moreover, when you mount the processor cooler, you should make sure that you avoid too weak and too tight contact between the heatsink and the processor surface. In the first case, there will be insufficient contact between the CPU and the heatsink, which will lead to higher thermal conditions. In the second case you threaten to damage the mainboard.


The removed 3.5” and 5” chassisses.
In the 5-inch chassis you can see the PCB of the built-in card-reader.
The front sides of both bays are covered with aluminum lids,
which should be removed by unscrewing and not breaking off.

The next step is to mount 5-inch drives into the corresponding chassis. Since the case is pretty stuffed, you may find it hard to install the chassis with a full;-size drive in it. Therefore, I would recommend buying shorter drives for ABIT DiGiDice barebone system. And as for the 3.5” devices, there are no problems at all here. Although on the other hand, stylish barebone systems are usually assembled once and for all that is why I think you could be patient and cope with these hardships once for the sake of ongoing comfort.


Processor cooling system.
The heat is dissipated to two heatsinks: a standard one and an external one,
which is cooled down by an external fan blowing the air inside
through a plastic pipe.

A few words about the cooling system of ABIT DiGiDice. It is made of two components: a standard heatsink with a fan installed onto a processor socket and an external heatsink connected to the CPU one via a couple of heatpipes. The external heatsink is fastened to the back side of the barebone case and is cooled down by a special fan blowing the air through a plastic airway.

Besides that, there is one more fan inside the case, right behind the drives, which blows the air outside the system. As a result, there are three coolers altogether, which makes this system somewhat noisy, I would say. However, the produced noise is not that loud, that is why I wouldn’t call this system “noisy”.

Accessories

And now a few words about the accessories that come together with this barebone system. A stylish carry-bag? Yes, there is one, but I don’t think you will be surprised to see it today. Anyway, this bag deserves our special attention, because it is not just a rag-bag, but a really high-quality thing, which is perfectly fit for ABIT DiGiDice transportation and features a lot of pockets and sections for all possible and impossible needs.


The bag for transportation of ABIT DiGiDice system
makes the impression of a high-quality sports bag.
And it really is a high quality, very convenient bag.

But this is not the most exciting thing about ABIT DiGiDice. On the picture below you can also see a very funny looking tray and a blue glass bottle. Yes, this “perfume set” also comes with the system as one of the accessories.


The set including a tray and a bottle of oil adding
a unique perfume odor to ABIT DiGiDice barebone system.

The tray is fastened to the case back panel right above the second heatsink of the processor cooling system, so that it could be warmed up by the warm air coming from the fan.


The back panel of the assembled system.
To the right of the plastic air-way there is an oil tray.

Well, you have already guessed what the bottle is actually for, haven’t you? The bottle contains nice rose oil. You pour this oil into the tray and when it evaporates it fills the room with pleasant rosy odors. Hm, aroma-barebone system is actually something new in our experience…

And now let’s pass over to the second part of our review: test session and system configuration.

Testbed and Performance

Type

Barebone system

Platform

Socket478

Mainboard

ABIT IS-50

Chipset

Intel 865G (up to 800MHz bus)
ICH5-R South Bridge

DIMM slots

2 (1x1 in dual-channel mode)

Graphics

Intel Extreme Graphics 2

Expansion slots

1 AGP 8x
1 PCI

IDE/SATA ports

2/2
RAID 0, 1

HDD/optical drives connectors

2/2

Card-reader

SM, MMC/SD, MS/MS Pro, CF

Dimensions

307mm x 215mm x 255mm

As you can see, ABIT DiGiDice is based on a pretty high-performance i865G chipset, supports CPUs with 800MHz bus and Hyper-Threading technology, and allows installing full-size external graphics card. However, I think I should make a few comments here: since the case is equipped with an internal thermometer (showing the temperature on the LCD display on the front panel of the system), we had the opportunity to measure the temperature of our Pentium 4 2.53GHz processor under maximum workload. Well, it reached 65oC, while the temperature inside the case reached 45oC, which is close to the top already. And bearing in mind that the new Pentium 4 processors supporting 800MHz bus generate even more heat, I would be careful suggesting that you should use them inside a system like ABIT DiGiDice. Although I should say that the use of ABIT OTES technology for cooling purposes is absolutely justified in this case. For your information I would like to say that some manufacturers of Socket478 barebone systems do not recommend using CPUs faster than Intel Celeron for this specific reason.

The functionality of BIOS Setup turned out the most extreme one of all other similar systems. There are all ABIT’s brand name technologies responsible for overclocking and memory subsystem fine tuning (including the popular GAME Axelerator with four settings: Auto, Turbo, StreetRacer and F1). They also implemented Easy Overclocking function, which allows increasing the FSB frequency in a very smooth manner from 5% to 25% (with 5% increment). All manipulations do not require accessing the BIOS. You perform them with the help of Shuttle Controller wheel and LCD display. However, I couldn’t make the system run stable even with standard settings at first. Only after I reflashed the latest BIOS version downloaded from the manufacturer’s web-site, everything started working properly. I was also pleasantly surprised to discover that PAT technology is activated by default, which ensures even higher performance of the memory subsystem, especially during intensive work with the memory. By the way, since we mentioned the memory, I think I should also say a few words about the way the memory subsystem is organized there. The integrated Intel Extreme Graphics 2 graphics core can occupy from 2MB up to 32MB of the system memory. Moreover, keeping in mind the shared bandwidth I would suggest working in dual-channel mode, because this way you can minimize the negative influence of the integrated graphics.

Since ABIT DiGiDice system is positioned as a media solution, I think it makes sense to use the available PCI slot for a high-quality external sound card.

In conclusion I would like to say that the internal architecture of ABIT DiGiDice implies its long life-cycle. You can also find here two power cables for SATA hard disk drives (since there is an ICH5-R South Bridge you can build RAID arrays of up to two HDDs). There is also a similar cable for graphics cards, which require additional power supply. During our test session we decided to check if this small barebone system could bear the heavy workload (it is officially intended for). We equipped our system with Intel Pentium 4 3.2GHz CPU, external RADEON 9800 XT based graphics card, Creative Audigy sound card and a CD-RW drive. I should give credit to ABIT DiGiDice: it managed to pass all the tests under this extreme workload without any problems, even though not all desktop systems could do the same thing. Moreover, ABIT engineers didn’t forget about dedicated overclocking fans having provided their DiGiDice system with a very conveniently located jumper, which would reset all the settings in the BIOS Setup to the default ones, once the system crashed because of over-overclocking. This jumper immediately catches your eye when you open the upper cover of the system case.

3DMark 2001 SE, Total Score

3259

UT2003 (640x480)

46.61

PCMark2002 Pro Scores

CPU

6290
(6283 - with external graphics)

RAM

6713
(8184 – with external graphics)

Conclusion

Well, the manufacturers seem to be inventing all possible and impossible sorts of things trying to convince the user that their system is the best. But I have to admit that ABIT retains the title of the most extraordinary: it is a really original decision to make the barebone system not only pleasing for the eye, but also pleasing for the nose. I bet you will also find this solution quite charming, because the rosy oil odor is definitely much nicer than the smell of the heated textolite coming from your system case.

Moreover, the new ABIT system appeared pretty successful on the whole. Small design drawbacks resulting into assembly difficulties are not that dramatic, and the advantages of the ready system easily make up for them. BIOS settings and overclocking friendly options sometimes seem even too extensive for a barebone system. But if they are there, then why not take them? :)

As a result, we get an originally looking, pretty barebone-system with rich functionality and expansion capabilities, exceeding those of many similar solutions from other manufacturers. And what if the manufacturer makes the remote control unit a little bit more ergonomic and convenient to use and equips its product with a fully-fledged LCD display? And adds the possibility to program the keys? Ah, sweet dreams… Well, in this case ABIT DiGiDice could turn out the most attractive solution of the kind!

P.S.: If you replace the rose oil with the pine-tree oil, and add something like WD 250GB Special Edition Combo Drive, then you will be able to celebrate Christmas almost every night :)