We've seen a large number of motherboards pass through the Hexus testing labs recently. Some have impressed us with their performance, some have impressed us with their specification, others have caught our eye by attempting to marry the key elements of performance, reliability, features, and price into one package. The underlying fact is that all of they have all been tied down to standard convention, that is all until now.
ABIT, the Taiwanese motherboard manufacturer, recently announced their MAX series of 'boards. The MAX-based motherboards, starting initially with the AT7 (AMD KT333CE chipset-based) and IT7 (Intel I845E chipset-based) aim to be as all-encompassing as possible by providing hither-to unseen levels of integrated features and flexibility.
Not simply content with being the most feature-rich motherboards on the market, the MAX series attempt to almost redefine the motherboard genre by effectively removing support for legacy components.
It seems clear that ABIT feel legacy support is hindering the potential that lies within their motherboards. The legacy ports, notably the PS2 connectors, along with the serial and parallel ports, operate at a much lower frequency when compared directly to cutting-edge technology in the form of USB2.0 and Firewire 1394a respectively. The legacy components have been around for eons when considered in PC evolution terms, ABIT has made the first move in dispensing with them.
We've seen a proliferation of high-speed devices hit the market in recent times, so much so that almost every peripheral is available with USB and / or Firewire connections. So, prima facie, it makes great sense in substituting older legacy ports for the newer and faster formats currently available. The question remains whether it's a viable proposition in an industry that has always embraced change rather begrudgingly. The IT7 is aimed at those who are considering building a new system from scratch, or to those who already own peripherals with high-speed connections and wish to upgrade. It makes little sense if the majority of your peripherals rely on serial or PS/2 connections.
The ABIT IT7 is not simply notable for its extremely impressive feature list and lack of legacy support, it also happens to be the first Intel I845E chipset-equipped motherboard that we've seen at Hexus.
The Intel I845E chipset is an updated version of the popular I845D DDR chipset. The MCH (Memory Controller Hub) differs from its predecessor by offering official 533FSB (133FSB QDR) support for the upcoming 533FSB Northwood B P4s, the current I845D MCH is only validated to 400FSB, although we have demonstrated that the majority of I845D-equipped motherboards have no problems whatsoever running at 133FSB.
Unfortunately, unlike its competitors, it appears that the new MCH will not provide direct support for PC2700 DDR memory. Intel are expected to wait until full JEDEC approval has been gained for the new high-speed DDR memory standard before offering official support through suitable BIOS options.
The Southbridge has seen an upgrade, too. The current ICH2 (I/O Controller Hub) is replaced by the upgraded ICH4. The ICH4 differs from the ICH2 by providing integrated support for 6 USB2.0 connections. Other features such ATA100 support, integrated LAN interface, AC97 audio and modem capabilities remain the same.
The combination of ABIT's MAX approach,
coupled with the enhanced Intel chipset, should see the most feature-laden motherboard to date. ABIT have sought to look ahead to the
future rather than dwell on the past. This is about as radical as a
motherboard can possibly be. Let's now have a closer look at the