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ABIT AW8-MAX & Gigabyte GA-81955X

The 955X chipset

While the 955X chipset is no where near as revolutionary as the i915 and i925 chipsets were over the i865 and i875 (bringing PCI-Express into the Intel world), or even the i865 and i875 over the old i845 chipsets (bringing twice the memory bandwidth to the P4 architecture), the i945 and i955 simply offer dual core support (among other minor improvements), something that AMD has done with a simple BIOS update.

The reason for the chipset change is that Intel’s northbridge contains the memory controller which needs to be updated in order recognise both CPU cores. This has caused a lot of people to cry out at Intel’s supposed “lack of foresight” where these people claim that the whole i9xx range of chipsets should have been dual core enabled from the word go. Maybe so, but as the i925X chipsets were being designed Intel was probably still thinking it had some clock overhead in the Prescott which, as it happens has turned out not to be true.

The northbridge may also not officially support faster DDR2 speeds than PC2-4300 (533MHz), but a lot of manufacturers are now including DDR2-667 or even DDR2-888 support thanks to newly included memory dividers. To compliment this, memory manufacturers have released some seriously fast DDR2 in the form of PC2-5400, PC2-6400 and even PC2-8000 to give the overclocker the ability to obtain those speeds.

On top of this Intel also claim that “This chipset supports key performance-optimised capabilities such as Intel® Memory Pipeline Technology (Intel® MPT), up to 8 GB memory addressability to help enable 64-bit computing, and ECC memory support.”

While the standard addressing for 32-bit applications is still only 4 GB, the MPT looks most interesting and we have tested it comparatively against the 925X chipset to see if they have made any improvements.

ICH7R is the new southbridge now supporting RAID 5 for a better speed to redundancy ratio on the upgraded SATA 2 ports. RAID 5 is a sort of cross between RAID 0 and 1 (if the purists will excuse the explanation to keep it simple), where you need a minimum of three disks but each contains a redundancy of data of the other two so losing any of the disks doesn’t matter as your whole array can be rebuilt. You lose less space than a simple RAID 1 mirrored disk array, but you’re not quite at RAID 0 striped disk array speed. ICH7R also includes support for Intel’s Azalia high definition audio codec, four SATA 2 (300MBit/s) ports, a single ATA 100 IDE channel and PCI/PCI-Express buses.

ABIT AW8-MAX

It has always seemed that ABIT's motherboards and Intel's chipsets go together like tea ‘n biscuits. Ever since I owned the fantastic BD7II-RAID with the i845E chipset, Intel powered ABIT boards are a dear favourite of mine and the AW8-MAX is no exception - with the excellent µGuru overclocking technology, silent OTES heatpipe system for the northbridge, dual gigabit Ethernet and Dolby Master Studio certified High Definition 8-channel audio amongst the other things that offer this board up to be something exciting.

Main Feature Overview:
  • Complete support for all Intel LGA755 processors, including 533, 800 or 1066FSB bus speeds;
  • Intel 955X northbridge and Intel ICH7R southbridge;
  • 1066MHz FSB;
  • 4x 240-pin dual channel DDR2 memory slots supporting up to 8GB with EM64T processors;
  • 1x PCI-Express x16 slots, 2x PCI-Express x1 slot, 2x PCI expansion slots;
  • 1x ATA100 port, 4x SATA 2 ports (ICH7R), 2x SATA ports (Sil3132)
  • 4 (plus 4)x USB 2.0 ports;
  • 1x IEEE1394 Firewire 'A' port and 2x IEEE1394 Firewire 'B' ports;
  • 8-Channel ABIT AudioMAX HD7.1 add-in sound card featuring Intel's Azalia High-Definition audio codec;
  • Dual Broadcom PCI-Express Gigabit Ethernet Controllers;
  • ABIT Q-OTES and ?Guru technology.

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What you get in the box:
  • 6x red SATA cables (with locking mechanism);
  • 1x black, rounded, single ended floppy cable;
  • 1x blue and white, rounded IDE cable;
  • 3x molex to SATA hard disk power cables providing power for 6 SATA hard disks;
  • 1x Optical cable for S/PDIF;
  • 1x combination PCI bracket for two extra USB2.0 and two Firewire 800;
  • 1x metal I/O panel;
  • 1x AudioMAX soundcard.

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Not too shabby, but unfortunately this edition isn’t ABIT’s renowned “3rd-Eye” which would give a desktop LCD display that the board has the pin-out for. Nor do you get any extras in the form of WiFi or Bluetooth like some other manufacturers provide, but you do have everything you need to make the most out of the connectivity on the motherboard. The SATA ports have the clip locking mechanism on them to make sure they don’t inadvertently come out of the SATA sockets. Since the plastic on SATA cables tend to wear down quickly and after a few uses will begin to fall out at the slightest nudge, this is a welcome innovation.