The AudioMAX card supports 7.1 Intel High Definition Audio with Dolby Master Studio and also sports auto jack sensing and optical S/PDIF In/Out. On the AudioMAX daughter card is a Realtek ALC882M 7.1+2 HD Audio Codec. The connectors on the card are S/PDIF out, S/PDIF in, line in, microphone in, line out, central/subwoofer, rear surround, and surround. All of the connectors are color-coded and are clearly printed on the PCB. Also near this audio connector is yet another system 3-pin fan connector as well as the Super I/O controller. The I/O controller utilized on the AW8 series is Winbond's W83627EHG. As far as the other expansion slots go, there are two standard PCI slots and two PCI Express x1 connections. Providing the main graphics capabilities is a single PCI Express x16 slot. Another one of the few changes between the Abit AW8 and AW8-MAX is an additional SATA controller that provides two extra SATA connections, and is positioned behind the x1 slots.
Also in the near vicinity of the PCI Express x16 connector is a Broadcom BCM5789KFB Gigabit LAN controller. The final significant design change between the AW8 and AW8-MAX is that the MAX version sports a second 10/100/1000 LAN controller; also from Broadcom. Unfortunately, Abit has yet to make dual LAN controllers standard protocol for all of their motherboards. The next item of interest on the AW8 is the Northbridge, which happens to be Intel's i955X. Among other diminutive changes between the i955 and i945 are slight alterations mainly in the area of memory performance. However, major motherboard manufacturers have begun bridging the performance gap between Intel's i945 and i955. These modifications are similar to what had occurred with the i915 and i925, and more noticeably the i865 and i875 Chipsets with PAT (Performance Acceleration Technology). Later on in this article when we get the Abit AW8 running, we'll be displaying some of these i945/i955 comparison results, in addition to the results from VIA's attempt at creating a Pentium 4/D Chipset that’s comparable to that from Intel and NVIDIA. Cooling the i955X, which can get quite toasty when overclocking, is Abit's latest OTES (Outside Thermal Exhaust System) revision - Silent OTES a.k.a. Q-OTES. On the underside of the motherboard is a metal brace for keeping the heatsink in place. This Q-OTES heatpipe runs from the Northbridge all the way up to the top of the motherboard at the I/O panel. Although no fan is required for Silent OTES, Abit has placed a Northbridge 3-pin fan connector near the Northbridge for future expansion possibilities.
Around the CPU LGA-775 socket, the area is virtually free of any major components that could cause conflicts during the heatsink installation. The Abit AW8 is designed for Intel Pentium 4 and Pentium D processors with a 1066/800MHz FSB, and also the Celeron D 533MHz CPU, while offering general support for Hyper Threading, XD-bit, EM64T, and EIST Technology. Outside of the immediate area of the CPU socket, where water block units or large heatsinks would extend, is a good portion of the power circuitry. In the upper right hand corner of the CPU socket is also the 4-pin P4 power connector. As the original OTES cooling system on the Abit IC7-MAX3 was designed to actively cool the PWM MOSFETs and capacitors, Silent OTES does the same but takes into consideration the noise level by simply offering four tall aluminum passive heatsinks. Also near these heatsinks are the final two system fan connectors. In total, there are eight fan connectors on this motherboard, which is quite impressive and can even compete with the great deal of fan headers on Tyan motherboards.
At the rear of the motherboard on the I/O panel are the keyboard and mouse PS/2 connectors, four USB 2.0 ports, and one Gigabit LAN connector! On the Abit AW8-MAX model, there is an additional Gigabit LAN connector and an IEEE-1394 Firewire connector on the I/O panel. Like previously stated, all of the audio ports have moved from the I/O panel over to Abit's AudioMAX expansion card. Since Abit has been utilizing the I/O panel for its thermal exhaust, we've seen the number of legacy ports greatly decrease, and in our minds, we very much appreciate the change. Likewise, Sapphire has begun eliminating the legacy I/O ports on their recent PI-A9RX480 motherboard, which is now famous among enthusiasts for sporting a white PCB. Overall, the Abit AW8 motherboard is relatively well laid out, but now it's time to see how it performs in a dual-core environment.