AOpen AX4C Max 19th July 2003
Before we get started we need to explain the format of our reviews over the past six months. Readers will have noted that an entire review is laid out on one long page instead of 15-20 short pages. While it takes longer for a single page of this length to load we have designed the layout so that text appears first and graphics last so you can start reading before completion of loading. We decided not to split over 15-20 pages as many people find it annoying to have interruptions once they start getting into a review. It also means you can use the search option in the menu bar to go straight to parts that are of interest. We'd like our readers to let us know which method they prefer by providing feedback in our Forums. In any case, by the time you finish reading this paragraph the page should have mostly loaded.
AOpen have produced many good boards over the years and their manuals have always been well written (if somewhat on the large side). They also like to give plenty of extras in their Max series with headers for just about every feature the motherboard supports.
Everything anyone could possibly want.
This seems fairly comprehensive so lets take a look at the board itself:
We have a reasonably good layout with color coding of the Dimm slots (take note Abit). The Northbridge fan can be controlled in the BIOS if it gets too noisy. The limitations of the current ICH5R Southbridge means that only two RAID drives are supported. Because this board has 4 S-ATA connectors AOpen thoughtfully attached a Promise RAID controller to the other two so 4 S-ATA drives are supported in RAID configuration. The Hercules PCI slot is the last one and is colored blue to show that it is different. The Hercules PCI slot is a new feature and is basically a very high quality PCI slot with more robust traces and no shared resources (unique IRQ). It seems like it would be the ideal slot for a RAID controller card or a video editing/effects card (like the Matrox RT.X10 etc.).
We find the usual connectors here including the onboard gigabit LAN connector using Intel's design and CSA. Four USB 2.0 connectors should be enough with another 4 available through a header (supplied along with a IEEE1394 header). Digital audio connectors are available on one of the headers.
Here are the manufacturer's specifications:
Here's a summary of the test system:
The memory used was DDR400 Corsair memory rated at 2-2-2-6. For comparison we'll use Intel's D875PBZ reference Canterwood board and an SIS655 board.
Let's start with the synthetic benchmarks.
This test is largely dominated by the CPU bus and so the higher FSB makes little difference here.
The AX4C Max is well ahead of the other Canterwood board and the Springdale one.
Again the AX4C Max is on top of the 3GHz P4 CPUs
The lead is given away here probably due to some highly tuned optimizations from the Abit contender.
This is a series of tests and is more comprehensive than any of the Sandra benchmarks.
The Intel reference board pulls ahead here but the AX4C Max is ahead of the IS7-G.
We repeated this several times as we just couldn't believe this score. It is absolutely astounding on a Ti4400 graphics card and wouldn't look out of place on a Radeon 9700 Pro.
The highest score to date goes to the AX4C Max.
Now for some real world benchmarks starting with UT2003 Flyby.
There isn't much to say here except that an 800MHz FSB is definitely the way to go for gamers..
The IS7-G is ahead at the higher resolutions, giving weight to Abit's claim of game optimizations although the AX4C Max is aimed at users who want more than just gameplay.
Let's turn to an area where we know that fast CPUs will make a difference - Audio and Video encoding. This is becoming more and more popular and is very computationally intensive with long processing times (relatively speaking that is, this field is not for those that complain about how long their Outlook Express takes to load).
For consistency we will use Jet Li's The One as our test matter. It is not interlaced and contains a mixture of action types and is not too long. There will be three tests all using Divx 5.02. Audio will be encoded separately. I will try and keep my commentary to a minimum as all configuration information is shown in the images below.
and here are the results
The AOpen board is clearly in the lead.
AviSynth and VirtualDub
No serious Divx encoder uses Xmpeg alone and it's just used by the media for benchmarking purposes so let's get serious. We ripped our source material to hard disk and created a DVD2AVI project file using forced film (it was 99% film). Loading this into Gordian Knot we first saved an .avs file with no changes at all (720x480) and no filters of any sort. This was loaded into VirtualDub with the following CODEC parameters :
After encoding we got these results:
Little to choose between the three leaders.
This is all good stuff but how about a real-world test? To simulate a realistic test we added a neutral bicubic resize filter in the .avs file and used the following CODEC parameters (including two popular Pro settings) which are designed to total 700MB (when the audio is muxed in):
Which resulted in the following.
There seems to be no logical explanation for the lead of the IS7-G and the AX4C Max comes in second.
What about audio? We took the AC3 track from the above sample material and used HeadAC3he to convert it into Vorbis format so our final muxed file could have Ogg containment. There isn't space here to go into the advantages of Ogg Vorbis over MP3 and AVI so let's just say that Vorbis sounds about the same as MP3 for half the file size or twice as good for the same file size (that is subjective though).
Since it is more meaningful to show throughput than time taken (which depends on the length of the source) we display the results thus:
Another good effort.
We were quit pleased with the performance of the AX4C Max which is better than the Intel reference board and usually better than the IS7-G. The question remains - why buy a Canterwood board when the cheaper Springdale ones are almost as good and a lot cheaper? The answer has to do with the robustness of this product. The Hercules slot actually lifted the PCI ceiling of our Promise TX4000 from 100MB/s to 119MB/s, an increase of almost 10%. It's an ideal board for home and even professional video editing and was rock solid in terms of stability. If you're on a tight budget then by all means go for a cheap Springdale but if you must have a Canterwood then you could do far worse than the AOpen AX4C Max.
We award the AOpen AX4C Max our Silver Award.
We would like to thank AOpen for the review sample AX4C Max Motherboard.
We would also like to thank MICROSOFT UK for the review sample Windows XP Pro and their technical assistance.
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