The AT8 32X is the first Abit board to roll off new owner USI's production line. In fact, this is the first enthusiast-oriented motherboard that USI has ever built, making it an interesting starting point for Abit's planned resurgence. USI is no stranger to manufacturing, of course, but it's spent most of its time building boards for OEM systems, consumer electronics devices, and even the automobile industry. High-end retail motherboards are an entirely different animal, although according to Abit, the first boards to come out of USI exceeded expectations.
Abit didn't give USI a simple board to start with, either. The AT8 32X has everything you'd expect from a high-end enthusiast board, including loads of slots, ports, and peripherals, funky chipset cooling, and even a few flashy colors.
In general, the AT8 does a good job of keeping its myriad onboard components from interfering with each other. However, the AT8 has a few layout quirks I'm not too crazy about. First, the board's auxiliary ATX 12V connector sits right next to the CPU socket. Ideally, I'd like to see this connector along the top or right edge of the board where power cabling won't interfere with air flow around the CPU socket. Second, I'm not sure why there are two Serial ATA ports up by the CPU socket, either. The ports are connected to the auxiliary Silicon Image SATA controller, and they should really be in the bottom-right corner of the board along with the rest of the storage ports. The only time we usually see Serial ATA ports marooned up by the CPU socket is when a board offers an eSATA (external Serial ATA) port, but the AT8 32X's SATA ports are all internal.
I'm also less than enthusiastic about the AT8 32X's DIMM slot arrangement. All four slots are packed tightly together, making memory module cooling challenging, especially with four DIMMs installed. I'd prefer to see these DIMM slots split into pairs to allow for a little more airflow.
Fortunately, the rest of the AT8 32X's socket layout looks good. The capacitors surrounding the socket are short enough not to interfere with larger CPU coolers, and the chipset cooler's low-profile design shouldn't get in the way, either.
Heatpipe chipset coolers are all the rage these days, and although the CrossFire Xpress 3200 chipset isn't known for requiring elaborate cooling, Abit throws in its Silent OTES cooler anyway. The cooler links the north bridge chip's low-profile heatsink to a taller unit that also cools the board's voltage circuitry. This taller unit is located right in the port cluster where warm air can easily be exhausted from the system.
Below this elaborate cooling mechanism, the AT8 32X features a relatively standard array of expansion slots. Pairs of PCI Express x1 and x16 slots are present alongside a couple of PCI slots for those who prefer to kick it old-school. As an added bonus, the slots are arranged so that CrossFire configurations with double-wide graphics cards will still leave users with one PCI and one PCI-E x1 slot free.
Those looking to run longer graphics cards need not worry about clearance, either. The board's short south bridge cooler leaves plenty of room for longer cards, and double-wide Radeon X1900-series graphics cards won't block any of the Serial ATA ports. I'm particularly fond of the edge-mounted IDE ports, too, although ATA hard drives are becoming increasingly rare.
With the exception of parallel and serial ports, the AT8 32X's port cluster is packed to the gills. You'll find a full array of analog and digital audio ports, plus Firewire, Ethernet, and USB. Internal headers are available for an additional four USB ports and one Firewire port, as well.
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