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Abit's IT7 MAX motherboard


Give me one with everything, except legacy ports
— 12:09 AM on July 24, 2002

ManufacturerAbit
ModelIT7 MAX
Price (street)US$150
AvailabilityNow

ABIT'S MAX CONCEPT, at least on first inspection, appears contradictory. Here you have a PCB jam packed with all manner of integrated peripherals and brimming with expansion ports of all shapes and sizes, but it's missing PS/2, serial, and parallel ports. MAX motherboards almost resemble a concept platform for future PCs. Yet they still have a floppy drive port. It can be confusing.

We cut through the confusion surrounding the MAX concept with our AT7 MAX review back in May. The AT7 was fast, equipped with a decadent array of integrated peripherals, and a courageous step towards a truly legacy-free PC platform. We were mighty impressed.

Today we're looking at the AT7's partner in crime, the IT7 MAX. Based on Intel's 845E chipset for the Pentium 4 processor, the IT7 brings all the MAX goodies to the Socket 478 platform. It even manages to squeeze in a few extras along the way.

What does Abit bring to the table with the IT7 MAX, and why is that floppy port still there? Should other motherboard manufacturers be afraid? Read on to find out.

Legacy what?
Much has been made of the legacy-free theme of Abit's MAX series of motherboards, but it's really not that complicated. The IT7 MAX isn't a legacy-free board in any radical sense. No, it doesn't have any old-style keyboard, mouse, serial, or parallel ports. But at the silicon level, Intel's 845E chipset has full support for PS/2, serial, and parallel interfaces. Even if Abit doesn't implement ports for these legacy interfaces, the IT7 MAX performs no differently than a motherboard with these legacy devices disabled in the BIOS.

Interestingly enough, Abit does include a dated floppy disk drive interface on the forward-looking IT7 MAX. The official line from Abit is that they don't feel the market is quite ready to ditch the antiquated 1.44MB floppy disk, and they might have a point. Then again, I'm perfectly comfortable with using CD-Rs in lieu of floppy disks, even for BIOS flashing.

It turns out that we can also blame Microsoft for the IT7 MAX's floppy drive, at least for now. If you want to install an operating system to a drive connected to the integrated Highpoint 374 controller, you're going to need a driver disk—Windows' setup route will only read drivers from a floppy drive. Much to my dismay, the CD-R trick doesn't work.

In the end, it's probably best to call the IT7 MAX legacy-reduced. Your only access to PS/2, serial, or parallel ports will be through USB adapters, and you're going to have to buy those yourself. Realizing the MAX concept is a bold move on Abit's part. Grumpy old men with dot matrix printers will likely hum and haw about it, but the MAX boards might be just what the industry needs to prove that the market is ready for legacy-free PC platforms.

The specs
It might not have any legacy ports, but the IT7 MAX's spec sheet is packed with other goodies.

CPU supportSocket 478-based Intel Pentium 4 CPUs
Form factorATX
ChipsetIntel 845E
North bridgeIntel 82845E (MCH)
South bridgeIntel 82801DB (ICH4)
InterconnectIntel Hub Architecture  (266MB/s)
PCI slots4 32-bit/33MHz
AGP slots1, 2X/4X AGP (1.5V only)
AMR/CNR slotsnone
Memory3 184-pin DIMM sockets
Maximum of 2GB of PC1600/PC2100 DDR SDRAM
Storage I/OFloppy disk
2 channels ATA/100
RAIDHighpoint HPT374 IDE RAID controller
4 channels ATA/133
Legacy portsnone
USB6 USB 2.0/1.1 ports
4 additional USB 2.0/1.1 port via PCI backplane connector
AudioRealtek ALC650 6-channel audio
S/PDIF output
EthernetRealtek 8100B 10/100
FirewireTexas Instruments TSB43AB23 IEEE 1394
BIOSAward, SoftMenu III
Bus speeds100-250MHz in 1MHz increments
MonitoringVoltage, fan status, thermal header and temperature monitoring

There are far too many integrated peripherals to deal with all at once, so let's break things down a little.