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The board
The AA8's layout is more or less standard fare for an ATX mobo, despite the new PCI Express slots.

Of course, that doesn't mean the AA8 isn't relatively roomy. The teensy PCI Express X1 slots don't take up much real estate, and PCI Express itself simplifies board layouts by reducing pin and trace counts. Abit's designers have given the AA8 ample clearance between graphics cards and the tabs on the DDR2 DIMM slots, and the rest of the board layout is sensible, as well.

The strangest sights on the AA8 are its newfangled LGA775-style CPU socket and the racy-looking north bridge cooler Abit has situated next to it. The AA8 uses the same Foxconn socket mech found on Intel's own LGA775 motherboards. The jury's stil out on the durability of the LGA775 sockets, but at a minimum, we know motherboards are relatively more prone to problems now, while CPUs are more robust. Fortunately, Abit has been gaining a reputation for having a pretty decent return policy, which may be a big plus for LGA775 motherboards.

Around back, the AA8 exposes a rich array of ports, including six different analog audio ports—four stereo ports for eight-channel audio, plus two inputs. Optical inputs and outputs are available for digital audio. There's also a Firewire, er, IEEE 1394 port, a GigE port, and four USB 2.0 connections. In a nod to the old school, Abit has also included a serial port, a parallel port, and PS/2 keyboard and mouse connectors.

If that's not enough for you, Abit also throws in a PCI slot cover with a pair of Firewire ports and a couple of USB ports. These additional ports are fed via headers available on the AA8.

The picture above shows a whole host of goodies, including the AA8's quad Serial ATA ports and its sole ATA/100 connector. Oh, and while we're on the subject, Abit doesn't skimp on the cables to attach to those ports. They pack four SATA cables, a floppy cable, and an ATA cable in the box with the AA8.

You can also see the two-digit LED readout that shows POST codes as the system boots up. This wondrous invention can help mightily with diagnosing problems. In fact, when I first fired up the AA8, it wouldn't complete the power-on self test (POST) process completely. I sent the POST code to Abit, and they were able to pinpoint the problem as something related to the CPU. Turns out an early AA8 BIOS didn't like P4 Extreme Edition processors, as I learned by swapping in a Prescott Pentium 4 instead. Most folks shouldn't encounter the particular problem I did, but the POST code readout is often helpful when things don't go as planned.

Finally, check out that funky Abit heat sink that rides atop the ICH6R south bridge chip. That's fancy enough to get you into trouble in some crowds, I'd think. Kinda nifty, though.