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Abit's AG8 motherboard

Abit gets its 915P groove on

Price (street)$132

ALTHOUGH DISCUSSION of Intel hardware lately tends to degenerate into Prescott-bashing, the company's new 900 series chipsets really are the bee's knees. Released several months ago, the new chipsets boast plenty of PCI Express for peripherals and graphics, Native Command Queuing for Serial ATA hard drives, support for DDR2 memory, and support for Intel's High Definition Audio spec. With companies like VIA only just beginning to preview PCI Express chipsets, Intel is way ahead of the game when it comes to support for next-generation standards.

While the Athlon 64 world waits on PCI Express, a wide range of motherboards based on Intel's 900 series chipsets have flooded the market, and they're more affordable than you think. For only $132, you can get your hands on Abit's 915P-based AG8, which serves up PCI Express graphics, all the integrated goodies in Intel's ICH6R south bridge, and support for DDR400 memory so you don't have to resort to high-latency DDR2. With recent price cuts making LGA775 processors like the Pentium 4 520 2.8GHz available for as little as $160, boards like the AG8 could be perfect for video editing enthusiasts, Hyper-Threading fetishists, and those with a deep longing for PCI Express. Read on for an in-depth look at the AG8's features and performance.

The specs
Before we dig into the board itself, let's check out the AG8's spec sheet:

CPU supportLGA775 Intel Pentium 4 processors with 800MHz front-side bus
Form factorATX
ChipsetIntel 915P Express
North bridgeIntel 915P MCH
South bridgeIntel ICH6R
InterconnectDMI (2GB/s)
Expansion slots1 PCI Express X16
3 PCI Express X1
2 32-bit/33MHz PCI
Memory4 184-pin DIMM slots
Maximum of 4GB of DDR 333/400 SDRAM
Storage I/OFloppy disk
1 channel ATA/100
4 ports Serial ATA 150 via ICH6R south bridge with RAID 0,1 support
Audio6-channel audio via ICH6R integrated audio and ALC658 codec
Ports1 PS/2 keyboard
1 PS/2 mouse
1 serial
1 parallel
USB 2.0 with headers for 2 more
 IEEE 1394 port via TI TSB43AB23 Firewire controller with headers for 2 more
1 RJ45 10/100/1000 Gigabit Ethernet via Realtek 8110S-32

1 line out/front out
1 rear out

1 bass/center out
1 mic in
1 line in
1 optical SPDIF in
1 optical SPDIF out
BIOSPhoenix AwardBIOS
Bus speedsFSB: 100-300MHz in 1MHz increments
PCI-E: 99-255MHz in 1MHz increments
Bus dividersLocked PCI speeds of 33, 36, 40MHz
VoltagesCPU: 1.3375-1.6875V in 0.05V increments
DRAM: 2.5-3.2V in 0.05V increments
North bridge: 1.5-2.05V in 0.05V increments
MonitoringVoltage, fan status, and temperature monitoring
Fan speed controlCPU, north bridge, and system fans

The AG8 offers about what one would expect from a 915P-based motherboard, including PCI Express X1 and X16 slots, four-port Serial ATA RAID, and Gigabit Ethernet. The AG8 accepts plain old DDR memory, so you don't have to worry about upgrading to DDR2. Abit is also skipping out on Azalia (a.k.a. High Definition Audio), instead opting for a rather pedestrian six-channel codec that won't do HD resolutions or sampling rates.

We'll cover each of the AG8's integrated peripherals in depth in a moment, but first, let's see how Abit lays everything out on the board.