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Abit's Fatal1ty AN8 SLI motherboard

Tweaks, LEDs, and lots of red

ModelFatal1ty AN8 SLI
Price (Street)

EVER SINCE THE DAYS of the BH6, Abit has chosen not to focus on mass producing low-cost motherboards for large PC vendors. Instead, they've built their business largely in the higher margin, lower volume enthusiast market. Historically, some of Abit's motherboards are ranked as the best enthusiast-class products ever built, but fresh competition from manufacturers like DFI has left Abit with no room to rest on its laurels.

The Fatal1ty series is Abit's own top-tier product line, and its SLI support, unique OTES cooler, and numerous BIOS options are meant to differentiate it qualitatively from any other mobo on the market. Does the Fatal1ty AN8 SLI compare well to other, more conventionally feature-rich boards? Read on to find out.

The specs
The Fatal1ty AN8 SLI isn't as packed with extras as some top-end motherboards these days, as the specs will attest.

CPU supportSocket 939-based Athlon 64 processors
ChipsetnForce4 SLI
Expansion slots2 PCI Express x16
2 PCI Express x1
2 32-bit/33MHz PCI
Memory4 184-pin DIMM sockets
Maximum of 4GB of unbuffered DDR400/333/266 SDRAM
Storage I/OFloppy disk
2 channels ATA/133 with RAID 0, 1, 0+1 support
4 channels Serial ATA with RAID 0, 1, 0+1 support
Audio8-channel audio via nForce4 SLI and Realtek ALC850 codec
Ports1 PS/2 keyboard
1 PS/2 mouse
4 USB 2.0 ports with headers for 6 more
2 USB 2.0 ports (on uGuru front panel)
1 RJ45 10/100/1000 via nForce4 SLI
1 Firewire (IEEE1394a) port via Texas Instruments TSB43AB22A
1 Firewire (IEEE1394a) port (on uGuru front panel)

1 analog line out
1 analog center/subwoofer out
1 analog rear left/rear right out
1 analog surround left/surround right out
1 TOS-Link digital S/PDIF out
1 speaker/headphone out (on uGuru front panel)
1 analog line in/S/PDIF in
1 analog mic in
1 analog mic in (on uGuru front panel)
BIOSPhoenix AwardBIOS
Bus speedsHyperTransport: 200-410MHz in 1 MHz increments
DRAM: Auto, 200, 266, 333, 400, 433, 466, 500MHz
PCI-E: 100-145MHz in 1MHz increments
VoltagesCPU: auto, 1.3-1.65V in 0.0125V increments
DDR: 2.5-3.4V in 0.05V increments
DDR VTT: 1.25-1.75V or DDR/2 in 0.05V increments
Chipset: 1.5-1.8V in 0.05V increments
HT voltage: 1.20-1.35V in 0.05V increments
DDR reference voltage: -60mV to +60mV
CPU reference voltage: -60mV to +60mV
MonitoringVoltage, fan status, and temperature monitoring
Fan speed controlCPU, system, aux, OTES1, OTES2, chipset

There are a total of 20 PCI Express lanes available on the nForce4 SLI chipset, and the Fatal1ty AN8 SLI spreads them over two physical PCI-E x16 slots and a pair of x1 slots. That configuration leaves two lanes to spare for onboard devices. However, the AN8 SLI doesn't feature any onboard PCI Express peripherals. Instead, it relies solely on the nForce4 SLI chipset for Gigabit Ethernet and Serial ATA RAID support.

The lack of auxiliary onboard peripherals suggests that this particular entry in Abit's Fatal1ty series is designed for a buyer who places flexible configuration options and fine-grained BIOS control over sheer connectivity. The Asus A8N-SLI Deluxe is an equivalently-priced nForce4 SLI board that packs twice the SATA ports of the Fatal1ty AN8 SLI (eight total), offers three PCI slots to the Fatal1ty's two, boasts dual Gigabit Ethernet support, and includes a breakout connector for external SATA drives. The AN8 SLI, in contrast, sticks to the I/O options supported in the nForce4 SLI chipset. The inclusion of an onboard Texas Instruments Firewire controller does give the Abit board some additional flexibility, though.

As often happens, however, spec sheets don't tell the whole story. As impressive as the Asus A8N-SLI Deluxe's I/O options are, there's only a relative handful of users who need—or are even capable of simultaneously using—all the extra devices, ports, and slots. If you're building a system meant to sit at the center of a multi-network digital content creation hub, a board like the A8N-SLI Deluxe is certainly a better option. Noise reduction and BIOS control are arguably features that appeal to a larger segment of the market than the A8N-SLI Deluxe's frenzy of ports, so unless you have specific need for the extra connectivity, I suggest the difference be considered an area of product differentiation rather than a place where Abit fails to measure up.