Aesthetics may be the least important attribute to consider when evaluating a motherboard, but the AN8 32X looks pretty good. The board is dressed in Abit's unique shade of reddish orange, complete with blue anodized heat sinks and a smattering of ports and slots that don't clash with the color scheme.
Still, layout is more important than looks. There are a few issues with the AN8 32X's layout that are less than ideal, starting with the placement of the board's four-pin auxiliary 12V connector. The connector's off to the left of the CPU socket, where its cabling can clutter air flow around the processor, VRMs, and case exhaust. Abit has also put a couple of Serial ATA ports up by the auxiliary 12V connector, creating the potential for even more disrupted air flow around the CPU socket.
The auxiliary SATA ports are about as far as you can get from the hard drive cage in most chassis, making their positioning particularly curious. According to Abit, putting the extra ports in this position allows users to easily run cables to external drives. However, there's no cut-out in the board's I/O shield to facilitate external routing, and you'd also need to run power outside of the case. If Abit were really serious about external SATA drives, it would have put a couple of eSATA connectors in the port cluster instead.
Without any power or Serial ATA cabling getting in the way, the AN8 32X's CPU socket is relatively roomy. Taller north bridge and VRM heat sinks do pop up from the board's rows of Rubycon capacitors, but they're not close enough to the socket to interfere with larger coolers like Zalman's CNPS7700. We'd rather have slightly larger passive heat sinks than rely on active chipset cooling, anyway.
Interestingly, the heat pipe that connects the AN8 32X's south bridge cooler to the larger VRM heat sink doesn't pass through the north bridge cooler. Abit has to use a low-profile heat sink on the south bridge to ensure clearance for longer graphics cards, so that chip has a particular need for a heatpipe's ability to transfer heat from one area to another. The north bridge is a less complex chip and can get by with a higher profile cooler; Abit uses only an aluminum heatsink on it.
The AN8 32X's chipset heat pipe hugs the board, so it won't interfere with any expansion slots. Double-wide graphics cards will cannibalize one PCI or PCI Express x1 slot, though. In fact, with a pair of double-wide cards installed, users will be left with just one PCI slot and one PCI-E x1 slot. SLI users will have to choose their expansion cards carefully.
Anyone running a pair of GeForce 7800 GTX 512 or 7900 GTX graphics cards will also have to pick their Serial ATA ports with care. The long, double-wide coolers on those cards interfere with the AN8 32X's top two SATA ports, and even the third port is a bit of a squeeze. Right-angle cables should solve the problem, but Abit doesn't bundle any with the board. Fortunately, single-slot graphics cards leave plenty of room around the Serial ATA ports.
Speaking of ports, the AN8 32X's backplane has plenty. Here, you'll find TOS-Link S/PDIF input and output ports, plenty of analog audio, four USB, one Firewire, and one Ethernet port. PS/2 keyboard and mouse ports also make an appearance, but serial and parallel ports are nowhere to be found. The AN8 32X doesn't even have onboard headers for serial or parallel ports, although it does support an additional Firewire port and six USB ports.