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nForce 2 Socket A Motherboard Round-up

Subject: Motherboards
Manufacturer: General
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Asus A7N8X-E Deluxe

Asus has a long established reputation of being full-featured and reliable and the A7N8X-E Deluxe continues in that tradition. This motherboard may not have all the features that will tickle the enthusiast's fancy, but it is an excellent board with great execution.



Click to enlarge.


Quick Specs













































Asus A7N8X-E Deluxe


Northbridge


nForce Ultra 400


Southbridge


nForce MCP-T


FSB


400MHz


Memory


DDR 400


Memory Slots


3


Memory Capacity


3GB


HDD


2x SATA, 2x ATA133


Audio


nVIDIA SoundStorm


Analog Audio Connectivity


(5) Front, Rear, Line-in, Mic, Subwoofer


Digital Audio Connectivity


Coax SPDIF-out


Network


nVIDIA MAC 10/100
Marvell 10/100/1000
Asus WiFi 802.11b


USB 2.0


6 ports


Firewire IEEE1394


2 ports


Packging & Contents



  • 802.11b wifi adapter

  • 18" IDE and 21" floppy cables

  • Extra jumpers

  • 1x SATA "Y" power splitter

  • 2x 18" SATA cables

  • 1x 2 port USB bracket

  • 1x 2 port firewire (4-pin and 6-pin)

  • WinDVD suite

  • Driver CD

  • WiFi LAN CD

  • Quick Setup Guide

  • English User Guide


Hardware accessories are pretty typical in the A7N8X-E Deluxe: ribbon-style IDE cables, SATA cables, and USB and Firewire brackets. Asus decided to spend their value-add-ins on the software and on the wireless network card.



The driver CD contains your array of driver files, but also includes a useful system monitoring tool "PC Probe" which is very well designed and uncluttered. I only wish it would minimize to the system tray to display temperatures and/or fan RPMs. "AsusUpdate" is a driver/bios update utility that aids in downloading newer versions and updating your system. There is a voice editor to edit POST Reporter's audio messages which could be amusing to play with ("What are you doing Dave?"). Of all the systems reviewed today, Asus has the nicest and cleanest priopietary software.


In terms of third party software, there is a copy of PC-Cillin 2002, Adobe Acrobat, a remote access utility (I'm In Touch Remote Access) and a WinDVD suite that includes WinDVD, WinDVD Creator, and WinRip.


Design and Layout


For the most part, the A7N8X-E Deluxe is a well designed motherboard. Looking at the socket area, there are four mounting holes for waterblocks and heatsinks, but is hampered by a row of big capacitors. My Thermalright AX7 heatsink could not fit properly because two of the capacitors were blocking (see image below) and this should be  a concern for those of you with larger heatsinks.



These capacitors may block larger heatsinks (like this Thermalright AX7).


Unlike the other motherboards in this review, there is no southbridge cooler, but there is a passive heatsink on the northbridge.



Large video coolers will block the first PCI slot.


The AGP slot supports AGP Pro for professional grade videocards, but because of this lacks an AGP retention clip. There is no gap between the first PCI slot and the AGP slot. So if you have a videocard with a large cooler, you may end up losing the first PCI slot as a result (see above image). Here is an image of the nVIDIA FX5950 Ultra mounted and you can see it blocking the PCI slot. Also, there are two fan headers adjacent to the AGP slot (see image below) which can cause problems with large videocoolers as well (see image below). But thankfully, the AGP slot is not aligned with the RAM DIMMs which means you won't have to worry about your videocard blocking access to the RAM.



These fan headers are a little close to the AGP slot.


A 12V ATX power connector is conspicuously missing on the motherboard. Most motherboards (enthusiast or otherwise) include this as a matter of reliability and stability but Asus however chose not to include one.



The ATX power blocks removal of the HDDs and the drive cage.


The ATX power connector is located near the IDE and Floppy connections at the front of the motherboard. At first glance this would appear to be a good placement for it as it is away from the socket for optimal airflow and forward so you don't have to bend your ATX cable. However once installed in a case, I found that the ATX cable blocks the removable 3.5" drive cage found in many products these days (this problem would be worse in smaller cases). This won't be an issue if you don't tinker with your computer's innards a lot, but it is a design issue to be aware of.


Jumpers are everywhere on the A7N8X-E Deluxe. I counted a total of eight functional jumpers on the motherboard compared to the two on the EPoX 8RDA3+. I find this extremely inconvenient and inefficient as a consumer because in order to adjust something as simple as disabling SATA, you need to not only switch the jumper to the appropriate spot, but also change the appropriate setting in the BIOS. Also a few of these jumpers are next to PCI slots which may mean they could be blocked if a card is installed.



These jumpers (blue) could be blocked if a PCI card is installed.


There is a lot of evidence that this board is marketed more toward a general/business user than an enthusiast: lack of southbridge cooling, AGP Pro support, jumpers galore, a tight socket area, and the omission of a 12V ATX connector. As we will see shortly, the BIOS features reinforces this notion.


Motherboard Features


There are plenty of features on the Asus A7N8X-E motherboard. The rear panel features a full set of stereo connections for complete 5.1 support and this also makes using a headset and mic easier. Coax SPDIF-out compliments the 5 stereo jacks. There is support for six USB 2.0 ports (4 on rear and 2 more using the bracket), and two IEEE 1394 ports with both 6-pin and 4-pin. Of course, there is the SoundStorm audio processor included in the nVIDIA MCP-T.



The onboard SATA is controlled by a Silicon Image SiL3112 processor which is capable of RAID 0 and RAID 1. There is no onboard IDE RAID.


The A7N8X-E has the Q-Fan feature which adjusts the speed of your CPU fan to changes in your CPU temperature. If the CPU increases its load and becomes warmer, Q-Fan will increase the fan voltage to 100% for maximum airflow. It will drop the voltage as low as 10/15ths (8 of 12 volts) when the CPU is cool. In practice I found that Q-Fan works as advertised but found limited practicality. Because there's no way to set the temperature at which the fan runs at 100%, I found that most of the time the fan run full-tilt without any throttling. The only time it did slow down was when I stopped my Folding @ Home or when I turned on the air-conditioning.


There is also POST Reporter that pronounces audible warnings or status information during your motherboard boot-up sequence. I personally find this feature questionable since there are many situations where you either don't have speakers or work in a quiet environment. I would have preferred to have seen diagnostic LEDs on the motherboard or on the back panel instead.



The biggest feature on the A7N8X-E Deluxe is the network connectivity. Not only does it have dual 10/100 and Gigabit Ethernet connections on the rear, it also comes bundled with a wireless 802.11b network card! Using the special wireless riser on the motherboard, your computer can connect to a wireless network or become a wireless access point itself (in Windows XP). I can see the network support on the A7N8X-E Deluxe being a boon in corporate environments.


Bios Features


The A7N8X-E uses AwardBIOS and offers just enough features to keep general users happy. There aren't many features for the overclocker in the supported BIOS releases, but if you look in our Asus forum you will find alternative BIOSes that may suit you.



All available enthusiast options are modest - there isn't any chipset voltage controls, and CPU voltage goes to 1.85v (compared to 2.0v on other boards). However, it does offer FSB settings up to 300MHz and memory overclock up to 200%. There is the typical array of memory timing controls but nothing like the detail you would find on the DFI LanParty NF2 Ultra B. There is also wake-on-LAN, a wake-up alarm clock, and POST Reporter that talks to you as the computer goes through its diagnostic.



One of the nice features of the BIOS is the Q-Fan feature. Using this setting you can control how fast the CPU fan spins depending on the CPU temperature. Too bad there isn't a setting for the 100% RPM temperature, the default 50C may be a bit low for some of you.



The downside to this BIOS however is that you sometimes need to adjust one of the eight jumpers located on the motherboard, and some of them are in awkward locations.


Support & Warranty


Asus's support information is clearly printed on the inside of the front cover of the owner's manual and on the driver CD. Their 3-year warranty is also displayed clearly on the back of the box (but no other documentation included mentions warranty). The Asus website also carries warranty information in an obvious spot (here) making it easier for customers to access the support they need. The Asus support website unfortunately does not have much information on the A7N8X-E Deluxe. There is only one entry for each the A7N8X-E Deluxe and the A7N8X. There is no official Asus forum either, so third party forums, like our Asus forum, are the best place to find help.

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