..:: AG8 Layout: Northbridge Area ::..
The AG8 is outfitted with a rather unique cooling solution, the same one we found on our AA8-DuraMAX. Unlike most solutions with top mounted fans, ABIT has chosen to implement a heatsink that features a fan on the processor side of the heatsink. As the air comes down and through the processor heatsink, this fan will pull some of the air away and use it to cool off the Northbridge. This is an interesting implementation and when combined with the fact that it can be easily controlled through the BIOS for speeds, will provide excellent cooling for the i915P Northbridge. The heatsink is mounted to the motherboard with two spring loaded through-pins, which is typical for these types of implementations. The orientation of the i915P Northbridge is different from i875P / i865PE solutions in that it is not on a forty five degree angle.
The area to the left of the i915P Northbridge chip is quite cluttered with a large array of capacitors and other electrical systems related devices. This area houses one of the Wake-On jumpers, as well as a three-pin power connection for the Northbridge fan, and the four-pin power connection for the CPU fan. Unlike the Intel motherboards that we have dealt with so far, we have only seen a few four pin fan connections implemented into boards coming out of Taiwan. There is also a third fan power connection located here, and that is for a rear system exhaust fan. Other than the array of capacitors, and the fan power connections, this area of the board is fairly quiet.
..:: AG8 Layout: Expansion Area ::..
The expansion slot portion of the AG8 features a single x16 PCI-Express slot, along with four x1 PCI-Express slots. At the bottom of the board, we also find two regular PCI slots. This is likely going to be the typical setup found on most of these i925X and i915P motherboards for some time to come. As there are no real PCI-Express products out there at this time that use the x1 connection, or any other besides x16, we’ll see mostly x1 and x16 connections for some time. This was the same setup that we found on the Intel i925X and i915P motherboards, as well as the ABIT AA8-DuraMAX reviewed last week.
The majority of the core components for this portion of the board are, as always, located along the rear edge of the PCB. At the top of this section, right under the rear I/O panel we find that the AG8, as we found with the AA8-DuraMAX, ships with a PCI-based Realtek Gigabit LAN solution. I was rather surprised to find ABIT using a PCI based Gigabit controller on their AA8-DuraMAX, and I am still a little surprised to see one implemented into the AG8. For cost cutting, it make more sense for a PCI solution on the AG8 than it does on the AA8-DuraMAX, but I still would prefer to see a better option implemented into both motherboards.
Next up, we find the Realtek AC97’ ALC658 CODEC which provides for native six channel audio. Since this is a mid-range motherboard, ABIT has not included a HD Audio implementation into the AG8. They have instead gone with the tried and true ALC658 CODEC from Realtek, and have opted to go with the older AC97’ audio standard. This CODEC provides some quality sound for an AC97’ option, but it still pales in comparison when placed against the HD Audio counterpart, the ALC880. Above the ALC658 CODEC, we find the other typical audio-related headers. There are two, black CD audio headers, along with the green front panel header. I still prefer to see this head located farther down the motherboard, but given the lack of any x1 PCI-E solutions, this area of the system will be home to a gaping hole, so cable routing won’t pose the same problem as it would in older motherboards.
The last items that we come across in the expansion slot portion of the AG8 are the Winbond Super I/O chip, along with another three-pin power connection for a system fan. In case you’re unfamiliar with the responsibilities of the Winbond chip, it is responsible for providing support of legacy connections, such as your Serial or Parallel ports. These chips can also be configured to act as a monitor to system critical readings, such as fan speeds and voltages. Unlike our AA8-DuraMAX sample, this time the fan header was not bent, although from the positioning of this header, bent pins are a possibility if it accidentally hits a corner of the case during installation, etc.