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Asus A7V8X - getting acquainted
Asus released the A7V8X back in August, soon after the launch of the KT400 chipset and ever since then it's been gathering a good reputation. The A7V8X uses VIA's latest Northbridge/Southbridge combination, the KT400/V8235 respectively. Asus' A7V8X was one of the first motherboards to use the KT400 Northbridge when it was released at Quakecon in August of this year. They pride themselves on trying to bring out as many new products as soon as possible, or at least that is the message they are trying to convey and the A7V8X certainly stays in check with that message.

As with most motherboards we've come to see you are presented with a much more than just a motherboard and a few cables. Asus have packaged the A7V8X much like Soyo did with their SY-KT400 (review) and made the motherboard a single part in a much larger package. Rather than include "off board" goodies like a flash card reader, Asus have gone for more on board frills opting for big brand name LAN, Firewire and Serial ATA connectivity to bolster the feature count of their board.

VIA's KT400 Northbridge chipset was announced at this year's Quakecon event and when coupled to the VT8235 Southbridge (released some months previously) it brought together a whole host of onboard features never before seen on desktop motherboards. With all motherboard manufacturers looking at greater integration without a decrease in performance, VIA made some important changes which would result in increased performance.

One of the key changes was the bus that runs between the Northbridge and Southbridge. The bandwidth of this bus was doubled to 533MB/sec which meant that the increased amount of data caused by having 6 USB 2.0 channels, a AC'97 audio codec, Ethernet connectivity and ATA 133 hard drive support wouldn't cause a bottleneck at the heart of the motherboard. We'll take a closer look at the KT400/V8235 a little later.

Asus have bundled a lot into the A7V8X package, so much so that we were unable to pack it all into the box afterwards. We have heard that Asus are reviewing their packaging and new packaging techniques and box designs may be in place in the near future. It would certainly be welcomed, atleast if they want to continue shipping so many extras with their motherboards.

The core features of this motherboard are :-
  • Socket A support (AMD Athlon, Athlon XP and Duron)
  • VIA KT400 chipset
  • Support for 333/266/200MHz front side bus speeds
  • 3 DDR DIMM slots
  • Realtek 6 channel sound
  • Broadcom gigabit Ethernet LAN
  • AGP 8x support
  • Ultra DMA 133/100/66/33 support
  • Raid 0 & 1 support
  • 6 USB 2.0 ports
  • 2 IEEE 1394 (Firewire) ports
  • 2 Serial ATA ports
  • 5 PCI slots
  • 1 Asus proprietary slot

  • The board itself comes in the usual dark yellow PCB and unsurprisingly is busy with chips, capacitors, resistors and connectors. The effort put in by companies like Soyo with their SY-KT400 on the appearance of the product has been left behind with the A7V8X. Then again, you might not care what the motherboard looks like as long as it performs well (and we agree with this view), however there are some faults with the layout of this motherboard.

    The RAM slots are far too close to the AGP slot and CPU socket. We had serious problems installing a heatsink because the retainer clip was directly over the first and second DIMM slot. Installing RAM in the first slot was very hard with any VGA card in place, and with a full length Geforce 4 Ti card installing RAM into the third DIMM slot becomes a less than happy affair too.

    However there are some redeeming features to the layout. The ATX power connector is well positioned, away from the CPU socket and this is a welcome sight. The IDE RAID channel connector is angled so the cable would be almost flush with the motherboard. This may sound awkward, if you are going to make your computer a show piece it does look nicer. Serial ATA connectors are well away from the PCI slots (unlike in the P4S8X) and the three fan headers are well positioned.

    The KT400 is passively cooled which is definitely favoured over fan solutions, reducing noise and the chance of mechanical failure.

    Asus also supply a large amount of documentation to get you up and running quickly. A large sticker of the motherboard's layout is provided to place on your case, along with a concise "Quick Start guide" and a well written manual. The handy quick reference card is very useful, especially when trying to find what connector goes where for the case front panel.

    The back panel is a fairly standard Asus offering. The two USB ports by the PS/2 connectors are USB 1.1. The other two are USB 2.0. Asus supply two sets of port brackets which connect to the two headers giving you a total of 6 USB 2.0 and 2 USB 1.1 ports in all.