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Abit BH7 - Getting acquainted
Abit have an enviable reputation in the motherboard market and traditionally their products are purchased by those wanting a stable and fast system and pushing the envelope of performance in of their system through overclocking. Their rich company history is glittered with many now legendary products. Probably their most famous being the BH6. A more detailed look at the history of Abit can be found here.

We all remember the now legendary Abit BH6 motherboard, which is still respected as one of the most impressive and stable boards on the market. With it's layout, ease of setup but most of all its excellent performance/stability combination it has become one of the boards that all subsequent releases have wanted to match, some have managed it but many have failed. So we were delighted to see that Abit latest release carries the name BH7. Abit are marketing this board as a "sequel" to the BH6, but can it live up to the greatness of the original? We'll see about that later.

The BH7 is based on Intel's 845PE chipset. In the first few months of this year we saw a large influx of 845PE motherboards and we have reviewed more than our fair share. The P4PE Black Pearl from Asus, MSI's 845PE Max 2 FISR and Albatron's 845PE PRO II Silver Edition. Today we add the BH7 to that list.

Over the past 4 months the 845PE has proven itself to be a competent chipset with good stable performance, and while there are newer chipsets available such as the E7205 (Granite Bay) and the recently released but not widely available (and much more expensive) i875P chipset (Canterwood) the 845PE still remains one of the best value-for-money chipsets on the market, and chances are your favourite motherboard manufacturer has a board sporting this chipset.

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Firstly we take a look at the box in which the motherboard comes supplied, and there's relatively little to be said here. The box is plain with almost no information regarding the product inside. It carries a large sticker on the side of the box saying very little more than 'BH7' and then a sticker in the top right hand corner on the front of the box stating "Intel 845 PE Chipset supporting Hyper-Threading Technology". And there it ends, no specification lists but apart from that the box design itself is fine and is constructed of sturdy cardboard, giving ample protection for the motherboard inside.

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The contents were adequately packaged with the motherboard on the base of the box sat upon a large piece of foam in a cushioned anti-static bag. Directly on top of this we have a sturdy piece of cardboard covering onto which we find the instruction manual, IDE cable, Floppy drive cable, case blackplane plate, SATA cable and software CDROM. No out of the ordinary inclusions here but everything you'd expect to find was present.

Next up we take a closer look over the motherboard itself to check the general layout and to detect any problems that could arise.

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The PCB comes in a rather love it or loathe it shade of orange....or is that brown? We'll let you decide but it certainly catches your eye and makes a refreshing change from the standard green PCB's we so often. The main thing you notice about the board though is its size, it is fairly small, it's approximately 1 inch narrower than other ATX boards and this was where our first "problem" arose, we say problem with inverted commas as it may not be the case with all PC cases (no pun intended) but we found no holes in our case tray for the motherboard screw holes on the right-hand side (IDE port side) and the case in question was a standard Coolermaster ATC 200 (a popular model amongst overclockers).

However the holes further inwards (one inch to the left) were fine. This does mean the motherboard lacked any kind of support underneath this edge and you would be wise to firmly hold the edge while pushing in your power connector and IDE cables just to be safe.

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Taking a look at the top right (DIMM slot) corner of the board we see three DIMM sockets supporting 184-pin DIMMS up to a maximum of 2GB, there are no real problems with the placement of these sockets, the only slight grumble is how close they are to one another this could cause a problem for those wanting to use some of the larger ram-sinks on the market, but for everyday users it will not present a problem.

We also have the ATX power connector here and it's nice to see it close to the edge and not surrounded by capacitors making the installation of the power connector is painless and faultless. Next to this we have the floppy drive port, again no problems here. We also have the Winbond W83627HF chipset here, this allows the use of the rather nice and useful Winbond hardware doctor utility which is supplied on the included software CDROM.

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Moving to the top left (CPU side) we see a now fairly standard layout and with this layout we are dogged by the same concerns we always seem to suffer. The chief one being how awfully close the large bank of capacitors are to the CPU bracket with barely more than a 1mm gap between them. This, as ever, isn't a problem if you only intend to use a heatsink that relies on the standard bracket to hold it in position, the problems arise when you start to look at the large "power user" coolers that are currently available with some of these being absolutely huge there is a very strong possibility that these capacitors could actually prevent installation altogether. For the BH7 it is of even more concern since this board is intended for overclockers and in that game, bigger is almost certainly better. For your information though we did try the SLK-900 from Thermalright (one of the best performing heatsinks on the market today) to see if we encountered these problems. It did fit but only missed the capacitors by a very small amount. We highly urge you to contact your supplier before purchase if you intend to use a large cooler just to check compatibility.

The 12V power connector is a nice distance from the CPU socket and bracket so this wouldn't have any problems with heatsinks, but there was one thing that needs pointing out and that is the small capacitor next to it. It touches the white plastic connector and to connect the 12V from our power supply meant we needed to bend this out of the way slightly. A real shame something like this could not be looked at before production.

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The Northbridge cooling is catered for by a small passive cooler, so for the people looking to cut back on noise as much as possible this is a bonus. However it is a rather flimsy affair and we feel an active cooler on this board with its overclocking options would have made more sense as the Northbridge will generate some heat at on highly overclocked settings.

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As we make our way down the lower left (PCI slot land) of the BH7 is fitted with 5 PCI slots here and of course an AGP slot, it's unlikely many would utilise all 5 of these slots but its definitely nice to have this amount although some motherboards in the same price range and using the same 845PE chipset come supplied with 6 PCI slots but most will find 5 is actually plenty.

Next to these we have the onboard sound with its AUX1 and CD1 connections for your various CDROM/DVD-ROMs along with 3 more capacitors which are non-obtrusive.

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Over to the bottom right is where all of the interesting onboard additions are usually found and although the BH7 isn't bare of onboard goodies it isn't as feature packed as some. We have a standard single bios - a real shame such a power-users board doesn't have dual BIOS, the ICH4 Southbridge, CMOS battery and a single SATA port which is slightly disappointing, with most 845PE boards coming with two.

As for the layout of these items we have no complaints this has obviously been well thought out before production with nothing being obtrusive here. The USB 2.0 header is placed a little close to the PCI slots but it is in between these where any installed cards will miss it and you will still be able to access it much trouble.

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The IDE ports 1 and 2 deserve a close look here; they are strangely tilted onto their sides on the very edge of the board. This isn't just for visual satisfaction as in use we found this to be a much better way of having the ports, it made it not only made it much easier to install the cables but also made it a lot neater, with no twisted cables tangling up the case, a very nice touch.

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Viewing the rear backplane ports we have a couple of nice additions, from left to right 2 PS/2 ports for standard keyboard/mouse, parallel port, COM port, optical in and optical out, audio 1 stack and audio 2 stack for real 5.1 surround sound support, 4 USB ports and the onboard Ethernet connector. The addition of the S/PDIF in and out is welcome here along with the many audio jacks for 5.1 surround and all this onboard.