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Abit IC7-G - getting acquainted
Abit, a name close to the hearts of almost every overclocker has produced motherboard after motherboard each one pleasing the target audience through offering good performance and above all great overclockability. Recently Abit launched the BH7, based on Intel's 854PE chipset and unlike almost every other motherboard manufacturer they concentrated the marketing drive on the overclockability of the motherboard, saying it was 800MHz FSB ready. Whilst there were no 800MHz FSB CPUs around at the time, this didn't stop the board being a hit with overclocking crowd. Sadly for Abit they weren't able to emulate the success they had with the BH6, mainly due to the arrival of 875P or Canterwood a couple of months later. Abit returned unperturbed with the IC7-G, based on Intel's 875P chipset.

The 875P has been out for about 2 months and yet it seems the platform of choice if you want to go on the Pentium 4 route. The launch of 865PE (Springdale) late May has changed things slightly, with only a 3-5% performance difference between the two chipsets and a clear price difference in favour of the 865PE, however the clear choice for performance junkies is the 875P. So did Abit bring their bag of overclocking trickery to the 875P? We'll find out.

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The box is pretty bleak on the front, with little information. However the matte black finish does give an essence of class in the packaging design. On the reverse side we find some information on the IC7-G's vitals and a number of logos which represent the value added features that are present in this motherboard. The reverse has enough information about the motherboard without dazzling the disconcerting buyer with techno babble.

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Inside we are presented with three compartments, with the top tier housing the two utility compounds and the lower tier housing the motherboard. All the CDs, manuals and the I/O shield are housed in the simple yet elegant cardboard wallet which comes with an Abit sticker strategically placed to increase the whole palatial effect. The utility compartment holds the various cables and Abit's Serillel converter, otherwise known as the poor man's serial ATA. Whilst we can see that a lot of thought has been put into this packaging more can be done to protect the motherboard. Abit this time didn't use their bubble wrap anti-static bag which is a real shame, especially on a motherboard that costs over 150.

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The board comes in a fetching shade of black, which contrasts violently against the blue and purple DIMM sockets and the white PCI and CPU slots. It's not a bad colour scheme, and Abit have avoided the somewhat lame attempt by other manufacturers to jazz up their board through the use of horrible colours. The capacitors are black, made by Rubycon and thankfully, as we'll see in a moment, are well placed. The jade coloured fan on the 875P can be controlled by Abit's FanEq system, which we'll talk about later. Essentially thanks to this active cooling, Abit have managed to live with a smaller heatsink.

Just before we move on, a lot of people talk about "leaking capacitors". Sadly like most things in the computer industry, people just repeat buzz words or phrases without actually knowing what they are. Well, we'll try to give you a short explanation.

The cylindrical capacitors that you see are known as dielectric capacitors. Inside the casing you have two plates (usually made out of graphite, but any electrical conductor can be used). A gap is present between these two pates. In a cylindrical capacitor, these plates are coiled to increase their surface area (surface area is one of the variables that can be altered to increase or decrease the capacitance of a capacitor). The capacitance is the amount of charge a capacitor can hold, measured in Farads. A Farad is a very large amount of charge, and usually we deal with micro-Farads.

The gap between the plates can be filled with anything. Air will do, however to increase the performance, an electrolyte is used. For those that did elementary chemistry they will remember electrolytes from electrolysis. The electrolyte is a chemical fluid that helps in the transfer of charge, or if you want to be pedantic, electrons. Since motherboards rely on the steady performance (within a certain error threshold) of components, like capacitors, should the electrolyte 'leak' then performance of the capacitor will decrease enough for there to be larger problems with the motherboard.

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Up at the RAM side of the motherboard we see fairly good layout here. With the two IDE connectors positioned at the bottom half of the board, there's a lot of space for the floppy drive and ATX power connector. We also see the battery tucked up tight against the edge of the motherboard. The DIMM slots are adequately spaced apart, although during our stress testing (when we fill all the DIMM slots), it became quite cosy. It would be good to see a slightly larger gap to enable air to pass between RAM modules that have heat-spreaders on, like we see on Corsair modules. The DIMM slots are a fair distance away from the AGP slots, although if you are a Geforce 4 Ti owner you will inevitably be required to fit your RAM before you fit the VGA card. However the only gripe we have is with the RAM sockets being so close to each other, especially when you use RAM sticks that have heat-spreaders on.

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The CPU side of things is kept refreshing clear of both 4 pin power connectors and smoothing capacitors. Whilst they aren't completely absent, capacitors around the CPU mount are in far less abundance. It allows users with larger heatsinks to easily work with this motherboard. The system fan header is tucked in between the rear panel ports and the CPU socket and whilst this is far from ideal, it allows the cables to be neatly tied away rather than disrupting the air flow to the processor by having cables fluttering over the CPU heatsink.

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Here we find a lot of the silicon, along with the two parallel and four serial ATA connectors. The IDE connectors are angled such a way that your cables will provide less obstruction to airflow in the case. People who don't have "rounded" ATA cables will prefer the standard upright position, however there's little doubt that folded parallel ATA cables have become the norm as their reliability, which was questionable in the early days, have increased to meet the gains present in their 'aerodynamic' shape.

This is ICH5R country, and it controls two of the four serial ATA ports and beneath the green IC7-G sticker you find the other two, which are controlled by the popular Silicon Image controller. The serial ATA ports are positioned well away from the PCI slots, and Abit have done a fairly good job here. The red pin arrays are that of the Firewire header and the blue ones feed the USB 2.0 header which is present in the utility box. Firewire support is provided by the Texas Instruments controller that is visible at the bottom of the picture.

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The sharp contrast of black PCB against white PCI slot plastic is evident in all its glory. The Realtek 6 channel sound CODEC sets in its usual place, near the bottom corner, and Intel's Gigabit Ethernet PHY, which makes use of Intel's Communications Streaming Architecture is also present beside the AGP Pro slot. It's pretty standard here.
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When Abit first came out with this backplane it was seen as drastically different, with the full array of audio outputs and external connectivity. Today it's seen as the norm. No second serial port is of little problem to most gamers and being replaced by optical S/PDIF ports is just a sign of the times.

Overall the layout on the IC7-G is good, with fan headers well placed and whilst we see active cooling on the 875P, since Abit aim their boards to the overclocker, and for them it's a good thing to see active cooling on the 875P. The noise emitted from the fan is low even with Abit's FanEq turned off. The parallel ATA connectors being horizontal to the board will not please everyone, however for neat cases and better air flow this is the best option.