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ABIT IS7 with Game Accelerator
Date 9th July 2003
Author Chainbolt
Editor James "Agg" Rolfe
Manufacturer ABIT Computer Corporation


The Taiwanese manufacturer ABIT is a household name in the overclocking community. Their latest motherboards for AMD and Intel systems such as the NF7-S and the IC7 are regarded as top choices for hardcore overclocking. With the release of the Intel 875P “Canterwood” chipset the attention has currently shifted towards Intel and the release of the price-friendly 865PE “Springdale” chipset seems to have accelerated this trend even more. The 865PE chipset was initially regarded as the 875P’s cheaper, slightly weaker sibling. Intel’s intention was to position the 865PE chipset for entry and mid-range systems and the more expensive 875P as high-end solution. Intel made it clear that they are “binning the Memory Controller Hub (MCH) chips like CPUs, finding the fastest silicon” for the 875P and sell the reminder as 865PE. Also, the “Performance Enhancing Technology“ (PAT) feature is according to Intel only available with 875P chipsets. ABIT attracted therefore a lot of attention when they announced that their “Game Accelerator” technology is putting their 865PE based IS7 ahead of all other 865 boards: indirectly indicating that the IS7 is performing like a 875P board. Well, we are intending to find whether this claim holds true. We are testing here ABIT’s IS7 and we will pay close attention to the “Game Accelerator” feature.

PACKAGE AND FEATURES
The IS7 packaging is in line with ABIT’s traditional color code. Mainboards for AMD processors come in a red box and those for Intel in a blue one. It seems ABIT mainboard boxes have become sturdier with dividers inside better protecting the board than before. We still remember when our ABIT BD7-II arrived with a broken battery socket. That won’t happen with the new packing. The IS7-G box contains brackets and cables for the additional PCB USB and IEEE1394 headers and the usual PATA, SATA, and floppy cables. The 2 bundled SATA power cables are a nice touch, because they are still difficult to get outside of main markets.

Click to Enlarge Click to Enlarge Click to Enlarge

The IS7 manual is detailed and well written, but maybe a more thorough explanation about the ICH5-R Raid functions would have been better. The installation CD comes only with the necessary drivers for the chipset, audio, the Intel Application Accelerator RAID Edition for the new ICH5-R and the Winbond health monitoring utility. ABIT has for a long time, not been bundling software with their boards. We think this is a good policy. It’s better to get the board a few dollars cheaper than having often useless software like outdated OEM virus checkers with time limited update functions bundled. All in all: the IS7-G package gives the impression of quality worthy of a high-end product.

The IS7 series comprises 3 models:
  • IS7-E with ICH5 + Ethernet LAN
  • IS7 with ICH5-R + Ethernet LAN + Firewire
  • IS7-G with ICH5-R + PCI SATA RAID + Gigabit LAN + Firewire
Our test sample was the fully equipped IS7-G, the IS7 series flagship model.

Click to Enlarge
Click for a detailed comparison between models

The IS7-G is equipped with almost every feature available these days for desktop systems. It comes even with 2 RAID controllers: The Intel ICH5-R and the Silicon Image SiL3122A.

The new Intel ICH5-R allows setting up a RAID 0 array on the 2 x 150 MB/sec IDE channels managed by the Southbridge. The ICH5-R even allows setting up a RAID 0 by hot swapping. The user can simply add one disk to an already existing one. Additionally, ABIT has implemented a 2-channel hardware SATA RAID controller, the well-known Silicon Image SiL3112A chip. ABIT had opted already on their 875P-based IC7-G to skip PATA RAID. We think it’s a little too early for a SATA RAID only solution. The overwhelming majority of users is still using PATA disks. And even if the additional PATA RAID ports are not actually used for a RAID array, they are much welcome for DVD and CD ROM drives. On the other hand to utilize the 4 SATA ports provided by the IS7-G would mean running 4 SATA disks, and that is quite an unlikely user scenario for the time being. One might argue that a SATA port can be used with a PATA disk via an adaptor. But unfortunately such a PATA to SATA adaptor is not included in the IS7-G package. Only the IS7’s bigger brother, the 875P based IC7-G, has such an adaptor bundled.

Click to Enlarge
Click for detailed specs on the IS7-G

BOARD LAYOUT
The IS7’s eye-catching features are the red-orange colored printed circuit board (PCB) and the rather large fan on the heatsink for the memory controller hub (MCH) - commonly called Northbridge - with a green colored housing.

Click to Enlarge

ABIT is using the same red-orange PCB color for their nForce 2 based NF7 series. It looks like ABIT is dressing their flagships boards such as the 845PE based IT7 and the 875P based IC7 in black and mid-range boards in orange.

Click to Enlarge   Click to Enlarge   Click to Enlarge
Left to Right: Northbridge Fan, Northbridge Chip, ATX I/O Panel

A noteworthy PCB feature is the 4-phase power regulation to the CPU. The industry standard is still a 3-phase regulation. 4 phases are supposed to provide better voltage stability under load and to keep the circuitry and mosfets cooler. Firewire functionality is provided by the latest Texas Instruments TSB41AB3 Physical Layer IEEE1394 controller that is regarded a better and obviously slightly more expensive solution than the often-used VIA IEEE1394 chip.

Click to Enlarge   Click to Enlarge
Left to Right: 4-phase Power, 3COM LAN Chip

Finally the LAN controller: the IS7-G comes with Gigabit (1000/10) LAN. ABIT is using the popular 3COM Marvell 940-MV00 chip. This is a well working solution. Intel’s Gigabit LAN chip using a dedicated bus (Communication Streaming Architecture) between the LAN controller and the 865PE MCH as shown here would have been a better solution than the 3Com chip using the crowded PCI bus. According to ABIT’s specification sheets only the IS7-G has Gigabit 1000/10 LAN. The IS7 and the IS7-E comes with 100/10 LAN. IS7 owners however are reporting that their boards also have the more expensive 1000/10 solution implemented.

Click to Enlarge   Click to Enlarge   Click to Enlarge
Left to Right: ICH5-R Southbridge, TI Firewire (IEEE1394) Chip, SiL SATA RAID Chip

Interesting are the flat-lying IDE ports 1 and 2 positioned at the PCB fringe. Although it’s a little more difficult to plug PATA cables in this way, it keeps them out of the way and prevents the usual cable mix-up in the “airspace” over the PCB. The only problem we have with the IS7 layout is the close proximity of the DIMM sockets to the AGP socket. If larger video cards like a GF4 or a 9800 Pro are used it is not possible to insert RAM modules without removing the video card. Furthermore the AGP socket’s retention lever is awkwardly positioned and very difficult to reach. Otherwise the IS7 has a clean, well thought after layout.

Click to Enlarge   Click to Enlarge
Left to Right: PATA connectors on edge of board, clearance between AGP and DIMM sockets


All original content copyright James Rolfe.
All rights reserved. No reproduction allowed without written permission.
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