weeks ago, I turned on my test
computer without the CPU heatsink fan plugged in. Without proper cooling the Athlon64 3500+
processor, which was clocked at 3.11 GHz, actually ran for about two minutes (continually crashing)
while booting WindowsXP. When I realized the boot problem was because of a temperature
was reading around 85 degrees Celsius, I immediately shut off the computer! If I
had done the same thing to an AthlonXP processor a year or so ago,
the processor would have been toasted in seconds. Yet with Athlon64 processors, AMD's clock throttling kicks
in to save the day, so the chip was no worse for the experience.
Athlon64 is certainly the 'hot' processor for desktop computers, and with
good reason. Initially, motherboard manufacturers were
reluctant to release 64-bit Socket 754/940 Athlon64/FX boards when the platform first
emerged, but now things are completely different for the Socket 939
Athlon64 CPU. You can find Socket 939 Athlon64 motherboards from every major
vendor and in many cases, several models based on the same chipset.
Albatron K8SLI motherboard being tested over the following pages is a compact
nVidia nForce4 SLI board that packs in quite a bit into a small space. The Albatron
K8SLI comes with a basic set of features, such as Gigabit network ethernet,
5.1 channel audio controller (with SPDIF out), two free 32 bit PCI slots as well
two PCI Express x1 & PCI Express x16 slots, and the standard assortment of SATA and IDE
connectors supported by the nForce 4 SLI chipset.
The first thing that stands out about this board is the compact size of
the PCB. The K8SLI will have no problem fitting into cramped mid-tower cases, and
it brings with it SLI capability! Component layout is quite good, and we were pleased to find no headers
placed between the expansion slots.
But wait, isn't something missing... where's the SLI
switch? Don't let the absence of a SLI
switch module or SLI jumpers fool
you, the Albatron K8SLI is fully SLI compatible, and the switch is
done digitally. The motherboard automatically detects when SLI compatible videocards are
present and splits the PCI Express x16 bus evenly between the
two slots. This makes things much easier and I wish more manufacturers would implement
a similar system. During testing the switchless system worked flawlessly.
With Athlon64 systems drawing more power than ever before, it's nice to see
that manufacturers as a whole are using higher quality Japanese capacitors. The
capacitors found on the K8SLI are all 100% Japanese made.
On the documentation and manual front, the board
comes well accompanied. If you're a new to computers and do not know
how to setup RAID or SLI, don't worry because this manual can help in that
Let’s face it, killing a motherboard with a bad
BIOS/flash is very rare, but it happens there isn't any other option
but to RMA the entire motherboard back to the manufacturer. Albatron does its part to keep its end
users up and operational with the ABS (Albatron BIOS Security) module. In
principle it works very much like the dual BIOS feature on most other
motherboards but with this one, the chance of having the backup BIOS erased is
slim to nil. Should
something corrupt the primary BIOS, simply plug the ABS module into its header,
set its jumper to recover and viola you’re set! Just make sure you know where
you put the ABS module since it’s not built into the motherboard. Dual BIOSes is
a very handy feature and motherboard manufacturers make this standard equipment
on motherboards. If you are shopping around, we highly recommend buying a
motherboard with dual BIOS'.
IEEE 1394a/b - The Connectivity Alternative
In the past we've touched based on USB but what about IEEE 1394a/b, the
Apple standard? IEEE 1394 (aka Firewire) was proposed in 1987 by Apple and
was codified by IEEE in 1995. While it was then superior to anything else
on the market, IEEE 1394 did poorly because Apple imposed some high
royalty fees which turned off manufacturers. Intel was originally on the
IEEE 1394 bandwagon but left in favor of developing USB 2.0. These days
Apple doesn't charge much of a royalty and thus the IEEE 1394a/b standards
have started to bloom.
IEEE 1394 was designed right from the beginning to
handle high bandwidth audio/video transfers. IEEE 1394 is hot pluggable and
thanks to its peer to peer protocol, allows users to connect up to 63
devices. While USB 2.0 allows for connecting up to 127 devices in a daisy
chain, it bogs down computers easily with high loads since the PC must control each
Besides the obvious bandwidth advantages, IEEE
1394 can also deliver up to 15 watts of power which is enough to power
external HDDs and DVD writers, eliminating the need for external
power with many such
devices. While IEEE 1394 is superior in terms of technology, USB has been in
the forefront for many years, so the battle for external connectivity may rage on for
quite some time.
As for complaints, it would have been
nice if Albatron included a few more extras with the motherboard, including
just one Serial ATA cable and one molex to Serial ATA power adapter seems a bit stingy.
Also a USB header bracket would have been nice considering the number
of USB peripherals used by an average user.