Motherboard Layout

The MAX3 series of motherboard takes a big leap as far as layout goes from other Athlon 64 motherboards. Due to the new features the series offers, much of the board seems crowded at first glance, but let’s look at what exactly all you are seeing is.

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The first thing you notice is a new clear, plastic housing on the top of the motherboard that is part of the Abit OTES cooling solutions. The casing covers the MOSFETs and the larger capacitors on the motherboard and with an exhaust fan on the left hand exit side. The idea is simple: the heat from the capacitors and MOSFETs is drawn out of the case thereby lowering the temperatures inside the system. Abit’s own internal testing has shown as much as a few degrees drop in ambient case temperatures with their motherboard cooling system.

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My experience with the OTES cooling system has been nothing but positive. Though the majority of our testing is done outside of a cased environment, I was very pleased to see that Abit chose a quality fan that didn’t add to the noise of the system much at all. The OTES system is of course the major cause for the crowded feeling on the motherboard, and that did cut down on the space available to the processor heatsink, which could be a slight drawback.

Below the OTES cooling system, we have the ATX power connector and the 4-pin ATX12V connector both nearly touch and both nearly impossible to install or remove. After I had the motherboard on our test bed with the graphics card and heatsink installed, I actually couldn’t find the ATX12V connector for some time. I don’t consider myself to have large fingers, but taking the power connectors off of the motherboard was a considerable pain as the locking clips were in tight positions. This kind of nuisance shouldn’t be a big concern for most people though as they aren’t switching motherboards out daily as I am.

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The VIA K8T800 north bridge is immediately below the ATX power connectors, and is covered by the same heatsink we have seen on a couple of generations of the Abit motherboards and they are sturdy and relatively quiet.

Another problem arises with the CPU socket and the room that surrounds it for the heatsink. To the left of the socket, in the direction of the north bridge and the capacitors, you have less than 1 cm in open area behind the socket. There is of course enough room for the standard AMD bracketed heatsinks, but it looks like they specified for that and no more. I had some troubles installing the Zalman copper heatsink we have used on several of our reviews, but through interference with the DIMMs, not the north bridge as it rises above those obstacles.

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There are three DIMM slots as you can see – but they have a couple minor problems. First, when using that Zalman heatsink I mentioned above, the copper fins were actually coming in contact with the heat spreaders on the memory in the DIMM slot 1 during installation and removal of the memory. After they were installed, however, there was no contact, but the gap between them was small enough to cause concern if there are any changes in the Zalman heatsink specs. Oh, and don’t even think about using the Corsair Pro series memory with that combination – it will not fit at all. Also, another problem is one we saw rampant with the KT600 motherboards from the Athlon XP platform – interference with the AGP card when it is installed. In short, you can not install or remove memory safely with the AGP card installed; you’ll have to remove it first.

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After we get below the mid-point of the motherboard, we are back to a standard motherboard. The AGP slot has a regular retention clip and there are 5 PCI slots below it for expandability. There are two additional fire wire headers between the AGP and PCI slots, which is somewhat cumbersome if you install them after you’re setup. Two additional USB 2.0 headers are to the right of the PCI slots as well. There are a total of six Serial ATA channels available (which we’ll cover in the features section) as well as the inclusion of the new Abit uGuru feature (which we’ll cover in the bios section).

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