Abit AB9 P965 Conroe Motherboard Page: 1
Introduction

With Core 2 duo "Conroe" chips out for a while and the popularity of the excellent new chip at a high among enthusiasts, we thought that we should look at the things that cause the most concern on Intel's new platform: motherboards.

Intel currently have 2 chipsets that support Conroe: the newer 965 and 975. The Abit AB9 we're looking at today is based on the Intel P965 chipset. The P965 chipset is the newest Intel chipset supporting Intel Core2Duo CPU's and we've seen some pretty decent results from it.


Packaging

Packaging of motherboards has greatly improved over recent years, with people like Asus and DFI producing some really nice packages. Abit's choice for this board is somewhat strange. With a train and the logo: "Xpress for the big tracks", I am left feeling somewhat underwhelmed with the front of the packaging.

Abit AB9

The back is far better with a decent view of the motherboard and labels pointing to the board with its main features.

abit ab9 packaging

The board has some decent features and it's good to have these feature prominently on the back of the box.

The inside of the box shows quality with two smaller boxes hiding away the parts and pieces.

abit ab9 packaging

This gives a very professional style to the box and is nice to see.

abit ab9

And the board all wrapped up safe with cardboard standoffs. The packaging style is excellent and I wouldn't imagine the board would be damaged. Good work by Abit here overall, despite a slightly dodgy initial impression.

Package

The package with the board is pretty basic, but it gets you there. Everything you need to get set up is included, if nothing more than what you need.

abit ab9 package

Contents:

* 6 x SATA cables (with easygrip connecters)
* 1 x IDE Cable
* 1 x FDD Cable
* 1 x PSI bracket for USB 2.0/Firewire
* 1 x Motherboard I/O backplate
* 1 x Quick Install Guide
* 1 x Users Manual
* 1 x Abit μGuru™ User Manual
* 1 x Abit AB9 Jumper Settings
* JMicron SATA RAID Driver Diskette
* Abit CD with user Manual/Drivers/Utilities

All in all not a bad little bundle. When we look at this we must bear in mind that the board is in the mid-range price-wise and will not come with the total package that the very ultra top-end motherboards will come with.

As I said before though - everything is there and I was happy with the package.



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The Board - A Close-up

When you take your motherboard out of the box you're first impressions need to be good. Board layout is essential to any good motherboard. I am totally fussy when it comes to cable tidying and so for the connectors to be in the right place is essential.

abit ab9

I'm going to start with the colour. whilst not being the nicest: it is far better than brown or green seen on many other manufacturer's motherboards. The co-ordination on the board is pretty bad though, and does not blend into a theme. Having said this the connectors are clearly marked with their own colours and connecting the wrong thing will be hard to do.

Notice the CPU area is pretty free of obstruction and the "SilentOTES" NorthBridge and PWM cooling solution is pretty prominent. I installed a pretty monster air cooler on the board and had no clearance issues.

abit ab9 cpu area

In this picture we see the awful location of the external 4 PIN molex connecter that Abit have put on the board to provide extra power to the PCI-E slots.

The SilentOTES heatpipe solution is actually very good. I would go as far to say that it is superior to Asus implementation. I never once saw it go over 48°C on the NorthBridge. Very impressive indeed. I will say that the fan on the heatsink is blowing over the PWM so this will get rid of the heat from the OTES solution too.

Moving on we see the 4-Pin power plug right over the other side of the board. This is a great position for the majority of cases as this should mean that you should not have a cable over the whole board.

Abit AB9

While we're here we see the DDR2 slots along with the 24Pin power connecter. Good positioning of the power connecter and very easily read colouring. The DDR2 slots give a nice gap between the RAM when in dual channel mode, allowing good airflow for hotter DDR2.

Abit AB9

The PCI-E and PCI slots and ummmm....the IDE connecter! The title of this picture is "IDE bad place" in my review file and for good reason! I know that P965 needs an external solution of IDE, but putting this IDE port here is like a total afterthought: and not a good one.

Abit AB9 bad IDE placing

There are some spare SATA connectors right next to the IDE port, which would only lead to more wiring nightmares. With the market pretty much bereft of SATA Optical at this time, IDE is pretty much essential.

Last but not least the four main SATA ports for the board. We see that the plain AB9 is missing the two extra SATA ports that the Pro version would have. Still: 6 SATA ports should be enough to satisfy most of us.

abit ab9

Here also we see the μGuru™ chip and the LED error code module for the board. It would have been nice to see the inclusion of an onboard power and reset switch, always a good inclusion for overclockers running their PC out of the case.



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I/O Options

The board is slightly plain in the I/O options that you have. The sound is pretty awesome though - 5.1 sound and optical in/out.

Not so many USB ports on it though which I am slightly disappointed by. However there are a lot of ports on the motherboard that you could use for the PCI blanking plate and a fair few spares. Networking is a bit limited but at least there is some sort of legacy connecter.

Abit AB9

Specification

From Abit's Site:

CPU

* Support Intel Core 2 Duo Pentium® & Pentium® D processors with1066/800MHz FSB
* Support Intel® 2006FMB Conroe CPU

 

Chipset

 

* Intel® P965 / ICH8 Chipset

 

Memory

 

* 4 X 240-pin DIMM sockets support max. memory capacity 8GB
* Supports Dual channel DDR2 800/667/533 Un-buffered Non-ECC memory

 

LAN

 

* On board 10/100/1000M PCI controller

 

Audio

 

* On board 7.1 CH HD Audio CODEC
* Supports auto jack sensing and optical S/PDIF Out

 

Expansion Slots

 

* 1 x PCI-E X16
* 2 x PCI-E X1
* 2 x PCI

 

Internal I/O

 

* 1 x Floppy Port supports up to 2.88 MB
* 1 x Ultra DMA 100/66/33 IDE connector
* 6 x SATA 3Gb/s connector
* 3 x USB header (support 4 ports)
* 1 x FP-Audio, 1 x CD-In

 

Back Panel I/O

 

* 1 x PS/2 Keyboard, 1 x PS/2 Mouse

* ABIT Silent OTESTM
* 1 x S/P DIF In, 1 x S/P DIF Out
* 7.1 CH Audio connector (Front, Line-in, MIC-in, Center/Subwoofer, Surround, Rear Surround)
* 4 x USB 2.0, 1 x RJ-45 LAN connector

 

Serial ATA

 

* 4 x SATA 3Gb/s through Intel® ICH8
* 2 x SATA 3Gb/s through JMicron® JMB363 support up to 0,1 ,JBOD RAID function

 

ABIT Engineered

 

* ABIT SoftMenuTM Technology
* ABIT μGuruTM Technology
* ABIT Silent OTESTM Technology

 

Form Factor

 

* ATX form factor 305 x 245mm
* PCB Color: Orange

 

RoHS

 

* 100% lead-free process and RoHS Compliancy


BIOS

Abit have employed the Phoenix Award BIOS for the AB9. Being used to this from the DFI LANPARTY series I was looking forward to a nice easy BIOS with plenty of options. I won't mention the colour. No really....PINK!

abit AB9 BIOS

The CPU and voltage adjustments are in the μGuru™ part of the BIOS. Plenty of adjustment in there for you.

Pretty decent CPU voltage adjustment up to 1.7v. Not too keen on the fairly large 0.025 steps.

Abit Ab9 mgure abit ab9 cpu speed

And FSB adjustment up to 600FSB - not too bad!

DDR Voltage adjustment up to an "OK" 2.3v and some decent speed adjustment. Some of the higher speed DDR2 will need more volts. This is not as impressive as I had hoped for.

abit ab9 abit ab9 ram speed

MCH goes up to 1.45v and ICHIO goes up to 1.7v. Pretty decent amounts of adjustment.

abit ab9 mch volts abit ab9 icho voltage

The RAM timings are set elsewhere in advanced. Not a huge amount like the LANPARTY BIOS, but the main 4 are there.

abit ab9 timings

All in all the BIOS is pretty decent, although the lack of RAM voltage is slightly disappointing. Aside from the colour: Abit supply a decent BIOS and it will only get better and I hope Abit continues to release decent new BIOS's.



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Test Setup

Abit Ab9 installed

The following test setup was as following:

Core2Duo E6700 ES
Abit AB9
Mushkin HP2 6400 (4-4-4-10)
Sapphire X1600Pro
Hitachia Deskstar 7K160 SATA HDD
Sony DVD-Rom/CD-RW
Silverstone 560w PSU
Antec P180B

For Comparison I used results from an earlier review by OC3D on the Intel D975XBX

Testing

To test the motherboard I first ran it at stock using as stress test comprising of Orthos (dual Prime95), Folding @ Home running on both cores (set to idle priority) and RTHDRIBL running 1/2 screen. I let this run for 12hours to see how the board would fare

The benches and tests used on the motherboard were:

PCMark05

Super PI 1m and 32m

SiSoft Sandra:

Processor Arithmatic
Procsssor Multemedia
Memory Bandwidth
Memory Latency

3DMark05 and 3DMark06 @ 1024 x 768 and 1280 x 1024

Counter Strike Source @ 1024 x 768 and 1280 x 1024

HD Tach

Cinebench:

CPU Rendering
OpenGL

For comparison I used the following:

- Silverstone Zeus 560w PSU
- XFX 7900GT GPU @ Stock
- Kingston HyperX PC2-8500 (5-5-5-15)
- Stock Intel Cooler
- Intel Core 2 Duo E6700 (2.66ghz)

All tests were performed three times to ensure a fair result.




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Stability

For the Stability test I ran Orthos which is a dual Prime95 stress test, alongside dual Folding @ Home instances of the console client. To spice this up and really test the board I ran RTHDRIBL alongside this. This is a real test of the boards stability at stock and will show just how well it runs out of the box.

The result: after 12hours I stopped the testing. The board passed. I cannot stress how nice it is to have a stable board in your system and it seems that the Abit lives up to that label.

ab9 stress test passed


Super PI 1 million and 32 million

Super PI is 100% the only choice for a quick bench of your top-end rig. It gives a quick and easy estimate of the relative speed of your CPU. The C2D's are now infamous for the ir very fast PI times. Let's see how the board does with this E6700.

1 Million

The quickest of bench tests - always a nice marker of speed.

Super PI 1 million


A very respectable result and in keeping and beating out (just), other boards more expensive than the AB9, like the Intel Bad Axe board.

32 Million

Not only a bench test but also a decent marker of the memory and subsystem stability

Abit AB9 Super PI 32 million

Yet another respectable result. This also shows that the board is easily capable of running the memory at this nice speed for a whole 32million run. Coming out very slightly lower than the Intel board we used in previous reviews, the Abit is a more than capable board at this bench.

SiSoft Sandra

Sisoft Sandra is a synthetic benchmark utility capable of reporting and benchmarking a wide range of system components. We ran the Processor and Memory suite to get some figures.

Processor Arithmatic and Multimedia

Let's see how the Abit AB9 bears up under an intense round of SiSoft Sandra processor tests. These test the processor, but can show a difference with the speed of the board affecting the score.

abit ab9 sisoft sandra

abit ab9 sisoft sandra

Again the Abit keeps up with the Intel Bad Axe board. Not quite matching it for speed, this is still a decent performance from a cheaper board.

Memory Bandwidth

Intel relies heavily on bandwidth even on its newest processing platform. However: the memory latency has been severely improved upon in C2D chips. Will the Abit once again keep pace with the Intel Bad Axe board in these tests?

sisoft bandwidth abit ab9

abit ab9 sisoft latency

With a fairly big increase over the Bad Axe board in the bandwidth and practically the same for the latency, the Abit once again measures up to the acclaimed Intel board. Pretty impressive.



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3DMark05

3DMark05 is a benchmark that relies heavily upon DX 8 and DX 9 shader paths. 3DMark05 is very useful benchmark to give us numbers to compare systems. It does give a decent indicator of gaming performance, and includes a couple of CPU benchmarks.

abit ab9 3dmark05

Although pretty GPU bound, this shows that the Abit is very capable of producing excellent results. At lower resolutions it scored excellently, especially in the CPU score (not shown).

3DMark06

As with 3DMark05, 3DMark06 is a good reference examination for a gaming PC. With a couple of very tough CPU benchmarks and graphics tests heavily relying on DirectX 9.0x features, this really is a test for your gaming system. Remember that the lower resolution tests give the CPU more of a workout as the GPU gets loaded less.

3dmark06 abit ab9

With the ultra stressful 3DMark06 the Abit still copes well, gaining a reasonable score with the X1600. Comparisons on the web show that this is decent and the Abit performed well.

Counter Strike: Source

Counter Strike: Source is a hugely popular FPS game based on the Source engine by Valve. This will show what a typical gamer will play on their PC and is a good benchmark.

abit ab9 css frames

The framerate at 1280 x 1024 was pretty decent, with only a couple of drops below 60FPS.

css abit ab9 frames

The board shows it can uphold good FPS alongside the X1600Pro.

Overall the gaming performance of the board was very nice. If your buying this board to game on then you won't be disappointed.



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Cinebench

Cinebench is a benchmarking tool based on the powerful 3D software Cinema 4D. Consequently, the results of tests conducted using Cinebench carry significant weight when analyzing a computer’s performance in everyday use. Let's see how the AB9 gets on in this test.

Abit AB9 cinebench

The CPU rendering results here show that the Abit once again keeps up with the higher priced and higher range Intel Bad Axe board. Minimal differences in the results are again pretty impressive.

abit ab9 cinebench

This test is showing us the difference in GPU performance in rendering rather than CPU rendering. However it still proves that the Abit is a very competitive board.

HD Tach

HDTach is a free hard disk benchmarking program from SimpliSoftware. This benchmark is not only capable of producing results on hard disk access times but also CPU usage required during disk access. It simply tests the hard drives in a nice quick and easy test.

abit ab9 hd tach
NB: The Intel Result is with a SATA 1 drive.

Interesting the CPU utilisation is lower on the AB9 than on the Intel board. Whilst I am ignoring the Intel result for burst speed, a burst speed of 212.3 is a little lower than the same Hitachi 7K160 has got on an NForce4 platform motherboard.



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Overclocking

Overclocking was performed through the BIOS, as all good 24/7 overclocking should be done. The AB9 has decent overclocking options but as with a lot of Intel platform boards you do not actually have to change much.

I did two different overclocks.

Low Voltage Overclocking

I set an upper limit of 1.325v for the CPU and clocked the CPU as high as I could whilst maintaining a 3 hour Orthos (dual prime95) stable overclock.

I was very impressed with the board result here.

abit ab9 oc low volts

abit ab9 3300mhz oc

That's a very nice result - 3300MHz is nothing to be sniffed at at 1.325v.

Overclocking - Highest Possible Stable on Air

For this test I stopped when I got concerned that the temperature rose too high. This overclock was performed on air using a Scythe Infinity. I stopped when the CPU started getting around 65-70°C. I believe with even better cooling I could easily have gone higher.

abit ab9 3550

abit ab9 3550mhz

This 3550MHz overclock was achieved using 1.55v. Once again as in the 3300MHz OC I left the motherboard volts at stock which is very impressive. As before this Overclock is Orthos stable.

Max FSB

This was particularly hard to do with the E6700 used, but I attempted to get the very best FSB possible.

In no way was this stable, but I barely managed to boot into my windows desktop at 430 x 10. I could not reduce the multiplier of the processor. 1.7v on the processor was used and maximum on both the MCH 1.5v voltage and ICHIO 1.25v voltage.

430FSB is very nice for a 10x multiplier processor.



Abit AB9 P965 Conroe Motherboard Page: 9
Conclusion

I am most impressed with this fairly cheap Intel p965 board. Abit have done a good job implementing great overclocking along with some solid features. The board is either on par, or in some tests: quicker than the Intel "Bad Axe" motherboard. This is most impressive.

One big concern I have with the board is the layout. The poor placement of the main IDE and JMicron SATA connecters lets an otherwise solid board down.

I am giving this board a "Value for Money" award. coming in at around £93 for the non-Pro board @ Specialtech and £111 for the Pro board @ SpecialTech, this represents a good solid value board

abit ab9 value for money

Pro's

+ Competitive Speed
+ Decent Bundle
+ Good value for money
+ Very good overclockability

Con's

- Bad IDE positioning
- Bad SATA positioning
- RAM voltage adjustment a little low

Thanks to Abit for the sample

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