AOpen has once again proven that they are to be considered one of the top manufacturers of high-performance motherboards – if not the best. As has been the case with all of their recent offerings, the AX6B combines quality design and construction with a rich set of features, resulting in a reliable, fast and versatile product. While other BX motherboards might be better in some specific areas, the AX6B must be given serious consideration as one of the overall best.
At first glance, the AX6B looks almost identical to it’s cousin – the AX6L. It is obvious that AOpen wanted to build upon the quality design of their previous offering, and this they have done. They have included all of the most desireable features of the AX6L, and added a few more.
The AX6B is an ATX form factor board that sports 3 ISA, 4 PCI and 1 AGP slot. This relatively conservative design should satisfy the needs of most users, though the push towards PCI modems and sound cards may make this design limiting for some. Towards that end, an SB-Link connector is included to support the Creative Labs PCI sound card. The AGP speed can be set to ‘Turbo’ mode, which will run at full system bus speed. This may provide some performance improvement, though many AGP cards may not operate beyond 66MHz.
The motherboard supports a full 1GB of system RAM in 4 DIMM slots, and will accept either SDRAM or EDO modules. The maximum cacheable memory was unknown at the time of this writing, but should included in a future update. Of course, the standard 2 EIDE and 1 floppy connector are included, along with 1 Parallel, 2 Serial and 2 USB connectors, as well as an IrDA header. The keyboard and mouse connectors are the PS/2 style, and the BIOS contains ‘legacy emulation’ for a USB keyboard.
AOpen decided to fully utilize the capabilities of the BX chipset by incorporating a full range of system bus speeds and CPU clock multipliers, all of which can be set via the BIOS. The user can choose either the ‘standard’ settings (i.e., 233MHz, 266MHz, 300MHz, etc.) or ‘user defined’. The latter setting provides bus speeds of 66, 68.5, 75, 83.3, 100, 103, 112 and 133MHz as well as multipliers from 1.5x through 8x in .5x increments. This allows for an incredible range of processor speeds for those who like to experiment. The core voltage is automatically detected and set, which should not be an issue at all, considering the narrow range of voltages supported by the Pentium II processors.
The AX6B includes a number of hardware monitoring options, including Over Current Protection, CPU Thermal Protection, Voltage Monitoring and Fan Monitoring for better protection of your CPU and components. Also incorporated is the Modem Wake-up on Ring, LAN Wake-up and RTC Wake-up. The latter two features allow the system to be started either remotely through a LAN connection or by scheduling it for a specific time of the day. AOpen also included their, now standard, Suspend to Hard Drive feature which allows a user to save their current work to the hard drive so that it will be restored upon system startup. This can be quite a time-saving feature for those who keep a number of applications active and don’t want to close each one at the end of the day, then open them back up again the next day, while trying to remember all of the work that was unfinished.
Cool and/or Unique Features
One interesting feature is the ability to save your customized BIOS settings, which can later be restored if you have to clear the CMOS or have been ‘tweaking’ your settings (Load and Save EEPROM Defaults). The BIOS also includes multi-language support with a BIOS update.
AOpen also continued their batteryless design introduced with the AX6L by utilizing the RTC included in the PIIX4E chipset. The clock and BIOS will retain their settings as long as the system is plugged into a power source, even when turned off. For those who don’t trust their power source, or who may experience frequent power outages during certain times of the year, a battery can be used (and is supplied).
As stated previously, the motherboard layout is almost identical to the AX6L, with only the SB-Link connector added between PCI slots 3 and 4. AOpen also opted to include a heatsink for the chipset for additional stability and reliability.
The DIMM slots are situated such that they are easily accessible, and the connectors for panel wires are placed where they should not be blocked by the secondary case fan. There should be no problem installing any full length ISA cards.
Compatibility & Stability
Processor support is not much of an issue, considering the limited options available at this time. Full support for Pentium II processors from 233MHz through 450MHz is included, with possible support for future offerings.
There has been some discussion recently in regards to the use of a DRAM data buffer being necessary for stability when using 4 DIMM slots, however we found that the AX6B has no problems at all in this regard. Using four (4) Micron PC100 SDRAM modules, the motherboard performed flawlessly in all tests.
We were able to run complete Winstone tests using bus speeds as high as 112MHZ, depending upon which processors were used. AOpen has included a number of user-definable memory timing options in the BIOS, so that tweaking for optimum performance is possible. They also included a ‘Turbo Defaults’ setting for optimum performance. One thing to note if you will be experimenting, is that the faster bus speeds (i.e. 112MHz) may require putting these settings back to the slower values (i.e. ‘Setup Defaults’) for stability.
AOpen has always included clear and complete documentation for their motherboards. There are in-depth descriptions of the various features, including Suspend to Hard Drive, Modem Wake-up on Ring, LAN Wake-up, RTC Wake-up and all of the various monitoring features. They have also included descriptions of most of the BIOS settings. All cable and wire connections are fully documented.
We believe that the AX6B should be given serious consideration as one of the best overall BX motherboards available. The motherboard benchmarks very well, and provides the user with the ability to really optimize the performance. The quality of materials, design and construction ensure that the motherboard will be stable and reliable. If the history of the AX6L is any indication, this motherboard will likely have a very low RMA rate. AOpen products traditionally have one of the lowest rates of any manufacturer.
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