The AX6C has quite a few features and a nice layout. It has 5 PCI slots, 1 AMR slot and 1 AGP slot, with all PCI slots free from obstructions. The 3 RIMM allows up to 1GB of DRDRAM to be installed. There are headers for Wake-on-LAN, Wake-on-Modem and IrDA cables. The floppy and IDE connectors are located in front of the DIMM slots, putting them right next to the drive bays, and the ATX power plug is behind the CPU slot near the rear of the board.
Though equipped with an Audio-Modem Riser slot, the board comes with AC97 audio capability built in, along with a game port and RCA connectors. A CD-IN header allows your CD sound cable to be plugged directly into the board, and it even has a modem connector for a voice modem with Line In and Mic Out connectors (this is not an industry standard, however).
As with all Aopen boards, the BIOS setup includes a ‘Turbo Defaults’ setting for optimum performance. In addition, Aopen has included their patented ‘Full-Range RDRAM speed’ option, which allows the RDRAM to be set to an almost unlimited number of speeds – even as high as 160MHz x 8 (1280MHz). We will cover this feature more fully in another article dedicated to DRDRAM performance. In our test for this evaluation we limited the setting to the more standard 100MHz x 8 (800MHz).
Verification – As part of our standard methodology, we first tested the board with QuickTech Pro 2000 and RAM Stress Test diagnostics, from Ultra-X. QuickTech Pro is a system level diagnostic and burn-in tool which allows us to verify that the board has no obvious defects that would prevent a reliable evaluation (see our review of this software for more information). RAM Stress Test is a very intensive memory diagnostic that allows us to verify that any stability issues are not due to data integrity problems because of defective memory or bus timings that are too fast. With two RIMM modules installed, we saw absolutely no data integrity problems during a 12-hour RST test session. (refer to our review for details of this product)
The next set of tests involved our standard circuit-level diagnostics using the PHD PCI diagnostic card, also from Ultra-X. This diagnostic card measures the signals for all circuits (IRQ and DMA controllers, PCI and memory busses, system timer, etc.) against reference timings, and if there is even a small deviation, a ‘failure’ is reported. These tests were run 100 times in succession to make sure there were no intermittent errors. The AX6C passed all tests without any failures reported.
Stability and Reliability – We first installed Windows 98 (second edition), and ran the Passmark Burn-in test. This is a multi-threaded burnin program that puts a heavy load on various aspects of the system simultaneously, including the processor, graphics and I/O subsystems. The Burn-in test was run for 24 hours without any errors reported. We also installed and ran Business Winstone 99 and Content Creation 2000 tests in Demo mode for another 24 hours each. The test settings were set to stop on any error, and to reboot after every run. In speaking with ZDBOp, this is the only reliable way to use demo mode as a ‘stress test’ because is eliminates the problems caused by memory leaks in the applications used by the benchmark. There were zero errors reported during this 24-hour test period.
We next installed Windows NT 4.0 (SP4), and ran the Passmark burn-in test for 24 hours. Winstone 99 (Business and High-End) and Content Creation 2000 were run in demo mode for 10 iterations without rebooting (about 4 hours each) without any errors being detected.
Finally, Red Hat Linux 5.2 was installed and several kernel compiles performed, and a few custom benchmark run to verify stable operation. Again, no problems were detected.
Based upon the results of these tests, the AX6C is one of the most stable motherboards we have tested. There was no indication of any chipset problems whatsoever. We ran our tests with and without installing the busmaster and Inf updates to Win98, with no apparent affect on reliability and stability.
Perfomance Optimizations – When using the ‘Turbo Default’ option, the DRDRAM speed is set to the FSB speed x 6 as the default. In our case, this meant 600MHz operation. Using the RDRAM speed setting option under ‘BIOS settings / Frequency control’, we changed that to 100MHz x 8 to get the full benefit of our high-speed DRDRAM samples.
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