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AOpen AX4C Max Review

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Promise FastTrak SX4000 RAID Card















AOpen AX4C Max 19th July 2003

  1. Introduction

  2. Layout

  3. Specifications

  4. Test Setup

  5. Sisoft Sandra

  6. PCMark 2002

  7. 3DMark 2001

  8. Unreal Tournament 2003

  9. Video Encoding

  10. Audio Encoding

  11. Conclusion

Before we get started we need to explain the format of our reviews over the past six months. Readers will have noted that an entire review is laid out on one long page instead of 15-20 short pages. While it takes longer for a single page of this length to load we have designed the layout so that text appears first and graphics last so you can start reading before completion of loading. We decided not to split over 15-20 pages as many people find it annoying to have interruptions once they start getting into a review. It also means you can use the search option in the menu bar to go straight to parts that are of interest. We'd like our readers to let us know which method they prefer by providing feedback in our Forums. In any case, by the time you finish reading this paragraph the page should have mostly loaded.




AOpen have produced many good boards over the years and their manuals have always been well written (if somewhat on the large side). They also like to give plenty of extras in their Max series with headers for just about every feature the motherboard supports.




Everything anyone could possibly want.


This seems fairly comprehensive so lets take a look at the board itself:


We have a reasonably good layout with color coding of the Dimm slots (take note Abit). The Northbridge fan can be controlled in the BIOS if it gets too noisy. The limitations of the current ICH5R Southbridge means that only two RAID drives are supported. Because this board has 4 S-ATA connectors AOpen thoughtfully attached a Promise RAID controller to the other two so 4 S-ATA drives are supported in RAID configuration. The Hercules PCI slot is the last one and is colored blue to show that it is different. The Hercules PCI slot is a new feature and is basically a very high quality PCI slot with more robust traces and no shared resources (unique IRQ). It seems like it would be the ideal slot for a RAID controller card or a video editing/effects card (like the Matrox RT.X10 etc.).


We find the usual connectors here including the onboard gigabit LAN connector using Intel's design and CSA. Four USB 2.0 connectors should be enough with another 4 available through a header (supplied along with a IEEE1394 header). Digital audio connectors are available on one of the headers.




Here are the manufacturer's specifications:



CPU    Intel Pentium 4 CPU
   Socket 478
Chipset    Intel 875P Canterwood
Super I/O    Winbond (W83627HF)
Clock Gen.    ICS (952619)
   Max Overclocking : 1600Mhz
Main Memory    Dual Channel Mode
   Support DDR400 [PC3200]
   Support ECC
   DDR DIMM x 4
   DIMM Type :  64/128/256/512MB & 1GB
   Max Memory : 4GB
Graphics    8X AGP slot
IDE    Integrated ATA100 and Serial ATA Controller
   Promise ATA133 and Serial ATA Control Chip [Support Serial ATA RAID 0, 1 and 0+1]
   Max Disk :  144,000,000GB [by 48 bits LBA Spec.]
LAN    Broadcom Gigabit PCI LAN Chip
   Integrated Broadcom PHY
Sound    Realtek AC'97 CODEC on-board (ALC650)
   5.1 Channel
USB    Integrated in chipset
   USB2.0 x 8
IEEE 1394    Agere 1394 Control Chip (FW323)
   Integrated Agere PHY
Slots    AGP x 1
   PCI x 5 (Hercules PCI ==> PCI5)
Storage & Back Panel I/O    Floppy Drive Connector x 1
   IDE Channel : ATA100 x 2
   Additional IDE Channel  : ATA133 x 1
   Serial ATA Channel x 4
   PS/2 Keyboard x 1
   PS/2 Mouse x 1
   USB Port x 6
   LAN Port x 1
   COM Port x 2
   Printer Port x 1
   Speaker_Out x 1
   Line_In x 1
   MIC_In x 1
On Board Connector    Front Panel x 1
   Front Audio x 1
   CPU FAN x 1
   System FAN x 1
   Chassis FAN x 1
   Case Open Connector x 1
   AUX_IN x 1
   CD_IN x 1
   Wake_on_LAN x 1
   Wake_on_Modem x 1
   IrDA x 1
   S/PDIF x 1
   Dr LED x 1
   Game Connector x 1
   IEEE 1394 x 2
   USB Port x 2
BIOS    Award PnP 4Mb Flash ROM BIOS
   2nd Flash ROM for DieHard BIOS
Form Factor    ATX
Board Size    305 mm x 244 mm
Software & Utility    Acrobat Reader
   AOconfig utility
   EzClock utility
   EzSkin utility
   EzWinFlash utility
   Norton Anti-Virus
   Online eBook Manual
   Serial ATA RAID Driver disk
   SilentTek Software
   WinBIOS utility
   WinDMI utility
Accessory    Easy Installation Guide x 1
   Enhanced Full Pictured Manual x 1
   EzRestore Guide x 1
   Bonus Pack CD disc x 1
   Norton Anti-Virus CD disc x 1
   Floppy Disk cable x 1
   40-wire IDE cable x 1
   80-wire ATA133 cable x 1
   Serial ATA cable x 2
   Serial ATA Power cable x 1
   IEEE 1394 cable x 1
   USB2.0 + Game port cable x 1
   S/PDIF cable x 1
   Back Panel I/O Shield x 1
   CPU Retention Module x 1



Test Setup


Here's a summary of the test system:


The memory used was DDR400 Corsair memory rated at 2-2-2-6. For comparison we'll use Intel's D875PBZ reference Canterwood board and an SIS655 board.



Sisoft Sandra


Let's start with the synthetic benchmarks.


This test is largely dominated by the CPU bus and so the higher FSB makes little difference here.


The AX4C Max is well ahead of the other Canterwood board and the Springdale one.


Again the AX4C Max is on top of the 3GHz P4 CPUs


The lead is given away here probably due to some highly tuned optimizations from the Abit contender.



PC Mark 2002

This is a series of tests and is more comprehensive than any of the Sandra benchmarks.


The Intel reference board pulls ahead here but the AX4C Max is ahead of the IS7-G.



3D Mark 2001


We repeated this several times as we just couldn't believe this score. It is absolutely astounding on a Ti4400 graphics card and wouldn't look out of place on a Radeon 9700 Pro.


The highest score to date goes to the AX4C Max.



Unreal Tournament 2003


Now for some real world benchmarks starting with UT2003 Flyby.


There isn't much to say here except that an 800MHz FSB is definitely the way to go for gamers..


The IS7-G is ahead at the higher resolutions, giving weight to Abit's claim of game optimizations although the AX4C Max is aimed at users who want more than just gameplay.



Divx Encoding

Let's turn to an area where we know that fast CPUs will make a difference - Audio and Video encoding. This is becoming more and more popular and is very computationally intensive with long processing times (relatively speaking that is, this field is not for those that complain about how long their Outlook Express takes to load).

For consistency we will use Jet Li's The One as our test matter. It is not interlaced and contains a mixture of action types and is not too long. There will be three tests all using Divx 5.02. Audio will be encoded separately. I will try and keep my commentary to a minimum as all configuration information is shown in the images below.


Xmpeg 4.5

Firstly we will start with the industry standard Xmpeg with its settings at those recommended by the Divx community and as used by other sites such as Toms Hardware. Here are the CODEC settings:

and here are the Xmpeg settings:

and here are the results


The AOpen board is clearly in the lead.


AviSynth and VirtualDub

No serious Divx encoder uses Xmpeg alone and it's just used by the media for benchmarking purposes so let's get serious. We ripped our source material to hard disk and created a DVD2AVI project file using forced film (it was 99% film). Loading this into Gordian Knot we first saved an .avs file with no changes at all (720x480) and no filters of any sort. This was loaded into VirtualDub with the following CODEC parameters :

After encoding we got these results:


Little to choose between the three leaders.


This is all good stuff but how about a real-world test? To simulate a realistic test we added a neutral bicubic resize filter in the .avs file  and used the following CODEC parameters (including two popular Pro settings) which are designed to total 700MB (when the audio is muxed in):

Which resulted in the following.


There seems to be no logical explanation for the lead of the IS7-G and the AX4C Max comes in second.



Audio Encoding

What about audio? We took the AC3 track from the above sample material and used HeadAC3he to convert it into Vorbis format so our final muxed file could have Ogg containment. There isn't space here to go into the advantages of Ogg Vorbis over MP3 and AVI so let's just say that Vorbis sounds about the same as MP3 for half the file size or twice as good for the same file size (that is subjective though).

These are the settings we used:

Since it is more meaningful to show throughput than time taken (which depends on the length of the source) we display the results thus:


Another good effort.



We were quit pleased with the performance of the AX4C Max which is better than the Intel reference board and usually better than the IS7-G. The question remains - why buy a Canterwood board when the cheaper Springdale ones are almost as good and a lot cheaper? The answer has to do with the robustness of this product. The Hercules slot actually lifted the PCI ceiling of our Promise TX4000 from 100MB/s to 119MB/s, an increase of almost 10%. It's an ideal board for home and even professional video editing and was rock solid in terms of stability. If you're on a tight budget then by all means go for a cheap Springdale but if you must have a Canterwood then you could do far worse than the AOpen AX4C Max.

We award the AOpen AX4C Max our Silver Award.

We would like to thank AOpen for the review sample AX4C Max Motherboard.

We would also like to thank MICROSOFT UK for the review sample Windows XP Pro and their technical assistance.

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