AOpen's first Athlon 64 motherboard, the AK86-L, was based on the VIA K8T800 chipset. After going through several BIOS updates, the AK86-L emerged as our Editor's Choice for Best Value in Athlon 64 motherboards. When AOpen's second Socket 754 board began appearing in the US market, we were interested in taking a closer look.

The AOpen AK89 Max, as suggested by the model number, is a premium board compared to the AK86-L. Based on the nVidia nForce3-150 chipset, the AK89 Max is loaded with features, including 4-drive SATA, Firewire, and the dual-chip die-hard BIOS. For those not familiar with the company, AOpen is the components division of Acer, the huge company that has their hand in many consumer electronics markets. They produce motherboards, chipsets with their ALI brand, optical drives, displays, memory, and many other components.

Just to clear the air from the start, we were very disappointed with the AK89 Max when we first began testing. The Front Side Bus was limited to 250, and the Clock Gen utility for nForce3 from www.wcpuid.com would not even work with the shipping BIOS. The AGP/PCI lock present in the BIOS seemed to stop functioning as soon as multipliers were selected. While the AK89 Max with the shipping BIOS was very stable, the most interesting options either didn't work or they exhibited very limited ranges.

However, AOpen supplied 2 BIOS upgrades during the course of the review, and this dramatically improved the flexibility and capabilities of the board. It was almost as if the AK89 Max grew from the ugly duckling into a swan.

AOpen AK89 Max: Basic Features
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  • retrospooty - Friday, April 23, 2004 - link

    Am I the only one that found this artcle hard to follow ? Its all over the place ... What the hell was being tested ? Reply
  • cowdog - Thursday, April 22, 2004 - link

    Thanks for the information.

    BTW, I finally did get through to AOpen, and they have been very prompt and helpful. I must have fallen through the cracks or something earlier.
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Thursday, April 22, 2004 - link

    Cowdog -
    I used our standard Mushkin/OCZ 3500 at default speed. Above 233, I used OCZ 3500EB to DDR500, and OCZ 4200EL to DDR550. if you look closely at the screen shots the memory is identified on the overclocks. As you state, BH6 can't reach these levels.

    AOpen tells us the board would require a revision to allow an increase in vcore, and with the nF3-250 near, a new rev will not appear with the 150. They can't modify the vCore on this board with just a BIOS update. vdimm and higher FSB may be a possibility - we have requested those changes - but it is more likely these will come with the 250 version.

    Reply
  • cowdog - Thursday, April 22, 2004 - link

    FYI: This seemed as good a place to post this as anywhere else. Just came across a new bios, 1.07

    "For AMD recommended,memory clock will set to DDR333 when DIMM1 and DIMM2 plugged double side DDR400 memory."

    Two things:

    1. BIOS defaulted to 200x11 for me, which isn't a good thing for an A64 3200

    2. I have no option for DDR400 in the bios with 2x246MB Mushkin Lv II PC3500.

    3. When I tried to lower the multipler, the bios gave me an error at POST (safe mode or something like that). Then even if I selected bios defaults I had the same message. I reset cmos and it worked, although cpu frequency went back to the 200x11.

    Might want to be leary of bios 1.07, although my system may simply be whacked.
    Reply
  • cowdog - Thursday, April 22, 2004 - link

    Wesley, I must admit that I haven't tried Dr. AOpen; I missed that. I did fill out their tech support form (with serial number, etc.) three times. This third time (last night) I did receive an automated reply for the first time. I kept screen shots of the previous forms, and I know my email was right. I'm not sure what happened. Anyway, I'll try Dr. AOpen as well, thanks.

    Couple of things to add:

    1. As far back as the official 1.06 bios, I was able to change multiplers (only downward, of course) using Clockgen. I found that clockgen would work if I set the multiplier lower in the bios, even though that did not change the multiplier at post. 1.06 m bios now changes the multiplier at post, as you note. Funny thing too, after I updated to 1.06m, the default multipler was 4.

    2. I don't understand why AOpen won't open up the cpu and dimm voltages as they did with the AK86-L. As you note, the AK89 Max is their current A64 flagship. Why add features via bios update to the AK86-L but not do similar for the AK89 Max? Unless, of course, those features can't be added with a bios update. Do you know?

    3. When you overlclocked the memory 1:1 to 250Mhz, were you using the OCZ or Mushkin memory that you referenced earlier in the article? I am unable run some Mushkin BH-5 memory 1:1 at anything higher than 230Mhz (clockgen) and 210Mhz (bios) with the multiplier way down and LDT at 3 or 2.5 even though I can run the same memory at speeds higher than 250Mz on another board. Same thing with some Corsair LL v.1.1 memory. Just curious. Perhaps the cpu is the limiting factor; is there that much variability?

    Anyway, thanks for a really nice and thorough review. I am trying very hard to like this board (and AOpen) and your review renewed my motivation.
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Wednesday, April 21, 2004 - link

    #7 - The Asus K8V is based on the VIA K8T800 chipset which has no capability at all for a PCI/AGP lock. We have found the performance of the VIA and nForce3-150 to be about the same at stock speed, but the VIA is simply not cpable of avchieving the overclocks we have reported in this review.

    The K8V performs about like the MSI K8V Neo which is included in our benchmarks.
    Reply
  • Modal - Wednesday, April 21, 2004 - link

    I wish you would have done some comparisons with the ASUS K8V Deluxe as well, as this seems to be quite a popular board for Athlon64 machines (plus, I'm thinking about using it for my next build...). Oh well... Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Wednesday, April 21, 2004 - link

    #5 - Have you tried Dr. AOpen on line? If nothing has worked please email me your details and I will forward your email to contacts at AOpen.

    Both Evan Lieb and I have had very positive Support expereinces with AOpen. If others are getting different treatment it is important to know that and report it in our reviews.
    Reply
  • gimpsoft - Wednesday, April 21, 2004 - link

    is this a Real AGP /PCI lock ???
    i heard there way to mod the bios to lock but not the same as hardware Agp/pci locks

    well something like a sofmod ill see if i can find the link


    may be a this must buy board i got a via KT800
    i can do 3000+ 10 X 250= 2500MHZ but my radeon 9800pro & audigy bitch they say to high =) PCI: 41 APG: 83




    Reply
  • bigtoe33 - Wednesday, April 21, 2004 - link

    2-I was quite impressed by te FSB's the AOpen was able to hit and did feel the review was there just to show what the board is capable of.

    I also have this board and i would say 1:1 will be pretty limited due to 2.8V vdimm max.

    Also it was nice to see a comparison of 3dmark although i know this is not a bench Wes uses.

    Overall i think the review showed the board has awesome potential and proved that boards can become awesome with a "tuned" bios ;-)
    Reply

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