AOpen had one of the best Pentium II boards based on the old 440FX chipset last May when Intel unveiled the Pentium II processor, the AX6F.  A few months later, AOpen managed to grab the attention of the PC Hardware Community with their AX6L, arguably one of the best Pentium II LX motherboards available on the market.  What more could you expect from the company that brought you those two boards?  What more, other than an equally great product using Intel's newly unveiled BX Chipset, the name on the box says it all, this is the AOpen AX6B.


Anand Tech Report Card Rating
95/A

Motherboard Specifications

CPU Interface Slot-1
Chipset Intel 440BX
L2 Cache N/A (on-chip)
Form Factor ATX
Bus Speeds 66 / 75 / 83 / 100 / 103 / 112 / 133 MHz
Clock Multipliers 2.0x - 5.0x
Voltages Supported 1.5v - 3.5v (Auto Detect)
Memory Slots 4 168pin DIMM Slots (EDO/SDRAM)
Expansion Slots 1 AGP Slot
4 PCI Slots
3 ISA Slots (1 Shared / 3 Full Length)
BIOS Award BIOS

 


The Good

The AOpen AX6B is much like its successful predecessor, the AX6L.  The AX6B's PCB closely resembles the AX6L, the similar PCB is the base for the 4 PCI, 3 ISA and 1 AGP slot, not to mention the 4 DIMM slots.  The board uses a fairly large ATX form factor, which is a snug fit in even the roomiest of Mid Tower ATX cases.  The board is populated, for the most part, by high-quality Sanyo Electrolytic capacitors with the highest concentrations around the Slot-1 Single Edge Connector (SEC) and the 4 DIMM slots.  Stability is not an issue you have to worry about with this board, rock-solid would be an understatement for the AX6B, as it was with the AX6L. ax6b.jpg (10732 bytes)

The heart of the AX6B is Intel's new 440BX Chipset, covered entirely by a black heatsink on the board near the Pentium II's Cartridge Slot.  The heatsink itself resembles that which can be found on SiS 5571/5591 motherboards, except it lacks the green color which seems to have become the trademark symbol of most SiS motherboards.   The purpose of the heatsink is obviously to dissipate heat from the 440BX Chipset, which does run at a considerably warmer temperature when compared to the old LX or FX chipsets.  Heat doesn't seem to be much of a stability/reliability problem with the BX chipset, though it is nice to know that AOpen went the extra mile by including the heatsink on the AX6B, something most manufacturers will shy away from in order to save a few bucks on production costs.

The manual that will be sold with the AX6B will be the standard AOpen manual, this time tailored to fit the AX6B and its unique features.  The outstanding documentation AOpen provides with their motherboards, not to mention their decision to include a small FAQ in the back of all of their manuals, truly shows their dedication to the most important people in this business, the consumers.   AOpen was definitely aiming to please the consumers with this board, and they made that clear by producing a quality product.  Companies like AOpen don't release board after board aimed at fixing the problems a previous model may have posed, they release a knockout product and make sure it lasts from the day it is released past the day it is replaced by a new item.  The AX6B will be around for some time and AOpen wanted to make sure that the board will remain a killer in the market.  This they accomplished very well.

The setup/configuration of the AX6B couldn't be made any easier, although it doesn't feature the more advanced configuration options of the newly announced Soft MenuTM II Setup by ABIT it does remain a force to be reckoned with, providing users with a simple and well documented Jumperless CPU Configuration Utility.  This utility allows the user to select from a list of clock multipliers ranging from 2.0x - 5.0x and a list of System Bus Speeds including the officially supported 66 and 100MHz settings while not excluding the 75, 83, 103, 112, and 133MHz bus speed settings.  Overclocking on the AX6B seems to be almost encouraged by AOpen...although as a manufacturer they'll never admit to that ;)   

The performance of the AX6B isn't much faster than the AX6L, in fact, the two boards are nearly identical when running at the same clock speed when dealing with performance.  The only advantages the AX6B offers over the AX6L is the official support for the 100MHz bus speed, and the ability to overclock using the 103, 112, and 133MHz settings.  All bus speed settings over 83MHz use a 1/3 PCI Clock Divider, meaning the PCI Bus runs at 1/3 the System Bus Speed (100/33, 103/34, 112/37, 133/44) vs. running the PCI Bus at 1/2 the System Bus Speed which is the case when using all bus speed settings between 66 and 83MHz, inclusive.

The Bad

The AX6B tested here died after 6 hours of use, this sort of thing is rare in the motherboard industry, however it is probably (99%) due to the board tested being a pre-production test model.  The AX6B's 133MHz Bus Speed Setting wouldn't boot, regardless of what type of RAM was used, even PC100 SDRAM had problems posting at 133MHz when using any multiplier.  The final version of the board may or may not fix its ability to run at the 133MHz bus speed, that has yet to be seen.   All other bus speeds do work however, just make sure you use PC100 Compliant SDRAM.

 


BIOS Settings

AOpen AX6B Chipset Features Setup

Item Recommended Settings
EDO/SDRAM 66/75/83MHz Bus SDRAM 100/133MHz Bus Safe

Anand Tech is waiting for another test sample of the board before starting on the Recommended BIOS Settings


Recommended SDRAM

Recommended SDRAM: Corsair PC100 SDRAM; Memory Man PC100 SDRAM
SDRAM Tested: 1 x 64MB Corsair PC100 SDRAM; 1 x 64MB Memory-Man PC100 SDRAM

Manufacturer: Corsair Microsystems
Purchase Web-Site: http://www.nf-ny.com

Manufacturer: The Memory Man
Purchase Web-Site: http://www.memory-man.com

 


The Test

In recent times, choosing a motherboard cannot be completely determined by a Winstone score. Now, many boards come within one Winstone point of each other and therefore the need to benchmark boards against each other falls. Therefore you shouldn't base your decision entirely on the benchmarks you see here, but also on the technical features and advantages of this particular board, seeing as that will probably make the greatest difference in your overall experience.

How I Tested

  • Each benchmark was run a minimum of 2 times and a maximum of 5 times, if the motherboard failed to complete a single test within the 5 allocated test runs the OS/Software was re-installed on a freshly formatted Hard Drive and the BIOS settings were adjusted to prevent the test from failing again.  All such encounters were noted at the exact time of their occurrence.

  • Business Winstone 98 was run at each individually tested clock speed, if reliable scores were achieved with the first two test runs of the suite an average of the two was taken and recorded as the final score at that clock speed.  If the test system displayed erratic behavior while the tests were running or the results were incredibly low/high the tests were re-run up to 5 times and an average of all the test runs was taken and recorded at the final score at that clock speed

  • After each motherboard was tested a complete format of the test hard drive was initiated and the OS/benchmarking software was re-installed afterwards a defragment was initiated using Windows 95's Disk Defragmentation Utility

  • Tests using AGP Video cards were run under Winstone 97 and Winstone 98

  • No foreign drivers were present in the test system other than those required for the system to function to the best of its ability

  • All foreign installation files were moved to a separate partition during the test as to prevent them from effecting the test results

  • All tests were conducted at 800 x 600 x 256 colors

Test Configuration

Processor(s): Pentium II - 300 Retail
Pentium II - 333 OEM
RAM: 1 - 64MB Corsair PC100 SDRAM DIMM
1 - 64MB Memory Man PC100 SDRAM DIMM
Hard Drive(s): Western Digital Caviar AC21600H
Video Card(s): Matrox Millennium II (4MB WRAM - AGP)
Bus Master Drivers: Intel v3.01
Video Drivers: MGA Millennium 4.03.00.3410
Operation System(s): Windows 95 Service Release 2

 

Ziff Davis Winstone - Windows 95 Performance

Business Winstone 98 Business Winstone 97
Intel Pentium II - 300 (100) 23.9 70.0
Intel Pentium II - 333 @ 300 (100) 23.8 65.5
Intel Pentium II - 336 (112) 24.1 68.5
Intel Pentium II - 400 (100) 25.3 74.8

 


The Final Decision

For the first BX motherboard reviewed at Anand Tech, the AX6B doesn't rely on the sheer features of the chipset to make it a hit, instead AOpen made sure that their first (and probably flagship) BX motherboard was stable, reliable, and most importantly, a quality product. 

 

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