ABIT was quick to grab the title of the best overall Socket-370 board with their BM6, its combination of an extremely user friendly setup, incredible possibilities for future expansion, and overclocking capabilities left the BM6 ahead of the competition by a margin a little more than unimaginable.  However the release of the BM6 did bring up one point in particular, what is the point to having the ultimate overclocker's motherboard if there aren't any overclockable CPU's available for the motherboard?  This is the current case with the Socket-370 (PPGA) Celeron 366 and 400 parts, making the overclocking approach an angle that can no longer be taken when pursuing the ideal motherboard.

This is where one of ABIT's most prominent competitors steps forth, AOpen.  Instead of focusing on a model that would be placed in direct competition with ABIT's BM6, AOpen chose to go the more reasonable route, outfitting their first Socket-370 boards with the much more economical 440LX chipset which, although removes some of the greater overclocking possibilities, leaves very little more desired as the newer Socket-370 Celerons don't seem to be as overclocking friendly as their Slot-1 brothers once were. 

So how do the two feuding families in the motherboard world measure up to one another?  You guessed it, there's only one way to find out as AnandTech looks at AOpen's lower-cost approach to the Socket-370 market. the Micro ATX MX3L. 


New Anand Tech Report Card Rating
85/B-
Do not compare newer ratings to older ones, the newer ratings are much more aggressive

Motherboard Specifications

CPU Interface Socket-370
Chipset Intel 440LX
L2 Cache N/A (on-chip)
Form Factor Micro ATX
Bus Speeds 66 / 68 / 75 / 83
Clock Multipliers 1.5x - 6.0x
Voltages Supported 2.0v (Auto Detect)
Memory Slots 3 168pin DIMM Slots
Expansion Slots 1 AGP Slot
3 PCI Slots (3 Full Length)
1 ISA Slots (1 Shared / 0 Full Length)
BIOS Award BIOS

The Good

The beauties of ATX and the size of a Baby AT motherboard mixed into one.  That's what the resulting Micro ATX form factor brought to the sub $1000 PC market, a form factor that is capable of keeping up with the times while also keeping costs to a minimum and allowing for a reasonable amount of expansion.  AOpen put the Micro ATX form factor to use with their Socket-370 design, the MX3L.  Based on the old 440LX chipset (back from August '97), the MX3L fills up the limited space of its Micro ATX PCB with a cozy 3/1/1 expansion slot configuration (PCI/ISA/AGP).  The expansion slots are teamed up with the 3 DIMM slots that are placed directly beneath the Socket-370 CPU interface. AOpen vs ABIT...the winner?
At the center of attention is the Intel 440LX chipset which powers the bordering AGP 2X slot as well as the rest of the motherboard, the only difference between the 440LX and the 440BX being that the 440BX supports the 100MHz Front Side Bus (FSB), a feature that will seemingly continue to go unused on Celeron systems until Q3-99. 

Surrounding the Socket-370 CPU interface and the ATX power supply connector, both of which are placed in easily accessible spots of the motherboard, are a number of large capacitors designed to increase the stability of the MX3L, however as you'll soon find out, size isn't everything when it comes to motherboards. 

The MX3L ships with an on-board Ensoniq ESS Solo 1 PCI Audio chip, a better than average sound chip that will give you more than enough for what a system based on the MX3L will cost you.  Although the Solo 1 isn't comparable to a high end Sound Blaster Live! or other 3D audio card, it is more than enough for the average user.  Also, since it is a PCI solution, the ESS Solo 1 boasts a lower CPU utilization than your standard ISA sound cards that we were all at one time used to.

All of the drivers for the on-board sound as well as the Bus Master Ultra DMA controller are included on AOpen's bundled CD-ROM that features a complementary copy of Norton AntiVirus for Windows 98.  The copy of NAV is a definite plus, especially for those users that are constantly downloading files off of the web yet just can't find the time to invest in a good Anti Virus package.  AOpen provides the same courtesy with all of the mainboards they ship now. 

Complementing the bundled CD-ROM is AOpen's standard User's Guide which documents the setup and configuration of the MX3L as closely and as accurately as possible.  Although the completely jumperless setup of the board already makes the setup easy enough, AOpen's top notch User's Guide is a high quality tool for those users that may not feel as comfortable with setting up their first system.  

As briefly alluded to above, the price point of the MX3L is outstanding as it lacks the features of motherboards that are targeted at the more high end market based on the BX chipset, the MX3L with on-board sound should carry a retail price of under $100 which would make it a welcome foundation for any sub $1000 system.  The performance of the MX3L is standard in comparison to the other Socket-370 motherboards AnandTech has tested proving the point that virtually all well-designed motherboards perform at essentially equal levels.

The Bad

It is obvious by the design of the MX3L that AOpen intended for the board to be a fairly low-cost solution, therefore limiting the investment in expansion slots to a total of 3 PCI slots and a single ISA slot.  This translates into a relatively static peripheral configuration for any users that happen to have 2 ISA cards that they just can't get rid of, or those that have 3 PCI cards and a single ISA, so be sure to remove any ideas of mass expansion before pursuing the MX3L.

Once again AOpen mystifies the world with their placement of the floppy drive connector, by placing the drive connector behind the parallel port interface at the rear of the motherboard, AOpen does cut costs some since the floppy drive controller is no longer than an inch away, however AOpen does create a bit of a case problem when users have to stretch their long floppy cables across the entire motherboard to get to the floppy connector.

ABIT and Microstar seem to be the only two manufacturers currently that understand the importance of an adjustable core voltage setting, as AOpen notes the absence of such a feature from the MX3L's hit list.

As AnandTech hinted at earlier, the stability of the MX3L could have been improved as it randomly caused crashes and lockups during periods of intense memory/disk transfers.  Although the stability of the MX3L is still well above average, it proved to be below AnandTech's expectations for AOpen in the lab.

Features & the Test

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