AOpen AK86-L UPDATE: Uncommonly Goodby Wesley Fink on March 30, 2004 1:00 PM EST
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AOpen AK86-L: Board LayoutThe AK86-L is the all-black that AOpen has used on most of their recent top boards. The board itself is a bit smaller than full-size, requiring just 6 stand offs for installation.
Layout of the board is generally very good, although there are a few concessions to the smaller motherboard size. As mounted in a typical tower case, the CPU socket is in the upper center of the board, with all power connectors to the left of the CPU and DIMM slots to the right.
The Athlon 64 and FX51 boards use a standardized ATX plus 12V connector arrangement that is identical to the power connector requirements of current Pentium 4 systems. Generally, we prefer the connectors together on the upper right of the board, but AOpen has placed both the 20-pin ATX and 4-pin 12V together at the upper left of the board. This arrangement is acceptable in many cases, but it may require the bulky ATX cable to be routed around the CPU and this could interfere with CPU cooling in some case/power supply designs. We are more concerned that the large capacitors between the CPU socket and 20-pin ATX are in the way of releasing the 20-pin cable. It is hard to unlatch the 20-pin cable without pushing on the capacitors and risking damage. It is good to see AOpen use the large 3300µF capacitors for voltage stability, but more care needs to be paid to connector placement in relation to the large capacitors.
Despite all the tall capacitors around the CPU socket, we had no problem at all mounting the huge Zalman 7000 HSF or any other HSF that we had available. There is plenty of room around the CPU socket to mount most any cooler.
The DIMM slots are also clear and accessible, even when the largest CPU fan is installed. The DIMMs are well-spaced from the AGP slot, so there is no problem with the AGP card interfering with upgrading or changing memory.
The Primary/Secondary IDE and floppy connectors are located on the lower right of the board. This will not be a problem in a standard mid-tower case, but it could be an issue in a full-tower case. We prefer an upper right location so that you don't have to worry about cable length in a full-tower case. Fortunately, all 3 connectors are on the right edge, so they do not interfere with other components on the board.
The AK86-L has 5 PCI slots and an 8X AGP slot that uses an easy-to-lock/unlock slide connector. The push-down connector on many AGP slots is hidden completely by high-end AGP cards, making release of a 9800 PRO or FX5900 more difficult than it needs to be. The slide lock used here is one of the easier-to-use arrangements that we have seen. The AGP slot is also protected by an LED at the end of the slot that will light if you install an unsupported video card using voltages higher than 1.5V.
If you require a full-length PCI slot, you will have to use slot 4 or 5. SATA and IDE connectors will likely interfere with large PCI cards in slots 1-3.
AOpen and several other manufacturers are now using color-coded connectors for the case connections. The color coding and clearly marked polarity make it a little easier to get the connections right the first time.