The unfortunate truth is that the ability to overclock is no longer a sought after feature when dealing with a new system, simply because the possibility that a newly purchased Intel CPU will overclock to any noticeable degree (with the death of the Celeron 300A on the horizon) is next to nothing, and wasting your time overclocking to achieve another 5% performance increase isn't really worth the effort anymore.
Case in point would be the situation involving the PPGA Socket-370 Celeron processors from Intel, which refuse to break their physical limitation of 500MHz on the whole. Although some processors will be it up to 550MHz, the majority of them will fail at speeds greater than 500MHz, a level to which any decently manufactured motherboard can take you. This obviously presents a problem for ABIT, if everyone else can do what they've been claiming sole rights to for the past couple of years, then ABIT suddenly loses their footing on the overclocked pedestal above the competition. This is unless ABIT can construct a motherboard that is both stable, and of a high enough quality that non-overclockers will be attracted to it as well.
We've already determined that there are in fact alternative options in the Slot-1 motherboard market that do offer greater stability in comparison to ABIT's boards, but what happens in the Socket-370 arena? Let's find out as AnandTech takes a look at the newly released ABIT BM6.
New Anand Tech Report Card Rating 88/B+
Do not compare newer ratings to older ones, the newer ratings are much more aggressive
|L2 Cache||N/A (on-chip)|
|Bus Speeds||66 / 68 /
75 / 83
100 / 103 / 105 / 110 / 112 / 115 / 120 / 124
|Clock Multipliers||1.5x - 8.0x|
|Voltages Supported||1.30v - 2.30v (0.05v increments)|
|Memory Slots||3 168pin DIMM Slots|
|Expansion Slots||1 AGP
5 PCI Slots (5 Full Length)
2 ISA Slots (1 Shared / 2 Full Length)
|Take ABIT's BH6, remove the slot-1 connector, and position the 443BX controller chip and a Socket-370 interface next to each other in the empty space and you have the ABIT BM6. The BM6 features ABIT's standard 5/2/1 expansion slot configuration (PCI/ISA/AGP) and combines the peripheral expansion capabilities with 3 SDRAM DIMM slots accepting up to 768MB of RAM as documented by ABIT in the specifications sheet.|
|For testing purposes, AnandTech installed
three 128MB SDRAM DIMMs without any detection problems, however registered 256MB DIMMs
were not available at the time of testing for confirmation of ABIT's claims.
The board design is quite clean cut and makes efficient use of the space allocated, primarily because the PCB is identical to that of the BH6, which was originally intended for use with a much larger slot-1 Celeron/Pentium II processor. Since the CPU socket on the BM6 requires so little space to make itself comfortable in, ABIT could put the rest of the BM6 to good use with a generous population of electrolytic capacitors and toroidal inductors to help insure stable operation.
The argument has been made that bigger capacitors in greater quantities on a motherboard is not necessarily better, and the truth of the matter is, that it is not. The entire trend of assuming that bigger is better was actually brought about by an editorial written a few years back about a well-known motherboard manufacturer in which the company was praised for having such highly rated and stable products. In response to the question why their boards were so stable, the classic response from the company was "well, we have bigger capacitors." A statement that was backed up by the use of larger capacitors on their motherboards, a trait that continues to be seen on their products to date. In reality, the "praising" editorial was nothing more than an attempt to appease the motherboard manufacturer in question, and the stability issues were overly exaggerated, the truth of the matter was that the motherboard manufacturer produced well made boards, and that was that.
What is this brief story getting at? The key to the effective use of capacitors on a motherboard isn't the size nor the population, rather the location of the capacitors. The general rule of thumb is that so long as the signal present between any frequently "trafficked" components on a motherboard (those that are sensitive to fluctuations in voltage, etc...) retains its original strength, the operation of the board has a greater chance of being stable. In order to ensure this, motherboard manufacturers place capacitors to keep the signal between two points on a motherboard both clean and strong, improving the stability and reliability of the motherboard, and thus explaining any issues that come up during the tests that could possibly be capacitance related. ABIT's effective use of capacitors around the ATX power supply connector, Socket-370 interface, 443BX controller chip, memory banks and AGP slot explain the results AnandTech's BM6 sample exhibited during the stability tests. Comparatively speaking, when pitted against the other Socket-370 based motherboards AnandTech has reviewed thus far, the ABIT BM6 is on par with Microstar's MS-6153, as it crashed but once during the stability tests.
The rest of the motherboard's features are fairly standard to ABIT motherboards, for those of you that aren't familiar, the description of the board's SoftMenu II Jumperless CPU Setup and it's other features have been taken from the AnandTech BX6 Revision 2 Review:
As we have all come to expect from ABIT, the BM6 features the latest and greatest version of their SoftMenu II Jumperless CPU setup. With the BH6, ABIT introduced the ability to modify the SEL66/100# setting, enabling the user to effectively unlock the clock lock on 100MHz FSB processors running at the 100MHz FSB. For example, the original Pentium II 350 only allowed a 3.5x clock multiplier when using the 100MHz FSB, making 400MHz impossible, and anything greater than 350MHz impossible without the use of a higher FSB setting (i.e. 112MHz). Setting the SEL66/100# setting to "Low" allowed for the removal of this lock, giving many users the ability to run their 350MHz Pentium II processors at 100MHz x 4.0 or 100MHz x 4.5, and their 400MHz Pentium II's at 100 x 4.5. The SEL66/100# feature has made its way into the SoftMenu II setup of the BM6, however with a Celeron CPU, the usefulness is absolutely nothing as there won't be a 100MHz FSB Celeron processor for quite some time.
The BM6 would have little to offer over the competition if it weren't for a few more modifications to SoftMenu II, ABIT's sole reason for existence right now in the overclocking market. The BM6's SoftMenu II brings a few new settings, such as the inclusion of the new higher frequency FSB settings (138MHz, 143MHz, 148MHz, 153MHz) as well as "in-between" settings such as the 110MHz and 120MHz options for those users that just can't seem to hit 112MHz or 124MHz with their systems. The board also supports the 1/4 PCI clock divider with all > 100MHz FSB settings to keep the PCI frequency as close to the specified 33MHz setting as possible, for those with extremely tolerant PCI peripherals.
The AGP clock is also derived from the FSB frequency, and the BM6's SoftMenu II does offer the ability to select from a 1:1 or a 2:3 FSB ratio for the derivation of the AGP frequency, keeping the clock as close to the rated 66MHz frequency as possible. Complaining about ABIT not including any other AGP ratios is quite futile as the motherboard has nothing to do with the AGP frequency, which is actually stored in the chipset itself and only selected through the motherboard, leaving the 1:1 and 2:3 ratios as the only two options with the BX chipset. It looks like we'll have to wait for Intel's 440JX (Camino) chipset before we can see any other AGP clock ratios.
ABIT's highly regarded User's Manual makes its presence felt in the box of the BM6 giving users a step-by-step installation and a configuration guide for their system. The ABIT manual includes a fairly easy to read and useful explanation of the BIOS and CPU setup, and makes the overall experience with the new BM6 (especially for first time system builders) a pleasant one.
The BM6, as expected, also features ABIT's core voltage manipulation option which allows the user to select core voltage settings ranging from 1.30v to 2.30v in 0.5v increments, meaning the board will also support any upcoming Celeron processors based on the Katmai (Pentium III) core. Don't worry, those won't be around for quite some time however. Unfortunately, the overclockability of Celeron processors makes the usefulness of the 100MHz+ FSB settings on the BM6 pretty useless, as there isn't a single Socket-370 Celeron processor (with the exception of the 300A) that even remotely has a chance of using the 100MHz FSB due to its locked clock multiplier, much less anything faster than 100MHz.
If it weren't for the fact that the BM6 exhibited top notch stability (in comparison to other Socket-370 boards), ABIT would have been in a very bad position, with an overclocker's board, yet with nothing to overclock. Luckily, the BM6 is quite stable, and it's easy to setup nature makes it the ideal Socket-370 board provided that you are in the market for one.