AOpen MX3ZA i440ZX microATX Socket-370by Mike Andrawes on June 3, 1999 11:44 PM EST
- Posted in
Stability in both overclocked and non-overclocked situations was excellent, as we've come to expect from AOpen motherboards. It's good to see a company like AOpen refusing to compromise on this front in order to gain a slight advantage in such a cost conscious market. Performance was likewise above average given the configuration, greatly out pacing the similarly configured Shuttle MB11. Although Winstone and software Quake 2 performance were quite good, don't expect miracles from the Rage Pro Turbo - it is almost two generations old and was not even that good when it was released. Consider it barely adequate in terms of 3D acceleration in this day and age.
Following in the footsteps of the larger AX6BC, this little board has a full complement of FSB speeds - 66/75/83/100/103/105/110/112/115/120/124/133/140/150 are all available from AOpen's own jumperless CPU setup for use with any processor. The setup is found under Chipset Features Setup and you can select CPU speeds directly or use the manual configuration mode and select FSB speeds and clock multipliers.
Generally most Socket-370 Celerons won't be able to make the jump to bus speeds 100MHz and above, so they become somewhat useless for most users at this point in time. However, Celerons that officially support 100MHz FSB speeds are coming down the pipes soon from Intel. At that point, the variety of FSB speeds should allow all any CPU's overclocking potential to be maximized.
A 6 pin jumper block determines the AGP ratio - options include Auto, 1/1, and 2/3. While this jumper is not documented in the Quick Installation Guide, but is on the board and in the full manual. Unfortunately, the Auto setting is not very intuitive. AOpen listened to Intel's suggestion that the AGP ratio be linked to the state of BSEL, the CPU pin that determines whether a 66 or 100 MHz FSB speed should be used. This is the AJ33 for Socket-370 CPU's or the infamous B21 on a Slot-1 CPU. When BSEL indicates 66MHz operation, the AGP ratio is set to 1/1 by the chipset and when BSEL says 100MHz, a 2/3 ratio is selected instead. AOpen's Auto setting links the CPU's BSEL pin to the chipset and lets it select the AGP ratio. The 1/1 and 2/3 jumper settings simply force the state of BSEL. Wouldn't it be a lot easier to just make the Auto setting automatically select 2/3 when 100MHz or higher FSB speeds are used and 1/1 otherwise? Better still would be a BIOS controlled setting.
Speaking of the BIOS, it features an Award 4.60PGMA core that is newer and slightly improved over the more common 4.51PG that other manufacturers are using. This means the MX3ZA features pretty much every BIOS bell and whistle you can think of. Complete ACPI support, including suspend to disk support, is built in and can be disabled if so desired. Support for wake on modem ring, wake on LAN, and wake on alarm are all there as well. Almost always forgotten by most manufacturers, but not by AOpen, is the ability to control the power state of the computer when AC power is restored after a power outage. The setting is hidden under Integrated Peripherals despite the power management roots and offers the option of the computer being off, on, or in its previous state. Control of keyboard and mouse power on is also found under here. The CPU fan can be turned off when the system suspends as well. Complete control over SDRAM CAS latency, RAS to CAS delay, and RAS precharge are included and can be set to auto detect from the SDRAM SPD.
Like all other AOpen BIOS's, an option to load a set of "Turbo Defaults" is included to get the BIOS all tweaked up with just a couple key strokes. The user can then also save and load his/her own set of BIOS settings, allowing for experimentation without having to write down old BIOS settings. Each PCI slot can be assigned a specific IRQ for working out IRQ nightmares in a loaded system. Unfortunately, the onboard audio/video IRQ's cannot be changed nor can the USB IRQ be disabled.
Hardware monitoring is performed by the Genesis Logic GL518SM - a chip that AOpen uses on most of their boards, but is rarely seen from other manufacturers. Four voltage are reported by the utility - +3.3V, +5V, +12V, and Vcore. No temperature or voltage information is provided in the BIOS, that information is only available via software. A thermistor mounted under the CPU socket provides the CPU temperature. Unfortunately, this chip is not capable of reading the CPU temperature from the on die thermal diode included in all .25 micron Pentium II/Celeron CPU's. The rarity of the chip means that If you don't like AOpen's bundled utility, which is just the Genesys Logic utility with the AOpen logo, most shareware/freeware monitoring programs either don't support the Genesys chips or don't support all of its features.
In addition to the hardware monitoring software, AOpen includes their standard software bundle, which includes all of the latest driver files for all their motherboards as well as a complementary copy of Norton AntiVirus for Windows 9x. The manual is available on the included CD as well and is the traditional high quality stuff we've come to expect from AOpen.