Final Words

The AOpen i975Xa-YDG offers a significant set of features and impressive performance for an eye popping US $290. The performance of the board was stellar in our testing while providing excellent overclocking capabilities. In fact, the overclocking aspect of this board and the Intel Core Duo required so little effort to reach 50%+ overclock levels that we are still surprised by how easy it was. The stability of the board was superb in our benchmark, gaming sessions, and general application testing whether the board was at stock or overclocked settings. The AOpen i975Xa-YDG is certainly the most stable board we have tested in recent memory and never once winced throughout a grueling two week test schedule.

However, the board is not without its flaws... well, more like shortcomings. We certainly had issues enabling CrossFire support that almost had us returning the board. The install procedure is not documented in the manual but AOpen has generated a report listing the proper settings in their Tech Support Forum area. You must install the CrossFire Edition card first, load the ATI video drivers, disable Write Combining within Windows Display Properties (advanced button, troubleshoot tab), shutdown, install the secondary video card, attach the dongle cable, startup, and then enable CrossFire once the system has recognized the secondary video card properly. We also had to ensure the two undocumented jumpers next to the IR port were set correctly.

The process of having to enable or disable jumpers on the board to go over a 200FSB setting is a bit perplexing when the BIOS has full support for increasing the FSB settings in 1MHz increments. Finally, the lack of memory voltages past 2.15V could be an issue for those wanting to reach the upper level of overclocks with the newer DDR2 memory modules that respond very well to voltage settings in the 2.2V~2.3V range as reported in our latest DDR2 memory review. With that said, let's move on to our performance opinions regarding this board.



In the video area, the inclusion of dual PCI Express X16 connector provides full CrossFire support with eight PCI Express lanes per graphics connector. The performance of the board under CrossFire testing was excellent once we had it operating correctly. The performance and stability with the current range of NVIDIA graphics cards was very good in both stock and overclocked settings.

In the on-board audio area, the AOpen board offers the Realtek ALC-880 HD audio codec. While we would have preferred the ALC-882D codec offering Dolby Digital Live support at this price point, the ALC-880 is a good compromise. (Actually, at this price point AOpen could have easily integrated Audigy HD but obviously they chose not to go that route.) The audio output of this codec in the music, video, and DVD areas is very good for an on-board solution. The inclusion of optical S/PDIF ports on the I/O panel was a nice touch by AOpen and should please HTPC users. The audio quality in gaming was more than acceptable but did not match the output of the Sound Blaster X-Fi. If you plan on utilizing this board for online gaming, you might want to purchase an X-Fi card to get the best quality gaming audio and features as well as consistency in frame rates across a wide range of games. However, the Realtek ALC-880 is sufficient for the majority of users.

In the storage area, the AOpen board offers the full compliment of storage options afforded by the Intel ICH7, ITE IT8212, and JMicron JMB360 chipsets. The board offers SATA 3Gb/s support along with a single port UDMA ATA100 capability via the Intel ICH7. SATA 3Gb/s, NCQ, and Hot Plug capability is provided on the external SATA port by the JMicron JMB360 chipset. The ITE IT8212 supplies dual port UDMA ATA133 performance along with RAID 0, 1, and 0+1 capability for PATA drives. Again, at this price point we certainly would have preferred the Intel ICH7R Southbridge offering SATA RAID capabilities along with Intel's Matrix Storage Technology, but we can live with the omission. The performance of the on-board controllers was very competitive throughout our testing and the ability to power a SATA drive from the external port is a huge bonus for those with external drives.

In the connectivity area, the AOpen board offers IEEE 1394 capability via the Agere 1394A FW3226-100 chipset that performed equally with the TI chipset. The board has eight Intel USB 2.0 ports available when utilizing the two USB 2.0 headers. The performance of the Intel USB 2.0 solution is excellent and consistently leads other solutions in our benchmark tests. We never witnessed any incompatibilities with the USB or FireWire ports during testing with several different peripherals. The Marvell 88E8053 Gigabit Ethernet controller is supplied for network duties and generated very good throughput numbers along with decent CPU utilization rates.

The Intel Pentium-M series has always been an interesting processor lineup as it shows Intel has the capability to produce an elegant solution that relies more on the efficiency of the chip design for performance than in sheer clock speed, power consumption, and the resulting CPU barbeque that we have with the NetBurst technology. The utilization of this processor series on the desktop never really took off, probably not so much from the capability of the processor, but from the performance of the mobile chipsets and costs associated in producing motherboards for a very niche market. Intel's reluctance to support this program - more like their total displeasure - also limited the acceptance of Mobile on Desktop products.

The Core Duo series (along with the upcoming Conroe/Merom/Woodcrest processors) changes all of this as the upgrades to the Pentium-M have greatly improved its media capabilities along with providing excellent gaming performance. The cost of a Core Duo processor is very competitive considering their performance per watt levels, although the motherboards are still costly. The one shortcoming of this CPU is the lack of 64-bit extensions, if this feature is important to you or is a requirement, then wait for the upcoming Conroe or Merom processors. Intel is now fully supporting Core Duo on the desktop through their ViiV initiative and seems to be embracing this change in philosophy. We continue to hear about and see new motherboards being introduced to support this technology. With extremely low power and heat production levels along with performance equal to similar AMD offerings the Core Duo is an impressive product.

AOpen has been at the forefront of offering Mobile on Desktop products and continues to be a technology leader in this market sector. Their ability to design and produce a board based upon a desktop chipset that fully extracts the performance potential of the Core Duo processor is nothing short of exceptional. We are very impressed with the AOpen i975Xa-YDG as it offers the perfect blend of performance and stability in a motherboard. If you are considering a change in systems at this time, do not want to wait for Conroe or Merom, and can live with the feature set and pricing, then we seriously recommend pairing a Core Duo processor with the AOpen i975Xa-YDG. You will not regret it.

Audio Performance
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  • Per Hansson - Wednesday, May 17, 2006 - link

    Hi Gary, just wanted to drop in and give you a kudos on this very nice review!

    It also makes me smile to finally see Intel catching up with AMD, this can only be good news for the customer...

    And a small heads up, there are a few Intel Core Duo Engineering sample CPU's on sale at eBay, "hint hint engineering sample=multipler unlocked"

    And also a big thanks for finally posting those capacitor shots and mentioning them, keep up the good work!

    Also I think Aopen deserves recognition for designing a mainboard with so high-quality components, Rubycon=Way to go!!!
    Reply
  • goinginstyle - Friday, May 19, 2006 - link


    quote:

    Hi Gary, just wanted to drop in and give you a kudos on this very nice review!


    Agreed....

    Reply
  • vailr - Thursday, May 4, 2006 - link

    Updated driver:
    (from: http://www.station-drivers.com/page/intechip.htm)">http://www.station-drivers.com/page/intechip.htm)
    Intel Chipset software Installation Utility
    Version 7.3.1.1013 - Windows 2000/XP 32/64bits/2003Server Multi Langues & officiel
    ftp://aiedownload.intel.com/df-support/10392/eng/i...">ftp://aiedownload.intel.com/df-support/10392/eng/i...

    Version 8.0.0.1005 Alpha
    Windows 2000/XP 32/64bits/2003Server Multi Langues & non officiel
    http://www.station-drivers.com/telechargement/inte...">http://www.station-drivers.com/telechargement/inte... Alpha.exe
    Reply
  • Gary Key - Thursday, May 4, 2006 - link

    Thank you for posting these links. :) We have a policy of utilizing the latest driver sets on a supplier's website at the time our testing starts, in this case the Intel general download page is still posting the 7.2.2.1006 driver set. However, I am using the 7.3.1 driver set on our retail board sample tonight. ;-) Reply
  • irev210 - Sunday, May 7, 2006 - link

    Hello Gary,

    Sorta funny how that other fellow has absolutely no idea what he is talking about.

    I just wanted to touch upon something that I didnt see get much attention.


    You should have mentioned in your article about how efficient the core architecture is, and how well it scales with increased frequency. The chip turns into a total monster once you get past 3ghz, and continues to perform better and better as you increase the speed. The fastest I could get on air was around 3.1ghz. I wouldnt be afraid to crank the volts to the 1.5 max on the aopen board... with a different cooler, you should hit some nice speeds. Try swapping out for a zalman 9500, or a big typhoon.

    The shortfalls, are as you mentioned the southbridge lacking raid, and the poor bios options. Vcore should let us up to 1.65-1.7, while Vdimm should let us do atleast 2.3.

    While this may not satisfy the most serious enthusiast, this board does fill a nice niche. The price is pretty high, but core duo CPU's can be had on the cheap, which makes up for it. For someone that is worried about their electric bill, and wants performance and performance per watt, this is a great alternative.

    For others who must have the fastest. This just makes them drool. This is the low end of the core architecture. Merom and Conroe to follow... we shall be stunned.

    Consdering Meroms being tested now at 3.0Ghz are faster than 3.2Ghz Yonah's... AND YOU WILL SEE Conroe EE at 3.33 w/ a 1333fsb doing 4ghz w/ 1500mhz FSB :)


    For those that dont get it yet... AMD will need a AM2 processor running at about oh 4.8Ghz to beat a 4Ghz clocked conroe :)

    Good things to come. I take no sides, im just excited about new stuff :)






    Reply
  • Marlowe - Thursday, May 4, 2006 - link

    How come a ~1 % cpu usage translates into a massiv 20 fps drop in BF2? Looks like EA have a deal with Creative :(

    A lot of world records have been beaten with this mobo already over here at XS :)
    coolaler even got SLI enabled on it ;) also running a merom in it ;)

    Your 266 FSB is very good and about normal for aircooling. Give it some cold and it will go further ;)
    Reply
  • Frumious1 - Thursday, May 4, 2006 - link

    [font color="#000000] (Damn white text. Nice comment engine AnandTech.... Need a new programmer?)

    Because RightMark is a theoretical test and not actually a real game or audio application. Also, look at the 3D/EAX scores - it's more than 1% CPU usage, but still less than 20% or whatever.
    Reply
  • Gary Key - Thursday, May 4, 2006 - link

    quote:

    How come a ~1 % cpu usage translates into a massiv 20 fps drop in BF2? Looks like EA have a deal with Creative :(


    It has to do with the Realtek driver load and Creatives to some extent being split between the cores during the RightMark testing. I noted in the text that although the cpu utilization is extremely low in our Rightmark results due to the load balancing that the actual game results (percentage differences) were basically the same as our single core scores. The drop in BF2 is due to the audio algorithms being generated by the CPU rather in hardware as on the X-FI card. Our audio settings in BF2 are set to hardware, medium quality, EAX enabled, the high quality setting extracts another 6FPS but we generally have not noticed an increase in audio quality. This is one penalty you pay for on-board audio in a CPU limited game although Serious Sam II is the one exception for either solution.

    We are hoping to receive a T2700 chip from Intel shortly and will "chill" it to see what results come from it. :) Yes, we had SLI working on the board also, but that is a topic that will be buried with Jimmy Hoffa at this time. ;-)
    Reply
  • NT78stonewobble - Friday, May 5, 2006 - link

    Intriguing last 2 sentences.

    The comments section has some really good info alot of the time :).

    And kudos for bringing into the review something about the penalty for using onboard audio versus dedicated hardware.

    You're not by any chance planning on writing something about audio quality some-time? Not that im an audiophile or the like, just curious.
    Reply
  • Gary Key - Friday, May 5, 2006 - link

    quote:

    You're not by any chance planning on writing something about audio quality some-time? Not that im an audiophile or the like, just curious.


    We will expand our audio section in the next update to our motherboard review section. We are looking at several variations of the review process as we enter a very busy time of the year with AM2, Conroe, and others all launching over the next 90 days. :)
    Reply

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