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ASUS A7A266 motherboard review

The A7A266 is one of three new DDR RAM motherboards Asus has released, the others being the A7M266 & A7S266. It features the new Ali Magik chipset supporting 133Mhz FSB AMD processors, as well as both DDR & SDR memory (more on this later).

Acer Labs Inc. (Ali) haven’t been very active as of late. They missed a whole two product cycles, releasing nothing for Slot A nor 1st generation Socket A. This in effect gave Via a monopoly on AMD based systems. Ali hopes to reverse the trend with their Magik 1 chipset.

Impressions

Asus have continued their new trend with motherboard features on the A7A, that being five PCI slots, one AGP Pro slot, one AMR slot, no ISA slots, and extra USB ports. The lack of ISA (hopefully) shouldn’t bother most people, but just five PCI slots will. I always have at least five PCI cards in my system, and after an installation of the OCZ Titan 2 Ultra SE I was left with only four to play around with. The AGP Pro slot is of absolutely no use for 99% of consumers, who will just be using an AGP card based on the AGP 1.x or 2.x interface (allows up to 4x). However, the minority of high-end systems may be fitted out for high-end graphics work; in such case the Pro slot is a godsend. The other small advantage the pro slot brings is stability. Unlike some AGP designs from the likes of Gigabyte, it features a variable voltage regulator providing no end of current/voltage for ever more power hungry cards in the future (power supply not withstanding). The extra USB ports are more widely appealing; nearly everyone has one sort of USB peripheral now. The A7A features two on-board USB connectors plus an additional two supplied by an offboard card. Since Asus leave a potential expansion slot blank (above the AGP port), this is the ideal place to put the offboard card, or alternatively, any slot still left blank once all the cards have been installed. Unlike previous Asus boards, the A7A does not feature an additional offboard IDE controller for an extra four devices, although it must be pointed out that since the Magik supports UDMA100 there would be little point to this.

The layout of the A7A isn’t too bad either. Whilst initially very similar to the popular A7V, the ATX connector has been moved slightly further down the board, next to the SDR DIMM slot, although not in a way to obstruct and other peripherals once the power loom is attached. This didn’t cause any problems for me & I just moved the cable to around the corner of the board, but for those with shorter power looms or power supplies located further away from the board, it could mean the loom has to be dragged over the memory slots, which apart from being awkward may cause interference. The power LED has been moved from below the AGP slot to the right of the board, right beneath the ATX connector. This probably won’t mean much for those who keep a cover on their case, but for those who leave the cover off, or have a case window, it is much more visible. The two DDR DIMM connectors are clearly removed from the three SDR SIMM connectors, but not so far as to be too near to the processor. There was a slight problem, however. The bottom teeth for the DDR DIMM connectors are quite close to the AGP slot. It is still possible to install/remove memory whilst a card is in the AGP slot, but perhaps not so easy for the big fingered. I was almost delighted to find the floppy connector gone, but in my enthusiasm I neglected to see it a couple of centimetres further down the board. There are quite a few resistors/capacitors around the CPU socket, but thankfully none would obscure a large heatsink. It makes installing coolers “interesting” though, and for coolers with awkward retention mechanisms it gets a little tricky. Having said that, I installed a Speeze cooler (albeit modified with a delta black label fan) in a couple of seconds. The sound connectors are in a direct line with the AGP port. This caused no problems with the cards I was testing, but allegedly it does with cards such as Ati’s Radeon. The solution to this is to order aboard without onboard audio, something which most of you should be doing anyway.  

As can be expected, the A7A came with the usual bag of Asus goodies. One double resistor IDE cable (UDMA 66/100), one “normal” UDMA33 cable, a floppy cable, an extra USB card, manual, CD & an extra bag of spare jumpers. Unlike with some high-end Intel boards, the A7A does not come with Asus’ iPanel, even though the board supports it (more on this later).

 



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