FIC AN11 Stealth Socket A Motherboard (KT266A) review

Motherboards giant, FIC has released their latest AMD motherboard based on the VIA KT266a chipset, which has been seeing a lot of action recently. The KT266a offers support for all current Socket A processors, and additionally PC1600 or PC2100 DDR RAM, as well as all the now orthodox standards like ATA100 and AGP 4x. However, motherboards based on this chipset are not particularly similar, and some can be a lot more stable than others (in fact two out of the three previous KT266a motherboards sent to me have been rather inadequate). The AN11, like many others, features optional inbuilt IDE-RAID controller and/or integrated sound, amongst other features. The review board was fitted with only the integrated sound.


Impressions & Installation

The AN11 package is a little sparse on features. Apart from the expected manual, drivers CD, IDE and floppy cables the AN11 didn't come with much. The retail CD-Pro version was 5.1, but FIC were good enough to include a CDR of version 5.2 (which will be shipping with the board when it comes out). An extra CD, CD-Plus, includes Norton AntiVirus 2001, Norton Personal Firewall 2001, Norton Ghost, VCOM autosave and Intervideo WinDVD amongst other useful utilities, more than is found on most motherboards. Interestingly, the CD-Plus is very similar to the "8-in-1" CD found on Soyo motherboards. I would imagine FIC and Soyo have both done a deal to supply these CDs as OEM inclusions to their products.

There isn't really anything especially distinguishing about the motherboard itself. Like the Soyo Dragon Plus I reviewed not so long ago, the AN11 features a dark brown/black PCB. If you are into stylish components, this is certainly one of them. The five PCI slots are the orthodox white, not that you'd be able to see it when cards are installed. Away from vanities, and interestingly FIC have chosen not to include CNR nor ISA slots. This shouldn't matter though, as such slots really do go unused most of the time, and PCI alternatives are usually a much more favorable alternative. However, they did include an ACR slot, disguising itself as the top PCI slot, but you can't fit PCI cards into it. Other board manufacturers mark it out in other colours, blue is usually the norm, but the only thing that sets it out in this example is the way it is offset with the other PCI slots. I'd never actually come across ACR until now, although it seems to me to just be a more comprehensive offering than CNR, as it can cover Ethernet, Home PNA, Audio and modem functions all in one ultra CPU intensive riser card. A full article on ACR, its history and its usefulness can be found here.

The AGP slot is not Pro, a slight disappointment given the generally high specifications of the board, but in common with the lack of both ISA and CNR this shouldn't be a concern. I generally prefer Pro because of the way it holds in larger cards, and although the AGP 2.0 slot had no retention mechanism (as employed on the Shuttle AK35GT-R), I did not encounter any problems due to this, even with my large OCZ Titan 2 Ultra. The Northbridge part of the KT266a was not fitted with a fan as is common on other boards. Although not necessary, it certainly wouldn't do any harm for FSB overclockers.

Layout is generally sensible. The UDMA and floppy ports are near to where the 3.5 inch drive bays are usually located. The RAID IDE ports (where available) are located right down the bottom of the board. This would cause a rather untidy wiring if just one of the hard disks to be used with them would be located higher up in the case. The three DDR-DIMM slots are located in the now customary position vertically above the AGP slot. The position is cut fine, and the teeth rest on the AGP card when open, but memory can still (just) be inserted or removed without the need to remove the AGP card first. The CPU socket is again customarily centrally placed at the top of the board. The connector to attach the extra backing plate with two USB ports is placed well away from the PCI slots. Nearly all other motherboards I've had have had this connector in-between slots, meaning I have to remove PCI slots before I can add the cable. The two main bugbears with the layout are both in respect to the Heatsink. The ATX power connector which is vertically above the AGP slot, which causes the power loom to drag over the Heatsink. I was able to pull my (long) loom around the side of the heatsink I was using (a FOP 32), but this position could easily cause problems to some users that have a higher placed PSU, or a shorter loom. Also, one side of the socket is completely covered with capacitors, making installing a heatsink an unnecessarily hard affair. Usually you would attach the short clip of the heatsink and then lever in the other clip. This was not possible on the AN11 as there is not enough space to lever in the main clip. I had to do it, with great difficulty, in reverse order, using the minor clip to secure the heatsink. I could have easily slipped and done some damage at any time. If a large heatsink is to be used, forget it with this motherboard.

The dipswitches and jumpers are rather badly placed, but these are rarely used, if at all, and the board can easily be run jumper-free from the BIOS setup program anyway. On the plus side, the board comes with a connector for an optional Bluetooth antenna, or whatever will be used when Bluetooth connectors are available. This connector is located by the ACR slot, although surprisingly the manual makes absolutely no reference to this. Speaking of which, the on the whole comprehensive manual has brief sections in German, French, Spanish, Japanese, Chinese and simplified Chinese as well as an extended English section.

The board isn't particularly diminutive, and it took a bit of a struggle to get the board fitted into my awkwardly small case, but it still took no longer than five minutes. Other than the aforementioned points of conflict, installing peripherals went without issue. The boot up beep came as a surprise to me, as I do not use a PC Speaker. The AN11 comes with an built one though. The system went through POST first time, and after adjusting some BIOS settings I could boot straight into Windows, which installed all necessary drivers straight away. The AN11 is definitely one of the easiest boards I've set up.


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