by Anand Lal Shimpi on April 17, 1998 11:38 AM EST
ABIT was late to jump on the LX bandwagon last year, when they eventually launched the LX6 it was a hit while plagued with quite a few problems surrounding its unofficially supported 100MHz bus speed setting.   ABIT learned from their mistakes by preparing for April 15, the release of the BX Chipset.  Following the easy to understand naming system, ABIT called their newest creation the BX6 which is one of the first motherboards based on the BX chipset to become publicly available.  What sets the BX6 apart from the competition?  And will the BX6 live up to fill the shoes its older LX brother left it with?  Let's find out.

Anand Tech Report Card Rating

Motherboard Specifications

CPU Interface Slot-1
Chipset Intel 440BX
L2 Cache N/A (on-chip)
Form Factor ATX
Bus Speeds 66 / 75 / 83 / 100 / 103 / 112 / 133 MHz
Clock Multipliers 2.0x - 5.0x
Voltages Supported 1.30v - 3.2v (in 0.05v increments)
Memory Slots 4 168pin DIMM Slots (EDO/SDRAM)
Expansion Slots 1 AGP Slot
4 PCI Slots
3 ISA Slots (1 Shared / 3 Full Length)
BIOS Award BIOS w/
SoftMenuTM II Jumperless CPU Setup


The Good

ABIT set out to make a lasting impression with the BX6, by refraining from surrounding the release of the board by hype and empty promises ABIT managed to keep their flagship BX board in a tightly wrapped bag until the release of the BX chipset at which point they took the world by surprise.  Outfitting the roomy ATX motherboard with 4 PCI, 3 ISA, 1 AGP, and 4 DIMM slots the BX6 doesn't skimp on expandability, however the presence of a few peripheral expansion slots is far from the best features the BX6 provides you with. 

Following in the well established ABIT tradition, the BX6 is a completely jumperless motherboard, the only difference this time around is that ABIT didn't choose to use the SoftMenuTM Jumperless CPU Setup, instead ABIT unveiled a new technology creatively dubbed the SoftMenuTM II Jumperless CPU Setup.  SoftMenuTM II not only allows the user to configure their CPU from within the Award BIOS Setup without the use of Jumpers, but it also gives you more control over your system.  How so?  Well, SoftMenuTM II differs from the original SoftMenuTM Setup in that it boasts the ability to configure the core voltage of the Pentium II CPU, from 1.30v to 3.2v in 0.05v increments.  This makes overclocking your Pentium II a much more precise and artistic task, also enabling you to push the limits of your already overclocked system.  It should be noted that the Pentium II responds to increases in the core voltage supplied in a more obvious manner than the Pentium MMX or K6 - Socket 7 CPUs. bx6-1.jpg (12998 bytes)
Simply raising the core voltage of a Pentium II by a few tenths of a volt will cause your system to randomly crash, and most times a mis-configured voltage setting will result in a system that won't boot.  Luckily the only jumper you'll need to know how to set on the BX6 is the Clear CMOS jumper that will help you reverse any mis-configured settings.  SoftMenuTM II also detects your processor/boots much faster than the original SoftMenuTM, according to ABIT the boot time is 15% faster, and it is definitely noticeable.

Specifically, the BX6 features a comprehensive list of pre-defined processor settings in the SoftMenuTM II Setup, among them are: 233MHz (66), 266MHz (66), 300MHz (66), 333MHz (66), 300MHz (100), 350MHz (100), 400MHz (100), and 450MHz (100).  In order to take advantage of the 350 and 400MHz settings, in theory, you need a Pentium II - 350 or 400, unfortunately those two processors won't make it above 400MHz when using the 100MHz bus speed setting.  The processors seem to be frequency locked at 400MHz when the 100MHz bus speed is selected, however, thanks to ABIT, users are allowed to choose from a healthy selection of unofficially supported bus speeds aside from the 66/100MHz frequencies (75, 83, 103, 112, and 133MHz - 103MHz bus speed is the Turbo Frequency of the 100MHz bus speed).  Using the 112MHz bus speed for example, you can easily clock the Pentium II - 400 at 448MHz (112 x 4.0) without any problems at all, provided your PC100 SDRAM can handle the increased bus speed. 

The second trend setter ABIT has taken upon themselves to include with the BX6 is the newly introduced 6-chip Texas Instruments Data Buffer that provides for additional stability when occupying all 4 DIMM slots.  It should be noted that this only has the possibility to affect stability when using all 4 DIMM slots, if you only have 1 - 3 DIMMs installed at any given time then the Data Buffer serves no extra purpose other than power consumption in reality, however, the minute you fill all of the DIMM slots the BX6's Data Buffer does begin to shine and will account for the board's stability in no-nonsense do-or-die situations.

bx6-2.jpg (4113 bytes)
6 chip DRAM Data Buffer

As if SoftMenuTM II didn't make the Setup of the BX6 simple enough, ABIT once again managed to package their first class motherboard user's manuals with the motherboard.  If you aren't familiar with the ABIT User's Manual it is a few pages short of being an introductory course in Motherboard Design/Engineering.  ABIT would receive a full 100% rating in this category had they improved on the coverage of the Chipset Features Setup options of the Award BIOS in the manual, although they didn't (like just about every other manufacturer out there) the BX6's manual is nothing short of an excellent piece of written documentation.  Don't expect to have too many bad things to say about ABIT once you get your BX6 system up and running. 

One of the beauties of the BX chipset is that you finally begin to see the use of the more expensive SDRAM with onboard EEPROM or Serial Presence Detect.  Under the Chipset Features Setup the user is given the option of manually selecting the SDRAM CAS Latency Timing or selecting the Auto setting.  When enabled, the Auto setting tells the BX chipset to communicate with your SDRAM - via the 9-pin Serial Presence Detect you paid the extra $50 for - in order to find out what timings the RAM "feels comfortable with."  Expect to see this feature on more and more motherboards as the chipset's popularity increases.

Dealing with stability, the 112MHz bus speed setting was a bit flaky on the BX6 with the Corsair PC100 SDRAM in comparison to the AOpen AX6B however it was still functional.  Like the AX6B, the BX6's 133MHz setting wouldn't boot with the SDRAM used in the tests.  It seems as if faster SDRAM chips are necessary for proper operation at 133MHz, most likely you will have to track down some 6/7ns SDRAM modules in order to take advantage of that setting, modules of that nature will probably set you back a few more bucks than you may want to dish out for new RAM.  The performance of the BX6 is just a tad bit faster than the AX6B under Winstone, not a noticeable difference in real world usage and definitely not a reason to completely drop one board in favor of another.

The Bad

SoftMenuTM II left me with an un-easy feeling during the tests, there are times when the system wouldn't reboot properly after a change to the CPU Parameters occurred, requiring the test system to be manually powered down then restarted.  No major problems were encountered, just a few little annoyances here and there with the SoftMenuTM II Setup...the board is a bit pricey compared to the older LX boards, however that can be expected from a newly released product. 


BIOS Settings

ABIT BX6 Chipset Features Setup

Item Recommended Settings
EDO/SDRAM 66/75/83MHz Bus SDRAM 100/133MHz Bus Safe
SDRAM CAS Latency Time: 2 3 Auto
DRAM Data Integrity Mode: Non-ECC Non-ECC Non-ECC
System BIOS Cacheable: Enabled Enabled Disabled
Video BIOS Cacheable: Enabled Enabled Disabled
Video RAM Cacheable: Disabled Disabled Disabled
8 Bit I/O Recovery Time: 1 4 4
16 Bit I/O Recovery Time: 1 2 2
Memory Hole At 15M-16M: Disabled Disabled Disabled
Passive Release: Enabled Enabled Disabled
Delayed Transaction: Enabled Enabled Disabled
AGP Aperture Size (MB): 64 64 64
Spread Spectrum Modulated: Enabled Enabled Disabled


Recommended SDRAM

Recommended SDRAM: Corsair PC100 SDRAM; Memory Man PC100 SDRAM
SDRAM Tested: 1 x 64MB Corsair PC100 SDRAM; 1 x 64MB Memory-Man PC100 SDRAM

Manufacturer: Corsair Microsystems
Purchase Web-Site: http://www.nf-ny.com

Manufacturer: The Memory Man
Purchase Web-Site: http://www.memory-man.com

The Test
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