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ABIT BE6 motherboard: a review

by Bob Wright
1999/9/02

Eight IDE Hard Drives?
ABIT BE6 Motherboard

12/30/99 - HPT66 Controller revisited
10/27/99 HPT66 Controller
7/24/00 Upgrading the BE6 motherboard

Did you think this was never going to happen? Have you been squeezing room onto your sound card for the CD Rom drive? When were they going to start treating IDE like SCSI? It finally has all come true, the power user’s dream.

ABIT has recently released the BE6 motherboard with HighPoint’s HPT366 onboard UDMA66 controller, the first of the true use of the UDMA66 protocol.

Now with two UDMA66/33 channels for four hard drives and two UDMA33 channels on the motherboard we are finding the ability to save money by avoiding SCSI to allow extremely large numbers of hard drives / IDE devices on one motherboard.

The BX chipset with the lauded UDMA66 specification has become a reality. Speed, a large number of drives, this new BE6 motherboard is what the world of IDE has waited for so patiently. Are there other great reasons for considering this board, maybe the SoftMenu feature alone will appeal to you, the feature that made the BH6 motherboard a winner. The jumper free motherboard.

When we received this motherboard, my first thought was to just install it into a test box, run a few diagnostics and generate some raw data. But, something about the BE6 board appealed to me... and I have seen most of the latest motherboards when they hit the market. But, this one was different. I did something I usually would not consider, I pulled apart my personal computer, popped out the ASUS P2B motherboard and installed this ABIT motherboard.

I have upgraded a great many computers, pulling out one motherboard and installing a new one, so when I tell you that the upgrade went smoothly... as easily as any I have ever done... it means something. It was a perfect replacement for my old ASUS board. The entire switch out took under 15 minutes.

The next thing I discovered was the ease with which Windows98SE was able to update the system drivers. That is no small thing, as often the new hardware makes little sense to a Microsoft product unless you completely reload Windows. But, this was one time when the hardware/chipset/controllers on the motherboard were so well implemented that Windows98SE worked exactly as Microsoft had intended, updating the drivers with no assistance. I can tell you I was very impressed. The whole process, including adding in an Intel PIII-550 CPU and updating Windows98SE took less than 30 minutes... from the time I unplugged the computer until I was looking at the computer back in place.

I know... glowing words. There was one issue I did not expect and surprised me with the motherboard. The Bios did not support my configuration right out of the box. I was required to download the latest Bios flash update to solve this issue. In the CMOS, there was no setting for my boot sequence: A-SCSI My system has an Adaptec 2940UW card running a Seagate Cheetah 9.1 gig hard drive. Downloading and Flashing my Bios solved this issue.

So, what else did I find worth investing in this board? It could be some simple features I appreciate, such a three (3) Dimm memory slots that will support up to 768mgs of SDRAM… and they have still allowed us the luxury of ISA slots, for modems and sound cards. Often when upgrading an existing system, the last thing someone wants to hear is, “Oh, by the way, your new motherboard will not support your modem and sound card. That will be another $100.”

I have not mentioned the "Soft Menu" feature of ABIT motherboards, in this case making it an excellent motherboard option for people with little practical knowledge in building a computer. Right out of the box, without any looking for FSB, (Front Side Bus), or Clock Speed jumpers, the motherboard works. The defaults work right out of the box. What does this mean? Simply stated, you are not digging through a manual for jumper settings to match your CPU, it is all done in the Bios and the defaults recognize most CPUs. For novice PC Builders... this is a great feature.

But, in the final analysis, the best features of this motherboard are the compatibility with Microsoft operating systems, (Windows95/98/NT), and the price. ABIT has kept us down in the below $125 range with this excellent option for upgrading or building a new computer.

One personal note... although we took a whole series of video for image captures, we taped over them while working on a new article... so we can only supply the image from ABIT's web site. 'Stuff happens'

be6.jpg (50253 bytes)

Specifications at ABIT

Update - October 27, 1999
As an addendum to the original article, it has now been seven weeks since I installed the ABIT BE6 motherboard in my personal computer. The one thing I want to report is my personal computer is VERY STABLE. Yes, I have used the VXD Fix to solve issues Windows98SE posed with Blue Screens of death, but there is even more to it. Remember this is all anecdotal... that information you cannot demonstrate with factual data, but rather a personal experience. Often that is far better than someone's quickie numbers generated with a benchmark utility.

In the last six weeks, I have only rebooted the system once a week. The remainder of the time it has been left running with no issues... remember that I have over 100 Windows applications loaded on Windows98SE at this writing. The system downloads email every 4 minutes from my email personal mail server, VPOP3 into Eudora Pro. The work time I spend at this system is with numerous graphics, web browsers and HTML editing applications running. I cannot say enough about this new motherboard and my elation with system stability.

Current System Configuration:

  • ABIT BE6 motherboard

  • Intel PIII-550mhz CPU

  • 192mg of PC100 SDRam

  • ATI Rage Fury Pro 32mg video card

  • Sound Blaster 128 PCI sound card

  • 3Com 509B-TX network card

  • US Robotics 56k ISA Internal modem

  • Adaptec 2940UW SCSI3 card

  • STB PCI/TV card

  • Seagate Cheetah Ultra-wide 9.1 gig hd

  • (3) Seagate 8.4gig UDMA33 hard drives

  • 44x IDE PIO4 CD Rom drive

  • 1.44mg floppy

  • Iomega 100mg zip drive USB

  • HP 4P Scanjet SCSI scanner

Thanks for all your great emails...

Bob

Update October 27, 1999

Update from ABIT - HighPoint DMA66 Controller

As an update to this article, after discussing the issue of the UDMA66 HighPoint controller on the BE6 ABIT motherboard, ABIT acknowledges that at this time there are some issues with the following hard drives:

  • Maxtor Series U8 hard drives
  • Seagate's Barracuda hard drives

ABIT hopes to have this problem solved soon with updates that will appear on their web site for download.

Another point, that has been harangued on the Internet is the issue of CD writers and the HighPoint UDMA66 controller. It is "not" recommended that anyone should install an IDE CD Rom writer on the UDMA66 controller. Since no CD writers currently require UDMA66 support, it serves no purpose to install the writer or even a CD Rom drive on this controller. The recommended controller interface for CD Rom and CD Rom Writer drives is the UDMA33 controller.

Installing any CD Rom drive on the HighPoint Controller maybe problematic and corrupt data.

If you are experiencing problems with other hard drives and the UDMA66 controller, I would be interested in hearing from you.

Update December 30, 1999

I have heard a great deal from our readers about the HighPoint or HPT66 controller, (UDMA66 controller), on the ABIT BE6 motherboard since writing this original review. Some of it just nonsense and some of you had real concerns that I was not taking the issues you faced with the controller seriously, since I was not using or testing it. This is after all, the major new feature of this motherboard.

Granted, that is a fair criticism. So, to begin this update, let me tell you that I now have two Fujitsu 27gig UDMA66 hard drives running on the controller with no problems, not that I did not have problems configuring the motherboard, but that was not necessarily ABIT's fault.

First, I downloaded and updated my BIOS with ABIT's latest Flash Bios upgrade, the BE6PL. This went rather smoothly.

The next step was to add in a Fujitsu MPE3273AT- 27gig hard drive. I blithely connected the UDMA66 cable to the drive and booted up the system. Now all sorts of bad things began to occur and no matter how I attempted to reconfigure the drives, as long as a drive was connected to the HPT66 controller, I had a problem... one that spilled over into my SCSI controller, moving my SCSI hard drive from SCSI0 to SCSI3. That should have given me all the clues I needed, but of course like many people who have written to me, I took it as a sign that the HPT66 controller was at fault.

After scanning back through the owners manual for the BE6 motherboard, stirring around on ABIT's web site, I decided that it was ABIT's fault and dashed off an email to ABIT's team about my problems. ABIT to date has been great in helping me and several Team NOSPIN staff members in testing their products, so I expected a quick answer.

This was then followed by a phone call to Drew Dunn, in hopes we could brainstorm this problem. Now, Drew's first comment was, "Is your Adaptec Controller in PCI slot3?" But of course it was... Drew explained that he had completely read the manual that arrived with the BP6 motherboard from ABIT and it discusses this issue. Now there is a new concept... reading the manual. That sent me back to reread the manual with my BE6 motherboard. There was no reference in the manual about this point...

So, to simplify here... I just moved the Adaptec 2940UW SCSI controller to PCI slot1 and removed my STB TV card from the system, (actually I had been intending to remove it as it was redundant with my server sitting at my desk with another STB TV card installed). The system now booted fine, the SCSI controller set the primary SCSI Seagate drive to SCSI0. Then, as the HPT66 controller activates during the POST process, right after the SCSI card, it finds the new Fujitsu hard drive. I took this as success and added in another Fujitsu 27gig drive to the controller. In the mean time, an engineer from ABIT took the time to send me an Email explaining the PCI Slot3 issues.

Bios Problems
I have reported to ABIT an issue in using a SCSI controller and the HPT66 controller that still has not been fixed. As of this writing, there exists a problem with setting BOOT ORDER in the Bios. In my case, I have set the the EXT or External controller definition to SCSI, (this option can either be SCSI or UDMA66). This defines in the Bios which controller has the hard drive defined as the 'C' drive.

Now, when I set the BOOT Order to EXT, A, C the system defines the SCSI controller first and then the HPT66 Controller second. However, when I set the Bios BOOT Order to: A, EXT, C a problem arises. The system defines the HPT66 controller first and then the SCSI controller. Is this a problem? He in lies a major issue, I have attempted to use both Microscope v7 by Micro2000 and Ultra-X's Quick Tech Pro to run diagnostics with floppy diagnostic disks. With this configuration error, both diagnostic tools report numerous errors in configuration. There is no solution to running test with my diagnostic software.

The system does run great as long as the Bios BOOT Order is set to EXT, A, C. I hope that a future Bios update will address this issue. It is extremely inconvenient.

HPT66 Controller & PCI Slot3
It is not documented in the motherboard manual I received, but the HPT66 controller shares the IRQ with PCI slot3. Unless you are using a PCI card that either does not require an IRQ, (such as a voodoo addon card), or allows for IRQ sharing, (such as a network card), I recommend not installing any PCI cards in PCI slot 3 if you intend to use the UDMA66 HighPoint controller.

Which one is PCI Slot3? That is simple to determine. The PCI slot adjacent to the AGP slot is PCI slot1 and then you just count them toward the ISA slots on the board.

Hard Drive Compatibility
As an update to our update of October 27th, we find that ABIT has solved the issue with the Maxtor hard drives and they are, as of this writing, still working on the Seagate Barracuda drive issue. Other than the Seagate Barracuda drive, UDMA4 or UDMA66 drives function well with the HPT66 controller.

I have run several benchmarks on both the SCSI3 UW drive and the UDMA66 drive, only to find that the SCSI drive is still faster. I suppose for now I will remain pleased I went with SCSI for the shear speed.

ABIT MOTHERBOARDS
http://www.abit.com.tw


*note: This is a continuation to my original article/review about the ABIT BE6 motherboard.

Ten Months Later
In the last 10 months since testing and then deciding to use the ABIT BE6 motherboard in my personal client machine, (typically we test motherboards sent to us and then use them in servers to run our Network Operations Center), it has performed admirably. We test a great many motherboards all the time, yet this motherboard caught my imagination and once installed in the PC from which I write most of what you find here at The NOSPIN Group, I have been reticent to tear the box down for an upgrade. But, speed is always knocking at my door... time to be faster.

I often receive Emails after reading these articles asking why my personal PC is not raging with the latest "bleeding edge" CPUs and technology... especially since we often have them in inventory in our shop. This is quite simple... testing beta software is fun, checking out the latest and greatest hardware can be a thrill to see it snap along at new blazing speeds. But, after years of dealing with the issues that arise with compatibility and crashes... when I sit down to my personal client machine, the last thing I want is problems. I want it to work NOW and every time... stable performance and a rock solid installation of the operating system / application software is my primary concern... and with a little tweaking and care, the ABIT BE6 motherboard is now a solid performer.

So, I think long and hard before considering upgrades to my client PC... but, I made the decision to install a motherboard that would support a faster CPU, as I have been using a PIII-500 at 100mhz FSB, (front side bus), with 256mg of PC100 SDRam. We had a new motherboard arrive with the 133mhz FSB, a UDMA100 controller and VIA Apollo Pro 133 chipset, which sounded like a fine time to upgrade my personal PC. That meant taking two 128mg PC133 SDRam chips and a Intel PIII-733mhz flipchip CPU out of inventory for the upgrade. I can tell you now that with over 100 applications installed on my PC... I was concerned by the time this upgrade could entail and probably reinstalling most of the application software. That made me stop and consider... and then I took a visit to ABIT's web site.

Change of Mind / Final Decision
I discovered in visiting ABIT's website, the latest BIOS upgrade, BE6QP. This made all the difference in the world to me and a change of mind about my upgrade. This Bios upgrade suddenly allowed a much longer life for my existing system and no threat to my application or operating system installation. Simply stated, changing the CPU out on an existing PC will nearly always have zero effect on the software, especially if the motherboard is not changed. This solution seemed perfect for my needs. The one big trick is to be sure after you upgrade the BIOS that all the settings are exactly as before... or you will be reinstalling your device drivers in Windows98SE.

I downloaded the flash Bios upgrade from ABIT, along with the software installer... and the found the Bios upgrade to go flawlessly. If you have not flashed a Bios with an upgrade, be sure to read our Guide to Flash Upgrading the Bios.

Adaptor Card & Intel PIII-750
The next phase was relative simple, once the Bios was upgraded, I simply used a Slot1 adaptor for the Intel FCPGA/S370 CPUs and an Intel PIII-750 @100mhz flipchip CPU. My first thought was to use an ABIT SlotKET adaptor card, but unfortunately I was unable to find a supplier nearby, so I used an ASUS adaptor.

These cards, (slot1 to 370pin adaptors), are usually very simple to use, set a jumper pin or two for compliance with your CPU, then snap the CPU into the card and attach a fan/heatsink. It is just that simple. Once this adaptor is in the slot, fitting nicely into the existing Slot1 bracket... with the Bios upgrade... I had no difficulties setting the SoftMenuII for my CPU speed. The system fired up and with the exception of a new CPU speed of 750mhz @ 100mhz reported at post, my dependable system seemed exactly as I shut it down. Okay... there is the point that it did start considerably faster, the usually 15second boot time was cut to about 10 seconds. You would think it should be faster with a 150% jump in processor speed, but that is a point where CPU speed is not that relevant, especially with so many applications installed, creating a very large registry to be processed at Boot up.

Now, just for my own sake, I ran ZDNET's Winbench to verify my system speed improvement. The report was consistent with my150% increase in CPU speed and satisfied my curiosity that everything had gone fine in the upgrade.

NOTE: We at The NOSPIN Group made a decision years ago to stay away from "benchmark" reviews and other nonsense to report statistics about hardware products. The reason is simple... benchmarks are a very poor indicator of what a given hardware component is really doing. We prefer to report "Real World" impressions, in an anecdotal manner... information that really means something to the average reader.

Current System Configuration

  • ABIT BE6 motherboard (latest Bios rev)

  • Intel PIII-750 100mhz FCPGA CPU

  • (2) Micron 128mg PC100 SDRam dimms

  • ATI Rage Fury Pro AGP 32mg video card

  • Adaptec 2940UW SCSI PCI card

  • (2) 3Com 3C905Tx PCI Network cards

  • Sound Blaster 16 audio ISA card

  • USR 56k v.90 ISA voice modem (for faxing)

  • Iomega USB 100mg Zip drive

  • Seagate 9gig SCSI UW hard drive

  • (2) Fujitsu 20gig UDMA66 hard drives

  • Maxtor 30gig UDMA66 hard drive

  • Seagate 8gig UDMA33 hard drive

  • (2) Creative Labs 52x IDE CD Rom drives

  • HP Scanjet 4P SCSI scanner

  • RCA Cable modem

The one thing that I appreciate about the ABIT BE6 motherboard is the two IDE controllers, the standard UDMA33 controller and the HighPoint UDMA66 controller, allowing me up to 8 IDE/ATA devices, (you will note that I currently have 6 IDE/ATA devices installed).

Final Analysis
The BE6 motherboard will not support the latest PC133 SDRam, will not use the fastest 133mhz FSB CPUs... even with a Bios Upgrade... it does not support the UDMA100 IDE devices. But, with my current configuration the speed difference is not noticeable to someone working daily with it. The BE6 motherboard has been a real champion for my personal client machine and probably will continue to be for at least the next six months to a year... when the need for speed hits me again.

Commentary
Just to wrap this all up, I want to mention the over 100 emails I have received about the ABIT BE6 motherboard. A couple were just plain nasty, complaining the motherboard was junk and of course such Emails never receive more than a cursory glance, then to be deleted. I do not waste time on snide and nasty emails... if you want me to read it, be polite.

Some people reported all sorts of horrendous problems, complaining it was the HighPoint Controller's fault. Take the fellow who was sure the HPT366 controller was the problem, since he could not get his Maxtor HD to work, when in fact he had not bothered to check for a Bios upgrade that once used solved his issue... or the fellow who continually had system crashes in Windows98, sure it was the motherboard, only to tell me his CPU was running at 115C degrees. A little heatsink paste between his CPU and the fan/heatsink dropped the CPU temperature to below 60C... and amazingly, all the problems stopped.

Then, of course let us not forget the fellow who populated every PCI and ISA slot on the board with I/O cards, only to wonder why he had so many conflicts and why the HPT366 controller would not work. Yes... PCI slot #1 shares an IRQ with the AGP slot, PCI slot #3 shares the IRQ with the HPT366 controller... you must do a little research before configuring any motherboard and you need to use a little common sense. If a PCI slot continues to want to share an IRQ with another device like the HPT366 controller, then realize that the HPT366 controller is part of the PCI bus... and if you remove the card from that slot the problem evaporates. I should also mention that not all PCI cards need an IRQ and will work just fine in PCI slot #3, such as Voodoo accelerator cards.

The ABIT BE6 motherboard is not perfect... but, in my long experience, years of building PCs, I have yet to find one that is totally bullet proof, especially if you intend to overload it with devices. For me... with careful, thoughtful use of system resources this motherboard has been a winner. Fortunately, I have other PCs on my network for devices such as SCSI CD writers, video capture, PCI/TV cards and the like... but, not everyone needs to over populate a PC... and reduction of devices can often solve a great many woes.

Bob

ABIT MOTHERBOARDS
http://www.abit.com.tw

 

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