My previous motherboard, an Asus K8N-E Deluxe has been ailing for some time. After a bios update some months back, I started getting random hangups and warning messages at POST, usually only when cold booting. I reflashed to the prior bios revision and the problem did not go away. All the subsequent bios flashing has been to no avail. The end result is that 3 out of 4 attempts to cold boot tend to result in having to do a warmboot to get to the point where the OS can bootstrap itself. Once the OS is loaded, I never experience any problems, and as my computer is usually powered up for weeks at a time between reboots, I have chosen to live with the frustration.
Recently, I did some drive hacking that left my USB subsystem more or less unfunctional. I could have reimaged to the most recent hdd snapshot and gotten up and running in a snap, but I decided it was high time I clean out the cruft and do a clean install of XP. Do to the complexity of my operating environment, this is usually a couple day process. I have plenty of other computers to provide redundant functionality, so I have no need to hurry. I decided while I was at it, I would try and find a replacement for the flaky K8N-E motherboard.
I hunted around town and nowhere could I find a socket 754 motherboard with a decent feature set. I tried Computerstop, Frys, Hard Drives Northwest, etc. Pretty much every place with a large motherboard selection. All of them stocked 754 motherboards, but almost universally they were “value” line boards with very limited feature sets designed to be paired with AMD Sempron “value” CPUs. For the life of me, I couldn’t find a single board with more than 2 SATA ports (I run an all SATA system), firewire, decent number of USB pinheaders, etc. On top of that, most of the value boards were sporting PCI-Express slots instead of AGP slots. I did find one that had an AGP slot (added via a AGP< ->PCI Express bridge chip), but the very well informed salesperson alerted me to the fact that these bridged AGP designs ran at 1.7 volts instead of AGP’s spec of 1.5, and had been known to fry high end AGP cards. I spent somewhere on the order of $450 for my Gigabyte 6800 GT (with factory overclock to ultra speeds) and I sure as hell wasn’t going to stick it in an off-brand $80 motherboard.
I returned home empty handed and started checking around online. DFI makes/made an excellent Nforce 3 based “deluxe” board, sold under their “Lanparty” branding. This board received strongly favorable reviews and is considered one of the best S754 boards ever made. It is also next to impossible to find online (many claim to have it but are actually out of stock). The only other deluxe board that I could find with the feature set I needed was the Asus K8N-E. I wasn’t about to purchase another of those. I consigned myself to a forced upgrade to a Socket 939 system, which unfortunately also meant an upgrade to a new proc and a new graphics card. Hopefully I can find a buyer for my S754 Athlon 64 3000+ and AGP Gigabyte 6800 GT (factory overclocked to Ultra levels with an awesome double sided heatpipe cooling unit). If you are interested in purchasing either, please contact me.
After spending an hour talking to Rob at Computerstop and a few hours of reading reviews online, I decided to get an Asus A8N32-SLI Deluxe motherboard. This motherboard is the first motherboard on the market that can do SLI and run each video card at full 16x PCI-Express speeds. Pretty much no card on the market takes advantage of this huge bandwidth, but who knows what Nvidia or ATI have coming down the pipe? The real reason I wanted this board is for its wonderful feature set and extremely full featured bios. The board comes with 4 DDR slots, 6 SATA ports, 2 firewire pinheaders and no less than 10 USB ports. What really got my attention was the 8 phase power design and the board’s heatpipe based cooling of the north and southbridge chips. As usual, Asus’s board layout is immaculate, with everything positioned for easy access. I was somewhat hesitant to purchase another Asus board, after my experience with their previous AMD boards, but Asus has always been a mainstay of the industry and every review I could find proclaimed this board to be simply the finest Socket 939 on the market.
I headed to computerstop and picked up the motherboard, an Athlon X2 3800+ CPU (which mounted for me, for free) and a PCI-Express Nvidia 6800 GS. I got the board home, read the manual for any gotchas, carefully installed it into my system and left everything detached for the initial smoke test. I always start with a minimal system configuration (motherboard, video card and ram) and then add devices in one at a time. It saves a lot of diagnostic headaches, usually. I flipped the powerbutton on the back of the powersupply and the motherboard’s powerlight lit up a friendly green. I hit the powerswitch and NOTHING happened. I verified that the motherboard power switch was connected to the correct pin (asus includes a good diagram and even color codes their motherboard pin blocks, now), but to no avail. I am no spring chicken when it comes to building systems from scratch. I have built or done major upgrades to literally thousands of machines over 15 years. I did a good job of keeping myself grounded and kept the physical warping of the motherboard to an absolute minimum (these 6-8 layers boards are fragile). I really feel like I got a board totally DOA, which doesn’t speak well of Asus’s quality control.
This is now the second time this year that I’ve had a profoundly negative experience with an Asus board. As the saying goes “once is a coincidence; twice is happenstance; three times is enemy action.” Who is the enemy? I can only conclude that god hates me :(
UPDATE: Computerstop replaced the motherboard and everything is now good. They tested the faulty motherboard with one of their power supplies and had no luck with it either. They installed a replacement board and tested it with my components and found that the faulty motherboard had killed the +5 line on my Antec NEO power supply. They offered to replace it with one of equivalent value, so I picked out an Enermax 500 watt supply with modular power connectors, which was the defining feature of the Antec NEO. New motherboard and power supply are working happily and I got my XP install done in record time.