by Anand Lal Shimpi on August 9, 1998 11:35 AM EST
The first wave of BX motherboards hit the market, and with lightning fast speed they were quickly swept up by performance hungry users. Those with large budgets immediately flocked to the popular Pentium II - 400 BX Motherboard combo, while those with sights set a bit lower found comfort in Intel's extremely overclockable Celeron. The first wave of BX boards showed us that performance is no longer the top differential among like products, stability and reliability do play a much more major role with a motherboard's feature set being the final decision maker. With such a well outlined algorithm for comparison among BX motherboards it was quite surprising that very few manufacturers took it upon themselves to go above and beyond the call of duty to construct the "perfect" BX motherboard.

AOpen managed to create one of the best overall BX motherboards with their AX6B, and improving on the design, with added support for 5 PCI slots AOpen took the market's attention once again with the revised AX6BC. Companies like Chaintech and Soyo have been able to create quite a bit of demand and popularity for their products by releasing BX motherboards that each offer their own unique advantages over the competition. As nice as it is to have a motherboard that offers a single advantage over a competitor at the cost of another feature being sacrificed, for most users, this isn't acceptable.

ABIT to the rescue? Not entirely, the ABIT BX6 was one of the most popular BX boards among those that made it out during the month of the BX Chipset's release. While the BX6 did offer a considerable amount of improvements over the competition, including the ability to alter the core voltage setting of your Pentium II processor via its SoftMenuTM II Jumperless CPU Setup, the lack of a 5 PCI slot configuration and the lack of a big enough advantage over the competition kept ABIT from going home with the gold after the release of the BX6. The BX6 is an excellent overclocker, however as history has shown us, products can always be improved, it just takes a great company to initiate the improvements. ABIT is back once again, improving on the BX6's design and hoping to make things right the second time around with their newly released BH6 Motherboard.

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 / 124 / 133 MHz
Clock Multipliers 2.0x - 5.5x
Voltages Supported 1.30v - 3.2v (in 0.1v/0.05v increments)
Memory Slots 3 168pin DIMM Slots (EDO/SDRAM)
Expansion Slots 1 AGP Slot
5 PCI Slots
2 ISA Slots (1 Shared / 2 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. The introduction of the BH6 was no different, a tightly wrapped seal surrounded the press release of the BH6. To the outside world, the BH6 was nothing more than a rumor of a BX6 outfitted with 5 PCI slots, to those with a little inside information, the BH6 was a board that would once again take the market by surprise. ABIT's BH6

Betting on the increasing demand for more PCI peripherals, ABIT chose to construct their latest BX based motherboard around a 5/2/1 expansion slot configuration (PCI/ISA/AGP). By trimming down on the number of ISA slots, you can easily achieve a configuration suitable for just about any desktop powerhouse work/play environment. Considering your top two ISA peripherals will be a Modem and a Sound Card, the latter which can be eliminated if you're building a new system from scratch due to the affordability of newer PCI sound cards, the limited number of ISA slots on the BH6 will make the eventual transition for you to the Microsoft PC-99 standard a bit easier. In spite of the fact that when asked, many users would respond to the question of how many PCI slots by saying 7 or 8, ABIT didn't make the BH6 fully PC-99 compatible as that would mean sacrificing support for all ISA cards, something no manufacturer is bold enough to do yet. Alongside the last of the 5 PCI slots is the widely sought AGP port capable of operating in the 2X transfer mode which is standard of all Intel based AGP Motherboards. There are no messy VxD's or incompatibilities to worry about with the AGP slot on this board, just one of the many benefits you get from going with the most popular chipset in the industry.

ABIT managed to trim a clean inch or two off of the original BX6 design with the BH6 by removing a DIMM slot to allow for an easier installation in smaller ATX cases. For most users the presence of only 3 DIMM slots won't be a discouraging factor, however if you foresee yourself needing to occupy more than 3 DIMM slots then the BH6 isn't your best bet. The removal of the fourth DIMM slot eliminates the need for an external DRAM buffer in order to ensure added stability, therefore cutting off another 0.5" or so off of the PCB.

The use of a more square, 32-pin Winbond Flash ROM chip versus the standard rectangular IC's that are present on most boards also helps eliminate wasted real estate on the board, driving the cost down even lower. Boasting a more manageable size, and a cleaner look, let's now concentrate on what sets the BH6 apart from the competition internally.

The BH6's 2-Mbit Flash ROM
BH6's 2-Mbit Flash ROM

As with virtually all ABIT motherboards, the BH6 is entirely Jumperless, meaning that all you have to do to get it setup properly is to plug it in and hit the power switch. There are no complex jumper settings to mess around with, and no hard to reach pins to curse at while setting up your system. This is provided for, courtesy of ABIT's SoftMenuTM CPU Setup, or in the case of the BH6, ABIT's second generation SoftMenuTM II Jumperless CPU Setup. By entering the AWARD BIOS setup and choosing the SoftMenuTM II option listed you can configure your CPU using either a list of predefined settings for Pentium II processors or you can manually select the clock multiplier and Front Side Bus (FSB) frequency much like you would on any other motherboard, except without having to set any jumpers or dip switches. The BH6's CPU setup allows for FSB frequencies ranging from 66MHz to 133MHz to be selected, including the popular 75/83MHz FSB settings as well as the 112 and 124MHz settings, the latter which isn't present on any other Pentium II motherboard.

The point of mentioning the 124MHz FSB setting which is unique to the BH6 is quite obvious when you think about it. The 112MHz FSB is fairly easy to operate at provided you have decent SDRAM, however getting all of the components in your system to work at the 133MHz FSB is beyond the reach of many users. Most AGP video cards won't work at the 133MHz FSB due to the 89MHz clock frequency of the AGP bus in that case, AGP cards are spec'd to work at speeds up to 66MHz only. A 35% step out of the operating specification is something very few AGP video cards will allow for, and if that wasn't enough, using the 133MHz FSB kindly gives your PCI peripherals a run for their money operating a full 33% out of specification. In the end, the 133MHz FSB, courtesy of its demand for high quality and high speed (high priced as well) SDRAM in addition to its relatively unstable nature, isn't the ideal setting for any computer in spite of the performance increase it will yield over the 100MHz FSB. This caused ABIT to make the first major change that will make the BH6 the perfect replacement for the BX6, the introduction of the 124MHz FSB. In the tests AnandTech ran, both stability and performance when using the 124MHz FSB were great enough to make the 124MHz a more viable and intelligent overclocking option in comparison to the 133MHz FSB. Provided your SDRAM will work at the 112MHz FSB, chances are it will work at the 124MHz (no guarantees though, you get what you pay for with SDRAM), and most AGP cards won't have too much trouble coping with the increased clock frequency. The Millennium G200 used in the performance tests didn't hiccup once while the 124MHz FSB was used, however it wouldn't work at all when using the 133MHz FSB in 3D applications.

What makes the SoftMenuTM II setup different from the original SoftMenuTM utility is that it takes the configurability level one step further, allowing for manipulation of the core voltage of the Pentium II CPU. Pentium II CPU's based on the "Deschutes" core (Pentium II 333 and higher or Celeron processors) operate at a core voltage of 2.0v, older Pentium II CPU's based on the "Klamath" core (Pentium II 300 and lower) operate at a core voltage of 2.8v. On all motherboards not featuring the SoftMenuTM II setup those settings cannot be altered, and as experience has shown us, when overclocking in certain situations, increasing the core voltage of your CPU does help to increase stability. What was previously impossible has been made a reality by ABIT's research and development team which implemented the ability to modify the core voltage of the Pentium II CPU to assist in overclocking although they themselves do not promote or condone overclocking (what manufacturer does?). The SoftMenuTM II utility was what made the BX6 the board for overclockers to get, but in order for a successor to the BX6 to carry on the tradition an improvement must be made to the design. This is where the BH6 comes in.

The BH6's SoftMenuTM II setup includes one more feature that has been absent on all previous Pentium II BX motherboards, the ability to set the 'SEL100/66# Signal' manually. Before you hop out of your seat wondering exactly what the hell the SEL100/66# Signal does, let's take a look back at the introduction of the Pentium II 350/400. One of the biggest disappointments with those two processors was their partial clock locked nature, when using the 100MHz FSB the Pentium II 350 would only recognize 3.5x clock multipliers and the Pentium II 400 would only recognize 4.0x clock multipliers. This is caused because the SEL100/66# Signal present on those two chips is set to "High". Now, when operating either of the chips at a FSB other than 100MHz (i.e. 66MHz or 112MHz for that matter) the SEL100/66# Signal is set to "Low," effectively unlocking the chip and allowing it to recognize clock multipliers in the 3.5x - 5.0x range. So in theory, if one could set the SEL100/66# Signal to "Low" while operating at the 100MHz FSB you could clock the chips at 450MHz (4.5 x 100) without any problems other than those directly related to overclocking. Setting any electrical signal to "High" or "Low" is much like to flipping a light switch, in this case when the light switch is on (or in the "high" position) the processor is clock locked when used with the 100MHz FSB, but when the light switch is off (or in the "low" position) the processor is now available for operation in the 3.5x - 5.0x range. The setting of this signal can be controlled within the SoftMenuTM II setup, by setting it to "Low" with a Pentium II 350 and a 400, a 450MHz clock speed could be achieved without any problems. For those of you that can't get the 112MHz FSB to work as a result of one or more of your peripherals, the 100 x 4.5 setting makes a wonderful alternative to the 112 x 4.0 setting with an unnoticeable difference in performance between the two.

The BH6 ships with the classic ABIT User's Manual which has never ceased to raise the platform of quality which other manufacturers measure themselves up to. For a first time builder, the BH6 will truly make a board to be remembered in your PC Hardware Enthusiast "career". The package also contains the standard ABIT support CD-ROM which features all necessary drivers and utilities for getting your system up and running properly the first time around. ABIT takes pride in their work, and it shows.

Performance and stability with the BH6 was top notch during the AnandTech test runs, no problems were encountered and the 16-hour continuous testing process of the motherboard produced no noticable problems or unresolved issues. A few months ago it would've been doubtful that any motherboard could even come close to replacing the BX6 as an overclocker's dream, but right now, with the BH6 in hand, you'll find yourself searching for someone to unload that "obsolete" (don't you just love the fast paced Computer Hardware world?) BX6 on to ;)

The Bad

The bad? Well, if you wish to be picky, the placement of the ATX power connector on the BH6 is in a bit of a hard to reach area. It is placed on the back side of the Pentium II Slot-1, next to the Serial/Parallel I/O ports, dragging the bulky ATX power connector over your CPU's heatsink and fan may detract from the cooling effectiveness of any secondary case fans running in your system. Other than that, we've got another outstanding board from ABIT, especially since you don't have to worry about taping up your CPU just to make use of the 100MHz FSB as the BH6 doesn't limit your FSB selection based on the type of Pentium II CPU you are running. So long as you have a Pentium II (or Celeron) processor, you'll get access to the 66-133MHz FSB range.

USB Compatibility

  • Number of Universal Serial Bus Root Ports: 2

  • USB IRQ Enable/Disable in BIOS: Yes

  • USB Keyboard Support in BIOS: Yes

BIOS Settings

ABIT BH6 Chipset Features Setup

Item Recommended Settings
SDRAM 66/75/83/100MHz Bus SDRAM 112/124/133MHz 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: The Memory Man
Purchase Web-Site: http://www.memory-man.com

The Test
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