AOpen: The Wal-Mart of PC Components
It's been over a year since we last took a look at an AOpen motherboard, but over the course of the past 15 months, the company hasn't let up. Manufacturer of several PC components and peripherals, you could practically build an entire system based on AOpen's products. Think we're joking? A quick glance of the AOpen website offers product information on input devices such as mice and keyboards, optical storage products in the form of CD/DVD drives, add-in cards for sound, 3D graphics, and networking, AOpen even offers power supplies and cases! Name any component inside your system; chances are AOpen builds it.
Not only does the company build a wide variety of products, they also offer a select line of products for the hardcore hardware enthusiast. We saw this last year with our review of the AX6BC Pro Gold. It isn't everyday you see a motherboard manufacturer use a 24K plated gold heatsink to keep the system chipset cool!
The Y2K Hysteria Strikes Motherboards
This wasn't the only case of an extreme product from AOpen. At the end of the year, the company offered their limited edition AX6BC Pro II "Millennium Edition." As a follow-up to the AX6BC Pro II (which added a sixth PCI slot to the AX6BC Pro Gold's design), the Millennium Edition utilized a stylish black printed-circuit board (PCB). AOpen also added an enlarged 24K platinum-plated heatsink for better heat dissipation and sported a 24K platinum-plated Millennium Edition logo for added panache. Finally, the designers of the board inscribed their names on the right edge of the PCB with the words: "We Design This Board With Pride…" Clearly the AX6BC Pro II Millennium Edition wasn't intended for the mainstream.
Following along those lines is the board we're reviewing today: the AX34 Pro II "Black Beauty."
Just like the AX6BC Pro II, the AX34 Pro II is based on a proven design, the AX34. Utilizing VIA's Apollo Pro133A chipset (also known as 694X), the AX34 features the same gold heatsink that debuted on the AX6BC Pro Gold and is based on a 1/4/1 AGP/PCI/ISA combination. Well received for its combination of quality, stability, and price, AOpen wanted to build on some of the shortcomings of the AX34 and offer this new product for the power user. After all, how many hardware enthusiasts and gamers are looking for a motherboard with only four PCI slots?
AOpen added a wide variety of new features to the AX34 Pro II, which we'll of course delve into, but the most striking addition to the board is the black "military-grade" PCB that made its original debut on the Millennium Edition.
Military-grade black PCB