Yes you read it right, the board has something to do with a tube and that alone is enough to make heads turn and one starts wondering, "What is it about the tube?" We shall soon find out.
AOpen is known for its "experimental" nature and so whenever they announce something new, one can be assured that it's going to be "new". The board looks very promising and the packaging itself is simply novel and pleasing to the eye. It comes in four variants globally, AX4GE-Tube, AX4PE-Tube, AX4GE-Tube-G, and the AX4PE-Tube-G. The suffixes GE and PE indicate the version of the Intel 845 chipset used. The "GE" version features the Intel's 82845GE chipset with the integrated graphics solution, while the "PE" version is without the integrated graphics solution. The suffix "G" is to indicate the value version, which takes away the Serial ATA (SATA) support. The AX4PE Tube is what AOpen terms as the fusion of current day P4 technology, with the century old Vacuum Tube, to create the world's first motherboard that claims to provide more lifelike reproduction of music and gaming audio. "Tube sound" is a form of sound reproducing technology, which is based on the vacuum tube technology for sound amplification and reproduction. We shall have a detailed analysis on the "tube sound" later.
Let's unfold the package and check what the board has to offer. The build quality is excellent and it feels like one of those well-built boards with high quality materials. One quickly realizes that the package is filled with goodies and the most interesting one is the Tube, which comes with the board. The tube we received had "Made in Russia" written on it, by default the board is shipped with the Russian made Sovtek 6922 vacuum tube. The chipset is of course the Intel 845PE chipset, the form factor is ATX and the board supports all Intel socket 478 CPUs right up to 3.06 GHz with FSB of 400 and 533 MHz and also supports Intel's Hyper-Threading technology. The board also provides support for overclocking the CPU FSB to 800 MHz, AOpen claims that its R&D team has found a special way to adjust the ratio and override the chipset settings without modifying the hardware.
The board holds 3 DIMM sockets, which together take 2 GB of DDR RAM with speeds of PC 266 or PC 333. Also the board has support for the latest SATA apart from the regular IDE interface. Strangely, they have gone in for 2 IDE connectors supporting ATA 66/100 and the third one supporting ATA 133. It has 3 PCI slots and a 4X AGP slot along with the usual floppy drive connector. A full ATX board with just 3 PCI slots does cut down on the expansion options, but then this motherboard has almost all the basics embedded into it. This version has an onboard LAN and also incorporates 6-channel sound based on the Realtek AC97 audio codec. At the back panel one can find 6 USB 2.0 ports, PS/2 connectors for mouse and keyboard, a COM port, a parallel port, LAN connector, and the audio connectors for Line Out, Line In and Mic.
The board comes with an installation guide, driver CDs, IDE and FDD cables, Norton Anti-virus 2003 CD, USB extender module, digital out module. It also comes with a tube sound out module, which is used to connect speakers/headphones to the motherboard while one is using the Tube amplification. The manual is very well written and explains almost everything this motherboard has to offer. A separate manual takes care of the tube sound feature, which proves to extremely helpful in understanding the working and implementation of the tube sound technology. The heatsink on the chipset is gold plated and that is a testimony to the fact that this board is premium in build quality. The layout is fairly simple and easy to understand and setting up the board is a breeze.