First and foremost, the AW9D-MAX is a performance-oriented motherboard. It's features selected to reflect the top end onboard components and only those required by gamers and enthusiasts to thrive in their environment. The board comes with Ailent OTES 2, a heat-pipe cooling solution for the chipset. Notice that the Southbridge and Northbridge chips have their own pipe that is cooled by the rear heatsink (radiator), a better approach than the shared heat-pipe design that plagues some older motherboards. Also, Silent OTES 2 doesn't cover cooling the MOSFETs, but the board does use individual mini heatsinks for that purpose. While that makes the board absolutely quiet in operation, ultimately Silent OTES 2 relies upon your chassis airflow for proper board cooling and it shouldn't be neglected out of the equation when setting up a system on this platform.
The usual features of high-end ABIT boards like OC strips, debug LED and power/reset buttons are integrated onto the PCB. The AW9D-MAX is also the only other board we know of to fully utilize solid state capacitors besides Gigabyte's latest DS range. Unlike the regular liquid electrolyte variants, solid state capacitors offer longer lifespan and durability without worry of them leaking.
Onboard features of the AW9D-MAX will be a love-hate affair for some. Partially legacy free, you won't find parallel or serial ports on the board, but PS/2 is still around. One of the chief complaints though will probably come from its lack of expansion slots. As a gamer board, the AW9D-MAX naturally takes advantage of the CrossFire capabilities of the 975X Express chipset with two PCIe x16 slots. Onboard audio features are packaged on to ABIT's AudioMAX riser card, which takes up another possible expansion slot onboard. This leaves users with one PCI and two more PCIe x1 slots for external add-on cards. Now if you have dual slot graphics cards (in CrossFire mode), that'll leave you with none.
Of course, ABIT tries to make sure that you've got everything covered on the board itself. The AudioMAX component uses a high-end Realtek ALC882M HD CODEC with Dolby Master Studio certification and S/PDIF input/output ready. Plus, can you think of anyone else that actually provides an optical S/PDIF cable with the board as well? Storage support is a strong point of the board with the ICH7R Southbridge already delivering four SATA 3.0Gbps ports and the usual Intel Matrix Storage goodies. Then there are two extra dedicated Silicon Image SiI3132 controllers onboard, one positioned at the bottom to offer extra SATA 3.0Gbps and RAID capabilities and another positioned at the rear I/O for eSATA purposes. There's two PCIe Gigabit LAN controllers onboard (based on a pair of Realtek RTL8111B ICs) and to top it off, FireWire-400 support.
The board has an aggressive, edgy look to it with its black and silver color scheme. ABIT also takes care of your vanity with cool blue LEDs that even has pre-programmed lighting modes in the BIOS. The board is sparse enough with its layout that most components are easily accessible; its power supply is ideally out of the way of the CPU socket and storage, memory, graphics and debug features are not obstructed. The AW9D-MAX is certainly one of the better designed boards we've seen in a while, but it's not perfect. As mentioned earlier, it is let down by the inadequate expansion slot capabilities (depending on your probable board configuration) and rather obscurely located floppy connector at the bottom end of the board. If these don't concern you, then the AW9D-MAX can hit your shopping list right away.