Shuttle AN35N-Ultra - What a Headache!

Page Last Revised: Friday, April 28, 2006 01:28 PM

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What a headache!

I purchased this motherboard (with an AMD XP 2500+ Barton and 256 MB of Buffalo PC3200 memory) to upgrade a Windows 98 system (with a Biostar M7VKB motherboard, AMD Athlon 1100, and 256 MB of PC133 memory). I had intended to install the AN35N in a new case (which has the requisite ATX12V square-connector), and give the (perfectly adequate) Biostar system to someone as a gift.

For inexplicable reasons, the AN35N power-supply connector is mounted at the top front corner of the motherboard — precisely where the lower two 5.25" bays are located in most tower cases, and precisely where one would normally mount a CD-Rom drive, or an (even longer) mobile rack! It was impossible to install the AN35N in a 17-5/8" deep case without rendering the lower two 5.25" bays useless (and then locating and purchasing expensive, extra-long IDE cables in order to "slave" the relocated CD-Rom drives to the 3.25" hard-disks mounted 8-10" below.

To solve this problem, I was forced to remove a better-designed motherboard from an 18-5/8" deep case, mount it in the new 17-5/8" case, and then mount the poorly-designed AN35N in the deeper case. But then, I had to replace the power supply in the 18-5/8" case with one with an ATX12V square-connector! This, obviously, created far more work than a normal installation — all because of poor board design!

But that was the least of my problems!

The Windows 98 drivers wouldn't install! The driver installer program consistently froze up (and/or suddenly rebooted) before completion. This occured with the installer provided on the CD-Rom that came with the motherboard. It also occured with the drivers obtained via a 4-hour download from Shuttle's lack-of-support site, which turned out to be the identical drivers. [You would think they would at least tell you the release date and/or revision number, BEFORE you wasted four hours downloading the same defective software you already have, but that would require thought, consideration, and competence.]

The identical problem was experienced when attempting to install the Shuttle drivers following a clean install!

I did manage to install the drivers --- sort of --- by rebooting windows and pointing the plethora of "new hardware detected" routines to a hard disk copy of the CD-rom, rather than running the Shuttle driver "installer" program. [It must be a hard-disk copy, though, as Windows cannot seem to find drivers on CD-roms during hardware detection.]

However, once that was finally done, I quickly discovered the BIOS defaults had disabled such things as the onboard network card, etc. So more hours were spent trying to figure out why a (software) system which once worked, no longer did so.

Additionally, the APIC routines didn't work properly. It was impossible to shut down Windows --- or switch into MS-DOS mode --- without the system hanging and requiring a hard reset. There were many additional (driver-related) problems as well.

And, to add insult to injury, the motherboard/cpu/memory combination (at 400 Mhz) performed no better than the Athlon 1100/PC133 (133Mhz) system it replaced!

Of course Shuttle's "support" people never replied to e-mails, or website-submitted inquiry forms, much less issue updated drivers.

Please note that this is not the first time I have replaced a motherboard in a computer system and installed new drivers. I have done so hundreds of times. However, this is the first time I have had any difficulties! (It occurs to me that perhaps this is the difference between installing VIA boards (which has always been problem free) and installing Nvidia boards (which has not).

I finally discovered --- after almost one year of searching the Internet for solutions to this problem --- that "the latest drivers" are no longer at Shuttle's website, but rather at Nvidia's site. Not a bad idea, but totally useless unless announced. And you would think Shuttle's "support" site would point you to the Nvidia site for drivers, which it does not. Rather, for "downloading drivers", it points to a web page which contains only BIOS upgrades.

However, even after downloading the "latest and greatest" drivers from Nvidia, I experienced the exact same problems trying to install them, except that the installer froze and crashed even earlier: 2% (rather than 40%) into the "installing ethernet drivers" routine. And the system was then unusable, rather than just crippled, after this attempted driver installation!

Fortunately, this time a clean install did solve the problem. After reinstalling Windows, and selecting the Windows default drivers, I was able to run the Nvidia driver installation program without the program crashing, and I finally had an operational system. Of course, I then had to spend an entire day downloading and installing all the "critical" Windows updates, and the next several weeks reinstalling all my various applications, trying to remember and reset all the various program options that software producers opt to store in the registry rather than simple files (which can be saved upon creation and imported upon reinstallation).

It appears that I finally got my AN35N system running. But there remain a number of "minor" problems:

  1. I cannot put two devices on the primary IDE channel without the HDD LED remaining lit all the time! This is not the fault of the device(s) or cabling [and, no, the LED leads are not reversed, either], as I have swapped these around, and established the anomoly only occurs on the Shuttle's primary IDE channel, regardless of what's plugged in. So, after a year's struggle with poorly-written and inadequately-tested driver-installation software, I now discover I have a defective (perhaps by design) board!
  2. The Windows 98 system (now) frequently locks-up, require a "hard reset" to reboot (as even Ctrl-Alt-Del) is disabled. In contrast, the same Windows 98 system — with the same applications and the same hardware, but with the Biostar motherboard — had been stable for several years. No "blue screens of death", no "frozen" mice or keyboards, no crashes of any sort — until installation of the AN35N board and drivers!
  3. The dual-channel mode feature is not supported! Installing the memory modules as specified for dual-channel mode results in memory errors, not 128-bit transfers.
  4. The (on-board) sound is often garbled. It is necessary to select "analog" mode for Windows Media Player to function.
  5. Although (finally) operational, the new motherboard/cpu/memory combination (at 400 Mhz) still does not perform noticeably better than the Athlon 1100 / PC133 (133Mhz) system it replaced — at least for my applications (Internet, word-processing, financials, software development, and absolutely no gaming).

Will I purchase another Shuttle or Nvidia product in the future? Not very likely!

Sincerely,

Carl D. Goldin

P.S. I have received a large number of emails from those experiencing similar problems with this board. I have also received several emails from those offering useless "advice" (such as "solutions" which I have already tried, and so stated, or solutions which are illogical in view of the facts presented). Your comments are welcome (that is why I have supplied my email address), but please take the time to read the article and think about what you are saying before offering "advice". Thank you.