iXBT Labs - Computer Hardware in Detail






ECS KA1 MVP Extreme — a Motherboard Based on ATI Xpress 200 CrossFire Edition (Socket 939)

The launch of Radeon X1900 chips confirmed ATI's positions in top class. It also means that the ATI platform's prospects for building enthusiast gaming PCs that can provide a maximum fps level with the highest video quality settings are no worse than those of the NVIDIA platform. As only a tandem of two video cards currently has a chance to break a record, we can forecast the same level of interest towards motherboards on Radeon Xpress 200 CrossFire Edition as for boards on NVIDIA nForce4 SLI.

ECS has chosen the same enthusiast sector for the KA1 MVP Extreme motherboard as in case with the other reviewed motherboards on this chipset. To back up this status, the company equipped it to the brim with additional controllers and an excessive bundle (exactly like for the ECS KN2 SLI Extreme on NVIDIA nForce4 SLI X16). ECS engineers didn't install a third-party bridge, but used the original ATI chipset with SB450 Southbridge. It looks economically justified in the light of possible shortage of ULi Southbridge after the merger with NVIDIA.

The motherboard possesses typical features of the Extreme series, including the "war paint" and fan with a small airduct at the rear panel. This time users evaded the proprietary Northbridge cooler of a bizarre shape, as ATI RD480 does not get very hot and a usual small heatsink is quite sufficient. Passive cooling of the chipset copes with its task well, though you'd better arrange additional cooling of the Northbridge heatsink on the MSI RD480 Neo2 - air flow from the CPU cooler. The layout provides for this feature - the distance between these components is shortened. The other side of this proximity (as well as closely placed memory slots) is potential impossibility of installing CPU coolers with very wide heatsinks.

This time the PCB layout does not shine in convenience — for example the 4-pin peripheral power connector for video cards is driven behind the last PCI slot (you will lose access to it, after you install an expansion card into this slot, especially a large one, like TV tuner). Serial ATA connectors (both chipset-based and additional) are also placed very inconveniently: they may be blocked by huge cooling systems of video cards or by long video cards. But these sacrifices allowed to free some room for the Extreme brand tablet in the left bottom corner — tremendously successful design! The only thing we should be grateful about is PCI slots - both of them are placed so that they can be used no matter how the other expansion cards are installed. (You should be glad to have at least two available PCI slots nowadays.)

The 3-phase switching voltage regulator of the processor incorporates 3 field-effect transistors per channel, six 1800 uF capacitors and three 1500 uF ones. The memory voltage regulator contains nine 1500 uF capacitors as well as several ones of lesser capacitance, reinforced with L elements. Capacitors came from an unknown manufacturer as well as from OST — quite a typical choice. You can hardly expect capacitors from Sanyo or Rubycon on a motherboard from ECS. There are no empty seats on the PCB, as it's a top model in the series. Its radically defeatured modification RD480-A939 (with the same PCB layout) has nearly all additional controllers removed. Motherboard dimensions — 305x245 mm (full-size ATX), ten-screw mount, all corners are firmly fixed.

System monitoring (ITE IT8712F-A, according to BIOS Setup):

  • Voltages on CPU core, battery, memory (+2.5 V), +3.3, +5, +12 V, as well as +5 V Standby
  • RPM of 3 fans
  • CPU and board temperatures (by the corresponding embedded sensors)

Onboard ports, sockets, and connectors

  • Processor socket (Socket 939, officially supports all AMD Athlon 64/X2/FX processors up to 4800+ and higher (in future). It will also certainly support all Sempron models for Socket 939, which has been long on sale, including boxed modifications, but officially shipped only to system integrators)
  • 4 x DDR SDRAM DIMM (up to 4 GB DDR200/266/333/400, dual channel mode supported)
  • 2 x PCIEx16 for video accelerators (in CrossFire mode, they both operate in x8 mode; in case of a single card (in the first (orange) slot), you should install the bundled stub into the second slot (blue))
  • 2 x PCIEx1
  • 2 x PCI
  • Power connectors: standard ATX 2.2 (24 pins, you can use regular 20-pin connectors), 4-pin ATX12V to power up CPU and 4-pin "peripheral" for video cards (without on-board power connectors) in PCIEx16 slots
  • 1 x FDD
  • 2 x IDE (Parallel ATA) for 4 ATA133 devices — chipset-based
  • 6 x SATA (Serial ATA), 4 of them are chipset-based for 4 SATA150 devices, connected disks can form two independent RAIDs 0 or 1; the other two connectors (SATA-II — for two SATA300 devices) are based on the Silicon Image controller, connected disks may form RAID 0 or 1
  • 2 connectors for brackets with 4 additional USB ports
  • 2 connectors for brackets with 2 FireWire ports
  • 1 x CD/DVD audio connector
  • Connectors for analog audio ins and outs on the front panel
  • Connector for a bracket with SPDIF-Out
  • 1 x standard IrDA connector
  • Connector for a bracket with an LPT port
  • 3 x fan headers with rpm control (no automatic rpm control even for the CPU cooler).

Back panel (left to right, blockwise)

Click the image to open the rear view of this motherboard
  • PS/2 mouse and keyboard
  • 1 x COM
  • 2 x USB and 1 x RJ-45 (Gigabit Ethernet)
  • 2 x USB and 1 x RJ-45 (Fast Ethernet)
  • 6 x Analog Audio (Center/Sub, Rear, Surround, Line-In, Line-Out, Mic-In).

Package Contents

  • Package: a large package of traditional ECS design for top motherboards with an additional box
  • Documentation: User's guide
  • Cables: 1 x LAN (2 meters long, twisted pair), 4 x SATA (with a power converter for two SATA devices), 1 x ATA66, 1 x ATA33 (for CD-ROM), 1 x FDD
  • Shunt card to switch PCIEx16 slot modes
  • Top-Hat Flash module (a flash chip with a BIOS backup and a converter to install it on top of the main memory chip on the motherboard) with a brief instruction — it can be used for emergency restoration of damaged BIOS
  • Rear panel bracket with 2 x FireWire (6- and 4-pin) and 2 x USB (it can also be used to install ports on the front panel using a special module)
  • A special panel for the 3.5" drive bay, which can house the above-mentioned cable with USB and FireWire, if you unplug the cable from the rear panel bracket and connect it to this module
  • Rear panel bracket with an LPT port
  • Rear panel bracket with SATA connector for e-SATA devices (with their own power supply), it can be connected to any standard SATA ports on the motherboard; you'd better use one of the two ports of the additional Silicon Image controller
  • Rear I/O shield
  • 2 CDs with drivers and utilities.

In this case, the set of third-party utilities includes:

  • DPU — to restore deleted files
  • Pro Magic Plus — to create system restoration snapshots
  • ShowShifter — a multimedia center to watch TV and to play video, images/photos, music
  • I’m InTouch — remote administration of a computer
  • Media Ring — IP telephony (to make regular voice calls over Internet)
  • WinCinema — to watch and create DVDs.

Unfortunately, this bundle does not include a proprietary utility for updating BIOS and system drivers, which can also search for the latest versions on the manufacturer's web site. To flash BIOS under Windows, you are recommended to use the standard WinFlash utility from Award.

Integrated Controllers

  • Audio, based on High Definition Audio chipset support and HDA codec Realtek ALC880, supporting 7.1-ch audio, front line-ins/outs and S/PDIF-Out (the bundle does not include a rear panel bracket for it)
  • 2 network controllers: One Gigabit Ethernet supporting 10/100/1000 Mbit/s, based on Marvell 88E8053-NNC1 chip (PCIEx1), and Fast Ethernet supporting 10/100 Mbit/s, based on Realtek RTL8100C chip
  • SATA-II RAID controller based on the Silicon Image Sil3132CNU chip (PCIEx1 interface), supporting two SATA300 devices that can form RAID 0 and 1
  • FireWire, based on the VIA VT6307 chip supporting 2 ports

The integrated audio quality was tested in 16bit, 44 kHz using the RightMark Audio Analyzer 5.5 test application and the Terratec DMX 6fire sound card:

Frequency response (from 40 Hz to 15 kHz), dB:
+0,14, -0,16
Very good
Noise level, dB (A):
Very good
Dynamic range, dB (A):
Very good
THD, %:
Very good
Intermodulation distortion + Noise, %:
Very good
Channel crosstalk, dB:
IMD at 10 kHz, %:
Very good

General performance: Very good (details). This motherboard is notable for its high quality integrated audio even compared to the generally high level, demonstrated by motherboards with High Definition Audio support in our tests.

Proprietary technologies and peculiarities

  • Top-Hat Flash — emergency restoration of damaged BIOS from a special flash chip (with a backup copy of BIOS), which is installed on top of the main chip on the motherboard
  • An additional fan to cool the voltage regulator that drives the hot air out of a PC case
  • Dynamic overclocking technology — FSB clock may grow by 2—30 MHz under maximum load depending on BIOS settings.


Jumpers and switches Clear CMOS jumper  
CMOS Write Protect jumper  
BIOS is based on Award WorkstationBIOS v6.00PG Allows to disable specific CPU functions + K8 Cool’n’Quiet
Memory timings + 1T/2T Memory Timing, CAS Latency, Min RAS Active Time, RAS to CAS Delay, Row Precharge Time, Row to Row Delay, Row Cycle Time, Row Refresh Cycle
Memory frequency selection + Auto, 100, 133, 166, 200 MHz (you actually specify a multiplier to the HTT frequency)
HT bus setup + frequency (Auto, 200, 400, 600, 800, 1000 MHz) and capacity (8 or 16 bit) for both bus data flow directions separately (from Northbridge to processor and back)
Peripheral bus frequency control -  
PCI IRQ manual assignment -  
FSB frequency setup + 200—500 MHz at 1 MHz steps
CPU Dynamic Overclocking: +2—30 MHz at 2 MHz steps
CPU multiplier + from x4, at integer steps
CPU core voltage control + +0.025—0.175 V at 0.025 V steps
Memory voltage control + 2.60—3.00 V at 0.05 V steps

We used BIOS 1.1 dated 23.12.05, the latest available BIOS version at the time of our tests. The mentioned BIOS parameters are available in this version (except for voltage control options - these settings were inactive in our sample), but the viability of non-standard settings hasn't been tested. The motherboard correctly detected memory timings (by SPD), including the 1T/2T setting.


Testbed configuration:

  • CPU: AMD Athlon 64 4000+
  • Memory: 2 x 512 MB Corsair XMS3200 TwinX (DDR400, 2-2-2-5)
  • Video card: ATI Radeon X800 XT, 256 MB DDR
  • HDD: Seagate Barracuda 7200.7 (SATA, 7200 rpm)
  • Power supply unit: Chieftec GPS-400AA
  • OS: Windows XP SP2

We compared our model under review with the previously examined MSI RD480 Neo2 motherboard on the same ATI Xpress 200 CFE chipset, but with the ULi M1573 Southbridge.

Test ECS KA1 MVP Extreme MSI RD480 Neo2
Archiving with 7-Zip, min:sec 7:25 7:32
MPEG4 (XviD) encoding, min:sec 5:06 5:02
Unreal Tournament 2004 (Low@640x480), fps 85.3 86.1
Unreal Tournament 2004 (Highest@1600x1200), fps 78.2 77.5
Doom3 (Low@640x480), fps 116.4 116.9
Doom3 (Highest@1600x1200), fps 58.7 62.3

The ECS KA1 MVP Extreme motherboard has demonstrated almost model performance. We have absolutely nothing to add here again.


We can express our impressions of this motherboard with a single phrase: "model for mass enthusiasts" — in other words, it may become a truly good basis for an expensive mainstream PC with CrossFire. In this very case, no great overclocking potential, simple chipset cooling, no extravagant technologies, and not quite convenient layout will not be taken as drawbacks, while the list of supported connectors, interfaces, etc in the product specifications will look and really be complete. But this motherboard looks a tad too simple for a user assembling a PC on his/her own, despite its illumination (free expansion slots are marked with blinking LEDs) and traditional extraction of the hot air from the voltage regulator zone. However, it will be up to the pricing policy.

This model on the manufacturer's web site (Russian mirror)

The motherboard is kindly provided by the manufacturer

Dmitry Vladimirovich (lpt@ixbt.com)
April 10, 2006

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