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ECS PF88 Extreme Hybrid — a Motherboard Based on SiS656

August 4, 2005



  • SiS656 chipset (SiS656 northbridge and SiS965 southbridge)

This year in March we reviewed a motherboard from ASRock K8Upgrade-760GX. The key feature of this model was its support for AMD processors both for Socket 754 as well as for Socket 939 due to 939 CPU Board connected to a special AGP slot. But the technical progress is never idle, today we shall review a motherboard from ECS, which supports AMD and Intel processors.

Yes! You've got it right! This wonder of modern engineering allows to install processors from both manufacturers. The board was initially equipped with Socket 775, so it supports Intel processors (Intel Celeron, Intel Pentium 4, Pentium 4 Extreme Edition). The motherboard also contains four DDR2 SDRAM DIMM slots supporting dual channel mode. As you can see, there is nothing interesting so far. But should you take a closer look, you will notice that the board has three PCIE x16 slots. One of them is part of a single large slot called Elite Bus. The second part of this slot is PCIE x1. This combined slot is used to plug (as in case of K8Upgrade-760GX) a special expansion card called ECS SIMA A9S. This card carries Socket 939 to support AMD processors and two memory slots for DDR SDRAM DIMM. It's based on the SiS756 chipset. ECS SIMA A9S is reviewed in a separate article, so let's return to our "extreme hybrid".

It should be noted that the other two PCIE slots are used for their designated purpose: one - when the motherboard works with an Intel processor, the other - when the SIMA A9S card is connected. Jumpers near the Elite BUS slot are used to switch between these modes. The board has two chips with different BIOS versions for AMD and Intel processors.

The new motherboard from ECS can also boast of integrated SATA (Silicon Image Sil3132CNU) and FireWire (VIA VT6307) controllers. AC’97 codec based on Realtek (Avance Logic) ALC850 spoils the impression. It's strange to see so many average marks, especially compared to the results of new HDA codecs.




The PCB has a common layout. PCIE x 16 and Elite BUS slots are placed too close to memory slots, which makes it difficult to handle them. Besides, the 4-pin ATX 12V connector for a processor is too close to an inductance coil. So when you unplug the CPU power cable, you will have to use a screwdriver.

The ECS PF88 Extreme Hybrid motherboard gets the iXBT.com editors' Original Design award:

The 4-phase switching voltage regulator of the processor incorporates seven 1800 uF capacitors and two 820 uF capacitors. The board also contains a memory voltage regulator (two 1500 uF capacitors and six 1000 uF ones reinforced with L elements). The board mostly uses electrolytic capacitors from OST and G-Luxon. The motherboard has no empty seats for unsoldered elements. Motherboard dimensions – 305x245 mm (full-sized ATX, ten-screw mount, all motherboard edges are firmly fixed).

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

  • CPU, memory, and battery voltage, +3.3 V, +5 V, and +12 V
  • RPM of 3 fans
  • CPU and board temperatures (by the corresponding embedded sensors)

Onboard ports, sockets, and connectors

  • Processor socket (Socket 775 for Intel Celeron, Intel Pentium 4, Pentium 4 Extreme Edition)
  • 4 x DDR 2 SDRAM DIMM (up to 4 GB of DDR2-400/533/667; dual channel mode is supported)
  • 2 x PCIEx16 for video accelerators (one of them is busy, when the SIMA A9S expansion card is installed)
  • Elite Bus slot for the SIMS A9S expansion card. It's a combination of one PCIE x16 slot and one PCIE x1 slot
  • 3 x PCI
  • Power connectors: standard ATX 2.2 (24 pins, you can connect a regular 20-pin connector, but in this case it's not recommended to use powerful up-to-date componentry like top PCIE video cards) and 4-pin ATX12V for a processor
  • 1 x FDD
  • 2 x IDE (Parallel ATA), all of them are chipset-based (SIS 965 southbridge, they support up to four IDE devices that can form RAID 0, RAID 1, and RAID 0+1)
  • 6 x SATA (Serial ATA) four of them are chipset-based (the controller is integrated into the SIS 965 southbridge, it supports RAID 0, RAID 1, RAID 0+1); the other two are based on the additional Silicon Image Sil3132 CNU controller
  • 2 connectors for brackets with additional USB ports
  • Connector for a bracket with two additional IEEE1394a ports
  • Connectors for a bracket with additional audio-outs and S/PDIF
  • 1 x CD/DVD audio connector
  • 4 x fan headers (three of them have RPM control)

Back panel (left to right, blockwise)





Click the image to open the rear view of this motherboard (3/4)
  • PS/2 mouse and keyboard
  • 1 x LPT, 2 x COM
  • 2 x USB and 1 x 1394a
  • 2 x USB and 1 x RJ-45 (Gigabit Ethernet)
  • 6 x audio jacks (Mic-In, Line-In, Front, Center/Sub, Rear, Side).

Package Contents




  • Package: a box of the standard dimensions and design
  • Documentation (in English):
    • User's Guide
    • 802.11 g WLAN USB Adapter Guide
  • Cables:
    • ATA 66/100/133 (black, with company's logo)
    • FDD (black, with company's logo)
    • 4 x Serial ATA
    • SATA power converter
  • Rear panel bracket with 2 x USB and 1 x FireWire (6-pin)
  • Rear panel bracket with 1 x SATA for external hard disks
  • 3.5-inch bay faceplate for USB and FireWire instead of the rear panel bracket (the block of connectors can be attached to any of these modules with three screws)
  • USB Dongle to organize a WiFi-b wireless network and an USB extension cord with an antenna holder)
  • Rear I/O shield
  • 2 CDs with software:
    • Motherboard drivers
    • Brief Motherboard Installation Guide in PDF format
    • BIOS flash utilities
    • WiFi Dongle drivers and utilities
    • Adobe Acrobat Reader
    • DPU
    • I'm InTouch
    • Media Ring
    • PC-illin 2004
    • Pro Magic 6.0
    • ShowShifter
    • Smart LAN

Integrated Controllers

  • Audio, based on the AC'97 codec Realtek (Avance Logic) ALC850, supporting 7.1 surround sound audio with front line-in/out and S/PDIF-In/Out jacks
  • Silicon Image Sil3132CNU SATA controller, supporting 2 Serial ATA ports that can form RAID 0 and RAID 1
  • FireWire, based on the VIA VT6307 chips, supporting 2 x IEEE 1394a
  • Network, based on Marvell 88E1111-RCJ chips (10/100/1000 Mbit/s Gigabit Ethernet)

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:
+0.08, -0.65
Good
Noise level, dB (A):
-79.8
Average
Dynamic range, dB (A):
79.5
Average
THD, %:
0.037
Good
Intermodulation distortion + Noise, %:
0.163
Average
Channel crosstalk, dB:
-80.2
Very good
IMD at 10 kHz, %:
0.175
Average

General performance: Good (Details). It's a sad result for a modern motherboard (with an HDA codec), but such results are normal for old models with AC'97 audio.

Settings

Jumpers and switches Clear CMOS jumper  
BIOS write protection jumper  
Two jumpers to activate Elite Bus slot It switches to processor/memory installed on the SIMA expansion card
In AwardBIOS v6.00PG from Phoenix Specific CPU functions + Disable Hyper-Threading and Execute Disable Bit, select Thermal Monitor 1/2 (and specify TM2 parameters)
Memory timings + CAS Latency, RAS to CAS Delay, Precharge Time, RAS Active Time, Write Recovery Time, Command Bypass, Data Bypass, UMC0/1 MA Timing, UMC0/1 Read Data Ready, DDR 128-Bit Access
Memory frequency selection + Dividers to set standard DDR2-400/533/667 frequencies for each standard FSB clock
Peripheral bus frequency control + PCI = Sync, 33.3, 37.5, 40 MHz
FSB frequency setup + 200—250 MHz at 1 MHz steps
CPU multiplier + Only those processors that allow users to change CPU multiplier
CPU core voltage control + Normal, +25, +50, +75 mV
Memory voltage control + Normal, +50, +100, +150 mV
Chipset voltage control -  
FSB voltage control -  
PCI-E bus voltage control -  

We used BIOS 416, the latest available BIOS version at the time of our tests. The mentioned BIOS parameters are available in this version, but the viability of non-standard settings hasn't been tested.

Preliminary test results

Testbed configurations:

  • CPU: Intel Pentium 4 EE 3.46 GHz (1066 MHz FSB)
  • Memory: 2 x Corsair XMS2-4300 CM2X512A-4300C3PRO (DDR2-533, 3-3-3-8)
  • External video card: [PCIEx16] ATI Radeon X800 XT 256 MB
  • HDD: Samsung SP1213C (SATA), 7200 rpm
  • OS: Windows XP SP2

Of course, it's very interesting to test performance of this motherboard with the SIMA expansion card. You will get an answer to this question in the nearest future. As for now, let's clear up the issue with the first speed, so to speak, of the PF88. :)

Test ECS PF88 Extreme Hybrid (SiS656) ASUS P5WD2 Premium (i955X)
Archiving with 7-Zip, min:sec 9:14 7:07
MPEG4 (XviD) encoding, min:sec 5:45 5:14
Processing images in Photoshop, min:sec 35:08 32:16
Unreal Tournament 2004 (Lowest@640x480x32), fps 56 73
Unreal Tournament 2004 (Medium@800x600x32), fps 53 68

We have published results of the ASUS P5WD2 Premium for comparison, which demonstrated the highest performance among the reviewed models on modern Intel chipsets. These two motherboards cannot compete for a place in the same computer, they are too different in functionality and destination. It's just convenient to compare the model under review with the fastest motherboard to see the performance level of the new model.

Unfortunately, ECS PF88 Extreme Hybrid results are very low. It's steadily outperformed by its competitor by no less than 10% in real applications, sometimes even by 30%! We cannot say which fault it is (motherboard or chipset) without an additional analysis. So we can only ascertain that the choice for the future CPU flexibility results in a considerable loss of calculating capacity of a currently installed processor.

Conclusions

ECS PF88 Extreme Hybrid is an unusual and controversial product. On the one hand, we should do justice to ECS engineers, who implemented the fresh idea to support completely different processors. But on the other hand, the reasons to buy this model didn't look too convincing. And considering the low performance of this motherboard in the native mode, we have to cross out from the list of potential buyers those users, who care about the performance of the computer they assemble now. Here is our verdict: an excellent exhibit, a shop window star, a collector's dream, but not a motherboard for real people.


Addendum:
  • ECS SIMA A9S SIMA series expansion card for Socket 939 processors

This model on the manufacturer's web site

The motherboard is kindly provided by the manufacturer





Vladimir Senchihin (sench@ixbt.com)
Updated on August 19, 2005


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