iXBT Labs - Computer Hardware in Detail






ECS RS400-A — a Motherboard Based on ATI Radeon Xpress 200 (Intel Edition)

July 20, 2005

  • ATI Radeon Xpress 200 (Intel Edition) chipset (ATI RS400 northbridge and ATI SB400 southbridge)

Since the appearance of DDR2 memory modules, we have often come across motherboards that allow gradual upgrade to the new memory type by supporting both DDR and DDR2. As DDR2 modules were initially noticeably more expensive than DDR, this approach could be quite relevant to many users. But think about this - there is a similar situation with AGP and PCI Express graphics interfaces, and ECS engineers came up with a reasonable idea: "Why not equip a motherboard not only with slots for two memory types, but also with PCIEx16 and AGP (in addition to the integrated video in the chipset)?" Dictum-factum, but as the ATI Xpress 200 chipset (for both platforms) does not support AGP bus and there are no miracles, the miraculous AGP Express slot is just an overhauled PCI slot (that is it's connected to the chipset via the PCI bus, it's just designed in the AGP 4x/8x form factor). It certainly has a baleful effect on the system performance with an AGP video accelerator in modern games — we have already reviewed this issue in detail. So today we shall limit ourselves to a small number of tests for confirmation. Thus, AGP on the RS400-A may be useful only if you already have an AGP video card and do not have enough money to upgrade to a PCI Express video card so far (or if you are not interested in 3D performance at all). Note that the so called AGP Express is not guaranteed to support all video cards, the list of models checked for compatibility is published in User's Guide on the official web site.

Support for two memory types (not simultaneously) and three (!) graphics adapter types merits the Original Design award:

Quite a ponderable disadvantage is that this motherboard can accommodate only two memory modules [of the selected type] not exceeding the total size of 2 GB, while the majority of modern solutions support 4 modules/8 (or even 16) GB of memory. That is the ECS RS400-A is obviously not intended for a high-performance workstation, it's rather a solution for home users, who upgrade their computers gradually. Motherboard features are scarce: there are no additional IDE and SATA controllers or FireWire support (though there is an empty seat for it on the PCB, that is some future model may have it), the network adapter is limited to 10/100 Mbit/s (Fast Ethernet), the audio system is based on an AC'97 codec, despite the growing popularity of HDA. But the price to consumer justifies all these disadvantages in the eyes of many customers.

Perhaps the only disadvantage in the PCB layout, which is not overcrowded with integrated controllers and connectors, is that the FDD connector is located behind the last PCI slot: when a high-profile expansion card is installed into this slot, it's very difficult to manipulate an FDD cable; besides, this cable may be not long enough for a high tower. Access to the jumpers is not hampered even when the motherboard is installed in a case. There are brief descriptions of jumper functions on the PCB. The 4-phase switching voltage regulator of the processor incorporates 13 x 1500 uF capacitors (manufactured by OST, which reputation is not very good). The memory voltage regulator uses four 1000 uF capacitors reinforced with L elements.

The motherboard has empty seats for a FireWire controller, a connector for a bracket with ports, WOL, WOM connectors, and a connector for a bracket with an additional COM port. Motherboard dimensions — 305x245 mm (standard ATX, ten-screw mount, all motherboard edges are firmly fixed).

System monitoring (ITE IT8712F-A):

  • CPU 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, it's claimed to be compatible with all top single-core processors from Intel with the FSB clock not higher than 800 MHz: Celeron D (345), Pentium 4 (570 and 660), Pentium 4 Extreme Edition (3.4 GHz))
  • 2 x DDR (DDR266/333/400 without ECC) SDRAM DIMM and 2 x DDR2 (DDR2-400/533/667 without ECC) SDRAM DIMM (up to 2 GB in total; you cannot install DDR and DDR2 modules simultaneously; dual channel mode is supported)
  • PCIEx16 for video accelerators
  • AGP Express for video accelerators (AGP 4x/8x form factor, there may be problems with some AGP cards, the list of models, checked for compatibility, is published in the User's Guide and is available at the link above)
  • 2 x PCIEx1
  • 2 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 chipset-based connectors (Parallel ATA) for four ATA133 devices
  • 4 x SATA (Serial ATA) chipset-based connectors for four SATA150 devices, which may form RAID 0 and 1 in pairs
  • 2 connectors for brackets with 4 additional USB ports
  • 1 x CD/DVD audio connector
  • Additional audio input (AUX-In)
  • Connectors for analog audio ins and outs on the front panel
  • S/PDIF-Out
  • 1 x standard IrDA connector
  • Connector for TV-Outs on a bracket (the connector includes one composite and two component channels)
  • 3 x fan headers (all with RPM control)

Back panel (left to right, blockwise)

Click the image to open the rear view of this motherboard
  • PS/2 mouse and keyboard
  • 1 x LPT, 1 x COM, 1 x VGA (D-Sub)
  • 2 x USB
  • 2 x USB and 1 x RJ-45 (Fast Ethernet)
  • 3 x Analog Audio (Mic-In, Line-In, Front).

Package Contents

  • Package: a box of the standard dimensions and of the usually horrible design
  • Documentation: User's Guide in English
  • Cables: 1 x SATA (with a power converter for 1 devices), 1 x ATA66 and 1 x FDD cable
  • Rear I/O shield
  • CD with necessary drivers.

The poverty of the bundle matches the functionality of this model, but on the other hand, it contributes to the low price.

Integrated Controllers

  • Audio, based on the AC'97 codec Realtek ALC655, supporting 5.1 surround sound audio with front line-in/out and S/PDIF-Out jacks
  • Network, based on the Realtek RTL8100C chip, supporting 10/100 Mbit/s (Fast 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:
+0,28, -0,47
Noise level, dB (A):
Dynamic range, dB (A):
THD, %:
Intermodulation distortion + Noise, %:
Channel crosstalk, dB:
Very good
IMD at 10 kHz, %:

General performance: Good (Details). The intermodulation distortion level at the analog output does not deserve good comments. In other respects it's OK.


Jumpers and switches Clear CMOS jumper  
BIOS write protection jumper  
In AwardBIOS v6.00PG from Phoenix Memory timings + A huge number of settings with obscure names, which are impossible to correlate with regular settings of this type
Memory frequency selection + DDR: Auto, 266/333/400 MHz
DDR2: Auto, 400/533/667 MHz
Peripheral bus frequency control -  
PCI IRQ manual assignment -  
FSB frequency setup + 200—511 MHz at 1 MHz steps
CPU multiplier -  
CPU core voltage control + Normal, +3%, +6%, +9%
Memory voltage control + Normal, +50, +100, +150 mV
Chipset voltage control -  
FSB voltage control -  
PCI-E bus voltage control -  

We used BIOS 1.0e, 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)
    • Pentium 4 560 (3.6 GHz, 800 MHz FSB)
    • Pentium 4 550 (3.4 GHz, 800 MHz FSB)

  • Memory:
    • 2 x Corsair XMS2-5400 CM2X512-5400C4 (DDR2-675, 4-4-4-12)
    • 2 x Corsair XMS3200 CMX512RE-3200LL (DDR400, 2-2-2-5)

  • External video card:
    • [PCIEx16] ATI Radeon X800 XT 256 MB
    • [AGP 8x] Manli ATI Radeon 9800 Pro 256 MB

  • HDD: Samsung SP1213C (SATA), 7200 rpm
  • OS: Windows XP SP2

The table below contains the results of the motherboard under review with Intel Pentium 4 EE 3.46 GHz. Indeed, this chipset does not support 1066  FSB officially, but it correctly detected this processor and ran it at the "native" clock — it's not for the first time that ATI "palters" with FSB frequency support specs. As we have learnt from semi-official sources, ATI just hasn't yet completed negotiations with Intel about the official 1066 MHz FSB support (it requires special licensing). That's why the official chipset specifications shy away the fact that FSB can operate at this frequency. We compared the ECS RS400-A with the fastest (according to the roundup of six motherboards) representative of the i925XE chipset — Gigabyte 8AENXP-D.

Test Gigabyte 8AENXP-D (i925XE, DDR2-533) ECS RS400-A (ATI Xpress 200 IE, DDR2-667)
Archiving with 7-Zip, min:sec 7:18 7:49
MPEG4 (XviD) encoding, min:sec 5:15 5:32
Processing images in Photoshop, min:sec 33:05 35:44
Unreal Tournament 2004 (Lowest@640x480x32), fps 72.6 68.5
Unreal Tournament 2004 (Medium@800x600x32), fps 68.1 64.3

Well, the i925XE is noticeably faster, our tests demonstrate the 5—8% difference. However, it will hardly scare you away, if you want to buy the ECS RS400-A — this motherboard is initially not intended to be a top model.

Remember that we have already reviewed in detail the performance drop, when a video card is installed into AGP Express slot compared to regular AGP. Nevertheless, we had to make sure that the performance drop was still there. In this case we confined ourselves to the available results of the ECS 865PE-A7 motherboard on i865PE (with native AGP 8x) — they were obtained with Pentium 4 560 (3.6 GHz). The ECS RS400-A had to be tested with Pentium 4 550 (3.4 GHz), currently available in our lab. Thus, the systems are formally at long odds, but have a look at the game results in low resolutions, obtained with one of the most powerful AGP video cards — ATI Radeon 9800 Pro.

Test ECS 865PE-A7 (i865PE, DDR400) ECS RS400-A (ATI Xpress 200 IE, DDR400) ECS RS400-A (ATI Xpress 200 IE, DDR2-667)
Archiving with 7-Zip, min:sec 7:34 8:28 8:19
FarCry (Lowest@640x480x32, demo volcano), fps 224 100 102
FarCry (Medium@800x600x32, demo volcano), fps 155 67 69
FarCry (Lowest@640x480x32, demo training), fps 209 105 108
FarCry (Medium@800x600x32, demo training), fps 123 68 68
Unreal Tournament 2004 (Lowest@640x480x32), fps 67.3 44.1 44.5
Unreal Tournament 2004 (Medium@800x600x32), fps 63.6 39.8 40.2

No comments. It's clear that extra 200 MHz in CPU clock and a generally faster chipset cannot make up for 30—50% lag in the AGP Express modification. However, even if the ECS RS400-A is outperformed with its two graphics interfaces, it still has a trump card of the integrated video, a counterpart of ATI Radeon X300 (ATI Radeon 9600). It goes without saying that you cannot expect from integrated video high performance in heavy gaming modes. But it's still one of the most attractive integrated solutions that offers entry-level gaming performance. We are soon going to review the features of ATI Xpress 200 IE in comparison with competing integrated video solutions in a separate article.


ECS RS400-A is a motherboard designed specially for gradual and as cheap as possible upgrade to the new standards in home and office computers. And I should say that this model copes with its tasks very well. I repeat that you had better not use it for anything bigger. The only obvious advantage of this model is good graphics integrated into the ATI Radeon Xpress 200 chipset, the negative side is low performance with an external video accelerator. Poor functionality and bundle is a reasonable compromise to cut down the costs. The original design of this motherboard allows installing any of the two memory types, but the AGP option comes at a cost of reduced performance.

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

The motherboard is kindly provided by the manufacturer

Vladimir Senchihin (sench@ixbt.com)
June 28, 2005.

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