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ECS RS485M-M — a Motherboard on ATI Radeon Xpress 1150 (Socket AM2)

July 31, 2006



  • ATI CrossFire Xpress 1150 chipset (Radeon Xpress 200, RS485 Northbridge and SB460 Southbridge)

No doubt, it's expedient to use seasoned Socket 939 chipsets for new motherboards on Socket AM2. Why waste resources on designing formally new products (no different from the old ones in real features, except for the official support for the new processors), especially in the inexpensive segment, where it often makes no sense to raise functionality? It's much more reasonable to finetune high-level models. Really vital parameters of inexpensive chipsets — low cost and high reliability — should also be perfected in time-proved solutions.

Radeon Xpress 1150 didn't appear only yesterday. It's a modification of the well-known Radeon Xpress 200 (RS480), manufactured by 110 nm process technology, its integrated graphics core clock is increased from 300 MHz to 400 MHz. By the way, Xpress 200 has a complete 110-nm counterpart, called Xpress 1100. This very chipset is mentioned in the specifications of this ECS motherboard, while its support for 400 MHz was added later (it became available after the BIOS update to Version 6.28).

ATI definitely needs to clarify its system of chipset names and to inform its partners about it. For example, the recent desktop roadmap contains no mentions of Radeon Xpress 1150. It's replaced with a mysterious 1200 model, which has been allegedly shipped for a long time already. Moreover, judging from the specifications, Xpress 1200 is not only no-faster than Xpress 1100/1150, it also offers curtailed functionality. That's just like ATI and its eternal reshuffling of product names and using "random" numeric indices! We have no doubts, of course, that putting the names in order will be easier for the notorious alliance :)




The ECS RS485M-M design is quite good for a microATX board. Latches in memory slots do not conflict with a video card (if you install any, of course); all few on-board connectors and jumpers (to clear CMOS and protect BIOS from flashing) are easily accessible, when the motherboard is installed into a PC case. The traditional layout of SATA connectors on compact motherboards (close to Southbridge) and, alas, in the zone that may be occupied by a full-size video card, is not ideal. But from a practical point of view, you can install two hard drives even if you have a bulky video card. And you must have really rich imagination to assume that this motherboard may need RAID with four drives and a top video card.

ECS RS485M-M is intended for the most economical home and office users, system integrators — that is for all cases, when the cost is the determining factor and any justified savings are welcome. As a result, the motherboard has only bare necessities. Cut-backs touched upon memory slots (two slots, though the layout provides for four slots), AC’97 codec for 6-ch audio (while the chipset supports 8-ch HDA codec), there is no FireWire controller. There may appear a better equipped model, based on this PCB: at least the manual mentions an alternative modification that includes HDA codec, FireWire controller, and a separate Gigabit network controller instead of the chipset-based Fast Ethernet support. Passive cooling of the chipset is justified anyway, not only from the economic, but also from the technical point of view, as it does not release much heat.

The 3-phase switching voltage regulator of the processor incorporates 3 field-effect transistors per channel, eight 1800 uF capacitors and four 1500 uF ones. These capacitors are from an unidentified manufacturer as well as from OST (the classic choice for budget models). Motherboard dimensions — 245x245 mm (standard microATX, eight-screw mount, the bottom edge with the BIOS chip is not fixed.

System monitoring (ITE IT8716F-S, according to BIOS Setup):

  • Voltages on a processor core, memory, battery, +3.3, +5 and +12 V
  • RPM of 2 fans
  • CPU and board temperatures (by the corresponding embedded sensors)
  • SmartFan — automatic speed control (for a 4-pin fan) and manual speed control - you can specify a minimal rotational speed (in fractions of the maximum value, but not in percents, the scale is divided into 128 segments) and the corresponding minimal temperature, as well as maximum temperature, exceeding which results in speeding up a fan to maximum. Within the specified temperature range, rotational speed of the fan grows in accord with the value specified by the fourth parameter (percentage of acceleration per each degree).

Note that automatic fan speed control is very rare among inexpensive motherboards. It's a nonsense for ECS, as even top models from this manufacturer used to have no support for this technology. We can only welcome this useful innovation and hope that it will spread to the other ECS models (and inexpensive models from other manufacturers).

Onboard ports, sockets, and connectors

  • Processor socket (Socket AM2, officially supports all AMD Athlon 64/X2/FX/Sempron processors for this socket)
  • 2 x DDR2 SDRAM DIMM (up to 8 GB DDR2-400/533/667/800, dual-channel mode)
  • 1 PCIEx16 for a video accelerator
  • 1 x PCIEx1
  • 2 x PCI
  • Power connectors: standard ATX 2.2 (24 pins, you can use 20-pin connectors from old PSUs) and 4-pin ATX12V to power a processor;
  • 1 x FDD
  • 1 x "chipset-based" IDE (Parallel ATA) for two ATA133 devices
  • 4 x "chipset-based" SATA (Serial ATA 1.0) for four SATA150 devices, connected drives can form RAID 0 or 1
  • 2 connectors for brackets with 4 additional USB ports
  • 1 x CD/DVD audio connector
  • Connectors for analog audio ins and outs on the front panel
  • S/PDIF-Out connector
  • Connector for a bracket with TV-Out
  • 3 fan headers, two of them are 4-pin headers that allow rpm control; the CPU fan header also supports smart fan control from BIOS.

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, 1 x VGA, 1 x LPT
  • 2 x USB
  • 2 x USB and 1 x RJ-45 (Fast Ethernet)
  • 3 x Analog Audio (Line-in, Line-out, Mic-in).

Package Contents




  • Package: a small box, we have already seen a similar design in the RD480-A939 motherboard. The company obviously intends to stick to it for all inexpensive motherboards
  • Documentation: an insert with instructions; a very detailed user manual (it even contains a description of pins in peripheral connectors and other details and warnings that have to do with assembling the system) is not included into the bundle, but it can be downloaded from the official web site
  • Cables: 1 x SATA with a power converter for one SATA device, 1 x ATA66, and 1 x FDD cable
  • Rear I/O shield
  • CD with drivers and proprietary ECS utilities. The set of proprietary 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).

Unfortunately, the bundle does not include a much more useful utility for updating BIOS and system drivers, checking for updates on the official web site. So you are recommended to use Award WinFlash to flash BIOS under Windows.

Integrated Controllers

  • Audio, based on the chipset-based support for AC'97 and Realtek ALC655 codec, 5.1 channel audio, front line-ins/outs and S/PDIF-Out
  • Fast Ethernet 10/100 Mbit/s, based on the chipset support and Realtek RTL8100C PHY controller.

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:
+0,21, -0,40
Good
Noise level, dB (A):
-81,1
Good
Dynamic range, dB (A):
80.9
Good
THD, %:
0.045
Good
Intermodulation distortion + Noise, %:
0.060
Good
Channel crosstalk, dB:
-80,5
Very good
IMD at 10 kHz, %:
0.169
Average

General performance: Good (Details). Audio quality is on the typical level of AC’97 codecs from Realtek.

Settings

Jumpers and switches Clear CMOS jumper  
CMOS Write Protect jumper  
Award BIOS 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, Write-to-Read Command Delay, and a great choice of additional parameters of signal properties
Memory frequency selection + Auto, 400, 533, 667, 800 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 + the graphics PCIEx16 slot is clocked individually (asynchronous to the PCI Express clock) within 200—350 MHz at 50 MHz steps; available PCI Express x16 lanes can be limited to x1, x2, x4, x8, x12
PCI IRQ manual assignment +  
FSB frequency setup + 200—500 MHz at 1 MHz steps
CPU multiplier + from x4, at integer steps

We used BIOS v6.28 dated 28.06.06, provided by the manufacturer. The mentioned BIOS parameters are available in this version, but the viability of non-standard settings hasn't been tested.

The motherboard offers an impressive range of settings for memory timings and other parameters that have to do with memory latencies, but the lack of settings for controlling voltages will not please overclockers.

Performance

Testbed configuration:

  • CPU: AMD Athlon 64 X2 4000+
  • Memory: 2 x 1 GB Kingston KHX7200D2K2/1G (DDR2-800, 5-5-5-15-1T)
  • HDD: Seagate Barracuda 7200.7 (SATA, 7200 rpm)
  • Video card: ATI Radeon X1900XTX, 512 MB GDDR3
  • Power supply unit: Chieftec CFT-560-A12C
  • OS: Windows XP SP2

We decided to compare the model under review with the Foxconn 6100M2MA motherboard on nForce 6100 chipset that competes with ATI Radeon Xpress 1100/1150.

Test integrated video discrete video
Foxconn 6100M2MA ECS RS485M-M Foxconn 6100M2MA ECS RS485M-M
Archiving with 7-Zip, min:sec 6:48 6:57 6:45 6:52
MPEG4 (XviD) encoding, min:sec 6:08 6:14 6:05 6:12
Unreal Tournament 2004 (Low@640x480), fps 44.4 27.3 76.7 75.6
Unreal Tournament 2004 (Highest@1600x1200), fps 9.5 10.7 72.3 71.5
FarCry (Medium@800x600), fps 30.8 29.7 126.5 113.8
DOOM III (Medium@800x600), fps 12.9 13.4 133.0 122.3

On the whole, the ECS RS485M-M is outperformed by the model on the newer integrated chipset from NVIDIA. However, the difference is hardly critical. Moreover, being significantly outperformed in "easy" modes, the graphics core from ATI catches up as resolutions and graphics complexity grow. For example, their performance is similar in relatively modern games (alas, both motherboards do not offer sufficient performance for normal gaming). You shouldn't forget that the ECS RS485M-M is positioned as a more economic solution, even compared to Foxconn 6100M2MA. It will probably be cheaper.

Conclusions

What can nominate a motherboard as a good budget solution, except for a low price, of course? Probably stability and options that reduce the total cost of a given system without deteriorating characteristics of the product. The streamlined combo RS485 + SB460 looks like a natural choice in this case: it offers no excessive functionality and does not require active cooling as well as special care for indirect cooling of chipset heatsinks (thought-out ventilation inside a PC case); so, this motherboard can be installed into a compact inexpensive PC case without damaging its operating stability. Smart Fan allows to install a cheap CPU cooler and still get a low-noise system.

This model on the manufacturer's web site

The motherboard is kindly provided by the manufacturer





Dmitry Laptev (lpt@ixbt.com)
July 31, 2006.


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