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ECS SIMA I9S — the Latest SIMA Series Expansion Card for the ECS PF88 Extreme Hybrid Motherboard

December 22, 2005



  • SiS649 Chipset (SiS649 Northbridge and 965 Southbridge (on the ECS PF88 motherboard))

It's the latest and probably the most interesting SIMA expansion card we have ever reviewed. It's notable for allowing to install Intel Pentium M processors on regular desktops. But ECS is not a pioneer in this field, as ASUS has recently (a couple of months ago) provided us with an adapter, which allows to install Intel Mobile processors on Socket478 motherboards. Today's product under review is not just an adapter, but an expansion card to be installed into Elite BUS on the ECS PF88 Extreme Hybrid motherboard, which we already examined in detail.

So, let's proceed. I9S is practically no different in exterior from A9S and A4S, just the northbridge migrated from the back to the front side of the card. We should also note that the card has jumpers now to control FSB frequency manually. Besides, there appeared more BIOS Setup parameters compared to A4S, for example. In other respects, the card contains everything we already saw on other cards from this series, namely: processor socket, chipset, power connector, and two memory slots. The card lost some weight, because Pentium M uses lighter and smaller coolers than those for Socket754 and 939 processors. Now it's more convenient to install it into a PC case.




Almost nothing has changed in the PCB layout. Thus, all the drawbacks found in ECS A9S and A4S migrated into I9S, so we shall not describe them one more time and just redirect you to the previous article. But there is one but. To my great surprise, the card intended for Intel Pentium M is totally unadjusted to these processors. In fact, everything is OK from the technical point of view. But physical installation of a processor and cooler makes you face lots of problems. The socket is designed so that you can easily install a processor, but it can be removed from this socket just as easily. So, one awkward touch is enough for a processor to fall out of the socket. The card houses an orange holder for a CPU cooler. But unfortunately, designers somehow didn't realize that a user might really want to install a cooler there =). It's so high over the socket that even a very thick layer of thermal paste didn't help the cooler reach the processor. We had to use a knife to shape the holder up before our tests... Access to the jumpers is somewhat hampered, when this card is installed into a PC case. A brief description of their functionality is provided on the PCB.

The voltage regulator of the processor incorporates six 1500 uF capacitors. The card also contains a memory voltage regulator (two 1500 uF capacitors and four 1000 uF ones). It incorporates electrolytic capacitors mostly from Ost. The motherboard has no empty seats for unsoldered elements. Card dimensions — 240x135 mm (attached to the rear panel with two screws). System is monitored by a chip located on the ECS PF88 motherboard. The same applies to CMOS.

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

  • CPU, chipset, and battery voltages, +3.3V, +5.0V, +12V
  • RPM of 3 fans
  • CPU temperature (by the embedded CPU sensor)
  • Board temperature (by the on-board sensor)

Onboard ports, sockets, and connectors

  • CPU socket (Socket 479, for Intel Pentium M);
  • 2 x DDR SDRAM DIMM (up to 2 GB DDR-200/266/333/400)
  • Power connectors: 4-pin ATX12V for a processor
  • Fan header (with rpm control).

Package Contents




    Here is a view of the card (3/4)

  • Package: a small SIMA-series box with a card
  • Documentation: a poster with brief instructions on how to install and configure the motherboard in English

Settings

Jumpers and switches Clear CMOS jumper (on the main board)  
FSB clock jumper 400 MHz, 533 MHz, 667 MHz, 800 MHz
In Award BIOS v6.00PG Allows to disable specific CPU functions
-
 
Memory timings
+
Auto, CAS Latency, RAS to CAS Delay (tRCD), Precharge Time (tRP), RAS Active Time (tRAS), Write Recovery time (tWR), UMC0 MA Timing, UMC1 MA Timing
Memory frequency selection
+
by SPD, 1:1, 4:5, 2:3 (depending on FSB clock)
Peripheral bus frequency control
+
PCI: Disable, 33.3 MHz, 37.5 MHz, 40.0 MHz
PCI IRQ manual assignment
-
 
FSB frequency setup
+
133—250 MHz at 1 MHz steps
CPU multiplier
+
x8—x23
CPU core voltage control
+
Normal, +0.25—0.75 V at 0.25 V steps

We used BIOS dated 07.10.2005, 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.

Performance

Testbed configurations:

  • CPU: Intel Pentium M 780 (2.26 GHz, Socket 479)
  • Motherboard:
    • ECS PF88 Extreme Hybrid + ECS SIMA I9S
    • ASUS P4GPL-X + ASUS CT-479

  • Memory: Corsair CMX512RE-3200LL x2 (DDR 400, 2-2-2-5)
  • HDD: Samsung SP1213C (SATA, 7200 rpm, 8 MB Cache)
  • Video card: ATI Radeon X800 XT, 256 MB DDR
  • AC power adapter: FSP Blue Storm 500
  • OS: Windows XP SP2

As we don't have enough examples of Intel Pentium M usage on the desktop platform, it's very difficult to objectively evaluate performance of such solutions. All the more difficult to tell how typical the results of various adapters are. The only thing we can say about ECS SIMA I9S is that it looked worse than the ASUS CT-479 adapter.

Test
ECS PF88 Extreme Hybrid + ECS SIMA I9S
ASUS CT-479
Archiving with 7-Zip, min:sec
8:27
8:10
MPEG4 (XviD) encoding, min:sec
5:34
5:22
MPEG4 (DivX) encoding, min:sec
4:26
4:11
Processing images in Photoshop, min:sec
34:50
34:40
Unreal Tournament 2004 (Low@640x480x32), fps
63
64
Unreal Tournament 2004 (Medium@800x600x32), fps
60
61

In its turn, this fact discredits the prospect of buying an expansion card, when you can just buy a small adapter and install it into your old but still not outdated Socket 478. Especially as you will have to buy at least ECS PF88 Extreme Hybrid, in order to use I9S.

Conclusion:

So, we have reviewed three SIMA series cards, which are used to install various processors into a special Elite BUS slot on the ECS PF88 Extreme Hybrid motherboard. In the long run I can say that none of the cards from this series gained me over to the cause of ECS PF88 + ECS SIMA A9S (A4S, I9S). The major drawback of this coalition is low performance of either PF88 or one of SIMA cards. Plus the drawbacks of the bulky and inconvenient design. The cards we reviewed will most likely remain an example of original design and an attempt to efface the boundaries between different platforms. But they will hardly be used in real life.

This model on the manufacturer's web site

The motherboard is kindly provided by the manufacturer





Vladimir Senchihin (sench@ixbt.com)
December 22, 2005.



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