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EPoX 5EDAI — a Motherboard on Intel 915P

July 26, 2006



  • Intel 915P chipset (i915P Northbridge and ICH6 Southbridge)

The motherboard market has come to a standstill on the threshold of models based on the new line of Intel 965 chipsets. Indeed, the entire computer world is waiting for the appearance of Intel Core 2 processors in desktops. These processors with the new microarchitecture are officially supported only by i965/975-based motherboards. (i975X is quite an expensive chipset without unique features; besides, not all first revisions of motherboards will work with Conroe.) So during this lull we'll publish reviews of old motherboards that we missed. We'll also expand our horizons, as we have been pointed at a growing number of reviews about products from a limited number of manufacturers.

EPoX 5EDAI returns us to the past. To the i915P chipset, which was launched nearly two years ago… Many lances were broken over the sudden upgrade to new Intel standards. DDR2 memory was expensive and slow, no one wanted PCI Express and that stupid socket… But now this budget motherboard from EPoX arouses no feelings of inferiority. Fortunately, such memory got cheaper (DDR2-533 is nearly cheaper than DDR400), all new video cards are designed for PCI Express only, and no one remembers how the old socket looked like. 5EDAI is a budget solution, but it does not mean that this solution is bad. This model offers flexibility in memory usage (two slots for DDR and two for DDR2 — of course, four slots of the required standard would have been better, but different users need different things) and peripheral slots: 3 x PCI (all of them will be available even after you install a monstrous video card), 2 x PCIEx1, one graphics slot (how many of your friends have a SLI/CrossFire computer?). Additional controllers are kept to minimum, but there are some nice features (like an integrated POST controller), passive chipset cooling, and as a result - a low price. This model also has drawbacks, of course — it does not support dual-core processors (all cores newer than Prescott) and DDR2-667 memory (and higher), but it's a questionable drawback.

Scanty functionality has a good effect on the PCB layout: there are absolutely no problems with arranging a few connectors for peripheral devices and expansion cards. IDE and FDD connectors are located behind PCI slots to facilitate access in a small PC case, but memory slots stand in lone conspicuity, which certainly makes it easy to handle them. A main power connector in the center of the board is a peculiarity of most EPoX models, which has a positive effect on voltage regulators, though it poses some problems with laying a power cable. Besides, this connector is very close to the PCIEx16 slot on this motherboard, so it will fight for the surrounding space with a video card with a bulky heatsink. Access to jumpers is not hampered when the motherboard is installed into a PC case. But both of them are placed close to other elements: one of them is near a PCI slot, the other - to the display of the POST controller. So it's not very convenient to manipulate them. Brief description of their functionality is provided on the PCB (sometimes in unexpected places).

The 4-phase switching voltage regulator of the processor incorporates seven 1800 uF capacitors (Luxon) and four 560 uF ones (Sanyo). The motherboard is also equipped with a voltage regulator for memory, reinforced with L elements and several 1000 uF capacitors. The PCB has empty seats for a chassis intrusion sensor and a connector for a Game port on a bracket. It may be a peculiarity of our sample, as the PCB of this model is unique in the line of EPoX products. Other motherboards from this company, based on the same chipset family, usually offer better functionality (Gigabit Ethernet + RAID of SATA drives + IDE RAID) and designed for DDR memory (support for two memory types is a unique feature of the 5EDAI). Motherboard dimensions — 305x245 mm (full-sized ATX, nine-screw mount, all motherboard edges are firmly fixed).

System monitoring (Winbond W83627THF, according to BIOS Setup)

  • CPU core, memory, chipset, battery voltages, +3.3 and +12 V and +5 V Standby
  • RPM of 3 fans
  • CPU and board temperatures (by the corresponding embedded sensors) and an external thermal sensor, which is connected to a special header on the PCB — EPoX remains one of the few companies that still include this useful feature into its models; unfortunately, our bundle lacked the thermal sensor
  • Chassis Smart Fan Control — automatic control of rotational speed of a system fan depending on a temperature inside a PC case (this function is mostly for offices, you can specify a desired temperature within 35—55°C)
  • CPU Fan Auto Control — "classic" CPU fan speed control depending on CPU temperature (the budget model uses the simplest method: you specify desired temperature, the other parameters are configured automatically).

Onboard ports, sockets, and connectors

  • Processor socket (Socket 775, officially supports all modern Pentium 4 (5xx/6xx series) and Celeron D (3xx series) processors, permissible bus clock — 533/800 MHz)
  • 2 x DDR SDRAM DIMM (up to 2 GB DDR200/266/333/400, dual-channel mode supported) and 2 x DDR2 SDRAM DIMM (up to 2 GB DDR2-400/533, dual-channel mode supported) — different memory types cannot work together!
  • PCIEx16 for a video accelerator
  • 2 x PCIEx1
  • 3 x PCI
  • Power connectors: standard ATX 2.2 (24 pins, you can use a usual 20-pin connector), 4-pin ATX12V connector for a processor
  • 1 x FDD
  • Chipset-based IDE connector (Parallel ATA) for two ATA100 devices
  • 4 x "chipset-based" SATA (Serial ATA) for four SATA150 devices
  • 2 connectors for brackets with 4 additional USB ports
  • 1 x CD/DVD audio connector
  • AUX-In connector
  • S/PDIF-In/Out
  • Connectors for analog audio ins and outs on the front panel
  • IrDA connector
  • 3 fan headers, all of them support rpm control, one of them is a 4-pin header (for a processor fan) offering more accurate fan speed control (if this option is supported by a cooler).

Back panel (left to right, blockwise)


Click the image to open the rear view of this motherboard
  • PS/2 mouse and keyboard
  • S/PDIF-Out (coaxial), 1 x COM, 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 standard-size box with garish design in the style of the latest models from this company
  • Documentation: User's Manual in English (full manual in Russian is available at the local EPoX web site)
  • 1 x Serial ATA with a power converter for one device, 1 x ATA66, 1 x FDD
  • Rear I/O shield
  • CD with drivers and a bundle of proprietary EPoX utilities that includes:
    • EPTP (Thunder Probe) Systems Diagnostics — this utility monitors system parameters (similar to monitoring features in BIOS)
    • Magic Flash Utility — flashing BIOS under Windows, this utility can also search and download the latest BIOS versions from the official web site
    • Magic Screen Utility — editing a BIOS startup image.

Integrated Controllers

  • Audio, based on the AC'97 codec Realtek ALC655 supporting 5.1 surround sound audio with front line-ins/outs, coaxial S/PDIF-Out and an on-board S/PDIF-In/Out
  • Network, based on Marvell 88E8036 chip supporting 10/100 Mbit/s, connected to PCI Express(!).

Note an unusual interface for the 100-Mbit network adapter. However, we should get used to mass-scale products for PCI Express, not just to top Gigabit controllers. Anyway, theoretically, it's more correct to connect an integrated controller to a special PCI Express channel rather than to PCI, which can be overloaded by external adapters.

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: +0,22, -0,38 Good
Noise level, dB (A): -82,9 Good
Dynamic range, dB (A): 83.4 Good
THD, %: 0.040 Good
Intermodulation distortion + Noise, %: 0.073 Good
Channel crosstalk, dB: -83,5 Very good
IMD at 10 kHz, %: 0.162 Average

General performance: Good. The results are typical of HDA codecs, but they are very good for AC’97.

Proprietary technologies and peculiarities

  • EZ-Boot — changing a boot disk without changing BIOS settings (press Esc during the POST stage at startup)
  • Magic Health — a quick "dashboard" display of system status at every boot-up before entering the OS. Magic Health reports hardware status such as fan RPM speed, CPU temperature, CPU/Memory/AGP voltage, etc.
  • Post Port — an onboard LED-display to show error codes, helping users to detect boot-up problems. The list of error codes can be found in the user manual.

Settings

Jumpers and switchesClear CMOS jumper 
A jumper to enable system wake up on USB devices 
In AwardBIOS v6.00PG from PhoenixAllows to disable specific CPU functions+Hyper-Threading Technology, Internal Thermal Control
Memory timings+ CAS# Latency Time, RAS# Precharge, RAS# to CAS# Delay, Precharge Delay (tRAS)
Memory frequency selection+Multipliers that allow to set nominal memory frequencies (333 and 400 MHz for DDR, 400 and 533 MHz for DDR2) for any nominal FSB clocks (533/800 MHz)
Peripheral bus frequency control+ PCI-E = 100—150 MHz at 1 MHz steps
PCI = increase proportionally to FSB or fix it at 33.3, 37.5, 40 MHz
PCI IRQ manual assignment- 
FSB frequency setup+200—350 MHz at 1 MHz steps for processors with 800MHz FSB and 133—199 MHz at 1 MHz steps for processors with 533 MHz FSB
CPU multiplier- 
CPU core voltage control+from -0.1000 V to +0.2875 V at 0.0125 V steps
Memory voltage control+up to +0.35 V at 0.05 V steps
Chipset voltage control+up to +0.3 V at 0.1 V steps

We used BIOS dated 08.02.2005. The mentioned BIOS parameters are available in this version, but the viability of non-standard settings hasn't been tested. For once in a way we can see an EPoX motherboard that allows to specify only 4 main memory timings; however, other budget solutions often fail to provide even these settings. At the same time, overclocking settings are quite numerous, you can specify PCI/PCI-E clocks separately.

Performance

Testbed configurations:

  • CPU: Intel Pentium 4 660 (3.6 GHz)
  • Memory:
    • 2 x 512 MB Corsair XMS3200 TwinX (DDR400, 2-2-2-5)
    • 2 x 512 MB Corsair XMS2-4300 TwinX (DDR2-533, 3-3-3-8)
  • Video: ATI Radeon X800 XT, 256 MB DDR
  • HDD: Samsung SP1213C (SATA, 7200 rpm)
  • Power supply unit: FSP AX500-A
  • OS: Windows XP SP2

We tested a lot of i915-based motherboards, including those that supported both memory types. But those results were obtained on a different testbed by a different test procedure. Fortunately, a couple of budget models were tested in our lab not long ago. So we'll compare our model under review with those motherboards.

Test Albatron PX915-2V (i915P) PCChips M985G (i915GV) EPoX 5EDAI (i915P)
DDR2-533 DDR400 DDR2-533 DDR400 DDR2-533
Archiving with 7-Zip, min:sec 7:22 7:19 7:25 7:31 7:29
MPEG4 (XviD) encoding, min:sec 5:11 5:13 5:15 5:10 5:11
Unreal Tournament 2004 (Low@640x480), fps 66.0 64.6 65.2 65.5 63.9
Unreal Tournament 2004 (Highest@1600x1200), fps 56.1 56.3 56.1 59.5 59.2
Doom3 (Low@640x480), fps 107.9 97.9 98.6 103.2 101.4
Doom3 (Highest@1600x1200), fps 59.7 50.4 50.4 59.5 59.4

We can see practically no difference between using DDR2-533 with 3-3-3 timings and DDR400 with 2-2-2 timings on EPoX 5EDAI; the low-end model from PCChips (it would have been a shame to be outperformed by this motherboard) is usually slower, but the Albatron motherboard is generally a tad faster. The difference is always small. But the competitors are far from the top level, so the EPoX model with a given BIOS version offers an average performance level at best.

Bottom line

However, positioning of this model corresponds well to its performance. There are no reasons to recommend the EPoX 5EDAI for hardcore gaming computers or entry-level servers. But an unpretentious home user or a dealer of mass-scale office solutions will gain high production quality, a reliable power supply system, minimum functionality, reasonable upgradeability — all this comes at a modest price. An excellent budget motherboard — no more, no less.

This model on the manufacturer's web site


The motherboard is kindly provided by the manufacturer


Reviewed by iXBT.com — this product has passed our lab tests

Sergei Pikalov (peek@ixbt.com)
Vladimir Senchihin (sench@ixbt.com)
July 26, 2006.

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