iXBT Labs - Computer Hardware in Detail






Foxconn C51XEM2AA-8EKRS2H — a Motherboard on NVIDIA nForce 590 SLI (Socket AM2)

Even though Foxconn claims that active intrusion into the retail market is its first-priority task, cooperation with system integrators and other OEM customers is definitely a more developed (and habitual) line of activity. It's well known that the company initially focused on manufacturing rather than inventing ways to attract end users. What concerns motherboards, this fact manifested itself in frugal bundles compared to competing models, minimal sets of extra BIOS settings, and almost no brand features. The situation is gradually changing. Even now, inexpensive motherboards give no objective cause for grumbling about the lack of proprietary bells and whistles.

But can Foxconn compete with the traditional grands in the sector of motherboards on expensive chipsets? However, there is a noticeable category of users even among regular consumers, who are not interested in options, but in getting a stable computer with sterling built-in features without any bells and whistles. Foxconn can count at least on their interest. Big system integrators will certainly get interested in the fact that the Foxconn model on nForce 590 SLI is advertised by NVIDIA itself. Foxconn motherboards are always appearing at presentations of NVIDIA chipsets since the 500 series at Spring CeBIT up to nForce Summer Camp (thanks to Andrey Vorobiev for the photos).

Here is the reason for such preference - Foxconn acts as a partner in manufacturing the reference design models on nForce 590 SLI.

Well, running a few steps forward, we can note that chipset functions are indeed implemented full-scale. The only external controller here is FireWire, a top model just cannot do without it.

A cooling system with heat pipes and atypical solutions is unusual for a reference motherboard, but the design must be universal and convenient for installation. Foxconn engineers coped well with this task. Pay attention to SATA connectors. They are evidently arranged taking into account long video cards in both graphics slots. But the additional power connector for video cards, traditionally placed near the last PCI slot, gives rise to the traditional gripes. Especially when two video cards with two-storied cooling systems are installed, this port remains the only one available for expansion cards. It will most likely be used. However, there is no need to use this power connector, if the cards have their own connectors to power up directly from a PSU.

There is also a jumper close to the same last PCI slot. It's not mentioned in the manual, but the brief description on the PCB runs that it's responsible for write-protecting BIOS. Practical tests confirm it.

The cooling system allows to install the motherboard in various conditions, including badly ventilated PC cases. A high aluminum heatsink on Northbridge (it gets less hot than Southbridge) is oriented so that it's blown through by the air from a CPU cooler. An active cooler with a compact heatsink on Southbridge is not impressive at first sight (fins are soldered to the base only from one side), but it's surprisingly efficient. The heatsink remains warm even in marathon tests, while passive heatsinks on previously tested motherboards on the same chipset got very hot despite their large dimensions. The price of compact dimensions is known, noise from the chipset fan will hardly solo in a closed PC case, but it's plain to be heard in an open testbed. Besides, a video card with a bulky cooling system may affect the operating efficiency. In some extreme cases it may noticeably raise the noise (the cooler has to rotate at maximum speed and the air flow generates additional noise because it has to skirt the housing on the GPU cooling system).

The presentation mentions six-layered instead of four-layered design - quite an expedient solution for expensive motherboards, considering so many peripheral lanes.

The 4-phase switching voltage regulator of the processor incorporates four field-effect transistors per channel, eleven 560 uF capacitors from an unknown manufacturer(obviously not an elite maker) and eight 1800 uF ones from Rubycon. Motherboard dimensions — standard ATX (305×245 mm), nine-screw mount, all corners are firmly fixed.

System monitoring (Winbond W83627EHG, according to BIOS Setup)

  • CPU core and memory voltages, +3.3 (for each of the two power lines), +5 V, Northbridge and Southbridge voltages, HT bus (between a processor and Northbridge) and battery voltages
  • RPM of 3 fans (including the one on Southbridge)
  • Temperatures on the processor (on-chip sensor), motherboard (on-board sensor) and system (on-board sensor that measures environment temperature)
  • Smart Fan — automatic rotational speed control for a CPU cooler. The current BIOS version does not even have an option to disable it. But future versions will not only allow to disable it, but also to configure automatic control. The default control logic has the fan rotating at 80% speed when the temperature is within 0°-55°, 87 % — up to 65°, 94 % — up to 75°. The rotational speed grows to maximum, when the temperature rises even higher. A 4-pin fan is required (officially), but our tests revealed compatibility with 3-pin fans as well.

Onboard ports, sockets, and connectors

  • Processor socket (Socket AM2, officially supports all AMD Athlon 64/X2/FX/Sempron processors for this socket)
  • 4 x DDR2 SDRAM DIMM (up to 8 GB DDR2-400/533/667/800, dual-channel mode)
  • 2 x PCIEx16 for video accelerators (both of them always work in x16 mode)
  • 1 x PCIEx1
  • 1 x PCIEx4
  • 2 x PCI
  • Power connectors: standard ATX 2.2 (24 pins), 8-pin ATX12V for a processor, and 4-pin peripheral connector for additional power supply of PCI-E video cards
  • 1 x FDD
  • IDE (Parallel ATA) for two ATA133 devices — chipset-based
  • 6 x chipset-based SATA-II (Serial ATA II) for six SATA300 devices, connected disks can form RAID 0, 1, 0+1, 5, and JBOD
  • 2 connectors for brackets with 4 additional USB ports
  • Connector for the bracket with an additional FireWire port
  • Connectors for analog audio ins and outs on the front panel
  • Connector for a bracket with a COM port
  • Two fan headers supporting rpm control, CPU fan header (4-pin header) offers smart speed 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 FireWire 800 (9-pin IEEE1394b)
  • 2 x USB, 1 x FireWire 400 (6-pin IEEE1394a)
  • 5 x Analog Audio (Center/Sub, Rear-Out, Line-In, Front-Out, Mic-In/Side-Out) and 1 x optical S/PDIF-Out
  • 2 x USB and 1 x RJ-45 (Gigabit Ethernet)
  • 2 x USB and 1 x RJ-45 (Gigabit Ethernet)

Package Contents

  • Package: a box of impressive dimensions and weight, but the design is rather modest, though the style was worked out specially for this model
  • Documentation: a detailed manual and an installation guide
  • Cables: 6 x SATA, 3 x power converters for six SATA devices, 1 x ATA66, and an FDD cable
  • Rear panel bracket with four USB ports
  • Rear panel bracket with two FireWire 400 ports (4-pin and 6-pin)
  • Rear panel bracket for a COM port
  • SLI Bridge
  • Rear I/O shield
  • CD with drivers and proprietary Foxconn utilities. The set of proprietary utilities includes:
    • Tiger One — system monitoring (it alerts a user when monitored parameters go beyond the admissible limits), overclocking (along with BIOS settings, it allows to control PCI Express clock), manual speed control for a CPU fan.
    • Fox LiveUpdate — utility for automatic BIOS updates, it can also check for new versions on the official web site
    • SupeLogo — utility for editing the startup image.

    The bundle also includes Norton Internet Security 2006.

Integrated Controllers

  • Audio, based on the chipset support for HD Audio and Realtek ALC882D codec supporting 7.1-ch audio and a separate HDA-stereo output available on the front panel, and encoding outgoing digital audio in Dolby Digital format for home theatres, etc.
  • 2 x Gigabit Ethernet 10/100/1000 Mbit/s, based on the chipset (supporting hardware firewall, prioritizing traffic, and other proprietary options (read the details in the chipset description) and built-in high-speed interface) and PHY-controller Marvell 88E1121-TFE1
  • FireWire, based on the Texas Instruments TSB81BA3 chip, supporting three FireWire ports, IEEE1394b compatible.

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:
+0.02, -0.06
Noise level, dB (A):
Dynamic range, dB (A):
THD, %:
Very good
Intermodulation distortion + Noise, %:
Channel crosstalk, dB:
Very good
IMD at 10 kHz, %:
Very good

General performance: Good (Details). That's not the first time, when we notice mediocre quality of the integrated audio in the combination of MCP nForce 590 SLI and a Realtek codec. Of course, users of motherboards on top chipsets are not the target audience for integrated audio solutions. But as this support is available anyway, we'd like to have the dynamic range at least no worse than the existing level of integrated HDA codecs. Or this is a hint to "upgrade" to digital audio connections?

Proprietary technologies and peculiarities

  • SuperBoot — PC boot acceleration: the current system parameters are stored to be used at startup in order to skip device initialization and self-diagnostics and proceed right to the OS loader; when the system configuration is changed (or at any boot up error) the system automatically performs POST and stores the new parameters
  • SuperRecovery creates a backup in the hidden area of the hard drive and restores this data, when necessary
  • SuperLogo — editing the BIOS startup logo
  • SuperBIOS-protect — BIOS protection from unauthorized flashing
  • On-board POST Display


Jumpers and switches Clear CMOS jumper  
CMOS Write Protect jumper  
AWARD BIOS v6.00PG Controlling specific functions of the platform + SSE/SSE2
K8 Cool’n’Quiet
Memory timings + 1T/2T Memory Timing, CAS Latency, Min RAS Active Time, Row Precharge Time, RAS to CAS Delay, Async Latency, Row to Row Delay, Write Recovery Time, Row Cycle Time, Read-To-Write Time, Write-To-Read Time
Memory frequency selection + Auto, 400, 533, 667, 800 MHz (you actually specify a multiplier to the HTT frequency)
HT bus setup + Multiplier to both buses (1x—5x at integer steps), separately for both directions of the Northbridge-Southbridge bus, and capacity: 8 bit or 16 bit. Northbridge-Southbridge bus frequency: 200—500 MHz at 2 MHz steps
Peripheral bus frequency control + PCIEx16 = 100—200 MHz at 1 MHz steps (for both graphics ports separately)
PCI IRQ manual assignment +  
FSB frequency setup + 200—500 MHz at 2 MHz steps
CPU multiplier + from x4, at integer steps
CPU core voltage control + 0.875—1.850 at 0.025 V steps
Memory voltage control + 1.825—2.500 V at 0.025 V steps; a separate menu "Drive Strength" allows to configure the strength of control signals that run along the memory bus
Chipset voltage control + 1.20—1.40 V at 0.05 V steps for Northbridge and 1.525—1.700 V at 0.025 V steps for Southbridge, you can also control Southbridge voltage in Standby mode (1.5—1.7 V at 0.1 V steps)
HT bus voltage control + 1.200—1.400 V at 0.025 V steps for the CPU-Northbridge bus and 1.300—1.500 V at 0.025 V steps for the Northbridge-Southbridge bus

We used BIOS 612W1P20 dated 05/24/2006, provided by the manufacturer. The mentioned BIOS parameters are available in this version, but the viability of non-standard settings hasn't been tested.

Overclocking settings are available on the necessary level for such a motherboard. They should be sufficient to derive potential even from the most "talented" samples of processors and memory. The new-fashioned option to store several versions of settings appeared in Foxconn motherboards as well — you can store up to 5 profiles, but only into CMOS, you cannot write them into an external disk.

Support for automatic selection of an increased memory frequency from EPP works fine. We've got the same results as demonstrated at the presentation. But as we already found out in our reviews of ASUS and Gigabyte models on this chipset, 1064 MHz is not a limit for our modules, both competitors unanimously set them to 1072 MHz. However, that's not the most aggravating news. A graver problem is that the motherboard insists on working with memory only with the 2T timing. Attempts to set it to 1T even at the standard frequency and main timings resulted in operating instability. Even increased voltages did not fix this oddity. Perhaps we could have managed to get operating stability by manually adjusting Drive Strength, but BIOS programmers from Foxconn should think about it.


Testbed configurations:

  • CPU: AMD Athlon 64 X2 4000+
  • Memory: 2 x 1 GB Corsair TWIN2X2048-8500C5 (DDR1066, 5-5-5-15)
  • Discrete video: ATI Radeon X1900 XTX, 512 MB GDDR3
  • HDD: Seagate Barracuda 7200.7 (SATA, 7200 rpm)
  • Power supply unit: Chieftec CFT-560-A12C
  • OS: Windows XP SP2

We decided to compare the model under review with the recently tested ASUS M2N32-SLI Deluxe, based on the same chipset.

Test ASUS M2N32-SLI Deluxe, 5-5-5-15-1T timings Foxconn C51XEM2AA-8EKRS2H, 5-5-5-15-2T timings
Archiving with 7-Zip, min:sec 6:34 6:39
MPEG4 (XviD) encoding, min:sec 6:04 6:03
Unreal Tournament 2004 (Low@640x480), fps 77.7 77.8
Unreal Tournament 2004 (Highest@1600x1200), fps 73.5 73.7
FarCry (Low@640x480), fps 174 161
FarCry (Highest@1600x1200), fps 130 121

Test results are rather unexpected, we anticipated much lower results from the Foxconn product due to its high 1T/2T parameter. But in practice, the difference is hardly noticeable. We have two explanations. Either the ASUS motherboard also worked with the 2T parameter, but reported about 1T. But in this case, how can we explain the performance drop, when 2T is set manually in BIOS (we really noticed this drop)? And how can we explain a performance drop in FarCry demonstrated by the Foxconn motherboard? It evidently exceeds the measurement error. Thus, the second explanation is more likely - DDR2 memory controller in Socket AM2 processors is actually less sensitive to changes in this parameter. To be more exact, it processes requests from applications at the optimal speed in both cases. But we can still find programs that are sensitive to this latency.

Bottom line

If the success of this model among OEM users is up to the price (it offers all necessary functions and a sufficient set of overclocking and "fashionable" settings, which may come in handy to users of an out-of-the-box computer, even if it belongs to the enthusiast class), there are chances that individual users that assemble their computers on their own will agree to pay extra money for more functional ASUS M2N32-SLI Deluxe (falling for a rich range of BIOS settings and a long list of proprietary features, including the passive cooling system of the chipset and the 8-phase voltage regulator) or Gigabyte M59SLI-S5 models (to allow future upgrade to three video cards). However, if the price is attractive, the motherboard will find its user even in this case. Besides, it has lower requirements to ventilation inside a PC case compared to the models with passive cooling.

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

The motherboard is kindly provided by the manufacturer

Dmitry Laptev (lpt@ixbt.com)
August 16, 2006.

Write a comment below. No registration needed!

Article navigation:

blog comments powered by Disqus

  Most Popular Reviews More    RSS  

AMD Phenom II X4 955, Phenom II X4 960T, Phenom II X6 1075T, and Intel Pentium G2120, Core i3-3220, Core i5-3330 Processors

Comparing old, cheap solutions from AMD with new, budget offerings from Intel.
February 1, 2013 · Processor Roundups

Inno3D GeForce GTX 670 iChill, Inno3D GeForce GTX 660 Ti Graphics Cards

A couple of mid-range adapters with original cooling systems.
January 30, 2013 · Video cards: NVIDIA GPUs

Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi Surround 5.1

An external X-Fi solution in tests.
September 9, 2008 · Sound Cards

AMD FX-8350 Processor

The first worthwhile Piledriver CPU.
September 11, 2012 · Processors: AMD

Consumed Power, Energy Consumption: Ivy Bridge vs. Sandy Bridge

Trying out the new method.
September 18, 2012 · Processors: Intel
  Latest Reviews More    RSS  

i3DSpeed, September 2013

Retested all graphics cards with the new drivers.
Oct 18, 2013 · 3Digests

i3DSpeed, August 2013

Added new benchmarks: BioShock Infinite and Metro: Last Light.
Sep 06, 2013 · 3Digests

i3DSpeed, July 2013

Added the test results of NVIDIA GeForce GTX 760 and AMD Radeon HD 7730.
Aug 05, 2013 · 3Digests

Gainward GeForce GTX 650 Ti BOOST 2GB Golden Sample Graphics Card

An excellent hybrid of GeForce GTX 650 Ti and GeForce GTX 660.
Jun 24, 2013 · Video cards: NVIDIA GPUs

i3DSpeed, May 2013

Added the test results of NVIDIA GeForce GTX 770/780.
Jun 03, 2013 · 3Digests
  Latest News More    RSS  

Platform  ·  Video  ·  Multimedia  ·  Mobile  ·  Other  ||  About us & Privacy policy  ·  Twitter  ·  Facebook

Copyright © Byrds Research & Publishing, Ltd., 1997–2011. All rights reserved.