The second P965-based motherboard that found its way to our testlab is absolutely different from the top Gigabyte 965P-DQ6. It's a classic representative of Middle-End. Its users either don't want to pay for eXtreme features of top models, or just don't have enough money. Running a few steps forward, we can say that the motherboard proved to be a decent product. Perhaps it's not very interesting to read about it, but it performs really well.
There is almost nothing to say about layout peculiarities — it has a good and quite standard design. There are no problems with the layout of elements. What concerns functional problems, we can note one of the three PCI slots - it's very close to the graphics slot, so a video card with a bulky cooling system can leave you only with two available PCI slots. Fortunately, this motherboard is one of the few models that do not support CrossFire and are not overloaded with (mostly useless now) PCI Express slots. There is an empty seat for the second COM port on a bracket, and another one for some controller (to all appearances, it's a network controller, but Foxconn does not offer models with this element). Foxconn manufactures two models based on Intel P965. The second model (P9657AA-8KS2H) is based on the same PCB and differs only in the lack of FireWire controller and ICH8 Southbridge — four SATA-II ports, no RAID. There are also two models based on P965 (P9657MA-8EKRS2H and P9657MA-8KS2H) in microATX format. Access to the only jumper is not hampered even when the motherboard is in a case. There is a brief description of jumper functions on the PCB. Motherboard dimensions — 305×245 mm (full-sized ATX), nine-screw mount, all motherboard edges are firmly fixed.
The 3-phase switching voltage regulator of the processor incorporates four field-effect transistors per phase, ten 560 uF capacitors from Fujitsu (polymer models from the FPCAP series, possessing all advantages of such capacitors: stable in extreme operating conditions (guaranteed service life under maximum admissible temperature 105°P¡ is 2000 hours) and Low ESR), 4 × 3300 uF and 4 × 1500 uF from Nippon/United Chemi-Con. The PCB also contains a voltage regulator for memory (9 × 1000 uF and 2 × 1500 uF), reinforced with L elements. The choice of capacitors for critical circuits is praiseworthy as well as the CPU voltage regulator — this motherboard is no worse than its competitors in terms of field-effect transistors. Besides, each of them does not get very hot, so the motherboard can do without additional cooling for these elements. We are concerned about chipset cooling, though: compared to de-facto reference motherboards from Intel, aluminum heatsinks used in Foxconn are too light-weight and offer little heat exchange surface area. Let's hope that the engineers calculated everything correctly (constantly growing admissible temperatures of modern chips also calm us down); at least, the motherboard passed our tests without additional cooling of its bridges.
System monitoring (Fintek F71882FG, according to BIOS Setup)
Onboard ports, sockets, and connectors
Back panel (left to right, blockwise)
Click the image to open the rear view of this motherboard
We have tested a pre-production sample with a cut-down bundle, so this chapter contains only preliminary information.
General performance: Very good (details). This motherboard uses a budget 10-ch audio codec ALC883, which looks good only due to its number of channels even compared to mediocre Realtek models. Integrated audio offers no functions, which can interest a home user (like the in-driver support for DTS and AC-3 encoding "on-the-fly" to output via S/PDIF). However, quality of the analog output is on a very good level, typical of all modern motherboards with HDA.
As the new ICH8/R Southbridge lacks IDE support, the manufacturer has to use an additional controller to let users connect optical drives - most of them still come with PATA interface. Foxconn (like most other manufacturers) chose JMicron — JMB361 controller, which provides one ATA133 channel and one SATA300 port with RAID. This fact can give you a rough time, if you need to install a new OS from a CD/DVD, because JMB361 initiates IDE devices without UDMA mode by default. In return, it fully emulates the standard IDE controller (you don't need Windows drivers). UDMA is enabled only under Windows.
We used BIOS P32, 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. The motherboard allows to call up a menu to select a boot device during the POST procedure by pressing a certain key (or to display it always - you can configure it in BIOS Setup), a convenient way for a once-only boot-up, for example from a CD drive, without making changes in BIOS Setup.
Our tests demonstrated the following problem - the system refused to boot up from a hard drive connected to the external controller (our standard Promise SATAII-150 TX2 plus). We also tested Smooth Over Clock in action. Theoretically, it allows to overclock the system to a higher level. But it yielded no gain in our express test (it might have still had an effect during heavy overclocking).
The motherboard did not allow to set timings to 4-4-4 in DDR2-800 mode, although these modules worked in this mode with other motherboards. We had to raise voltage to 2.3 V. But theoretically, Foxconn P9657AA-8EKRS2H allows to set memory voltage up to 2.4 V — in practice, our attempts to raise it above 2.1 V froze the system at startup. Thus, we had to compare motherboards with 5-5-5 timings. So we had to retest the competing model (Gigabyte 965G-DS3 - the fastest model built on this series of chipsets) with such parameters.
Tests demonstrated that results of i965-based motherboards dropped by 2-3% in the most sensitive applications, when DDR2-800 timings were changed from 4-4-4 to 5-5-5. The result is quite expectable. So you can look for fast low-latency memory only if you are not pressed for money and are keen on wasting extra money on the insignificant performance gain. What concerns the comparison between this Foxconn motherboard and other representatives of Intel 965 chipsets, we can safely say that Foxconn P9657AA-8EKRS2H is no worse than its competitors in equal conditions. But in some exotic cases, impossibility to apply very high voltage to memory may have a negative effect. However, the problem with memory voltage may pertain only to our sample, or it may be fixed in new BIOS versions.
Foxconn P9657AA-8EKRS2H has absolutely sufficient functionality for most users, it practically lacks excessive elements, and provides the same performance as its competitors. Besides, it comes at a democratic price. It's probably one of the best examples of a balanced modern motherboard. We were a tad disappointed by its refusal to work with our SATA controller. But most users do not use additional SATA controllers at all. Overclockers should pay attention to possible problems with raising memory voltage, as this factor can limit the overclocking potential of this motherboard.
The motherboard is kindly provided by the manufacturer
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