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Foxconn P9657AA-8EKRS2H — a Motherboard Based on Intel P965

March 12, 2007



  • Intel P965 chipset (P965 Northbridge and ICH8R Southbridge)

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)

  • Voltages of a processor, memory, Northbridge, battery, VCC 3.3 V, +3.3, +5 and +12 V, +3.3 V Standby
  • RPM of 3 fans
  • Temperatures of the processor (by the on-chip sensor, forced shut-down at the specified value) and motherboard (by the on-board sensor)
  • Automatic fan speed control depending on temperature allows to specify two thresholds and corresponding fan speed values, as well as fan speed when the maximum threshold is exceeded (Fox One utility for Windows also allows to specify CPU fan speed manually, at 500 rpm steps).

Onboard ports, sockets, and connectors

  • Processor socket (Socket 775, officially supports all existing processors for this socket: Intel Celeron D (Models 326-355), Pentium 4 (505J-571 and 630-672), Pentium D (805-840 and 915-960), Pentium 4 XE (3.73 GHz), Pentium XE (955 and 965), as well as Core 2 Duo (E6300-E6700) and Core 2 Extreme (X6800), except for quad-core models, though the motherboard is designed for such processors, it's just not certified officially)
  • 4 x DDR2 SDRAM DIMM (up to 8 GB DDR2-533/667/800; in case of processors with the 533 MHz bus, the memory will operate in DDR2-533 mode; memory modules below 256 MB are not supported; dual channel mode is supported, when slots of both channels are filled (including such variants as (A+B)+C, A+B=C); in case of different memory sizes in channels (A+B, A<B), dual-channel access is granted only to 2A memory, the other memory is used in a single-channel mode; here is the list of certified modules)
  • PCIEx16 slot for video cards (here is the list of certified video cards)
  • PCIEx4 slot
  • PCIEx1 slot
  • 3 x PCI
  • Power connectors: standard ATX 2.2 (24 pins, you can use a regular 20-pin connector, but in this case it's not recommended to use top video cards without on-board power connectors, or you should also use a 4-pin connector described below), 8-pin EPS12V for a processor (you can use a standard 4-pin ATX12V connector even without an adapter; but in case of top Pentium 4/D models and their eXtreme modifications you'd better use a PSU with a sterling EPS12V connector) and a 4-pin peripheral connector for additional power supply to PCIEx16
  • 1 x FDD
  • IDE (Parallel ATA), based on the additional JMicron controller, two ATA133 devices (read about limitations below), supports RAID 0 and 1 (SATA drive connected to the same controller)
  • 6 × chipset-based SATA-II connectors (Serial ATA II) for 6 × SATA300 devices; connected drives can form RAID 0, 1, 0+1, 5 and 10
  • 3 connectors for brackets with 6 additional USB ports
  • Connector for a bracket with an additional FireWire port
  • 1 x CD/DVD audio connector
  • Connectors for analog audio ins and outs on the front panel
  • 1 x standard IrDA connector
  • Connector for a chassis intrusion sensor
  • Three fan headers (all with rpm control, two of them have 4 pins), CPU fan header allows automatic fan 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 × LPT and 1 × COM port, eSATA (SATA-II) port based on the additional JMicron controller
  • 2 x USB and 1 x FireWire
  • 2 x USB and 1 x RJ-45 (Gigabit Ethernet)
  • 5 × Analog Audio (Line-In, Front, Mic-In/Side, Rear, Center/Sub) and 1 × optical S/PDIF-Out (Toslink).

Package Contents

We have tested a pre-production sample with a cut-down bundle, so this chapter contains only preliminary information.




  • Package: a box of the usual size and vague design (it's common for all non-elite modern models from this company)
  • Documentation: brief installation guide in several languages (production-line models will evidently include a full user manual)
  • Cables: 1 × SATA (with a power converter for two devices), 1 × ATA 66, and 1 × FDD (production-line samples will certainly include more cables and adapters)
  • Rear I/O shield
  • CD with drivers, Fox One (system monitoring, overclocking, etc) and LiveUpdate (checking for utility and BIOS updates) utilities, as well as Norton Internet Security 2006 (antivirus and firewall).

Integrated Controllers

  • Audio, based on 10-ch (7.1+2) HDA codec Realtek ALC883 supporting 7.1 surround sound audio with front line-in/out and optical S/PDIF-Out
  • Network, supporting 10/100/1000 Mbps (Gigabit Ethernet), based on Marvell 88E8056 chip (PCIEx1)
  • IDE/SATA-II RAID, based on the JMicron JMB361 chip, can accommodate two devices on the ATA133 channel and one SATA300 device (PCIEx1), supports RAID 0 and 1
  • FireWire, based on the VIA 6308P chip supporting 2 ports.

The integrated audio quality was tested in 16 bit, 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:
+0,15, -0,17
Very good
Noise level, dB (A):
-93,6
Very good
Dynamic range, dB (A):
93.7
Very good
THD, %:
0.0036
Very good
Intermodulation distortion + Noise, %:
0.085
Good
Channel crosstalk, dB:
-93,1
Excellent
IMD at 10 kHz, %:
0.0078
Excellent

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.

Settings

Jumpers and switches Clear CMOS jumper  
In AwardBIOS v6.00PG from Phoenix Allows to disable specific CPU functions + CPU L3 cache, Hyper-Threading, Execute Disable Bit, Enhanced SpeedStep, Virtualization Technology
Memory timings + By SPD, CAS Latency Time, DRAM RAS to CAS Delay, DRAM RAS Precharge, Precharge Delay
Memory frequency selection + By SPD or 533/667/800 MHz (you actually specify a multiplier to the FSB frequency). You can use Fox One for Windows to set a memory frequency at 5-10 MHz steps
Peripheral bus frequency control -  
PCI IRQ manual assignment +  
FSB frequency setup + From the nominal value to 600 MHz at 1 MHz steps, plus the dynamic overclocking function for CPU and Smooth Over Clock
CPU multiplier - it's not available for processors that do not allow users to change the multiplier
CPU core voltage control + Default, up to +0.3 V at 0.0125 V steps (you can use Fox One for Windows to raise voltage to 0.75 V at 0.05 V steps)
Memory voltage control + Default, from -0.15 to +0.60 V at 0.05 V steps (Fox One for Windows provides the same functionality)
Chipset voltage control + Default, from -0.12 to +0.24 V at 0.04 V steps (you can use Fox One for Windows to raise voltage to 0.48 V)
FSB voltage control + Default, from -0.09 to +0.18 V at 0.03 V steps

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.

Performance

Testbed configurations:

  • CPU: Intel Core 2 Duo E6600 (2.4 GHz)
  • Memory: 2 × 1 GB Corsair CM2X1024-9136C5D (tested in DDR2-800 mode)
  • Video card: ATI Radeon X1900 XTX 512 MB
  • HDD: Seagate Barracuda 7200.7 (SATA, 7200 rpm)
  • Power supply unit: HiPro W460GC31
  • OS: Windows XP SP2

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.

Test Gigabyte 965G-DS3 (DDR2-800@4-4-4) Gigabyte 965G-DS3 (DDR2-800@5-5-5) Foxconn P9657AA-8EKRS2H (DDR2-800@5-5-5)
Archiving with 7-Zip, min:sec 4:10 4:14 4:14
MPEG4 (XviD) encoding, min:sec 3:37 3:38 3:38
FarCry (Low@640×480), fps 363 353 355
FarCry (Highest@1600×1200), fps 151 151 151
Doom 3 (Low@640×480), fps 218 215 214
Doom 3 (Highest@1600×1200), fps 121 121 121

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.

Bottom line

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.

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

The motherboard is kindly provided by the manufacturer





Sergei Pikalov (peek@ixbt.com)
March 12, 2007


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