iXBT Labs - Computer Hardware in Detail






ECS KN1 Extreme – Motherboard Based on NVIDIA nForce4 Ultra Chipset

February 12, 2005

This model belongs to the Extreme series of top products from ECS. Though all AMD64 chipsets offer approximately the same performance, the NVIDIA nForce4 Ultra chipset used in KN1 Extreme is one of the most functional on the market, and a luxurious bundle makes it a good purchase option.

The board has an unusual design: the sole nForce4 chip is equipped with a high fanned heatsink, so the graphics PCIEx16 slot is moved closer to the edge, and the area near the CPU socket is occupied by short PCIEx1 slots. There is a lot of free space around the socket and DIMM slots, which allows convenient installation of a processor, its cooler, and memory modules. It's not very convenient to plug a cable to the 4-pin power connector, because this connector is very close to the air duct, which improves cooling of the CPU voltage regulator. In fact, the air duct with a fan instead of the obvious heatsinks on field effect transistors in the power circuit seems totally unjustified, because it will just increase the noise level providing a doubtful thermal effect. The FDD slot is located at the edge of the board, which is very convenient in case you don't need it or you need it only sometimes when the PC case is open. Otherwise, the FDD cable will have to cross the entire PC case, in some high models it may even fail to reach the 3-inch bay. Let's note right away that two SATA connectors are too close to the PCIEx16 slot (it will be difficult to manage cables with a video card installed) and the cable from a CD drive to CD-In (if you need it at all, because you can get audio from CD via the IDE cable) will have to be drawn across the entire PC case. Access to the jumpers is not hampered even when the motherboard is in a case. There are brief descriptions of jumper functions on the PCB.

The 3-phase switching voltage regulator of the processor incorporates four 1500 uF capacitors and eight 1800 uF capacitors. The mainboard also contains voltage regulators for PCIEx16 (four 1000 uF capacitors) and memory (seven 1000 uF capacitors). Voltage at memory slots is indicated by a LED (it's not recommended installing/removing modules, when the light is on). Extreme series models are unique in their layout among other ECS motherboards, so it's not surprising that the KN1 Extreme has no unsoldered elements. Motherboard dimensions – 305x245 mm (full-sized ATX, nine-screw mount, all motherboard edges are firmly fixed). The ITE IT8712F-A chip is used to monitor:

  • Voltage on CPU, memory, HT bus, chipset, battery, +3.3, +5 and +12 V
  • RPM of 4 fans
  • CPU and board temperatures (by the corresponding embedded sensors)

Onboard ports, sockets, and connectors

  • CPU socket (Socket 939 supporting all modern processors)
  • 4 x DDR SDRAM DIMM (up to 4 GB DDR200/266/333/400 supporting dual channel mode)
  • 1 x PCI Express x16 (with a latch) for video cards
  • 2 x PCI Express x1
  • 3 x PCI (a yellow slot provides improved signal quality and is designed for expansion cards that are too sensitive to interference, like TV tuners, etc)
  • Power connectors: standard EPS12V (24 pins, you can connect a regular 20-pin connector, but in this case it's not recommended to use powerful up-to-date componentry like top PCIE video cards) and 4-pin for 12 V
  • 1 x FDD
  • 3 x IDE (Parallel ATA) – two of them are in the chipset (four ATA133 devices), connected hard disks can form RAID 0, 1 or 0+1 with the four SATA hard disks "in the chipset"; another one operates due to an additional controller, connected hard disks (2 x ATA133) can form RAID 0, 1 or 0+1 with two SATA hard disks (connected to the same controller)
  • 6 x SATA (Serial ATA) – 4 of them are in the chipset supporting up to 3 Gbit/sec rates (SATA II), connected hard disks can form RAID 0, 1 or 0+1 with four ATA133 hard disks "in the chipset"; another 2 operate due to an additional controller and allow RAID 0, 1 or 0+1 with two ATA133 hard disks (connected to the same controller)
  • 3 connectors for brackets with 6 additional USB (2.0) ports
  • 2 connectors for brackets with 2 additional FireWire ports
  • Connector for a bracket with a parallel port
  • 1 x standard IrDA connector
  • Connector for SMBus devices
  • 1 x CD/DVD audio connector
  • 4 x fan headers (all with RPM control)

Back panel (left to right, blockwise)

  • PS/2 mouse and keyboard
  • 1 x COM, 2 x S/PDIF-Out (Toslink and Coaxial)
  • 2 x USB and 1 x RJ-45 (Gigabit Ethernet)
  • 2 x USB and 1 x RJ-45 (Fast Ethernet)
  • 3 x Audio (Line-In, Line-Out, Mic)

Package Contents


  • A large box in a stylish cover
  • Documentation: motherboard user's guide in English and a poster with brief illustrated instructions how to install a wireless adapter
  • Cables:
    • 2 x ATA66/100/133 and an FDD cable in black cambric, which improves the air flow in the PC case; the cable connectors are equipped with pull straps to make it easier to unplug them

    • 4 x Serial ATA (with a power adapter splitter for two SATA devices)
    • 1 x 2 m network (UTP)

  • 2 m USB extension cord with a nice desktop end

  • Wi-Fi module (802.11g) in the form of a USB drive

  • Rear panel bracket with an LPT port
  • Rear panel bracket with 2 x USB and 2 x FireWire (6-pin + 4-pin)

  • 3.5-inch bay faceplate for USB and FireWire instead of the rear panel bracket (the block of connectors can be attached to any of these modules with three screws)

  • I/O shield, but it obviously does not match the number and locations of connectors on KN1 Extreme!
  • 2 CDs with software:
    • Motherboard drivers
    • Adobe Acrobat Reader
    • Award Flash Memory and WinFlash Utility (utilities to flash BIOS under DOS/Windows)
    • I'm InTouch (remote control)
    • MediaRing Talk (to use a voice modem for telephony)
    • WinCinema WinDVD Creator Plus (to capture and edit video, and prepare it for DVD recording)
    • WinCinema WinDVD (powerful player for DVD and some other multimedia files)
    • WinCinema WinRIP (to record, store, and organize MP3 collections)
    • Pro Magic Plus (to create images of drives and restore them)
    • DPU (Data Process Utility – to control access to selected files and protect them from modifications and deletion)
    • ShowShifter (multimedia player, which can work with your TV tuner)
    • NVIDIA nTune ("on the fly" monitoring of the system status and some system parameters).

The bundle is impressive, though it looks like our sample was equipped at the last moment: drivers are recorded on a separate CD-R disc, the documentation mentions different package contents, the bundled I/O shield does not fit this model. Well, it's quite a usual situation for a motherboard, which is not officially on sale yet. So let's not be so strict. Unfortunately, we didn't know the retail prices for KN1 Extreme when we wrote this review, but this ECS product merits the Excellent Package award anyway:

Integrated Controllers

  • Audio, based on AC'97 Realtek (Avance Logic) ALC655 codec supporting 5.1 surround audio with front line-in/out and S/PDIF-Out (Coaxial and Toslink) jacks
  • 2 network controllers: Marvell 88E1111-RCJ PHY controller for Gigabit Ethernet MAC controller integrated into the chipset (supporting Active Armor, see the details in the chipset description), and a separate Realtek RTL8100C chip supporting 10/100 Mbit/sec Base-T (Fast Ethernet)
  • ATA133/SATA RAID based on the SiS180 chip supporting RAID 0, 1 and 0+1, 2 with SATA connectors and one ATA133 connector
  • FireWire based on the Texas Instruments TSB43AB22A chip supporting two FireWire ports

The integrated audio quality was tested in 16bit, 44 kHz using the RightMark Audio Analyzer 5.4 test application and the Terratec DMX 6fire sound card:

Frequency response (from 40 Hz to 15 kHz), dB:
+0.20, -0.42
Noise level, dB (A):
Dynamic range, dB (A):
THD, %:
Intermodulation distortion, %:
Channel crosstalk, dB:
Very good
IMD at 10 kHz, %:

General performance: Good (details). Good results, quite sufficient for a regular home PC. And S/PDIF outs allow to use this motherboard for more serious purposes. But these days competing solutions offer integrated 7.1 High Definition Audio (supporting 24-bit output, etc) so it's not a top solution even in its class.

Proprietary technologies

  • Q-Boot (calls a menu to select a boot device without changing this parameter in BIOS Setup)
  • Dr. LED (a chain of LEDs near PCI slots lighting one by one. According to ECS, it indicates serviceable PCI slots, but in fact it's just an annoying (because Dr. LED cannot be disabled) illumination).


Jumpers and switches Clear CMOS jumper  
BIOS write protection jumper  
In Award BIOS v6.00PG from Phoenix Memory timings + CAS latency, Min RAS active time, RAS to CAS delay, Row precharge time
Memory frequency selection + DDR200, DDR266, DDR333, DDR400
HT bus setup + Frequency (200, 400, 600, 800, 1000 MHz) and capacity (8 or 16 bit to each direction)
PCI-E bus setup + Maximum TLP payload size
PCI bus setup -  
PCI and PCI-E frequency divider setup -  
PCI IRQ manual assignment -  
FSB frequency setup + 200-250 MHz at 0.5-2 MHz steps
CPU multiplier + x4-x12
CPU core voltage control + Normal, up to +0.375 V at 0.025 V steps
Memory voltage control + Auto, 2.55-3.11 V at 0.08 V steps
Chipset voltage control -  
HT bus voltage control -  
PCI-E bus voltage control -  

We used BIOS 1.0c, the only 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. There is a boot menu function, which allows to select a device to boot from without modifying BIOS settings.


This is the first motherboard on nForce4 chipset that we have reviewed, so we cannot draw any conclusions on its performance (as a chipset representative) from the test results. Nevertheless, our large experience in testing Athlon 64/FX models gives us the right to announce that its performance will perfectly match that of all the other motherboards for the corresponding socket, because this motherboard managed to startup with minimum timings. Our future roundup will give you an opportunity to see it with your own eyes. Now we can only say that the timings, which cannot be changed in BIOS Setup, are properly set up by the motherboard. That's why this motherboard outscored a couple of engineering samples based on other chipsets.

This model on the manufacturer's web site

Sergei Pikalov (peek@ixbt.com)
February 12, 2005

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