iXBT Labs - Computer Hardware in Detail






ECS PF21 Extreme – Mainboard based on Intel 925XE Chipset

  • Intel 925XE chipset

PF21 Extreme is another top priced model from ECS. In fact, it's a complete counterpart of the previous PF4 Extreme mainboard, with the only but essential difference: instead of i915P chipset this mainboard uses the new i925XE chipset, its FSB capable of operating at 266 MHz. That's why we come across familiar features in this mainboard: its PCB is also "flashy" (brightly colored connectors, blinking blue LEDs) and it offers excellent functionality.

Despite the functional richness of the mainboard, its PCB layout creates quite a favourable impression: as PCI Express x1 slots take up little space (in comparison with regular PCI), all mainboard components are well arranged, including audio-ins that are moved from the rear panel to the bottom edge of the mainboard. The number of drawbacks is minimal – one can note only the density of memory slots. And the installed video card will most likely block memory modules in their slots. Access to the only jumper is not hampered even when the mainboard is in a case. There in a brief description of jumper functions on the PCB. Voltage at memory slots is indicated by an orange LED. When a video card is installed into the PCI Express x16 slot, a blue LED lights up. When no video card is installed, the LED lights up yellow. Expansion cards in PCI and PCIE x1 slots are indicated by extinguished LEDs (empty slots are indicated by blinking lights). The 4-phase switching voltage regulator of the processor incorporates fourteen 1800 uF capacitors. The mainboard also contains voltage regulators for PCIEx16 (four 1000 uF capacitors reinforced with L elements) and memory (six 1000 uF capacitors reinforced with L elements). Queerly shaped heatsinks on both chipset bridges look funny but harmless. But the fan in the northbridge cooler (its rotational speed being 6000 rpm according to the sensor) and the original engineering solution – fan with a rear panel funnel (to cool voltage regulator circuits as well as to help rejecting the heat from the CPU heatsink) – do not promote comfortable acoustic conditions.

The Winbond W83627THF chip is used to monitor:

  • CPU voltage, +1.5 and +3.3 V
  • RPM of 3 fans
  • CPU and board temperatures (by the corresponding embedded sensors)

Onboard ports, sockets, and connectors

  • CPU socket (Socket 775)
  • 4 x DDR2 SDRAM DIMM (up to 4 GB, grouped by channels)
  • 1 x PCI Express x16 (with a latch)
  • 2 x PCI Express x1
  • 3 x PCI
  • Power connectors: 24-pin ATX power supply connector compatible with a regular 20-pin connector, 4-pin 12 V connector
  • 1 x FDD
  • 2 x IDE (Parallel ATA) – one of them is in the chipset (ICH6R), the second operates due to an additional controller (SiS180) supporting RAID 0, 1 or 0+1 with two SATA disks
  • 6 x SATA (Serial ATA) – 4 of them are in the chipset, the other two operate due to an additional controller supporting RAID 0, 1 or 0+1 with two PATA disks
  • 2 connectors for brackets with two additional USB (2.0) ports
  • Connector for the bracket with an additional FireWire port
  • 1 x IrDA for SIR header
  • 1 x CD/DVD audio connector
  • Header for the bracket with additional Audio-Outs
  • Connector for a chassis intrusion sensor
  • Headers for front panel indicators
  • Connector for a bracket with LPT port
  • EZ-Watcher connector (you can learn what it is in our article about the ECS EZ Buddie barebone-kit)
  • SMBus connector
  • 5 x fan headers (3 headers are with rpm control. 2 of them are used for a fan on the north bridge heatsink and a fan on the rear panel of the mainboard; 4-pin CPU cooler header).

Back panel (left to right, blockwise)

  • PS/2 mouse and keyboard
  • Fan, 1 x COM-port, Toslink S/PDIF-In, 1 x mini-FireWire (4-pin, no power)
  • 2 x USB and 1 x RJ-45 (Fast Ethernet)
  • 2 x USB and 1 x RJ-45 (Gigabit Ethernet)
  • 3 x Audio (Mic-In, Line-In, Front)
  • 2 x Audio (Center/Sub, Rear) and Toslink S/PDIF-Out.

The number and position of audio connectors on the rear panel look typical for mainboards supporting High Definition Audio.

Package Contents

  • "Placid" design box (despite the "extreme" nature of the mainboard)
  • Documentation:
    • User's manual (in English)
    • Short guide on 802.11g WLAN installation (in English)

  • Cables:
    • 2 x ATA66/100/133 (black, in black cambric)
    • 1x FDD (black, in black cambric)
    • 2 x Serial ATA (with a SATA power converter)

  • Rear panel bracket with 2 USB ports and 1 FireWire port (FireWire port can be installed on this bracket or on a 3.5-inch floppy drive bracket)
  • 3.5-inch floppy drive bracket (for a front panel) with 2 USB ports and 1 FireWire port (FireWire port can be installed on this bracket or on a rear panel bracket)
  • USB Dongle to organize wireless WiFi-b LAN and a USB extension cord, which can be used to install the antenna-module)

  • LAN cable (crossover)
  • TopHat Flash (backup Flash chip with BIOS, which can be used when the main BIOS version is damaged)
  • 2 CDs with software:
    • mainboard drivers
    • Mainboard installation guide in PDF format
    • BIOS flashing utilities
    • Drivers and utilities for WiFi Dongle
    • Adobe Acrobat Reader
    • DPU
    • I'm InTouch
    • Media Ring
    • PC-Cillin 2004
    • Pro Magic 6.0
    • ShowShifter
    • Smart LAN
    • WinCinema

The top mainboard (as ECS sees it) looks quite attractive, its bundle looks quite sufficient to assemble a serious system. Such unusual bundle solutions as TopHat Flash and USB Dongle are also a pleasant surprise.

Integrated Controllers

  • Audio, C-Media CMI9880 8-channel audio HDA codec supporting 7.1 surround sound audio with front line-in/out and S/PDIF jacks
  • 2 LAN controllers, the first one is based on the Marvell 88E8001-LKJ chip supporting 10/100/1000 Mbit/sec Base-T (Gigabit Ethernet), the second one is based on the Realtek RTL8100C chip supporting 10/100 Mbit/sec Base-T (Fast Ethernet)
  • SATA/IDE RAID based on the SiS 180 chip supporting RAID 0, 1, 0+1, with two SATA connectors and one ATA133 connector
  • FireWire, based on the VIA VT6307 chip supporting two IEEE1394a 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, -0.64
Noise level, dB (A):
Dynamic range, dB (A):
THD, %:
Intermodulation, %:
Channel crosstalk, dB:
IMD at 10 kHz, %:

General performance: Good (details). These results look a tad worse in comparison with the previous mainboard PF4 Extreme with the same on-board audio controller.


Jumpers and switches BIOS write protection ON/OFF jumper  
In Award BIOS v6.00PG from Phoenix Memory timings + CAS Latency, RAS to CAS Delay, RAS Precharge Time, Precharge Delay
Memory frequency selection + Auto, DDR2-400 (FSB:DRAM = 1:1), DDR2-533 (FSB:DRAM=4:3)
PCI Express bus setup +  
PCI bus setup -  
PCI frequency divider setup + Sync, Async
PCI Express frequency divider setup + FSB/2, 100 MHz
PCI IRQ manual assignment +  
FSB frequency setup + 200 – 510 MHz at 1 MHz steps
CPU multiplier + x8 – x50
CPU core voltage control + Auto, 1.1125 – 1.5875 V at 0.025 V steps
Memory voltage control + 1.80, 1.90, 2.00, 2.10, 2.11, 2.13, 2.18, 2.20 V
Chipset voltage control -  
AGP voltage control + Auto, 1.5 – 1.675 V at 0.025 V steps

We used a beta version of BIOS (1.0b) provided by the mainboard manufacturer (it's newer than the version available on the official web site). BIOS features mentioned above are available in this firmware version, the mainboard was tested with standard settings and the FSB frequency being at 200 and 266 MHz.

Test results


Dmitry Besedin (dmitri_b@ixbt.com)
November 15, 2004

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