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ECS PF4 Extreme Mainboard on Intel 915P

June 29, 2004



PF4 Extreme is not the first high-end model made by ECS, and we can see some familiar features in it: a flashy look (bright-coloured connectors, blue blinking LEDs) and a perfect funtionality. While the latter lives up to the expectations of whose ready to buy such cards, a kindergarten look of this expensive product will definitely not appeal to all customers. We carried out our tests on a preserial board.

Despite its rich functionality, the board's layout produces an exceedingly favourable impression. PCIEx1 slots occupy far less space than conventional PCIs and always problematic audio inputs have been moved from the back wall to the lower edge. The only disadvantage of the layout is that an inserted graphic card will block the DIMMs in their connectors. Access to the only jumper won't be hampered even when the board is installed into the case (the jumper's functionality is not described on the PCB). The DIMM connector voltage is indicated by an orange LED, a blue one switches on when the PCIEx16 card is installed and a yellow one when it is absent. The presence of extension cards in PCI and PCIEx1 slots is indicated by off LEDs while their absence is accompanied by the LEDs blinking. The four-channel CPU voltage regulator has 14 x 1800µF capacitators. The PCIEx16 bus and the memory have their voltage regulators too. The former includes 4 x 1000µF capacitors and is enhanced with inductive elements. The latter incorporates 6 x 1000µF capacitators and has inductive elements as well. Curious shapes of heatsinks look funny while the original solution to place the fan with a flare in the back panel (to cool regualtor chains) is not at all so much fun in terms of acoustics.

When we tested the card, it hadn't been officially announced. But no doubts, it will remain unique in ECS's production line and the company will not make new variants based on this PCB. It is confirmed by the fact that the board has no laid out but unsoldered elements. The board measures 305245 mm (full-size ATX, nine-screw mount, firm fixation). A Winbond W83627THF chip is used to control:

  • CPU voltage, +1.5 and +3.3 V;
  • rpm of 3 fans
  • CPU and board temperatures (with the help of the corresponding embedded sensors).

Onboard ports, sockets, and connectors

  • CPU Socket 775, support of future Celeron D;
  • 4 x DDR2 SDRAM DIMM (up to 4 GB, dual-channel mode organisation possible);
  • 1 x PCIEx16 (with a clip);
  • 2 x PCIEx1;
  • 3 x PCI;
  • Power: EPS12V (24-pin, fits the connector of a standard ATX PSU), 4-pin 12 V;
  • 1 x FDD;
  • 2 x IDE (Parallel ATA): 1 in the chipset, the other functions due to an additional controller, the connected discs can be combined into RAID 0, 1, 0+1 with 2 SATA discs;
  • 6 x SATA (Serial ATA): 4 in the chipset, 2 others function due to an additional controller, the connected discs can be combined into RAID 0, 1, 0+1 with 2 PATA discs;
  • 2 x straps for 2 x USB (2.0);
  • 1 x strap for 1 x FireWire;
  • 1 x CD/DVD Audio;
  • 1 x strap for additional Audio Outs;
  • 1 x strap for 1 x LPT;
  • 1 x EZ-Watcher (see our material on ECS EZ Buddie barebone for details);
  • 1 x CI sensor;
  • 1 x SMBus;
  • 5 x fan (3 enable rpm control, 2 of which are connected to the north bridge heatsink fan and the pack panel fan; 4-pin CPU cooler connector).

Back panel (left to right, blockwise)

  • PS/2 connectors for mouse and keyboard;
  • Fan, 1 x COM, Toslink-type 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-type S/PDIF-Out.

This number of back panel connectors may seem unusual, but it will become habitual as board supporting High Definition Audio are expanding.

Bundle

  • Placid-looking box (in contrast to the extreme look of the model itself);
  • Documentation: none in our preserial package;
  • Cables: 1 x ATA66/100/133 and 1 x FDD, both black-coloured and in black cambric, 2 x Serial ATA (with a power adapter/splitter);
  • PC back panel strap woth 2 x USB and 1 x FireWire (the latter can be output either onto the strap or onto the front panel bracket);
  • 3.5" front panel bracket with 2 x USB and 1 xFireWire;
  • USB Dongle for WiFi-b wireless network organisation and a USB extender for it enabling a convenient installation of the module antenna);


  • TopHat Flash (a reserve Flash chip with a BIOS version; used when the main BIOS version is damaged);
  • 2 CDs with software:
    • necessary drivers;
    • brief board installation manual in PDF;
    • drivers and utilities for WiFi Dongle;
    • Adobe Acrobat Reader;
    • DPU Lite;
    • IIT;
    • MediaRing Dialer;
    • PC-cillin 2004;
    • Pro Magic 6.0;
    • ShowShifter;
    • Smart LAN;
    • InterVideo WinCinema.

The ECS high-end board appeals much to us, and a number of original solutions (especially in what concerns the package) indicate the company's creative approach.

Integrated controllers

  • C-Media CMI9880 7.1. HDA codec based audio controller with a connector for front Audio I/O and S/PDIF connectors;
  • 2 LAN controllers: a Marvell 88E8001-LKJ based one supporting 10/100/1000 Mbit/s Base-T (Gigabit Ethernet) and a Realtek RTL8100C based one supporting 10/100 Mbit/s Base-T (Fast Ethernet);
  • SiS180-based SATA/IDE RAID supporting RAID 0, 1, 0+1, with 2 x SATA and 1 x ATA133;
  • VIA VT6307 based FireWire controller supporting 2 ports.

The integrated audio quality was tested in 16 bits, 44 kHz, using the RightMark Audio Analyzer 5.2 test program and the Terratec DMX 6fire sound card:

Frequency response (40 Hz to 15 kHz), dB: +0.19, -0.68 Good
Noise level, dB (A): -90.5 Very good
Dynamic range, dB (A): 90.3 Very good
THD, %: 0.034 Good
IMD, %: 0.043 Good
Stereo crosstalk, dB: -92.3 Excellent

Total: Very good (details).

Settings

Jumpers and switches Clear CMOS jumper  
BIOS, AwardBIOS 6.00PG version by Phoenix Memory timings + CAS Latency, RAS to CAS Delay, RAS Precharge Time
Memory frequency selection + Auto, DDR2-400, DDR2-533 (at FSB = 800 MHz)
PCI Express bus setup +  
PCI bus setup -  
PCI frequency divider setup + Sync, Async
PCI IRQ manual assignment +  
FSB frequency setup + 200—510 MHz at 1MHz increments
CPU multiplier + x8—x50
CPU core voltage control + Auto, 1.125—1.585 V at 0.025V increments
Memory voltage control + 1.8, 1.9, 2.0, 2.1, 2.13, 2.18, 2.2 V
Chipset voltage control -  
AGP bus voltage control + Auto, 1.5—1.675 V at 0.025V increments

We used BIOS 1.0Pb, the latest available version for the moment of testing. The mentioned BIOS parameters are available in the version, but the viability of non-standard settings hasn't been tested. Nor do we know what the AGP bus voltage control setting is really responsble for.

Performance

We have only tested one i915P-based board, so we have no information on whether its performance it typical of this chipset-based representatives.

Test results:

Dmitry Mayorov (destrax@ixbt.com)
29.06.2004

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