iXBT Labs - Computer Hardware in Detail






ECS Photon PF1 (i865PE) Mainboard

This is the first model from ECS positioned as a Top-End solution - earlier the company focused on inexpensive boards and got into the Top Four in sales among manufacturers. The board leaves a good impression but it has no advantages over other products of this class. We have tested a preproduction sample and hope that production models will have no additional components on the backside. 

The layout is pretty convenient, though the audio ports are put in front of the PCI slots and the memory modules can be locked by a video card. It's not difficult to reach jumpers when the board is already installed. Their functions are indicated on the PCB. The 3-phase switching voltage regulator incorporates 7 capacitors of 1500 uF and 3 of 2200 uF. There are also voltage regulators of the AGP bus (1 1500 uF and several less capacious ones) and of the memory (1 of 1500 uF and several less capacious ones). 

The board measures 305x245 mm ("wide ATX", 9 screws fastens it). 

Proprietary technologies: 

  • Easy Match (the pins for connectors from the front PC panel have different colors for easy matching);
  • PCI Extreme (not PCI Express :) - cards prone to pickups should be inserted into the PCI slot marked yellow as it provides better signal quality);
  • Q-Boot (boot device selection with F11 key, not needed to enter BIOS Setup);
  • Top-Hat Flash (backup BIOS chip supplied can be installed over the standard one to recover its contents damaged after an unsuccessful attempt to flash a new version or by other reasons).

  • Connectors which are left space for: some chip, CNR slot and some connectors and jumpers like WOL and a connector for EZ-Watcher (the latter is unsoldered in the revision 1.1). +5 V supplied in the StandBy mode is indicated with the red LED. System monitoring is supported by Winbond W83627HF-AW chip. It controls: 
    • processor, AGP bus voltages, +3.3, +5 and +-12 V, VBAT and +5 V Standby
    • rotation speed of 3 fans; 
    • temperatures of the processor (built-in sensor) and the board (built-in sensor).

    Ports & connectors onboard

    • Socket 478 with preinstalled CPU cooler holder;
    • 4 slots for DDR SDRAM DIMM (grouped in pairs, differ in color);
    • AGP slot (not Pro, with a retention clip);
    • 5 PCI slots (32bit, 33MHz);
    • Power supply connectors: standard ATX and 4pin for 12V;
    • FDD;
    • 2 IDE (Parallel ATA) - on chipset;
    • 2 Serial ATA - on chipset;
    • Connector for a bracket with a second serial port (COM);
    • Connector for a bracket with a FireWire port;
    • 2 connectors for brackets with 2 USB (2.0) ports each;
    • Connector for a standard IR module;
    • Connector for audio-out from CD/DVD drive;
    • Connector for AUX-IN audio source;
    • S/PDIF-Out;
    • 3 connectors for fans (one without rotation control, it is connected to the fan on the chipset north bridge).

    Rear panel (left to right, in units)

    • PS/2 ports for keyboard & mouse;
    • COM port (1) & LPT ports;
    • 2 USB (2.0) & 1 FireWire;
    • 2 USB (2.0) & 1 RJ-45 (Ethernet);
    • 3 audio connectors (Line In/Out & Microphone).

    The board proves to be a top solution indeed, - the set of connectors behind is quite big, logical and functional. 


    • Package: a big colorful box of a new design;
    • Documentation: user manual in English;
    • Cables: 2 SATA (without power supply adapters), 2 ATA66/100/133 and FDD (all cables of the parallel interfaces are "round" and in black cambric);
    • Bracket with S/PDIF-Out connectors (Coaxial & TosLink);
    • Bracket with 2 USB and mini-FireWire (4-pin) ports;
    • Panel for the 3.5" bay for connectors of 2 USB and mini-FireWire ports (the connectors are to be unscrewed from the bracket mentioned above and screwed to this panel);
    • Backup BIOS Top-Hat Flash chip;
    • I/O Shield;
    • CD with software:
      • drivers;
      • Adobe Acrobat Reader;
      • WASAY DPU and WASAY ProMagic (data backup copy and recovery);
      • ECS MBUtility;
      • MediaRing Dialer;
      • PageABC;
      • ShowShifter;
      • PICShell SuperVoice;
      • InterVideo WinCinema;
      • Award WinFlash;
      • PC-cillin 2002;
      • 3DNA Desktop.

    Good old ECS... although it's an original solution to output some ports to the rear or front PC panel at one's own option, but connectors are to be manually screwed; although the software suite is big and free, most programs are insignificant and hardly known... 

    Integrated controllers

    • audio controller based on the C-Media CMI9739A AC'97 codec; 5.1 audio system supported, front audio-outs and S/PDIF connector provided;
    • network controller based on the 3COM Marvell 940-MV00, 10/100/1000 Base-T (Gigabit Ethernet) supported;
    • FireWire on the VIA VT6307 chip, 2 ports supported.


    jumpers and switches Jumper to clear the CMOS  
    Jumper for BIOS write protection  
    Jumper disabling the network controller  
    BIOS based on Phoenix AwardBIOS 6.00PG  Setup of memory timings + CAS Latency, RAS Precharge, RAS to CAS Delay, Active to Precharge Delay
    Setup of memory frequency + By SPD, 266, 320, 400 MHz (at FSB 800 MHz)
    Setup of AGP bus -  
    Setup of PCI bus -  
    AGP/PCI frequency setup + AGP(PCIx2) = Sync, 66 MHz
    PCI IRQ manual assignment +  
    FSB frequency setup + 100-350 MHz in 1MHz steps
    CPU clock ratio + x8-x50
    CPU voltage control -  
    DIMM voltage control + Default, 2.7, 2.8 V
    NB voltage control -  
    AGP voltage control -  

    We used the BIOS of 1.1 as the latest available version. 


    The board shows good speed scores, though the PAT can't be enabled in the latest firmware version. It can be rated as a midrange solution judging by its functionality and accessories, but if earlier we expected cheap boards based one cheap chipsets from company's partner SiS, now we've got an inexpensive model based on the top chipset. 

    Test results: 


    Dmitry Mayorov (destrax@ixbt.com)

    Vladimir Rybnikov (puree@ixbt.com

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