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Foxconn MARS Motherboard

Motherboard on Intel P35 Chipset

April 21, 2008



  • Intel P35 chipset (P35 Northbridge + ICH9R Southbridge)

The MARS motherboard is currently the only product in the Quantum Force series, which Foxconn announced for gamers and overclockers. The idea to launch a motherboard for overclockers lies on the surface for any manufacturer to pick up. However, there are some nuances. Some manufacturers can afford to design a product for overclockers from scratch (or almost from scratch). Others prefer to modify existing products. And some, without a moment's hesitation, believe that unlocking CPU and memory voltage control in BIOS Setup makes any motherboard attractive for overclockers. First of all, we were interested which of two ways was chosen by Foxconn. A little surfing of the official web site indicated it was the 2nd: we are practically 100% sure that the MARS model is an overhauled Foxconn P35A-S.


Left: Foxconn P35A-S, right: Foxconn MARS

It offers a lot of PCI slots (three slots out of four possible is practically maximum), and they are arranged quite conveniently: even if you install a graphics card with a two-slot cooling system, it won't block any of them (it will block a PCIEx1 slot, but you will hardly be sorry about that). By the way, the first significant difference between MARS and P35A-S - is two PCIEx1 slots instead of one. But the number of connectors for brackets with additional USB ports on the MARS has been reduced, because six USB ports are installed on the rear panel (only four of them are installed in the P35A-S). Many connectors are concentrated in the bottom part of the motherboard, which may lead to a jumble of cables there (especially if you use all of them), but there is no way to avoid it; it's objectively caused by the big number of connectors. We've finally got rid of COM and LPT ports on the rear panel. It's high time to move these dinosaurs to brackets - 90% of users won't even remember about them, to say nothing about using them (by the way, the P35A-S progenitress has COM and LPT ports on the rear panel).

The cooling system of the chipset and CPU power module is absolutely identical to that of another motherboard from Foxconn. As we already wrote, it produces mixed impressions: on one hand, it's all shiny copper and imposing design; on the other hand, only a heat sink on the field-effect transistors in the power circuit copes with passive cooling, because north/south bridge finning is decorative rather than practical: there are few thick fins. Besides, they are short on the Southbridge heat sink. However, heat pipes channel the heat to the heat sink on field-effect transistors for a reason. Besides, the Northbridge cooling device can accommodate a small bundled fan. The size and layout of all heat sinks is praiseworthy: they are not wide and rather far from the processor socket, so they will hardly interfere with even a very large CPU cooler.

The motherboard is equipped with a 6-phase voltage regulator with three field-effect transistors per phase. That's another difference from the P35A-S - it uses a 4-phase voltage regulator. However, a 6-phase voltage regulator is a mandatory component for a product designed for overclockers, not a luxury. So we shall not overpraise Foxconn here. We'll just take it as a matter of course. The manufacturer highlights that the motherboard uses only solid-state capacitors and ferrite chokes (however, the P35A-S uses the same components: that's a mainstream approach to motherboards today).

System monitoring (Fintek F71882F, in BIOS Setup and Windows utilities)

  • Voltages on a processor, memory, Northbridge, 5 V, 12 V, 3.3 V, VCC, VSB, VBAT
  • RPM of 3 fans
  • temperatures of a processor, motherboard, and Northbridge (read from embedded sensors)

BIOS Setup also offers options to tweak CPU and system fans: you can specify four temperature thresholds for each fan to change speed to a specified value (either in work cycle percentage or rpm). Besides, you can specify the minimum speed for each fan.

The proprietary utility for Windows adds nothing to this list, and it would have hardly made any sense: a list of monitored parameters is quite rich.

Onboard ports, sockets, and connectors

  • Processor socket LGA775, officially supports Celeron 4xx (Core), Pentium 4/D/EE/Dual-Core, Core 2 Duo/Extreme/Quad processors with FSB ranging from 800 MHz to 1333 MHz (533 MHz FSB is not supported, 1600 MHz is not officially supported either)
  • 4 x DDR2-667/800 (up to 1066 MHz in overclocked mode) SDRAM DIMM (maximum 8 GB); dual-channel mode is supported, when at least two slots of different channels are filled; compatibility test results are published on the web site
  • 2 x PCIEx16 for graphics cards supporting ATI/AMD CrossFire (in this case the slots operate in the same x16+x4 mode, as always)
  • 2 x PCIEx1
  • 3 x PCI
  • Power connectors: ATX 2.2 (24 pins), EPS12V (8 pins), which can be used as ATX12V (4 pins) without an adapter, and a standard peripheral connector (additional power for a graphics card)
  • 1 x FDD
  • 1 x IDE (Parallel ATA) based on the external controller for two ATA133 devices
  • 6 x SATA-II based on the chipset, hard drives can form RAID 0, 1, 0+1, and 5
  • 3 connectors for rear panel brackets with 6 x USB
  • Connector for a rear panel bracket with 1 x FireWire
  • Connector for a COM port on a bracket
  • 1 x CD/DVD audio connector
  • Connectors for analog audio ins and outs on the front panel
  • IrDA connector
  • Connector for a PC Speaker
  • Connector for a Chassis Intrusion sensor
  • Five fan headers (4-pin header for a CPU fan, the others are 3-pin headers), three of them support fan speed monitoring and allow automatic fan speed control.

Back panel (left to right, blockwise)


Click for the rear view
  • PS/2 mouse and keyboard
  • Optical S/PDIF-Out (Toslink)
  • Coaxial S/PDIF-Out
  • eSATA-II
  • 2 x USB
  • 2 x USB and 1 x FireWire
  • 2 x USB and 1 x RJ-45 (Gigabit Ethernet)
  • 6 x Analog Audio (Center/Sub, Side-Out, Rear-Out, Line-In, Front-Out, Mic-In).

Package Contents

  • Package: a nice brightly-colored box, which is slightly bigger than standard boxes for ATX motherboards
  • Documentation: Installation poster with explanations of basic steps on how to install the motherboard into a PC case and plug all necessary devices in many languages, as well as a thick User's Guide in English
  • Cables: 1 x FDD, 1 x PATA, 6 x SATA (plus six SATA power adapters)
  • Rear panel bracket with 2 x USB and 1 x mini-FireWire
  • Optional fan for the heat sink on Northbridge
  • Stickers, plates, and probably even a Quantum Force tattoo
  • Rear I/O shield
  • CD with necessary drivers and proprietary utilities, including FOX LiveUpdate and AEGIS PANEL - system monitoring and overclocking utility for Quantum Force motherboards, which can run in Windows 2000/XP/2003/Vista, including their 64-bit versions.

Integrated Controllers

  • Audio, based on the chipset support for High Definition Audio and Realtek ALC888 codec, 7.1 channel audio, separate HDA stereo output for the front panel
  • Gigabit Ethernet, based on Realtek RTL8111B (PCIEx1), supporting 10/100/1000 Mbps
  • IDE/SATA-II RAID based on JMicron JMB363 (PCIEx1 interface) supporting 1 x PATA (for two ATA133 devices) and 2 x SATA300, which could theoretically form SATA RAID (this support is not implemented fully - one eSATA-II port on the rear panel)
  • FireWire, based on the Texas Instrument TSB43AB22A chip, supporting two ports.

The integrated audio quality was tested in 16 bit 44 kHz mode using RightMark Audio Analyzer 6.0 and the ESI Juli@ sound card:

Frequency response (from 40 Hz to 15 kHz), dB
+0.02, -0.03
Excellent
Noise level, dB (A)
-88.9
Good
Dynamic range, dB (A)
88.9
Good
THD, %
0.0056
Very good
Harmonic distortion + noise, dB(A)
-79.6
Average
Intermodulation distortion + noise, %
0.014
Very good
Channel crosstalk, dB
-87.0
Excellent
IMD at 10 kHz, %
0.011
Very good

General performance: Very good. Analog audio quality is on a very good level.

Settings

With jumpers and buttons Clear CMOS button  
AMI BIOS 2.61 Allows to disable specific CPU functions + EIST, C1E, Execute Disable Bit, Virtualization Technology, Core Multi-Processing
Memory timings + TCL, TRCD, TRP, TRAS, TWR, TRFC, TWTR, TRRD, TRTP
Memory frequency selection + relative to FSB frequency: Auto, 1:2, 1:2.4, 1:2.5, 1:3, 1:3.3, 1:4
Peripheral bus frequency control + PCI-E: 100-200 MHz at 1 MHz steps
PCI: Auto, 33.3, 37.3, 42.0 MHz
PCI IRQ manual assignment +  
FSB frequency setup + 100-999 MHz at 1 MHz steps
CPU multiplier + at 0.5 steps
CPU core voltage control + CPU Voltage Multiplier: 1.000-1.296 V at variable steps (8 values),
CPU Voltage: 0.825-1.600 V at variable steps (38 values)
Memory voltage control + 1.665-3.365 V at variable steps (30 values)
Chipset voltage control + Northbridge: 1.156-2.395 V
Southbridge: 1.388-1.650 V at variable steps (14 values)
FSB voltage control + 1.200-1.725 V at 0.075 V steps

We used BIOS 752F1P11 dated 04.01.2008, 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 with the F11 button to select a boot device during the POST procedure, a convenient way for a once-only boot-up, for example from a CD drive, without making changes in BIOS Setup.

If you don't like messing with BIOS Setup and adjust frequencies and voltages, this BIOS version offers Instant OverClocking option - you just specify by how many percents you want to overclock the system (from 5% to 75% at 5% steps). In this case FSB frequency grows by the specified percent, CPU voltage is raised (we failed to pinpoint the proportion). Memory divider, on the contrary, is decreased so that the resulting frequency does not exceed the standard value, if possible. No more changes in voltages, frequencies, and timings. In other words, it's a homage to automatic overclocking fashion, nothing more. Marketing department wouldn't have allowed to launch a motherboard without such option. But it looks strange in such an advanced motherboard for overclockers.

Users can also save current BIOS settings into five profiles, and then restore them "in one touch". Besides, the motherboard offers the Over Clock Recovery function: if you enable it, the system will automatically restore previous settings, should it fail to startup with new settings.

So, it's a standard set of options of a good motherboard for overclockers. There seems to be nothing new added. However, engineers did not focus on new features here, they paid major attention to excellent implementation of popular functions instead. It goes without saying that any motherboard for overclockers allows voltage control - but what product can boast of such a wide range? The same goes practically in every aspect. Foxconn MARS offers impressively fine overclocking options.

Performance

Testbed configurations:

  • CPU: Intel Core 2 Duo E6600 (2.4 GHz)
  • Memory: 2 x 1 GB Corsair CM2X1024-9136C5D (tested in DDR2-800 mode with 4-4-4 timings)
  • Graphics card: ATI Radeon X1900 XTX 512 MB
  • HDD: Seagate Barracuda 7200.7 (SATA, 7200 rpm)
  • PSU: GlacialTech GP-PS450AP
  • OS: Windows XP SP2

We'll compare Foxconn MARS with a motherboard from the same manufacturer on a newer chipset (Intel X38 Express) and with two fastest motherboards on Intel 965P and Intel P35 we know.

Test Foxconn MARS Foxconn X38A DDR2-800 Foxconn X38A DDR3-1066 MSI P35 Platinum Gigabyte 965P-DQ6
Archiving with 7-Zip, min:sec 4:11 4:12 4:13 4:14 4:10
MPEG4 (XviD) encoding, min:sec 3:37 3:37 3:37 3:37 3:37
Doom 3 (Low@640x480), fps 219 218 219 215 218
Doom 3 (Highest@1600x1200), fps 123 122 121 121 123
FarCry (Low@640x480), fps 360 361 359 353 359
FarCry (Highest@1600x1200), fps 152 152 151 152 152

As you can see, Foxconn MARS slightly outperforms Foxconn X38A, even though it's based on the officially lower chipset in the family. Besides, it goes practically on a par with the fastest motherboards on P35 and 965P chipsets. So, we have no gripes with its performance, it's on a very good level.

We do not analyze performance characteristics of overclocked systems. But out of sheer curiosity, we played a little with this interesting product. Our sample passed all tests with its FSB overclocked to 470 MHz. Perhaps, we might have squeezed more, but we decided that the result is impressive enough for a preliminary review.

Bottom line

Compared to modern megamonsters for overclockers with lots of additional chips, indicators, connectors and kilograms of copper, Foxconn MARS looks strict and modest. The reason is clear: it's based on a modest "work horse". But this strict design reminds of something familiar. Long forgotten names come to mind: ASUS P3B-F, Abit BE6, Chaintech 6BTM... So, being seasoned IT guys, we appreciate Foxconn's hint at the good old times in the overclocking-for-dummies-not style. Heaps of parameters, wide ranges, fine steps - you can play with it all for months. The question is how many "old guys" are there to appreciate truly manual overclocking. I'm afraid that the current generation, spoilt by wizards and auto-tweakers, may fail to latch on to the idea.

Official product page

Motherboard provided by the manufacturer
Memory modules provided by Corsair


Stanislav Garmatiuk (nawhi@ixbt.com)
April 21, 2008

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