Articles: Mainboards

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Our testbed was configured as follows:

  • Mainboard: Foxconn BlackOps, BIOS P02 and P05;
  • CPUs:
    • Intel Core 2 Duo E8400 (3.0GHz, 333MHz FSB, 6MB, Wolfdale, rev. C0);
    • Intel Core 2 Quad Q9300 (2.5GHz, 333MHz FSB, 6MB, Yorkfield, rev. M1);
  • Memory: 2x1024MB Corsair Dominator TWIN2X2048-9136C5D;
  • Graphics card: NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB;
  • HDD: Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 (ST3320620AS) – 7200RPM, 16MB, SATA 320GB;
  • CPU cooler: Zalman CNPS9700 LED;
  • Thermal compound: Noctua;
  • PSU: Antec NeoPower HE 550 (550W).

I have to remind you that none of the new mainboards that we have recently tested in our labs could provide stable working environment for our Intel Core 2 Duo E8400 test CPU at 500MHz FSB. However, Foxconn BlackOps made such a great impression with its PDB design and BIOS functionality, it had a reputation of a super-overclocker solution (we haven’t yet checked out its brand name software and utilities at that time), that is why we started our experiments with this particular frequency. And we were absolutely right to do so!

We lower the processor clock frequency multiplier to the minimal x6, increase the voltages just a little and the board boots and loads the OS without any problems. Moreover, Intel Burn Test utility showed that the system was perfectly stable. The CPU was working at its default frequency of 3.0GHz. However, we couldn’t move any further than that. We increased the voltages one by one, changed the bus to memory frequency ratio, disabled processor power-saving technologies, but the board wouldn’t load Windows even once, and in most cases wouldn’t boot at all.

We suspected that it was the chipset cooling system. 4 in 1 Quantum Cooler sounds very cool. In reality, however, the chipset North Bridge heatsink is just a simple water block, and it should be used this way. Everything else is pure marketing.

Look here. Of course, the plastic container for liquid nitrogen or dry ice cannot be used for a long time. It is fit for setting some quick records, but that’s about it. Passive mode? Yes, possible. The heatsink is so massive that it remains cold to the touch for a while. However, massiveness doesn’t mean large heat dissipating surface area. The heatsink warms up slowly, but once it gets warm, it is very hard to cool down. So, looks like the only acceptable operational mode for an overclocked system is with liquid chipset cooling.

The pipes from Corsair Nautilus 500 liquid-cooling system fit perfectly to Foxconn BlackOps’ water block. I have always thought that a water block in the chipset cooling system is a great solution for the users and is indisputably advantageous for the board. Now that I came across this solution in practical experiments, I had to change my opinion. With a discrete water block, you can remove it and install onto another board, rinse or replace the liquid solution. When the water block is integrated into a system, service it may turn into a real problem. You won’t shake the board to make sure that all liquid is out. Rinsing it will also be complicated. You will have to take everything apart, and the bigger is the system, the harder it is going to be. Moreover, heatpipes are very fragile: the pipe material is very thin and they can bend easily.

The first tests with liquid-cooling of the chipset North Bridge showed that it may have been the right call. We could easily hit 510MHz FSB, but not any higher. However, while we were looking for the most optimal parameter combination we noticed that the board worked at older P02 BIOS version, instead of the new P05 that we have reflashed before the test session. By the way, I didn’t find any information on Foxconn web-site about the changes accompanying the BIOS reflashing with a newer version.

I have to admit that I couldn’t figure out how the system switched the operational BIOS chip. Theoretically, it is enough to change in OC Gear section Software Item Selecting parameter from BIOS ROM 1 to BIOS ROM 2 or the other way around, but it didn’t work all the time. As a result, I was sure that both chips had BIOS version P05 in them, and then it turned out that one of them still had version P02. Luckily, hardware switching of the BIOS chips with the jumpers works perfectly fine, so I figured it out very soon. With the old BIOS version the board can load OS at 510MHz FSB, while with the new version you will have to stop at 500MHz FSB and replacing he chipset cooling system with a liquid solution doesn’t have any effect on that.

It is pretty sad, but 500MHz FSB is not the ultimate goal. It is just a pretty “round” number, not a minimally sufficient (most processors reach the maximum of their potential long before that) and not the maximally necessary (it may not be enough for some processors anyway). So, as you remember, at 500MHz FSB our CPU was working with a lower clock frequency multiplier at its nominal speed of 3.0GHz. So let’s try to overclock it. Our Intel Core 2 Duo E8400 processor already overclocked to 4.1GHz on a number of different mainboards. So we set the multiplier to 8.5x, the bus speed - to 483MHz, increased the voltages, but the system remained unstable.

Inability of a super-overclocker board to overclock a dual-core processor is a real unpleasant surprise. But maybe the board will show its best with quad-core processors? Unfortunately, not. We started our experiments with Intel Core 2 Quad Q9300 at a pretty average 450MHz FSB frequency, but the board wouldn’t start until we dropped this frequency to 410MHz. however, even in this case it just started, but then the system rebooted on its own without even loading the Windows.

It was a very frustrating result, but we remembered that Foxconn BlackOps can overclock processors on its own in Instant Overclocking mode. In this case you can get maximum 75% overclocking and our Intel Core 2 Quad Q9300 overclocked to 450MHz FSB makes only 35%. We failed to boot at this frequency. However, we managed to load the OS at 25% overclocking, which is 416MHz FSB.

What mysterious settings does Foxconn BlackOps use in automatic overclocking mode? It turned out, nothing special, not that much different from what I set manually before. The processor Vcore and North Bridge voltages increase just a little, VTT voltage remains nominal… Why couldn’t we load the operating system at 410MHz before? Very strange… However, these settings were too low to push the CPU overclocking to 30%, up to 433MHz FSB. Let’s try and increase them a little bit more. Miracle! The board loads Windows at 435MHz FSB! Nevertheless, relatively common for a few other boards 450MHz FSB frequency remained unattainable for Foxconn BlackOps.

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