abit Fatal1ty FP-IN9 SLI Mainboard Review

Today we would like to offer to you a detailed review of another Nvidia nForce 650i SLI based mainboard. This time it will be a solution from abit that belongs to the well-known Fatal1ty series. All cons and pros in our detailed review as always!

by Doors4ever
05/29/2007 | 02:39 PM

Although it may sound not very modest, but I believe our readers already know everything or almost everything about mainboards on Intel P965 Express chipset. We have already discussed not only the simplicity and affordable price of Biostar TForce P965 mainboard, but also the sophisticated features of the advanced Asus Commando. The manufacturers hardly have anything to surprise us with, so it is high time we moved on to detailed discussion of solutions of next chipset generation.

 

Mainboards on new Intel P35 chipset that are coming to replace the P965 have already started selling and they will certainly become out primary subject for discussion very soon. However, while they are still taking off, we suggest taking a look at some other solutions available in the today’s market that are may be of interest to you.

Nvidia nForce 680i LT SLI chipset was announced long ago already, but its formal specifications don’t differ that much from those of the top nForce 680i SLI, even though they are based on initially two different chips. The less demanding users may go with the nForce 650i Ultra without the SLI support, however, there are no that many mainboards on this chipset in stores yet.

At this time only Nvidia nForce 650i SLI based mainboards are worthy competitors to Intel P965 Express based solutions, that is why we decided to pay special attention to them on our site. We have already offered you Asus P5N-E SLI Mainboard Review, which should be considered a basic article. It discusses not only the peculiarities of this particular mainboard, but also the chipset features in general. After that we introduced to youMSI P6N SLI Platinum and ECS NF650iSLIT-A that are also based on Nvidia nForce 650i SLI. Today we are going to add one more solution to this list: abit Fatal1ty FP-IN9 SLI mainboard.

Package and Accessories

abit Fatal1ty FP-IN9 SLI mainboard is sold in a vertical box with a convenient carry-handle. Strict and stylish design of the box front makes a much more favorable impression than all sorts of monster creatures, spacecrafts and barely dressed warrior ladies that have invaded mainboard and graphics card boxes lately. The photo on the reverse side of the box illustrates the main features of the product.

 

There is a thick carton box beneath the thin colorful cover. The abit Fatal1ty FP-IN9 SLI mainboard is inside that second box under transparent plastic cover. It sits on another smaller box with two sections where all accessories are neatly arranged.

The mainboard accessories bundle includes:

PCB Design

You will be able to better figure out the layout peculiarities and slots positioning by looking at the scheme above. However, nothing will certainly be better than the actual mainboard photo:

Of course, a quick professional look at the mainboard will reveal all its major features, however, we would still like to dwell on them to make sure that you don’t miss anything. As usual we would like to begin with the processor. It is powered via an eight-pin ATX12V power supply connector.

The four-phase processor voltage regulator circuitry uses solid-state capacitors. MOSFET transistors are arranged in such a way that a pretty tall heatsink could fit on top of them.

Nvidia chipsets dissipate quite a lot of heat during operation that is why the chipset North Bridge is topped with a large massive heatsink.

Despite the large size, this heatsink got pretty hot, so we have also installed an additional fan to cool it down better.

The chipset South Bridge features a smaller heatsink. Next to it there are a few “lying” IDE connectors, four SATA connectors, two USB pin-connectors that can accommodate four devices, color-coded front panel pin-connectors, Clear CMOS jumper, Power On and Reset buttons.

abit Fatal1ty FP-IN9 SLI mainboard doesn’t need any additional onboard controllers. Its full functionality is provided by the Nvidia nForce 650i SLI chipset. There is a Winbond W83627DHG chip that is responsible for input/output ports, a Marvell 88E1116 chip that provides Gigabit LAN and Realtek ALC888 chip that delivers 8-channel sound.

The mainboard back panel features two PS/2 connectors for keyboard and mouse and a stack of six audio jacks. Between them there is a lonely SPDIF out. The free area on this part of the PCB is supposed to improve the cooling of the MOSFET heatsink that you can clearly see on the photo below.

The list of mainboard rear panel connectors and ports also includes an RJ45 network connector and four USB 2.0 ports – a required minimum for each contemporary mainboard. And as you know abit mainboards have lost their COM and LPT ports long time ago, so we were not surprised to find none of those on abit Fatal1ty FP-IN9 SLI, too.

Specification

To sum up all the discussed features and make sure that we have all the abit Fatal1ty FP-IN9 SLI mainboard specifications covered we would like to offer you a complete list form the manufacturer’s website:

BIOS

The red textolite color of the abit Fatal1ty FP-IN9 SLI mainboard PCB goes very well with white marking on it. The same bright color gamma was selected for the mainboard BIOS.

The remarkable thing about abit mainboards is that you don’t have to search for the overclocker-friendly section once you are in the BIOS. You will be immediately redirected to SoftMenu Setup upon BIOS entry.

The page is pretty well designed and contains a lot of useful info. It allows setting desired processor and memory frequencies and adjusting the voltages. FSB frequency is measured in quadrupled values and can be adjusted between 400 (100) and 3000 (750) MHz. The memory frequency may be set in dependence on the FSB frequency. In the Linked more we get few dividers to choose from: [Auto], [1:1], [5:4], [3:2], [Sync Mode]. In the Unlinked mode we can set the memory frequency to any value between 400 and 1400MHz. As for the PCI Express bus frequency, the supported range varies from nominal 100MHz to the unreal 200MHz.

As for the mainboard’s abilities to support different voltage adjustments, they are as follows:

I am not sure about the CPU Core Voltage, because 1.325V is the nominal value for our processor. Maybe this voltage parameter always changes from the nominal to 1.7V, or maybe you can add 0.375V to it and then the maximum will also change as the nominal changes, I am not sure about it. The mainboard user manual says nothing about it. In fact, there is not much about the BIOS parameters at all there.

Besides the frequency, the memory timings are another important parameter that affects the system performance. There is a special page in the Advanced Chipset Features section where you can adjust memory timings.

PC Health Status page will be of interest not only to overclocking fans but also to users working in nominal modes.

We can control the rotation speed of all four fans that can be connected to abit Fatal1ty FP-IN9 SLI mainboard and adjust the rotation speed of two of them: CPU Fan if there is a four-pin connector and SYS Fan if there are three pins only.

Practical Experiments

To check out the practical potential of our today’s hero, abit Fatal1ty FP-IN9 SLI mainboard, we assembled the following open test stand:

We discovered the very first drawback almost immediately after boot-up: when the CPU wasn’t loaded heavily, its multiplier and voltage didn’t get reduced. Among the fixes that have been done in the new BIOS version 1.2 at the time of testing, they listed “Fixed the C1E function”. Looked like they had fixed it really harshly, because the processor frequency on abit Fatal1ty FP-IN9 SLI mainboard didn’t get any lower in idle mode. Besides, we couldn’t find any options to control the C1E function in the Advanced BIOS Feature section of the mainboard BIOS.

The second drawback was mainboard’s inability to work with Command Rate set to 1T. In fact, the number can be changed but the mainboard is still working at Command Rate 2T setting, no matter what you put in there.

The next three issues we discovered are very closely connected with one another:

  1. Mainboard doesn’t boot up stably every time after overclocking;
  2. There is no POST stage check or it is not working properly;
  3. The BIOS doesn’t allow saving preset profiles.

Intel Core 2 Duo E6300 processor we used in our test session could work stably at 490MHz FSB. Unfortunately, on abit Fatal1ty FP-IN9 SLI mainboard it could only start at 375MHz FSB. This slight overclocking usually doesn’t require any voltage increase, but in this case we absolutely had to raise the chipset voltage to 1.4-1.45V. Even at higher frequencies the mainboard can work at NB Voltage set to 1.3-1.35V, but it has to be increased for the first boot-up.

If the voltage is not set high enough of the starting FSB frequency is over 375MHz, the board would freeze. It doesn’t matter when the issue occurs: during memory, HDD or USB initialization – when you restart the system there will always be error 11 on the POST code indicator. The mainboard doesn’t have a built-in POST indicator, so we used an add-on card for that.

You can eliminate the issue (error code 11) only by clearing CMOS, i.e. resetting all BIOS settings. Without the automatic POST monitoring and because of the mainboard’s inability to restart automatically overclocking becomes hardly possible at all. In this case having an option to save user settings in the BIOS could be of some help, but abit Fatal1ty FP-IN9 SLI doesn’t have anything like that, too.

It may seem like a very small problem, you may think that I am exaggerating the issues here, but it the impression you may get at first glance. Let’s try to count how many extra movements we have to make after clearing CMOS to continue working. We will keep track of our count in brackets not to get confused.

So, you start by pressing the Start button once (1). Luckily, it is not a Gigabyte board, when the system keeps booting with default settings and you have to keep hitting the Del key non-stop until you enter the BIOS. abit mainboard stops booting and offers you to continue by pressing F1 or to enter the BIOS at this time.

Then we hit Del (2) and see the main BIOS page. We hit Enter (3) and get into the SoftMenu Setup. Down arrow, Enter (5) and we select Linked mode for CPU Operating Speed, which requires another Down Arrow and Enter hit (7).

Now we have to set the desired FSB speed: Down Arrow, Enter, four-digit number (1500 in this case, as it corresponds to 375MHz FSB), Enter (14).

Down Arrow twice, Enter (17) and we are in FSB:Memory ratio page. Let’s select the memory divider for SyncMode, which requires another four hits on Down Arrow and Enter (22).

Now let’s deal with the voltages – two Down Arrow hits and Enter (25). Voltage Control should be changed from Default to User Define – Down Arrow and Enter (27). The C{U voltage may remain unchanged at this time, but let’s increase the Vmem – Down Arrow twice, Enter, Down Arrow 7 times more and Enter again (38).

CPU VTT Volatge may stay as is, and the NB voltage has to go up: three times Down Arrow, Enter, another 5-7- times Down Arrow, Enter (48-50).

So far we pressed the keyboard keys about 50 times and that is in one section only! And then it would be nice to disable the image loading on boot-up, change the memory timings to the 5-5-5-15 that will work guaranteed. And all this is another 50 keystrokes. Then we have to enable USB keyboard support, change the booting priority from PCI graphics card to PCI-E…

Next time you boot the system you will have to correct the CPU Vcore, Vchipset, Vmem, change the frequencies… All in all, you will have to strike the keyboard keys at least 100 times to get the board to start.

This description seemed pretty boring to you, didn’t it? But it was exactly how we checked things out! Any small mistake resulted into the need to clear CMOS (>100 keystrokes), restart the board (>100 keystrokes), and then again (>100 keystrokes), and again (>100 keystrokes)…

A pedantic person with phlegmatic character may actually enjoy this endless keyboard routine. As for me, after a few thousand keystrokes I got very strong desire to give it up.

In fact, I would have done so log time ago, but I couldn’t forget about the 475MHz FSB that were once achieved on this mainboard. That is why I kept trying out different frequencies attempting to avoid the possible FSB Hole, different combinations of voltages, memory frequencies, but all in vain: the board would only start at 375MHz FSB.

Although I have to admit that my efforts were partially rewarded. I noticed that the board has hard times only with the first boot-up, and then it starts much faster with the same or higher frequency settings. That is why after the first successful boot-up with the “must” 1500MHZ frequency setting, which equals the notorious 375MHz in quadrupled values, I didn’t raise the bar to 1700, 1800 or higher frequencies right away. Instead I set the modest value of only 1600MHz, and the board booted well and even passed the 4M SuperPi test! Then I started adding 50MHz each time (12.5MHz FSB), and the board kept booting successfully and passing the stability check! Maybe I could have used even a bigger increment, but I decided not to take the risk, because it could result into the 11 code error and would push me back to the very beginning.

So, little by little I reached the 1800MHz, i.e. 450MHz FSB frequency, that I couldn’t attain before. This was a pretty high result and the stability test completed successfully again, but then the board froze during the next boot-up with error code 52 and after I hit Reset  - with the familiar error code 11. I have to say that by that time I have already increased the processor Vcore, North Bridge voltage and Vmem and our CPU would have been already running at 490MHz FSB on any other mainboard with the same settings.

I doubt that there will be anyone willing to repeat my experiments in real life: start with 1500MHz (375MHz) and then little by little raise the frequency to end up with the need to do it all over on the next failed boot-up. If abit Fatal1ty FP-IN9 SLI can start and work stably only at 375MHz FSB, then we should probably consider it to be the maximum of its potential.

As for 475MHz FSB that I managed to obtain on this mainboard with a different CPU, then I have to conclude that abit Fatal1ty FP-IN9 SLI mainboard, just like MSI P6N Platinum, works differently with different CPU models. These two mainboards actually have a lot in common: MSI P6N SLI Platinum also starts only at 375MHz maximum FSB frequency for the first time, although abit Fatal1ty FP-IN9 SLI, unlike the MSI solution, knows to reduce the processor clock frequency multiplier.

Conclusion

When we got our hands on abit Fatal1ty FP-IN9 SLI mainboard we were planning to perform a set of benchmarks on it. We were not planning to compare its performance against that of mainboards on other chipsets because we have already done it in out article called Nvidia nForce 650i SLI Chipset and only $130: ASUS P5N-E SLI Mainboard Review. At that time we looked at mainboards based on AMD Crossfire Xpress 3200, Intel 975X Express, Intel P965 Express, Nvidia nForce 650i SLU and Nvidia nForce 680i SLI chipsets, so we already have a pretty decent performance picture. AT this time we were primarily interested in the following:

Unfortunately, the supported frequency range from the nominal 266MHz to 375MHz didn’t give us the opportunity to find answers to all these questions.

If we take another look at the results obtained during our work with abit Fatal1ty FP-IN9 SLI mainboard, then we will see clearly that everything went on very well at first. The board is shipped in a neat and sturdy package, is accompanied with decent set of accessories, has very smart and thorough PCB layout design, great theoretical BIOS features… Unfortunately, everything changed drastically when we started our practical tests. 375MHz FSB is a very low result, which is hardly acceptable for an overclocking-friendly solution. Moreover, we can’t recommend this mainboard even to those users who will not overclock processors at all, because the mainboard doesn’t support Command Rate 1T setting increasing the memory performance and power saving technologies.

We hope that new BIOS versions will be able to resolve many of these issues. We will keep our eyes on it for you, so stay tuned.

P.S.: We received an email from abit representative informing us that there are beta BIOS versions that should any day become “release-candidates”. They have the overclocking problems fixed. And the upcoming BIOS versions due in a few weeks should be free from the “1T issue”. We recommend to the owners of abit Fatal1ty FP-IN9 SLI to check the availability of new BIOS versions more often.