08/20/2007 | 06:06 PM
Trying to make the best impression and demonstrate most of their advantages, the mainboard makers usually send us their top-of-the-line solutions from the Platinum or Premium series, or even mainboards with their own unique names.
However, there are a lot of users out there, who do not really need rich accessories bundles, additional controllers and they can do just fine without sophisticated cooling systems. If you find the numerous features of elite mainboard solutions excessive, then you might want to check out simpler models or maybe even turn to other mainboard manufacturers.
ECS (Elitegroup Computer System) also has a number of advanced mainboard solutions in their product line-up. But nevertheless, one of the largest Taiwanese mainboard manufacturers makes their major focus on inexpensive products offering basic, functionality, which is quite sufficient in most cases.
Our today’s review will be devoted to ECS P35T-A mainboard for Intel processors that is based on a popular and relatively new Intel P35 Express chipset.
The times when each mainboard required the whole bunch of additional expansion cards have long passed. Contemporary chipset features are rich enough for the manufacturers to design full functional products that hardly need any additional controllers to be integrated on them. The mainboards are ready to rock right from the start and in most cases their features are more than enough for most user needs, even if it is a budget solution.
The list of technical specifications given above give you a pretty general idea of the mainboard features. I don’t know if you can actually find any drawbacks in it at all. But at first glance I could probably mention such omissions as the absence of an IEEE1394 controller that is currently available on most contemporary mainboards. It is not a significant drawback that can actually be balanced out by a not very significant advantage, namely the availability of the infra-red IrDA ports, that isn’t available on most mainboards these days any more.
ECS P35T-A mainboard comes in a box designed exactly the same way as any other contemporary Elitegroup mainboard:
The box is very thin, because there are very few accessories inside. The manufacturer supplies the mainboard with a user’s manual, installation poster, a CD disk with drivers, one IDE and one SATA cable, and I/O Shield for the rear panel. One piece of each, and no FDD cable at all (although you will hardly need it these days anyway).
All in all, if we look at ECS P35T-A, the design will seem pretty flawless, without any serious issues that would catch your eye right away.
Even when we take a closer look at the mainboard PCB we don’t notice any serious drawbacks. The only thing I have to point out is the absence of the traditional PCB layout scheme in the user’s manual. They decided to use a much less illustrative photo instead. Take a look:
I was pretty surprised to see that ECS P35T-A mainboard features two PCI Express x16 slots. However, don’t forget that the second one works at four times lower speed than the primary one. According to the manual, there are only two graphics cards that ECS P35T-A supports in Crossfire mode:
A much longer list of graphics accelerators is claimed to be operational in the secondary PCI Express x4 slot, although it doesn’t include the last generation ATI and Nvidia solutions:
You may notice one thing that is not really typical of Elitegroup mainboards: MOSFET transistors are packed in a close group and covered with a heatsink. Another thing that I have never seen by ECS mainboards before is the electronic components used for the processor voltage regulator circuitry: they used different types of solid-state capacitors.
On the reverse side of the mainboard PCB, right underneath the processor socket there are no big electronic components: the area is clean and empty. There are a few small component parts hanging there, but they are very unlikely to hinder the installation of cooler backplates.
The chipset North Bridge is covered with a small heatsink. Cooling systems like that are usually installed on chipset South Bridges, though.
By the way, if you wish, you may remove the heatsink from the chipset North Bridge and install it on the South Bridge easily. There are proper retention holes around the South Bridge, although the chip is covered with the ECS sticker, no heatsink by default.
ECS P35T-A mainboard uses regular ICH9 South Bridge chip without RAID support. There is also an empty spot for the IEEE1394 controller, but it is not laid out on the PCB. There are also three USB pin-connectors that allow up to 6 additional USB 2.0 ports. JMicron JMB361 controller is responsible for the implementation of the eSATA port on the mainboard rear panel and an IDE1 connector that can host up to two Ultra DMA133/100/66 devices. The connector could have been put in a more optimal place, as Parallel ATA hard drives are rarely used these days, and the cable for the oprical device will have to run through the entire system case.
There are pin-connectors along the lower right corner of the PCB, including the LPT connector. It is a not very common location, but it is definitely better than nothing. Elitegroup mainboards usually don’t have color-coding on the front panel connector block. There are no markings even on the mainboard textolite although a lot of space is taken by the practically useless inscriptions, such as USB 2.0, SATA II 3Gb/s, ATA 133, etc.
I was a little disappointed that there are no fan connectors around the chipset South bridge area. Altogether there are three fan connectors, and they are all in upper left part of the PCB. You will need to use an extender/converter to connect the front panel fan for air intake.
The rear panel of ECS P35T-A mainboard features PS/2 ports for keyboard and mouse, a COM port, eSATA, 6 USB ports, network RJ45 port and six audio-jacks. They used 8-channel Realtek ALC883 codec for audio and a pretty rare on contemporary mainboards Intel 82566DC GigaLAN Controller for network support.
ECS P35T-A mainboard was tested with the first and only BIOS version available at the time of our review: version dating back to 06.12.07. The BIOS itself is based on AMI code and look pretty common:
The developers didn’t modify anything seriously. For example, they didn’t collect all the overclocking-friendly features in one special section. Advanced Setup page includes processor parameters and system boot-up management options.
Advanced Chipset Setup page contains memory settings. We can set the memory as DDR2 667 or DDR2 800 and change the major timings.
Integrated Peripherals section allows adjusting the operation of different interfaces and controllers.
PC Health section is not very rich in settings. We can monitor three voltages, two temperatures and rotation speed of two fans.
Processor fan rotation speed can be adjusted, but only if the connector is a four-pin one.
So, we have finally got to Frequency /Voltage Control section, which is also not very rich in settings. Processor clock frequency multiplier cannot be changed, FSB frequency can theoretically be increased to 500MHz, the memory can receive 1.85, 1.9, 1.95 or 2.0V. The chipset North Bridge voltage can be raised by 4%, 8, or 12% above the nominal.
We were pretty surprised with the CPU Voltage parameter settings: the voltage changes in the interval between 1.1V and 1.5V with an unusually large increment of 0.05V.
A large increment like that will hardly let you set the exact desired voltage: it should be at least half the size. The increment of 0.05V is more suitable for memory, but not the CPU.
To check out our mainboard’s overclocking friendly features we assembled the following testbed:
First boot-up went on fine. The system worked flawlessly in nominal mode. But when we got to overclocking Elitegroup let us down, as always. Our test processor can overclock up to 490MHz FSB, however it could only hit 350MHz FSN on ECS P35T-A mainboard – it is a very low result.
At 360MHz frequency the board refused to start at all: it is a real BIOS issue, but I wouldn’t hope that new BIOS versions will be free from this problem. Elitegroup Company always corrects mistakes (if any exist) and adds support of new processor models in the new BIOS versions, but doesn’t improve the overclocking-friendly features of their mainboards, unfortunately.
However, even if there was an improvement, it would have hardly helped us a lot. You may have noticed that ECS P35T-A mainboard supports DDR2 667 as well as DDR2 800 SDRAM, and that’s it. If the nominal memory setting is DDR2 667, our processor with the default FSB frequency of 266MHz will use an increasing 4:5 divider. As a result, the memory frequency will rise to 875MHz in case we overclock to 350MHz FSB.
Taking into account that the memory can receive maximum 2.0V, which is even lower than the nominal voltage for Corsair Dominator TWIN2X2048-9136C5D that we use, there is hardly any chance to hit higher speeds at all.
Theoretically, the situation looks better for processors with 333MHz FSB. In this case the DDR2 667 memory setting means they will use a 1:1 divider. It is the minimal possible memory divider for Intel P35 chipset and it is usually used for processor overclocking experiments. However, the BIOS limitation that prevents us from getting beyond 350MHz brings us back to the ground. Even CPUs with 333MHz FSB cannot overclock beyond this frequency, which we have actually seen during our practical experiments.
But this is not all yet. CPUs with 266MHz and 333MHz FSB are relatively expensive. Therefore, the ECS P35T-A users will most likely install processors with 200MHz FSB, such as Core 2 Duo from E4xxx series, Pentium Dual-Core, Celeron 4xx. Paradoxical as it might seem, but the mainboard is least of all suitable for overclocking of these particular processors. To set the memory as DDR2 667 you will have to apply an even greater increasing divider of 3:5. It means that we will not be able to hit even 300MHz FSB in this case, because the memory frequency will get close to 1000MHz.
So, what advantages does ECS P35T-A mainboard have to offer us when we consider purchasing it for our systems? Low price? - Well, the boards on Intel 945 series chipsets with Conroe support overclock as good as ECS P35T-A, but cost even less. Support of 45nm processors? – Quite some time will pass before they come out and by the time they appear in the market there will be a few other options already available. Even ECS P35T-A mainboard will already cost even less in about 6 months. So looks like it would be pretty hard to find a good reason to decide on this board at this time.
As for the performance of the ECS P35T-A mainboard, there is not much to say here. Any mainboard that is more or less overclocking friendly will outperform Elitegroup, so ECS P35T-A need to work fine at default speeds to score well. Therefore, we decided to check out its performance in nominal mode, because far not all the computer users overclock their systems. So, we will compare the performance of ECS P35T-A mainboard against that of a “reference” Asus P5K Deluxe.
However, when we got to setting ECS P35T-A mainboard for our tests we realized that even in nominal mode we can hardly expect this platform to run fast. This mainboard supports very limited set of FSB:Mem dividers, so there is no way to clock the memory as DDR2-1067. That is why if Asus P5K Deluxe worked fine with DDR2-1067 memory with 5-5-5-15 timings, ECS P35T-A mainboard could only run with DDR2-800 SDRAM with 4-4-4-12 settings.
Our test platforms were configured as follows:
As usual, first of all we would like to check out the performance in synthetic benchmarks revealing the memory subsystem speed. The thing is that this particular parameter has the biggest influence on the performance of mainboards for Intel processors. For our tests we used Everest 4.0 utility.
The memory controller on ECS P35T-A mainboard is not the fastest one that is why all the results obtained in complex tests and real applications didn’t surprise us.
Slower memory controller of ECS P35T-A mainboard tells on the complex tests as well as on real applications. This mainboard falls about 1-2% behind Asus P5K Deluxe. But I have to admit that this is hardly a serious drawback for a mainboard that costs half the price of Asus P5K Deluxe.
Brand name, trade mark… These pretty virtual notions cost quite a bit of money not for nothing. Brand names have great influence on the decision making of any contemporary person. And the computer industry is no exception. If you have once purchased a processor, mainboard or graphics card and had a good experience with it, the chances are very high that next time you will go for something from the same vendor. I have seen many times, that the users prefer to match a Gigabyte or Asus mainboard with a VGA card from the same manufacturer. And today you can even get a CPU cooler and a system case, all from one and the same company.
Our choices are very often determined by personal preferences: we either like something or don’t. In the computer industry you can very often come across people who just love one brand and absolutely hate another.
So, why did I start this conversation? Is ECS a brand name? Of course! No doubt about it! But are there a lot of people who can call themselves real ECS fans?
Take, for instance, ECS P35T-A mainboard we discussed today. The mainboard made a pretty neutral impression: it doesn’t push you away, but also doesn’t really attract at the same time. It cannot overclock very well, but it works fine in nominal mode. It boasts pretty modest set of features and accessories bundle, but offers acceptable PCB design and is free from noisy fans. There is nothing we could really complain about, but at the same time, not much to praise, either.
So, it turns out that ECS P35T-A is available in the market, for a pretty affordable price, but at the same time it has no spark about it, no distinguishing feature that would make you remember it and single out among the whole bunch of other work horses out there.