by Platon Scheblykin
08/21/2005 | 09:27 PM
Intel’s platform has undergone a series of changes recently like transition to a 64-bit architecture and dual-core processors with appropriate new chipsets, yet older, 5xx processors are viable still. Moreover, following the market laws they have become even more affordable. And if there’s demand for processors, there is also demand for appropriate mainboards.
One such mainboard has come to our test lab. It is the high-end 925XE7AA model from Foxconn. Let me get down to business right away by showing you its specification.
Here are the basic characteristics of the reviewed mainboard:
LGA775 Pentium4 800/1066MHz
82925XE Express North Bridge
200-260MHz with 1MHz increment
4 DDR DIMM slots for DDR2 400/533 SDRAM
Graphics card slot
PCI Express x16
PCI Express slots
1 x PCI Express x16
PCI expansion slots
3 x PCI
USB 2.0 ports
8 USB 2.0 ports
3 100/200/400 Mbit/s ports
Back panel connectors
1 x PS/2 keyboard
1 x ATA100
Phoenix-Award BIOS v6.0PG
IDE RAID support
RAID 0, 1, 0+1
Overclocking friendly features in the BIOS
ATX, 12” x 9.6”
A heap of various brackets and cables are enclosed with the mainboard. I found the following in the box:
So, there’s everything you may need, and my only gripe was about the quality of the ATA-100 and FDD cables. They are made as separate wires in rubber pipes, the so-called aerodynamic version. But the rubber casing is thick, so the cables are too stiff. Moreover, one connector just collapsed in my fingers when I was mounting hard drives. I tend to believe that I just had bad luck having got a defective connector, because Foxconn has always provided excellent accessory quality. Anyway, I hope Foxconn will pay more attention to the quality of accessories they include with their mainboards. I have no complaints other than that one.
The reviewed mainboard is a high-end product and is supposed to look appropriately. Foxconn was up to my expectations in this respect. No, this mainboard is not for hardcore modders who like to put the stuffing of their system case on display. It doesn’t shine or blink or shimmer with all the colors of the rainbow. But the appealing color scheme and the beautiful heatsinks on both chipset’s bridges add a certain charm to this mainboard. Well, high-end products just can’t look ugly, but it is the abundance of chips and connectors on the PCB that appeals to me most. At first sight the 925XE7AA seems to have a high functionality. Of course, I’ll check if it is really so, but the first impression is favorable.
Now let’s see how the mainboard’s PCB is designed. Like with other LGA 775 mainboards, the CPU socket of the reviewed mainboard is initially covered with a protecting cap. After you’ve removed it and installed the CPU, you can take a look around: the elements near the CPU socket largely determine which CPU cooler can be used here. Sometimes tall capacitors from the CPU power circuit prevent you from mounting massive coolers on the processor. Fortunately, this is not a problem with the 925XE7AA – the capacitors are really near the socket, but are not very tall so they don't stay in the way when you are mounting the cooler.
It is the fan on the chipset’s North Bridge that can become a problem, rather. It is not too far off the LGA775 socket, so you may have some troubles with certain CPU cooler models. But frankly speaking I don’t think this is a serious problem because most air coolers are easily mounted on the 925XE7AA. And even in the worst case you can just remove the fan from the North Bridge.
The memory slots are split into two groups (by two slots belonging to one memory channel). This improves their ventilation and simplifies their installation.
The onboard controllers are almost all soldered near the expansion slots, save for the system monitoring controller and the BIOS chip (quite unusually the BIOS flash chip is not near the battery but rather at the opposite side of the PCB).
The mainboard offers seven expansion slots: three PCI, one PCI Express x16, and three PCI Express x1. So, you can add in your older expansion cards as well as purchase new ones. The PCI Express slots are placed in a rather unusual way, with x16 and x1 slots alternating.
This is done for the graphics card in the PCI Express x16 slot not to block the DIMM slots as would happen otherwise.
As for the placement of the onboard connectors, I think it is quite logical. When the mainboard is installed in the system case, almost all the connectors are at the bottom. The exception is one PATA connector, one FDD and one IrDA connector which are at the top right corner of the case, but this is a small inconvenience considering the component density of this mainboard. The power connectors are placed properly, too. The attached power cables won’t break airflows inside the case.
The 925XE7AA mainboard is based on the i925XE chipset, one of the best for Intel’s 32-bit processors. The chipset supports Pentium 4 (including Pentium 4 Extreme Edition the i925XE is specially optimized for) and Celeron D processors for Socket LGA775. The FSB frequency is 200MHz for 5xx series processors and 266MHz for Pentium 4 Extreme Edition. There is a three-channel CPU voltage regulator on board, but you can see only two channels on the next snapshot (the third channel is located somewhat farther away from these two).
The memory controller from the chipset’s North Bridge officially supports DDR2-400 and -533 memory and unofficially DDR2-667. The mainboard offers four DIMM slots for a maximum of 4GB memory. Dual-channel memory access is supported. As a graphical interface, the i925XE Express uses a PCI Express x16 bus, just like the senior i925X Express chipset.
The ICH6R South Bridge on its part supports six PCI slots (three are available on the mainboard) and four PCI Express x1 slots (three are physically available). The eight USB 2.0 ports provided by the chipset can all be used: four such ports are at the mainboard’s connections panel and four more are available as two onboard dual-port headers. And lastly, the ICH6R allows you to connect to the mainboard as many as two PATA and four SATA-150 devices. The SATA drives can be united into RAID arrays of levels 0, 1, 0+1, or Intel Matrix Storage (in the latter case a RAID 0+1 array is organized on two disks using one half of the available storage space for RAID0 and another half for RAID1).
The functionality of the mainboard doesn’t end here, though. Particularly, there are two more disk drives controllers. Silicon Image’s SATALink SiI3114TC176 RAID-controller supports four SATA drives and permits to unite them into RAID arrays of level 0, 1 or 0+1.
And ITE’s IT8212F RAID controller supports four PATA drives with ability to unite them in RAID arrays of level 0, 1, 0+1 or JBOD (in the latter case all the connected drives are regarded by the system as one big disk drive).
So, the 925XE7AA allows you to connect as many as six PATA and eight SATA devices simultaneously and to unite most of these drives into RAID arrays. That’s quite a lot, especially if you add a floppy drive, too. Mainboards that support so many disk storage devices are really rare, if we don’t count in products originally targeted at the server market.
The 925XE7AA also has two network controllers. The first one is a BCM5789KFB chip connected to the PCI Express x1 bus.
And the second one is a BCM5788KFB chip connected to PCI.
Both chips are manufactured by Broadcom and support Gigabit Ethernet.
This mainboard offers you another popular peripheral interface, by providing three 800Mbps FireWire ports. These are supported by a physical-level controller TSB81BA3:
... and a channel-level controller TSB82AA2:
Both chips are made by Texas Instruments.
ITE’s IT8712F-A chip is employed as a monitoring, SuperI/O and FDD controller. I should note that the capabilities of this chip are not used fully here (particularly, this chip could support a card-reader).
And finally, the mainboard makes use of Realtek’s ALC880 AC’97 codec. It reproduces sound in the High-Definition Audio format, automatically detects devices attached to the audio connectors, and supports SPDIF connectors (the mainboard offers a coaxial output) and so on.
The parameters of this codec can be set up in the mainboard’s BIOS like shown below:
The results of my checking the audio section with RightMark AudioAnalyzer 5.5 are presented below:
Frequency response (from 40 Hz to 15 kHz), dB:
Noise level, dB (A):
Dynamic range, dB (A):
IMD + Noise, %:
Stereo crosstalk, dB:
IMD at 10 kHz, %:
General performance: Good.
So, the voice of this mainboard sounds quite good.
The BIOS of the reviewed mainboard is based on Phoenix Award 6.0PG microcode. This microcode is quite popular among the mainboard makers, so let’s get right to the options this BIOS offers to us, especially to the overclocking-related ones.
Foxconn is always trying to improve the BIOS interface, so the overclocking settings of the 925XE7AA can be found on these BIOS pages:
If you’ve carefully read the list above, you must have realized that the 925XE7AA is not an overclocker-friendly product. Even though it offers all the settings necessary for overclocking, the main parameters have too narrow ranges. The CPU voltage range is the only really wide one, but you can’t do much changing this voltage alone. So I didn’t have much hope about the overclockability of this mainboard.
Before overclocking it in practice, I want to tell you about one thing you cannot do without when speeding up your computer. It’s the mainboard’s fan/temperature/voltage monitoring system. It can be managed from the BIOS Setup or through Foxconn’s exclusive utility (well, you can use third-party utilities, too, if you wish). The monitoring options are gathered on the BIOS’s PC Health Status page:
That’s not a very long list and the options can only satisfy an undemanding user. If you want to control the above-listed parameters from the OS, you can use the SuperStep utility from the SuperUtility suite which Foxconn includes with the reviewed mainboard. Here’s what this utility can do:
Besides SuperStep, the SuperUtility suite includes a Windows-based BIOS reflash utility called SuperUpdate. I used it to update the mainboard’s BIOS and found it quite convenient.
Talking about Foxconn’s software at large, I can’t call it very helpful. You are offered almost the same controls as in the BIOS Setup and which, as I said above, are insufficient for comfortable overclocking.
To check out the overclocking potential of the mainboard, I took an engineering sample of the Pentium 4 560 Prescott processor which allowed changing its frequency multiplier. I reduced it to 14x and began to increase the FBS clock rate steadily. Cutting it short, I found the maximum of the FSB frequency at 265MHz. This result is normal for ordinary Pentium 4 5xx processors and I kind of transformed this Pentium 4 560 into a Pentium 4 Extreme Edition.
The results of my experiments are shown on the next CPU-Z screenshots:
We tested the performance of the mainboard using the following components:
The results of the tests are listed below:
FSB=200 MHz x 18
FSB257MHz x 14
SiSoft Sandra 2005,
SuperPI 4M, sec
Quake 3 Arena (four)
Doom 3, Medium quality,
FarCry (Regulator), 1024x768
Half-Life 2(xdog), 1024x768
Unreal Tournament 2004 Demo,
I should note that I had to disable the CPU tests from 3DMark05 as the cooling system couldn’t keep the overclocked processor at an acceptable temperature (it was very hot here when I was running the tests). The rest of the tests were passed without problems.
The second column shows the performance of the system at the default CPU frequency but at overclocked memory and FSB frequencies so that you could see how these parameters can affect the performance of this mainboard.
As a conclusion to this review I want to say it once again that the Foxconn 925XE7AA mainboard is definitely not for overclockers and modders. So what category of users could it be recommended to? Of course, like many other mainboards, it will suit an ordinary and not very demanding user, even a mainstream gamer.
But there is a category of people for whom this mainboard may be an ideal solution. I mean people who play with networking technologies in their home. The reviewed mainboard would make an ideal foundation for a home server, for example. This mainboard can support a huge amount of disk storage space and offers advanced networking capabilities with wide expansion options (like installing Wi-Fi adapters and so on) – what else might you need to explore and use networking technologies?