05/18/2011 | 11:03 AM
The word “mainboard” may provoke very different associations. It all depends on who hears this word. For many of you this word is associated with Asus and Gigabyte. These two largest Taiwanese manufacturers produce large mainboard families for each current chipset, and the variety of form-factors, functions and prices will definitely allow each and everyone to find a product for their specific needs. That is why we pay special attention to the mainboards from these two manufacturers in the first place, ensuring that they get reviewed among the first and coming back to them when new models appear in our labs. However, these two manufacturers are not the only ones in the market. Among other great products totally worth your attention is, for instance, Intel DP67BG, which we have recently reviewed on our site. Overall, this mainboard left a highly positive impression. It operates impeccably in nominal mode, but is quite capable of overclocking processors and memory; it is fast and at the same time energy-efficient enough. We should definitely give due credit to the developers of this product, but it is also important to remember that it was made by a popular contractor – Foxconn Company. Therefore, we were very curious to find out how good the mainboards branded under Foxconn’s own name would turn out, that is why we decided to check out Foxconn’s own P67A-S mainboard in our today’s review. It is designed for LGA1155 form-factor and is based on Intel P67 Express chipset, i.e. should have proper functionality for fine-tuning and overclocking.
The standard package with the mainboard is thin and isn’t overloaded with numerous logotypes. There is some information in several different languages about a few basic features of Foxconn mainboards on the back of the box.
Inside the box you find a mainboard and a spartanly modest set of accessories:
The mainboard is designed following traditional classical principles. All elements are where they should be and no obvious issues pop up at first glance. Moreover, the combination of black and yellow colors is very eye-pleasing:
The processor voltage regulator circuitry doesn’t amaze us with too many phases in it, but the components of it that run hot during work are covered with a uniquely shaped heatsink, and there is enough free space around the processor socket to accommodate large CPU coolers. Four memory DIMM slots can theoretically accommodate up to 32 GB of RAM, but when it comes to the memory operation modes, the information in the manual and on the official company web-site doesn’t match indicating 1066 or 1333 MHz for the lowest and 1800 or 2200 MHz for the highest frequency threshold. This discrepancy could be explained by the list of supported memory dividers, which will depend on the processor model. However, where is any mention of the graphics card slots? We can only assume that the available slots support not only ATI CrossFire, but also Nvidia SLI graphics configurations, that a single graphics card will work at PCI Express 2.0 x16 speed, and that with two graphics cards in the system the slots will work at half the original speed. The mainboard is equipped with only three four-pin fan connectors, and doesn’t know to control the rotation speed of the three-pin fans.
Among the additional elements, we could point out Power On and Reset buttons, a POST-code indicator and a row of contact spots for manual control of the most important voltages. Moreover, contemporary mainboards rarely come with PATA connectors, and in this case they used a Marvell 88SE6121 controller for that. It also provides support for the two eSATA ports on the back panel.
Overall, the backpanel contains the following ports and connectors:
The table below sums up all the features and specifications of Foxconn P67A-S mainboard:
The board uses BIOS based on AMI microcode. The following screenshots will show you what all the major BIOS sections look like.
Let’s take a closer look at the modest configuring options offered by this BIOS Setup. I have to admit that the drawbacks are not just numerous, but overwhelming. First of all, there is no section that would combine all parameters related to overclocking and fine-tuning in one. “Advanced” section may mislead you by a sub-section called “
The sub-section called “CPU Configuration” contains some information about the installed CPU and allows us to manage processor technologies.
In order to adjust the processor core voltage, its clock frequency multiplier and base clock, we have to go over to “Performance Tuning” sub-section and then to the “CPU Performance Tuning” page.
The memory frequency and four major memory timings can be adjusted in the “Chipset Performance Tuning” page.
Frankly speaking, the BIOS of Foxconn P67A-S mainboard is seriously inferior in its functionality even to the BIOS of Gigabyte GA-PH67A-UD3, which is based on Intel H67 Express and therefore has no overclocking abilities of any kind. There is no built-in utility for BIOS reflashing, no option that would allow you to save BIOS settings profiles. You can only increase two voltages, adjust only major memory timings and have no means of counteracting the voltage drop under heavy load. You can enable or disable connection between the processor fan and the CPU temperature, but there are no options that would allow you to adjust its rotation speed.
The only reason why we decided to resort to “FOX LiveUpdate” utility for Windows was the absence of any tools integrated into the BIOS. The updating procedure was supposed to go smoothly: all we had to do was to boot in DOS mode and launch flash.bat file. However, we were somewhat concerned about the Error.log file, which we found in the archive with the new BIOS version that we downloaded from the Foxconn web-site. The utility looks exactly the same as a few years ago:
Unfortunately, the program didn’t prove true to its name and couldn’t locate a new BIOS version by itself. Things weren’t so easy in the manual mode either: the utility simply didn’t see the new BIOS file, because it was looking for a file with “.ROM” extension, while it was supposed to look for a file with “.BIN” extension. However, even after that issue was resolved we still couldn’t complete the update, because we were supposed to switch the jumper disabling Intel Management Engine first. In my opinion, there were way too many complications for a routine BIOS reflashing procedure.
“FOX ONE” brand name utility also looks exactly like before. As far as I remember, we discussed its features and functionality a few years ago in our Foxconn A7DA 3.0 mainboard review.
It looks the same way, but the list of available functions has been significantly cut down since then. We can’t increase the processor clock multiplier or the frequency. The only thing we can actually change is the memory DIMM voltage. We can also disable automatic control of the processor fan rotation speed and use a fixed RPM value instead. And that’s about it. Plus this utility can also report if any of the parameters went beyond the acceptable value intervals and also change its appearance. To our great disappointment, it looks like this program is practically useless the way it is now.
We carried out our tests on a testbed that included the following components:
We used Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate SP1 64 bit (Microsoft Windows, Version 6.1, Build 7601: Service Pack 1) operating system, Intel Chipset Software Installation Utility version 220.127.116.115, Nvidia GeForce/ION Driver 266.58 graphics card driver.
We didn’t have any problems with the system assembly. The mainboard also worked perfectly fine in the nominal mode, it only took a little too long to boot. However, when it comes to processor overclocking, there were some problems, as the board couldn’t boot the operating system even at 4.6 GHz clock frequency, not to mention the 4.8 GHz maximum for our processor sample. We discovered that the board didn’t react to the changes of the processor core voltage and it always remained at its nominal setting. Luckily, our processor can overclock up to 4.5 GHz even with the default voltage.
In idle mode processor power-saving technologies kick in and lower the processor clock multiplier and voltage accordingly.
You can see that the mainboards lowers the base clock a little (by 0.2), but this is typical of many LGA1155 mainboards. Of course, this adjustment doesn’t have any serious effect on the performance, but we usually prefer to correct it, simply because we like solid numbers, especially since contemporary mainboards allow doing it just fine. We only failed to set the back clock to 100 MHz in two cases. For the first time it occurred with Intel DP67BG, because unlike other mainboards it doesn’t allow adjusting the frequency with an increment less than 1 MHz. and now is the second occurrence with Foxconn P67A-S mainboard: it turned out that when we increase this frequency in the BIOS, in reality it lowers from 99.8 MHz to 99.3 MHz, sow e had to give up this “correction” altogether. Luckily, there were no problems of any kind with the memory, which worked at 1600 MHz with 6-6-6-18-1T timings, just like on other mainboards.
As usual, we are going to compare the mainboards speeds in two different modes: in nominal mode and during CPU and memory overclocking. The first mode is interesting because it shows how well the mainboards work with their default settings. It is a known fact that most users do not fine-tune their systems, they simply choose the optimal BIOS settings and do nothing else. That is why we run a round of tests almost without interfering in any way with the default mainboard settings. For comparison purposes we are going to also include the results for Asus Sabertooth P67, GigabyteGA-P67A-UD4-B3 and Intel DP67BG. The results are sorted out in descending order and those of Foxconn P67A-S are marked with darker color on the diagrams.
We used Cinebench 11.5. All tests were run five times and the average result of the five runs was taken for the performance charts.
We have been using Fritz Chess Benchmark utility for a long time already and it proved very illustrative. It generated repeated results, the performance in it is scales perfectly depending on the number of involved computational threads.
A small video in x264 HD Benchmark 3.0 is encoded in two passes and then the entire process is repeated four times. The average results of the second pass are displayed on the following diagram:
We measured the performance in Adobe Photoshop using our own benchmark made from Retouch Artists Photoshop Speed Test that has been creatively modified. It includes typical editing of four 10-megapixel images from a digital photo camera.
In the archiving test a 1 GB file is compressed using LZMA2 algorithms, while other compression settings remain at defaults.
Like in the data compression test, the faster 16 million of Pi digits are calculated, the better. This is the only benchmark where the number of processor cores doesn’t really matter, because it creates single-threaded load.
There are good and bad things about complex performance tests. However, Futuremark benchmarking software has become extremely popular and is used for comparisons a lot. The diagram below shows the average results after three test-runs in 3DMark11 Performance mode with default settings:
Since we do not overclock graphics in our mainboard reviews, the next diagram shows only CPU tests from the 3DMark11 – Physics Score.
We use FC2 Benchmark Tool to go over Ranch Small map ten times in 1920x1080 resolution with high image quality settings in DirectX 10.
Resident Evil 5 game also has a built-in performance test. Its peculiarity is that it can really take advantage of multi-core processor architecture. The tests were run in DirectX 10 in 1920x1080 resolution with high image quality settings. The average of five test runs was taken for further analysis:
As we have expected, there is hardly any difference between these related mainboard. All of them run at almost the same speed, and Foxconn P67A-S is pretty much as fast as the others. Now let’s run the same exact tests in overclocked mode, when both - processor and memory – work at higher frequencies. I have to remind you that the CPU on Gigabyte GA-P67A-UD4-B3 was overclocked to 4.7 GHz, while our today’s hero had to stop at 4.5 GHz. The CPU frequency was increased to 4.8 GHz on other main boards participating in our today’s test session. Memory worked at 1600 MHz with 6-6-6-18-1T timings in all cases.
The performance difference here is much more noticeable, and Foxconn P67A-S falls about 6% behind the mainboards capable of overclocking the processor to its maximum.
We performed our power consumption measurements using an Extech Power Analyzer 380803. This device is connected before the PSU and measures the power draw of the entire system (without the monitor), including the power loss that occurs in the PSU itself. In the idle mode we start the system up and wait until it stops accessing the hard disk. Then we use LinX to load the CPU. For a more illustrative picture there are graphs that show how the computer power consumption grows up depending on the number of active execution threads in LinX. All mainboards on the diagrams are sorted in alphabetical order.
We were not surprised to see that Foxconn P67A-S mainboard turned out to be pretty energy-efficient compared with the other testing participants, because it was the only mainboard that couldn’t increase the processor Vcore and therefore has to sacrifice its performance instead. However, in nominal mode things are a little more contradicting. Foxconn mainboard is the most energy-efficient in idle mode, it boasts average power consumption in single-threaded applications, but it turned out the most power-hungry during maximum CPU utilization: it was the only mainboard to consume over 140 W of power.
It must have been wrong to use the same approach to Foxconn P67A-S mainboard as we applied to all other contemporary Intel P67 Express based mainboards. In reality it turned out incomparable with them in functionality, being inferior in many aspects even to some entry-level mainboards on Intel H67 Express, which are incapable of overclocking at all. Moreover, out of those few overclocking-related options that the board has, the most important ones didn’t work properly.
The proprietary software from Foxconn also makes a pretty sad impression. It is hopelessly outdated in both: interface as well as functionality. This mainboard is obviously targeted for those who do not overclock or fine-tune their systems and prefer nominal mode with default settings. In this respect, the mainboard has every chance for popularity. Pretty rich functionality of the Intel P67 Express chipset has been extended even further with additional controllers providing support for USB 3.0, PATA and eSATA. Very low price of this mainboard is yet another appealing feature that will encourage the demand.