Meet Foxconn Mainboards: Foxconn 925A01-8EKRS2 and Foxconn 915A01-8EKRS2 Mainboards Review

This review is our first introduction to Foxconn products. This company is a well-known mainboard and components contract manufacturer and this year they are entering the retail market. We took a really close look at two products from this manufacturer designed for Intel LGA775 platform.

by Ilya Gavrichenkov
12/14/2004 | 04:21 PM

This is our first review of mainboards that have recently appeared in the retail market under the Foxconn brand. This name doesn’t sound much as yet, but if you’re thinking that this is just another small upstart in the mainboard market, you are absolutely wrong. Foxconn is the registered trade name of Hon Hai Precision Industry, one of the biggest semiconductor companies in Taiwan, founded in 1974, which is currently a major contract supplier of parts for leading PC makers like HP/Compaq, Dell, Gateway, Apple, IBM and others.

 

Besides that, Foxconn is among the leading suppliers of mainboard components like slots and connectors. The company’s turnover and shipment volumes are huge, but its name has been rarely spoken among end-users as all its products have ultimately been sold under other brands. Now this situation is changing. Enjoying a growth of its profit, Foxconn is sallying out into new markets, and in the mainboard market, too.

Foxconn wants to position its products as inexpensive but high-quality solutions for high-performance computers and this positioning may become demanded by the market. Without voicing any specific names, we can complain that many mainstream and low-end mainboards are now rather low-quality products with limited functionality as they only rely on their well-recognized brand and low price. Foxconn’s alternative – good quality and low price – may become a revolution in this particular market sector.

Well, we’ve been quoting Foxconn so far and now it’s time to check Foxconn’s worth as we’ve got two LGA775 mainboards based on i925X Express and i915P Express chipsets: Foxconn 925A01-8EKRS2 and Foxconn 915A01-8EKRS2.

Specification and Accessories

Although based on different chipsets, Foxconn’s 925A01-8EKRS2 and 915A01-8EKRS2 mainboards have much in common, so we will discuss them en masse.


Foxconn 915A01-8EKRS2

 


Foxconn 925A01-8EKRS2

The similarity between these two mainboards goes beyond the snapshots; their capabilities differ but very little.

 

Foxconn 925A01-8EKRS2

Foxconn 915A01-8EKRS2

CPU

LGA775 Intel Pentium 4/Pentium 4 XE/Celeron (800/533 MHz FSB)

Chipset

Intel 925X Express

Intel 915P Express

FSB frequency, MHz

133-350 (with 1MHz increment)

133-350 (with 1MHz increment)

Overclocking friendly functions

Adjustable processor Vcore, Vmem, Vchipset.
Independently adjustable PCI Express and PCI bus frequencies.

Adjustable processor Vcore, Vmem, Vchipset.
Independently adjustable PCI Express and PCI bus frequencies.

Memory

4 DDR2 DIMM slots for dual/singlechannel DDR2-533/400 SDRAM

4 DDR2 DIMM slots for dual/singlechannel DDR2-533/400 SDRAM

PCI Express slots

1 x PCI Express x16

3 x PCI Express x1

1 x PCI Express x16

3 x PCI Express x1

PCI expansion slots

2

3

USB 2.0 ports

8 (4 – on the rear panel)

8 (4 – on the rear panel)

IEEE1394 ports

2 (1 – on the rear panel, by VIA VT6307 controller)

2 (1 – on the rear panel, by VIA VT6307 controller)

ATA-100/133

1 ATA-100 channel (by ICH6R)

1 ATA-100 channel (by ICH6R)

Serial ATA-150

4 Serial ATA-150 channels (by ICH6R, with RAID support)

4 Serial ATA-150 channels (by ICH6R, with RAID support)

IDE RAID support

RAID 0, 1, 0+1 and Matrix RAID by ICH6R

RAID 0, 1, 0+1 and Matrix RAID by ICH6R

Integrated sound

8-channel AC97 Realtek ALC880 codec

8-channel AC97 Realtek ALC880 codec

Integrated network

Gigabit Ethernet by Realtek RTL8110S-32 controller

Gigabit Ethernet by Realtek RTL8110S-32 controller

Additional features

None

None

BIOS

Phoenix-AwardBIOS v6.00PG

Phoenix-AwardBIOS v6.00PG

Form-factor

ATX, 305x245 mm

ATX, 305x245 mm

As the table shows, the reviewed mainboards from Foxconn are relatively simple; they don’t have too many additional onboard controllers other manufacturers are prone to scatter their products with. On the other hand, we can’t say the 925A01-8EKRS2 and 915A01-8EKRS2 lack anything important. No, they have everything necessary, but without any special features.

Foxconn also offers other modifications of these mainboards (with 10/100 Mbps Ethernet controller, without FireWire, and with a six-channel sound). The specific configuration is identified by the letters and numbers in the model name which have the following meanings:

As for the two configurations we had for our tests, they only differed in the chipsets and the number of PCI slots. The mainboards are shipped in standard-size boxes which are becoming rather rare nowadays. The accessories to these products match their functionality, including just the bare minimum of things. The package contents are the same for both mainboards:

The lack of any special accessories also helps to reduce the cost of the mainboards; the 925A01-8EKRS2 can be purchased for about $140 and the 915A01-8EKRS2 for about $120 in retail.

Closer Look

The Foxconn 925A01-8EKRS2 and Foxconn 915A01-8EKRS2 mainboards are relatively inexpensive products, so most of their functionality is provided by their chipsets. Yet, Foxconn doesn’t employ the cheapest possible versions of the chipsets. For example, the ICH6R South Bridges used in these mainboards support RAID arrays of levels 0, 1 and 0+1 as well as Matrix RAID technology, besides the basic characteristics.

The 925A01-8EKRS2 and 915A01-8EKRS2 mainboards support the full range of LGA775 processors with 800MHz or 533MHz FSB, including not only Pentium 4 but also Pentium 4 Extreme Edition and Celeron D. By the way, the manufacturer is regularly providing BIOS updates on its website to add support of newer CPU models. Thus, the latest versions of the BIOS (you can download them from www.foxconnchannel.com) support the recently released CPUs on the E0 stepping of the Prescott core, i.e. they support the NX bit as well as Enhanced Halt Mode C1E and Thermal Monitoring 2 technologies.

Each mainboard can take up to 4GB of DDR2 SDRAM into its four 240-pin DIMM slots. The slots are color-coded and you must put a pair of DDR2-533/400 SDRAM modules into same-color slots for the memory to work in the dual-channel mode.

Each of these two mainboard also has one PCI Express x16 slot for the graphics card and three PCI Express x1 expansion slots. Besides that, the Foxconn 925A01-8EKRS2 is equipped with two PCI slots, and the Foxconn 915A01-8EKRS2 – with three PCI slots.

The Serial ATA and USB 2.0 interfaces are realized through the chipset’s South Bridge. Each of the mainboards has four USB 2.0 ports at its connections panel and two additional onboard headers for attaching four more ports; two ports can be output via the enclosed USB bracket, and two more ports are supposed to connect to the front panel of the system case. Foxconn puts much emphasis on the fact that the PCB is wired to minimize the distance between the South Bridge and the USB ports, which has a positive effect on the “purity” of the signal on the USB connectors.

The mainboards also carry four Serial ATA-150 ports each – the standard SATA connectivity of the ICH6 South Bridge. The 925A01-8EKRS2 and 915A01-8EKRS2 mainboards actually have a seat on their PCBs for an additional Serial ATA controller from Silicon Image that would provide two more SATA ports, but this seat was empty on our samples. Since the ICH6R South Bridge doesn’t support FireWire, Foxconn’s engineers realized this interface through an onboard VT6307 controller from VIA. One of the controller’s ports is found at the mainboards’ connections panels while the other is found on board and can be output to the front panel of your system case. The VIA VT6307 chip isn’t the latest and most advanced controller available as it only supports the IEEE1394a version of the standard; its FireWire ports have a maximum speed of 400 Mbps only.

Both mainboards feature an eight-channel audio solution from Realtek – the ALC880 codec compliant with Intel’s High Definition Audio standard. So, the mainboards can give out an eight-channel sound and support Universal Audio Jack technology (the function of an audio connector is adjusted depending on the attached device). The connections panels of the reviewed mainboards carry six audio jacks plus an onboard pin-connector for a coaxial SPDIF output. Neither the 925A01-8EKRS2 nor the 915A01-8EKRS2 supports an optical SPDIF output.

As for the network controller, the reviewed mainboards from Foxconn are both equipped with Gigabit Ethernet Realtek RTL8110S-32 chips. Unfortunately, these chips are connected across the PCI bus, which may be a limitation on their speed. Foxconn didn’t use the PCI Express bus for the networking needs for reasons of economy.

There are two more curious things about the 925A01-8EKRS2 and 915A01-8EKRS2 mainboard models. First, both mainboards have an IrDA connector, i.e. an infrared port. Second, they both have a seldom-seen connector for attaching a Trusted Platform Module for a hardware realization of various encryption algorithms.

Design and Impressions

As mentioned above, the two reviewed mainboards are similar in their design. Without numerous additional controllers, the PCBs of the mainboards are rather simple and neat. Every connector is in its right place on the PCB – you won’t get a mess even if you attach cables to every connector here. And yet, Foxconn’s engineers put the USB and IEEE1394 onboard headers right in front of the PCI Express x1 and PCI slots, which may be inconvenient if you’re using many expansion cards. Another fault you could find with these mainboards is that their additional 12v power connectors are placed behind the CPU socket, so the cable will most likely go right above the CPU cooler. On the other hand, the Clear CMOS jumper is always accessible when the mainboard is installed in the system case.

You may also encounter difficulties installing memory modules into the Foxconn 915A01-8EKRS2 – it has one PCI slot more than the 925A01-8EKRS2 and the DIMM slot latches are blocked by the installed PCI Express x16 graphics card. The Foxconn 925A01-8EKRS2 is free from that problem.

Another minor drawback of these mainboards is the availability of two fan connectors: besides the CPU cooler, you can only attach one system fan to them.

The Foxconn 925A01-8EKRS2 and 915A01-8EKRS2 allow installing massive cooling systems without any problems – even the new gigantic coolers from Zalman fit easily as large components and slots are all at a sufficient distance away from the CPU socket.

The connections panel of the 925A01-8EKRS2 carries two traditional PS/2 ports, two serial and one parallel port, six audio jacks, four Hi-Speed USB connectors, one FireWire port, and one RJ-45 network connector with two integrated LED indicators. The 915A01-8EKRS2 offers the same, except it has only one serial (COM) port.


Foxconn 915A01-8EKRS2 back panel


Foxconn 925A01-8EKRS2 back panel

The CPU voltage regulator on the Foxconn 925A01-8EKRS2 is three-channel, on the Foxconn 915A01-8EKRS2 – dual-channel. The coils and MOSFETs employed in the modules of both mainboards are rather small, but the capacitors from Rubycon are a kind of warranty of reliability. When a powerful processor is installed, the MOSFETs become perceptibly hot, especially on the Foxconn 915A01-8EKRS2. So, in order to avoid any troubles, you must make sure the CPU cooler is blowing at the CPU voltage regulation module, too.


Foxconn 915A01-8EKRS2 voltage regulator


Foxconn 925A01-8EKRS2 voltage regulator

Massive aluminum heatsinks are mounted on the chipsets of the mainboards. We say this is sufficient cooling, and it’s rather good Foxconn didn’t add to the system’s noise by employing active cooling here.

Note also that the chipset’s South Bridges on both mainboards are without any heatsinks and are rather hot when working. The mainboards do have fastenings for a South Bridge heatsink, but Foxconn quite unwisely saved on it.

BIOS and Overclocking

The BIOS of the 925A01-8EKRS2 and 915A01-8EKRS2 mainboards is based on Phoenix-AwardBIOS v6.00PG microcode, deeply revised by Foxconn’s engineers. Besides the standard options, the BIOS offers two additional features, not present in mainboards from other manufacturers.

The first feature is the SuperBoot technology: the mainboards can skip over the detection of the system components at the start of the computer but will instead use the information they have got earlier and have stored in their nonvolatile memory. This helps to achieve much faster boot-up times: the computer in fact goes right to booting up the operating system, skipping the identification of the CPU, memory, USB devices, HDDs and so on.

The second feature is the SuperRecovery utility integrated into the BIOS. It allows creating a partition on the hard disk drive which is hidden from your OS. You can use this partition to keep backup copies of the BIOS Setup settings, of the partition table or of some data stored on the HDD. Of course, this information can anytime be used to restore the originals.

Otherwise, the BIOS Setup of both mainboards has everything necessary to configure the system. There are options to control the parameters of the integrated devices, of the PCI Express bus and of the memory subsystem.

Well, we’re anyway more interested in the overclocking-related options which are found on the SuperSpeed page of the BIOS Setup. This page is identical on both mainboards; an overclocker will find the following options here:

So, the 925A01-8EKRS2 and 915A01-8EKRS2 mainboards from Foxconn aren’t the overclocker-friendliest mainboards out there, but they do permit to adjust any of the most important settings. We only have gripes about the insufficiently wide range of the memory voltage, since there are advanced DDR2 SDRAM modules available that are rated for 2 volts, which is 0.2v above the default.

Well, the selection of overclocking-related options in the BIOS Setup is just one of the prerequisites for a satisfying overclocking experience. To make it possible, the manufacturer should also take care about an optimized BIOS code, about an appropriate design of the mainboard’s PCB, about the use of high-quality components. And this means we can’t judge a mainboard’s overclockability without some experimentation.

So, we wanted to find the maximum FSB frequency the 925A01-8EKRS2 and 915A01-8EKRS2 mainboards were stable at. To perform this test we took an engineering sample of the Intel Pentium 4 570J processor (3.8GHz frequency). Since this processor has a non-locked CPU multiplier, we dropped this multiplier to 14x to be able to step up the FSB clock rate without any limitations. For our overclocking tests not to by limited by the capabilities of the memory, we used overclocker-friendly Corsair CM2X512-5300C4PRO modules capable of working at up to 675MHz frequency.

The Foxconn 915A01-8EKRS2 mainboard, based on the i915P Express chipset, was the first to take place on our testbed.

Starting out cheerfully we soon stopped at 217MHz FSB – the system would not start up at a higher FSB clock rate. That’s not much, yes? One might even believe to people saying the i915/i925 chipsets were made protected against overclocking, and the mainboard makers had to avoid this protection. So, are these 217 megahertz really the overclocking peak for the 915A01-8EKRS2?

Of course, there’s no special protection against overclocking in i915/i925, but mainboards based on these chipsets are really difficult to overclock because of the high-speed PCI Express bus whose implementation has made the chipset’s arbitration logics more complex. The arbitration unit is a highly sensitive mechanism, which can be influenced by a slightest change in the speed parameters of the outgoing and incoming signals. And this unit affects the stability of the whole chipset! Thus, the ratio of the frequencies of various busses is directly connected to the arbitrator’s ability to correctly process the signals under the changing circumstances.

In practice this means that the ratio of PCI Express and FSB busses becomes a crucial thing for good overclocking: increasing the FSB clock rate alone we bring some misbalance into the system, rendering it inoperative. So, our overclocking recipe is simple in this case: we must increase the PCI Express frequency, too!

And really, setting 105MHz PCI Express frequency on the reviewed mainboard we managed to achieve 225MHz FSB frequency, keeping the system stable. At 110MHz PCI Express, the maximum stable FSB frequency was 238MHz and so on. That’s already better than those 217 megahertz of the FSB clock rate we got to at first.

Cutting the long story short, we followed our overclocking recipe to get to the maximum stable FSB frequency, which we found at 248MHz.

The frequency of the PCI Express bus was 115MHz at that, but our PCI Express graphics card, a Tul (PowerColor) X800 XT, remained perfectly stable.

We’d like to note that we didn’t raise any voltages to achieve the maximum result (to be frank, higher voltages didn’t help us to get any higher).

You may be wondering why mainboards from other manufacturers like ASUS or ABIT don’t require you to increase the PCI Express frequency when overclocking? Because these mainboards select the optimal PCI Express frequency automatically, without any actions on the user’s part. Moreover, the user isn’t even informed that the PCI Express frequency is growing up along with the FSB one. Some manufacturers even mislead the user saying the PCI Express clock rate remains at 100MHz during overclocking. So, returning to the Foxconn 915A01-8EKRS2, it can be excellently overclocked, although it does require some more effort on your side than mainboards from ASUS or ABIT do.

Now, let’s check out the other mainboard from Foxconn, the 915A01-8EKRS2 model, which is based on the more expensive i925X Express chipset.

This mainboard behaves alike to the 915A01-8EKRS2. That is, FSB overclocking should be accompanied with a growth of the PCI Express frequency, too. The more expensive i925X Express has a higher “margin of safety”, so we had better results here. Steadily increasing the FSB clock rate (and increasing the PCI Express frequency accordingly) we arrived at 275MHz at last:

That’s a really impressive achievement for an i925X Express based mainboard – few of the competing products are capable of repeating this feat.

To reach this FSB clock rate we had to increase the frequency of the PCI Express bus to 127MHz, but our Tul (PowerColor) X800 XT graphics card was stable both in 2D and 3D applications at that. Once again, we didn’t tweak any voltages during our overclocking tests.

By the way, the very process of overclocking a Foxconn mainboard goes very smoothly: if the mainboard cannot start up for a few seconds, it automatically restarts with its default settings.

A few words on monitoring will end this section of the review. Both mainboards allow keeping track of the temperatures of the CPU and the system, of the rotational speeds of two coolers and of five voltages. The monitoring-related page of the BIOS Setup has one more point of difference between the 925A01-8EKRS2 and the 915A01-8EKRS2 models: the latter, i915P-based mainboard has a technology that allows controlling the fan speed depending on the CPU temperature and you can enable or disable it in the BIOS Setup (there are no other settings). The 925A01-8EKRS2 doesn't have this technology at all.

Software

Mainboard manufacturers have recently been paying much attention to the software they supply with their products. We mean not the older versions of popular programs often included into the software bundle, but exclusive utilities for hardware monitoring, overclocking and so on, developed by the manufacturer itself.

The same bundle of three utilities comes with both reviewed mainboards from Foxconn:

The software you receive with your Foxconn 925A01-8EKRS2 or Foxconn 915A01-8EKRS2 mainboard doesn’t offer wide opportunities, but it’s still better than nothing. We hope Foxconn will continue to work to improve the software bundle it ships with its products.

Among the third-party utilities Foxconn supplies with its mainboards we’d like to single out Norton Internet Security 2004, a good personal firewall.

Performance

We can’t get along without our traditional performance tests. The testbed was configured using the following hardware:

The tests were run in Windows XP Service Pack 2.

The results of the tests follow below:

As you see, the mainboards from Foxconn don’t offer anything exceptional in terms of performance, but their speeds are quite normal for their class.

Conclusion

We’ve really enjoyed our first acquaintance with mainboards from Foxconn. The Foxconn 925A01-8EKRS2 and Foxconn 915A01-8EKRS2 models are rather inexpensive products based on Intel’s top-end i925X Express and i915P Express chipsets. These mainboards come with a bare minimum of accessories and are free from numerous additional onboard controllers – to make them cheaper. We guess this combination of high quality and low price should be quite successful in the market and we recommend it to users who want to save on the mainboard and will be satisfied with the basic set of capabilities as provided by Intel’s modern chipsets.

The reviewed mainboard models have much in common, but differ in their chipsets and some minor things. Particularly, the Foxconn 915A01-8EKRS2 has one PCI slot more and can control the CPU fan speed depending on the CPU temperature. The Foxconn 925A01-8EKRS2 boasts a higher overclockability instead.

And here, in a nutshell, are the good and bad aspects of the new LGA775 mainboards from Foxconn:

Highs:

Lows: