The Board: A Closer Look

When it comes to high-end, uber-overclocking, record-breaking motherboard manufacturers, you usually do not think about the ECS.  ECS has been a huge OEM for many years, and has never really produced anything that would be considered top-dog as far as performance goes.  They did have the K7S5A that may bring back alot of memories (good and bad) for those that have been in the overclocking scene for awhile.  I went through a few of those boards myself!  Today, we have the ECS KA3MVP Extreme motherboard to look at.  ECS touts this board, as the name suggests, as an MVP board and they say it is extreme.  Well, let's take a look at the board and see if it is all that!

ECS KA3MVP

 

Specifications  

 
CPU
  Socket AM2 with AMD Athlon 64 FX/ Athlon 64/ Athlon 64 X2 Dual-Core/ Sempron processor
  Support for 64-bit extended operating systems
  Support transfer rate of 2000/1600/1200/800/400 mega-transfers per second.
  Highly overclockable and robust Hypertransport interface
 
 
CHIPSET
  ATI CrossFire Xpress 3200
  North Bridge: ATI RD580
  South Bridge: ATI SB600
 
 
MEMORY
  Dual-channel DDR2 memory architecture
  4 x 240-pin DDR2 DIMM socket support up to 32GB
  Support DDR2 800/667/533/400 DDR2 SDRAM
 
 
EXPANSION SLOT
  2 x PCI Express x16 slots
  1 x PCI Express x1 slot
  2 x PCI slots
 
 
STORAGE
  Supported by SB600
  -- 2 x Ultra DMA133/100/66/33 device
  -- 4 x Serial ATA2 devices
  -- RAID0, RAID1, RAID10 configuration
  Supported by JMB363
  -- 2 x Ultra DMA133/100/66 devices
  -- 2 x Serial ATA2 devices
  -- RAID0, RAID1& RAID 0+1 configuration
  -- Support NCQ&eSATA & Hot plug&Port Multiplier
 
 
AUDIO
  Realtek ALC883 8-channel audio CODEC
 
 
IEEE 1394a
  VIA VT6308P support 2 x IEEE1394a ports
 
 
DUAL LAN
  Agere E1310I Gigabit LAN controller
  Realtek 8100C 10/100 Mbps Fast Ethernet controller
 
 
REAR PANEL I/O
  1 x PS/2 keyboard & PS/2 mouse connectors
  4 x USB ports
  2 x RJ45 LAN connectors
  1 x Serial port (COM1)
  1 x Audio port (Line-in,4x Line-out, Mic_in)
  2 x Digital SPDIF (Optical & Coaxial) out
 
 
INTERNAL I/O CONNECTORS & HEADERS
  1 x 24-pin ATX Power Supply connector
  1 x 4-pin ATX 12V connector
  1 x Auxiliary 4-pin +12V connector
  2 x IDE connectors
  1 x FDD connector
  6 x Serial ATA connectors
  1 x Speaker header
  1 x IrDA for SIR header
  2 x 1394a headers
  3 x USB 2.0 headers support additional 6 USB ports
  1 x Front panel switch/LED header
  1 x Front panel audio header
  CD in header
  1 x 26-pin LPT header
  CPU / Chassis FAN headers
  1x CPUFAN/1x SYSFAN/3x CASFAN connectors
 
 
SYSTEM BIOS
  Award BIOS with 4Mb Flash ROM
  Supports Plug and Play 1.0A, APM 1.2, Multi Boot, DMI
  Supports ACPI revision 1.0 specification
 
 
FORM FACTOR
  ATX Size 305mm*244mm

The Layout

ecs ka3mvp

One look at the board, and it does appear as if this board was indeed built for the enthusiast.  It has some unusual color schemes (I affectionately call it my Barney board, as my kids say it reminds them of that big, purple dino!).  It is multi-colored with orange and green and red sprinkled all over the board.  ECS got a little creative in other areas as well.  Let's take a look at everything.   

ECS KA3MVP dimms

First off, in the top right of the board we see that we have our typical DDR2 slots.  These slots support DDR2 memory at speeds of 800/667/533/400, and up to a total of 32GB installed.  Of course, that is very extreme for a motherboard, especially considering that Windows XP can only handle 4Gb, and only really utilize around 3.5Gb of that.  Of course, Vista in on the horizon, and is suppose to support more ram.  And if you are not using Windows, you will not have these limitations either.  To the right of the DIMM slots we see the 24 pin power connector, and just to the right of that is the floppy connector. Just underneath the DIMM slots we have an IDE connector.  I am not to fond of this positioning, but it really did not pose any problems for our use of this board. 

ecs ka3mvp bios chip

On the bottom right of the board, just under the oddly place IDE connector, we see four orange SATA ports.  These are powered by the SB600 southbridge, and support 4 SATA2 devices, as well as Raid 0, 1, and 10 configurations.  To the left of those SATA connectors we can see ECS got a little creative with their southbridge heatsink.  Though this looked aweful small to me, I never had any overheating issues, though the heatsink did get very warm to the touch.  Right underneath that, we see the bios chip.  In itself, it is not very unusual, but ECS has included in the bundle an item called tophat flash.  This is basically an extra bios chip that fits over the embedded chip on the board, and allows you to start the board and then flash the embedded chip to whichever bios you prefer.  This is a nice touch, and assures the extreme overclocker that even if he corrupts his bios, he has a backup and can be up and running within minutes of a bad flash.  Take a look at the TopHat:

ECS KA3MVP tophat ECS KA3MVP tophat

Just underneath the bios we see two more SATA2 ports.  These are powered by the JMB363, and support Raid 0, 1, 0+1; as well as SATA2, NCQ, eSATA, and hot plug and port multiplier features.  Certainly, you have plenty of storage options on this board.  This type of drive support would also fall under the catagory of extreme, fitting the name of the board.

Underneath the bottom SATA ports, we see the clear cmos jumper, which is very close to the SATA ports.  We also have the front I/O connectors here.  And at the very bottom of the board, we have another IDE connector.  To the left of that we have a variety of USB and Firewire headers.

ECS KA3MVP pci slots

The bottom left of the board sports our audio chip.  This board has the Realtek ALC883 audio codec which provides 8 channel sound (7.1) with auto jack sensing.  We also have all of our expansion card slots here.  There are two legacy pci slots for those using an add-on sound card, TV tuner, or other pci device.  There are also two PCI Express x16 slots, and one PCI Express x1 slot.  With the two x16 slots, you have the ability to run this board in Crossfire configuration using two ATI cards.  Running Crossfire is also an "Extreme" for this board.

ECS KA3MVP cpu socket

The top left of the board gives us our northbridge heatsink and CPU socket.  Just as a note, the CPU retention bracket on this board was a much better fit for our Corsair water cooler than on the last two boards we looked at.  At the bottom left corner of the CPU socket, you can see the 4-pin 12v connector tucked in nice and close to a capacitor.  Actually, this was not "nice" at all, as it was a tight fit.  The back I/O panal includes your typical legacy ps/2, seriel and parallell ports, as well as four USB ports, two lan ports and your audio ports, which include optical and coax digital outs.  As you can see, another extreme step that ECS took for this board is to add a fan to the back I/O port to help cool the power area of the board.  Though this is not the most attractive fan/cooling I have seen for a board, it is effective.  Take a look at a couple more pics of this setup:

ECS KA3MVP ports

ECS KA3MVP fan

ECS KA3MVP pcie tabs

One thing worth mentioning is the type of release system used on the pci and pcie slots.  We have seen this before, but these release tabs are nearly impossible to use once you get a full size ATI or Nvidia card installed.  Please ECS, get some real tabs for this!

ECS KA3MVP leds

This board alos sports some blue LEDS that flash when the power is on the board.  Some of you case modders out there might like this.

ECS KA3MVP heatsink

Just wanted to leave this part of the review with a close-up of the southbridge heatsink.  Extreme indeed!  in fact, i would have to say that so far, the ECS lives up to its "Extreme" name with an Extreme layout and feature set.

The Bundle

ECS KA3MVP bundle

ECS did a very good job with the included bundle.  You get a nice color guide book and driver/application cds.  You an assortment of drive cable for your floppy, IDE and SATA drives.  You also get a USB, Game and External SATA header, which is a nice addition.  The board has what is called Tophat bios, which we explain in the layout section of the review.  Of course, you also get your trusty back I/O plate!  ECS also includes a front I/O drive plate that fits the floppy drive, so you can access to your USB devices.  Oh, and don't forget the case badge!  All in all, they did a good job with the bundle.

The Bios

ECS KA3MVP bios

ECS decided to go with the typical Award bios, which as always, is easy to navigate through.  At first glance, there is nothing "Extreme" about the actual bios itself.  Let's look at a few of the more interesting aspects of it.

ECS KA3MVP bios

The Advanced Chipset page is where you will find the DRAM settings, as well as LDT and PCIe setups.

ECS KA3MVP bios

Under the DRAM settings we find nearly everything we need to make our ram run at its fullest potential.  Our ram divider/multiplier is here, as well as settings for all of your ram timings.   Oh wait!  Let's look again, there is no place to set Cas or the command rate.  The board automatically set the cas for our Adata DDR2 800 at 5, and a command rate of 2t.  Certainly this had to be a mistake!  This is an "Extreme" board!  But careful inspection of every area of the bios, and a bios flash later revealed that this board fails to be extreme in the area of ram.  I was very disappointed to find this out.  Legit Reviews sent an email to ECS to ask about this, and as of about 10 days later, it has yet to be answered.  ECS get a thumbs down on "Extreme" email answering.

ECS KA3MVP bios

The Integrated Peripherals page is where you will set up all of your drives for RAID or IDE.  You also will enable and disable you lan, sound, IEEE1394 and other such items from this page of the bios.

ECS KA3MVP bios

I will say that ECS certainly looks "Extreme" on this page of the bios.  There are many settings for the PCIe configuration here, although there is no explanation of them in the manual.  Some are obvious though, and will help in your setup.

ECS KA3MVP bios

"Extreme" is hardly a word i would use for the vcore options onthis board either.  It goes up to 1.35v, which is absolutely horrible for an overclocker.

ECS KA3MVP bios

There are other voltages that are included here.  You can adjust the HTT and Northbridge voltages to +.15v over stock.  DDR2 can be taken all the way up to +.35 over stock.  The CPU clock can be taken all the way up to 500, which is more than enough.  All in all, the only disappointment in voltages is the vcore.  It will surely be something that holds back overclocking onthis board.

ECS KA3MVP bios

The Health page shows up plenty of information that we need, giving us the temps, fan speeds and voltages that are important to keep track of.  That is really everything you need to see in the bios.  Nothing that I would consider "Extreme," but average.

The Test Setup

Benchmarks and Testing Setup:

Test Platform:

AMD Test Platform

Component

Brand/Model

Live Pricing

Processor

AMD Athlon 64 X2 5000+

Motherboard

ECS KA3MVP Deluxe

Video Card

ATI X1900 XTX

ATI X1900 CF

 

Memory

Adata PC2 6400 2 GB kit

Hard Drive

Western Digital 250GB, 16mb Cache

Cooling

Corsair Nautilus

Power Supply

Antec Neo HE 550

Operating System

Windows XP Professional w/SP2

 

All tests were run using a clean install of Windows XP Professional with SP2. Both boards used the latest release bios.  For our stock speed tests, we ran everything at default timings for the CPU.  Our stock speed testing used Adata DDR2 6400 2 GB kit, at speeds of 4-4-4-12 and 1.8 vDimm.  Timings for our overclocking were left 4-4-4-12 and 1.8v, but the ram divider was set to 533 to take any ram issues out of the CPU overclocking.  The video card was left at default timings as well for all tests.  For this review, stability was determined by running our battery of tests, plus the ability to complete a SuperPi 32mb test run.

The Tests: Overall System Performance - World Bench 5

PC World; WorldBench 5.0

WorldBench 5 runs on PCs using the Home, Professional, Media Center, and Tablet PC versions of Windows XP. Fifteen applications (counting the components of Office XP), make up the WorldBench 5 suite.

ECS KA3MVP worldbench

The scores are once again a little out of balance, as the MSI board come in at 3 points higher than the ECS in the overall score.  Let's take a look at the individual results and see where the boards fell.

Image Description

ECS KA3MVP worldbench

ECS KA3MVP worldbench

ECS KA3MVP worldbench

ECS KA3MVP worldbench

ECS KA3MVP worldbench

Same old story.  The ECS falls to the MSI by a narrow margin in all but one tests, and that one is a tie.  Let's continue!

The Tests: Overall System Performance - World Bench 5 Continued

ECS KA3MVP worldbench

ECS KA3MVP worldbench

ECS KA3MVP worldbench

ECS KA3MVP worldbench

ECS KA3MVP worldbench

ECS KA3MVP worldbench

ECS KA3MVP worldbench

We see one tie, and the rest a win for the MSI again on these tests.  Once again, we would like to say that this is probably due to the ECS having a castrated bios.  Only time, and a new bios will tell.  Let's move on to some other benches to see if the trend continues.

The Tests: Overall System Performance and Memory Bandwidth

PCMark05:

PCMark05 is an application-based benchmark and a premium tool for measuring overall PC performance. It uses portions of real applications instead of including very large applications or using specifically created code. This allows PCMark05 to be a smaller installation as well as to report very accurate results.

ECS KA3MVP pc mark

A nearly 150 point difference separates the MSI board from the ECS board here in our PCMark bench.  There really should not be this big of a difference between boards with the same chipset, so I thik we could actually blame the lower scores we will see through most of these tests that are run at default as memory related, since we do not have the ability to set the Cas and Command Rate settings.  Let's continue!

Everest Version 2.20:

Everst 2.20  is a professional system information, diagnostics and benchmarking program for Win32 platforms. It extracts details of all components of the PC. It also tests the actual read and write speeds of your memory giving a fairly accurate look of true memory performance.

ECS KA3MVP everest

ECS KA3MVP everest

Sisoft; Sandra 2005 SR3a:

Sisoft Sandra 2005 is designed to test the theoretical power of a complete system and individual components. The numbers taken though are, again, purely theoretical and may not represent real world performance. Higher numbers represent better performance in memory bandwidth. The chart was based off of the unbuffered bandwidth scores.

ECS KA3MVP sandra

ECS KA3MVP sandra

ScienceMark 2.0 Final:

Science Mark 2.0 is an attempt to put the truth behind benchmarking. In an attempt to model real world demands and performance, ScienceMark 2.0 is a suite of high-performance benchmarks that realistically stress system performance without architectural bias. All of our testing was completed on the 32 Bit Final benchmark version that is dated March 21st 2005.

sciencemark

I was actually rather suprised that the ECS board did so well in the Sandra and Everest memory bandwidth testing.  The boards were not even close on the Sciencemark test though, as the MSI board just blew it out of the water. 

Super PI Mod v1.5:

Super PI is a program a lot of enthusiasts use to benchmark overall system performance, as the program is capable of calculating pi up to 33.55 million digits on a timer. Many overclockers and enthusiasts are in a battle to get the lowest Super Pi times possible.  We use the 2MB test this time, as it demands quite a bit more stability than a 1MB test.  Of course, most believe using the 32MB test is a must to prove stability.

ECS KA3MVP super pi

Once again I believe we see the memory issues hurting this board, as it is over 2 seconds slower than the ECS in the SuperPi 2M test.  This "Extreme" board just makes me long for more as I see it up against another board of a similiar chipset. 

The Tests: 3D and Gaming Performance

3DMark05

3DMark05 is best suited for the latest generation of DirectX 9.0 graphics cards. It is the first benchmark to require a DirectX9.0 compliant hardware with support for Pixel Shaders 2.0 or higher! By combining high quality 3D tests, CPU tests, feature tests, image quality tools, and much more, 3DMark05 is a premium benchmark for evaluating the latest generation of gaming hardware.

ECS KA3MVP 3d mark

 

3DMark06

3DMark06 is the latest version in the popular 3DMark series, including advanced SM2.0 and HDR/SM3.0 Shader graphics tests and now including single, multiple core and multiple processor CPU tests as part of the 3DMark score!

 ECS KA3MVP 3d mark

Once again, we see the ECS KA3MVP Extreme fall just short of the offering from MSI.  Once again, I can't help but think that it is due to the lack of memory control over the Cas and Command Rate.  Once ECS gets a bios ready that will allow these settings, this board should be right on par with other boards.

 

AquaMark3

AquaMark3 is a powerful tool to determine reliable information about the gaming performance of a computer system. All settings for this test were left at default.

ECS KA3MVP aquamark

ECS KA3MVP aquamark

 

Doom 3

Doom 3 is a great choice for system benchmarking because of its built in time demo.  For this test, we used Time Demo 1 with resolution set to 1280x1024 withe the rest of the settings being default.

ECS KA3MVP doom 3

 

Far Cry

Far Cry is another super popular FPS title that seriously taxes your systems graphics. HardwareOC developed this specialized benchmarking utility that automatically runs the test twice and averages out the score. V 1.41 was used here, with a resolution of 1024x768 and detail levels set to high.

ECS KA3MVP farcry

 

F.E.A.R

First Encounter Assault Recon or F.E.A.R. Anyone who has played this game knows that it brings any computer to it's knees. Fantastic visuals, this is one of the most advanced graphic engines we have seen. If you haven't played this game you should really check it out. Both graphics and machine settings were on "Maximum" in the F.E.A.R. performance menu.  Settings were at 4xAA and 16xAF.

ECS KA3MVP fear

We see the same with the rest of the real game tests here.  As I write this I am just waiting to get an answer from ECS about a new bios, but nothing as of yet!  The best way to put it is that this board has potential, but is just being held back!

The Tests: Overclocking

OK, so far we have seen that this ECS board lives up to its name of "Extreme" in the area of features and bundle.  It does not do so well in the area of bios settings for "Extreme" use of the board in memory timings and in vcore voltage.  Because of the lack of control over the Cas and Command rate, this board did not score "Extreme" as compared to the MSI K9A Platinum.  The last are to look at that has us wondering about the "Extreme" name is the are of overclocking.  I can tell you right now, with the lack of vcore settings in the bios, I was not looking for anything great from this board.  And I was right.  Our overclocking was frustrating from the beginning, as the board just did not seem to respond well to large changes in HTT settings.  We had to raise the HTT by no more than 10 at a time to do our overclocking.  I could not just set it to 260 and go with it.  I had to start at 200 and work my way up.  And once you hit the wall, the only way I could get the board back MOST of the time was to clear the cmos.  Once and a while the board would come back with a power down and then a power up, but not often.

We started by using the stock multiplier on the 5000+ that we have, which is 13.  With it set at that we were able to get the board to 219.  And that was with the vcore maxed!

ecs ka3mvp overclock

We then switched to a multiplier of 11.  With that, and still with the vcore maxed, we were able to reach an HTT of 252.

ecs ka3mvp overclock

Lastly, we went with a multiplier of 10, and we were then able to get up to an HTT setting of 270. 

ecs ka3mvp

Clearly, this board was no where near the "Extreme" when it came to overclocking, as we have been able to get this CPU over 3.1ghz on other boards.  Maybe a new bios can help with this as well.  Time will tell!

Update: A New Bios

UPDATE:  ECS did send us another bios after we contacted them for a second time.  We saw the mention of a new bios on another site that had reviewed this board, and immediately we contacted ECS to get it. 

It was not long after I finished my article that we here at Legit Reviews heard from ECS about a bios that would address the issues that we found on the KA3 Extreme board.  And it did address these things. 

First off, the ram timings that were missing, Cas and command rate, were now present and are working fine.  This is great news for those who like to have full control over their systems. 

 ecs ka3mvp 1t

ecs ka3mvp cas 

ecs ka3mvp bios

With these settings now available to be manually set, we ran a few of our benchmarks over to give you an idea of how the 4-4-4-12 and 1t timings affected performance.

ecs ka3mvp everest

ecs ka3mvp everest

ecs ka3mvp superpi

ecs ka3mvp 3dmark 06

As you can see, and as expected, the ability to set the timings to Cas4 and 1T helped our scores out.  The bios proved to help in overclocking a bit as well.  Take a look at our new results using the 10x multiplier:

ecs ka3mvp overclock

We were able to get the board stable up to an HTT of 284.  This is a good increse over the previous limit of 270 with this multiplier.  We could go a little higher, but it was not stable at all.  300HTT was no where in site on this board with our setup, though we have been able to to do it with ease on a few other boards. 

Our stock multiplier results also faired much better, as we were able to get the board up to 230 without any issues at all.  Clearly, someone at ECS finally took the time to do some tweaking of the bios, and ended up with some good results.  I would still say that the overclocking is still no where near extreme on this board, but it is much better than with the previous bios that we were using. 

I was still diappointed to see that the vcore was still stuck at 1.35v.  I am sure that we may have been able to do a little better on this board with more juice available.  I am not sure if ECS will give us that for this board or not, we can only hope.

For now, my opinion of the board is slightly better that before.  I still think that the board could be better with a few more bios tweaks, but overall, I would say that this board is perfect for the mild to averqage overclocker, and for the individual who likes to run things at stock settings.  Once again, if ECS does happen to contact us in the near future with another new bios that helps this board out, we will let you know!

The Conclusion

ECS KA3MVP

It is a very difficult thing when you get a board and have such great feelings about it, and yet come away just not being satisfied.  As I write my conclusion, the best way I can put my feelings about this ECS offering is by making an application from my life.  As I write this, I am watching my youngest, who is 10 months old, walk around the house holding on to the furniture.  She is actually doing quite well for herself as she is learning to walk.  Every once and a while, she will let go of the furniture and look like she is about to take a step, and I watch her with great anticipation, just knowing something good could happen, only to have her turn and grab the chair or couch, or me to keep safe.  What a let down!  I think I am gonna see her first steps, and then... not!

This board reminded me of my daughter.  I watched it and used it with great anticipation, only to be disappointed at the last.  I was not disappointed in the features or the bundle.  ECS has some great ideas included with the board, like the Tophat bios.  But the lack of control in the memory timings and in the vcore options just took the air out of my sail.  The only thing that I could hope for was for ECS to come through with a bios that would allow us to have a little more control over things.  Not long after I finished this review, that happened, and this board went from sheer disappointment to a decent board at a reasonable price compared to other feature rich boards.  If this new bios had not come out, this board could be like many other that have put out.  Great potential, but in the end, just a puff of smoke!  Not only did the new bios take this board from just another board to a decent option, but the price of the board has just taken a major drop as well.  The ECS KA3MVP is available for $94.99 after a $30 rebate making this motherboard the lowest price ATI XPRESS 3200 on the market today. 

Legit Reviews Value Award

The Legit Bottom Line

ECS made a noble attempt at an Extreme enthusiast board.  Their features are outstanding, but the early bios releases lacked the necessary ingrediants to make it a stellar board.  ECS is certainly to be commended for their work in making this board something to talk about.  And now that it has full memory control, and can be considered a decent overclocker, I would say that this board is certainly deserving of our value award!