ECS and 680i
ECS has been on a warpath recently in releasing a line that is called "Extreme." It is nice to see ECS producing boards with the enthusiast user in mind, and to do it using a variety or chipsets, that each has their own position in the market. The top of the market now happens to be the Nvidia 680i chipset, and ECS has jumped right in on this high end chipset with another Extreme board. We have the opportunity to look at that board today, and see just how good the 680i and ECS are together. Let's take a quick look at the specs:
ATX (304mm x 244mm / 12” x 9.6”)
|Supports Intel® Core™ 2 Extreme (dual and quad core), Core™ 2 Quad, Core™ 2 Duo, Pentium® D, Pentium® 4, and Celeron® D Socket 775 processors|
NVIDIA nForce 680i SLI MCP
|•||Four 240-pin DDR2 DIMMs up to 8GB|
|•||Supports Dual Channel DDR2 400/533/667/800 memory|
|•||(2) PCI Express x16 slots for dual PCI Express graphics cards|
|•||(1) PCI Express x8 slot|
|•||(2) PCI Express x1 slot|
|•||(2) PCI slots|
|•||Enhanced 8-channel High Definition Azalia audio|
|•||Supports SPDIF output and jack sensing|
|•||Supports six native SATA2 3.0Gb/s devices|
|•||Hot-swap capability, allowing disks to be changed without
powering down the system
|•||Optimized for NVIDIA MediaShield(tm) Storage technology|
|•||Supports SATA ATAPI devices|
One Ultra DMA IDE connector supports 33/66/100/133
One Floppy Disk Drive connector supports up to 2.88MB
|Two 10/100/1000 Base-T Gigabit Ethernet (LAN) interfaces|
Two 1394a ports support up to 400Mb/s data transfer rate
Rear panel I/O ports
|•||PS/2 Mouse and Keyboard port|
|•||(1) IEEE1394a Port|
|•||(6) USB 2.0 ports|
|•||(2) Gigabit LAN Ports|
|•||(6) ports for 8-Channel Audio|
|•||(1) S/PDIF Output Port|
Internal I/O connectors
|•||(4) 3x1 pin fan connectors|
|•||(1) 4x1 pin CPU fan connector|
|•||(6) SATA2 connectors|
|•||(1) IDE connector|
|•||(1) FDD connector|
|•||(2) 5x2 pin USB connectors for an additional 4 USB ports|
|•||(1) IEEE1394a connector|
|•||(1) 5x2 pin Front Panel connector|
|•||(1) 5x2 pin Serial connector|
|•||(1) 5x2 pin Front Audio|
|•||(1) 4-pin Molex Auxiliary Power connector|
|•||(1) 24-pin ATX Power connector|
|•||(1) 8-pin ATX 12V Power connector|
As you look at the board, you can see from first glance that the design is attractive and simple. The color scheme does not scream "LOOK AT ME," but has a simple elegance to it using the blue and black scheme. As you look at the board, you can also see that there is a lot of stuff on the board, which makes for some tight fits that we will see as we look at each area of the board.
The top right of the board is where we find our Dimm slots. This board supports Dual-channel DDR2 memory architecture up to 8 GB, at speeds of DDR2 800/667/533/400. To the right of the dimm slots, we actually see quite a bit crammed in. You have your 24-pin power connector towards the top. An IDE connector is located just under that. To the left of the IDE connector is a 4-pin molex power connector, which adds stability to the board when running in an SLi configuration. Just under the 4-pin molex connector we find our four SATA connectors. These connectors are powered by the Nvidia chipset, and are SATAII compliant. They also support running RAID in 0, 1, 0+1, 5 and JBOD.
One other thing crammed in here, which is hardly visable in the pic above are the front panel connectors. Take a closer look...
Yup, there they are. They are color coded, which is nice. But with all of these things located in this area of the board, I cannot help but think that this will be very tight and hard to work with; especially if you are using the 4-pin molex power connector and running SLi, while running 3 or 4 SATA drives.
The bottom right of the board gives us our first peek at the cooling for the north and south bridges. ECS has gone with a passive cooling setup for the southbridge, which seems just fine as it did not even get hot during our testing. The battery and bios are on this part of the board, as well as an assortment of IEEE1394 and USB headers. This area of the board actually houses a couple other very interesting things that ECS has included on this board. Let's take a little closer look and see what we have.
On the outer edge of the board, we have the floppy connector as well as two more SATA connectors, giving us a total of six SATA connectors on the board. This is a unique design, and to be honest, we will have to reserve judgment on the placement of these SATA connectors for a later time, after we have used the board and seen other's results. To me, they look very fragile and easy to break once you have a SATA cable plugged in. We will have to see!
ECS also includes a diagnostic LED display to help with troubleshooting the board. This is a nice touch, and certainly a feature that one looks for in a higher end board.
The bottom left of the board is where we will find our add-in card slots. The PN2 SLI2+ has a total of 7 expansion card slots for use. It includes two legacy pci slots, 2 x1 pci-e slots, and 3 x16 pci-e slots. The two black pci-e x16 slots are fully 16x speed slots. These two slots are also the ones to use for running SLi. The third (blue) x16 pci-e slot will run only at 8x speeds, and will allow for future add-on for your rig (like Physics cards).
Sound on the PN2 SLI2+ is powered by the Realtek ALC885, and supports Intel 8-channel HD Audio.
The dual lan is powered by two Marvell 88E1116 Gigabit Fast Ethernet chips.
One thing that is a little irritating on ECS boards is their choice to continue to use pci-e clips that are just nearly impossible to get to once you have a card installed. There are certainly better choices out there, and we sure wish they would find their way to ECS boards!
I absolutely love the addition of power and reset buttons on the board. This makes a reviewers (and many enthusiasts) life a little easier. They would be hard to get to if you full the bottom pci slot. A better position would have been to the bottom right edge of the board.
The top right of the board houses our CPU socket, which is nice and clear of any obstructions, or anything that would even come close to hindering the installation of a HSF or any other means of cooling. You can also see the 8-pin power connector tucked in right behind the I/O ports, just above the heatsink.
There are many heatsinks placed over the power area of the board. It is nice to know that ECS was thinking about cooling, which means to me "overclocking." These did get warm when running the rig, but that is their purpose isn't it?
The back I/O port has your usual suspects, such as your ps2 mouse and keyboard connectors, your firewire and six USB ports and your audio jacks. We also have our dual gig-lan and SPDIF out for our audio. I actually expected to see an e-SATA port, as many of the new boards are coming with that option, but it is not there.
One last thing I would like to mention is the northbridge fan that ECS includes. I am not sure why it is not connected by default, but I am sure thankful that ECS includes this fan in the package, as these chipsets seem to produce some serious heat! The above pic shows - NO FAN FOR YOU! Below, we see the fan assembled.
Alright, that is all we need to look at here. Let's take a look at the bundle and the bios.
Bundle and BIOS
The ECS PN2 SLI2+ comes with quite a bit of "stuff" in the box. You have your media that is included, which consists of 3 cds, the manual and a quick start guide. You also have you assortment of cables, including SATA, SATA power, IDE, floppy and even a cable for your lan. Also included in the box is your back plate, a USB/firewire header, and a fan for the northbridge. The bundle is actually quite good, which continues the trend we have seen with the Extreme series of boards.
The ECS PN2 SLI2+ uses the Award bios, which we are very comfortable with as it seems to be on the majority of boards we test. Since we conver this bios so much, let's just look at the interesting and customized parts of the bios.
The Advanced Bios page is where we will find the options for our hard drives and CD/DvD drives. It also is where we can setup our boot order.
The Advanced Chipset page is where we will spend most of our time, as it contains the options that we will be adjusting the most as we set up the system and also as we get into our overclocking.
On the FSB and Memory Config page, we have a few interesting settings that are available to us. First off, this is where you set up your memory to run in SLI. You also have settings that are related to the CPU fsb speed, mem speeds and memory timings.
First off, your memory has the option to run up to 1400ddr. This is a pretty high speed, but we are getting closer to that every day!
The CPU fsb setting goes all the way up to 2500.
One nice feature that has started popping up on boards is the ability to run in linked or unlinked mode, which allows you to set the memory and fsb speeds of the CPU individually. This allows you to tweak to your hearts delight, and get the best performance out of each piece of equipment that you have.
ECS has chosen to put the most basic timings in the bios to be adjusted. For a first time overclocker, or those who just like to get the initial overclock and not spend days adjusting secondary timings, this will be a good thing. If you enjoy tweaking for days on end, this bios does not allow for it. ECS has included the option to adjust many of the system voltages within the bios. Take a look at all the options...
Vcore goes all the way to 1.8v! That is nice, especially for those phase change guys!
CPU fsb voltage allows up to 1.5v.
Vdimm is allowed a healthy 2.5v. Nice!
1.55v for the SPP.
And 1.75v for the MCP.
HT voltage between the SPP a MCP is adjustable up to 1.55v.
ECS does give us the option to save profiles in the bios. I personally love this option.
Drives and other peripherals are easy to set up. This is also the page that you configure your raid setup if you are running it.
The last page that I want to show is the health page. ECS gives us all the info we need here.
Let's look at our test setup.
Test SetupBenchmarks and Testing Setup:
Intel Core 2 Duo E6600 (2.4ghz)
ECS PN2 SLI2+ Extreme
Asus P5N-E SLI
ATI X1900 XTX
Corsair C6400C4 2 GB kit
Western Digital 250GB, 16mb Cache
Antec Neo HE 550
Windows XP Professional w/SP2
All tests were run using a clean install of Windows XP Professional with SP2. For our stock speed tests, we ran everything at default timings for the CPU. Our stock speed testing used Corsair DDR2 C6400C4 2 GB kit at 1.9 vDimm at DDR2 800. Timings for our overclocking were left 4-4-4-12 and 1.9v, but the ram divider was set to the lowest possible to take any ram issues out of the CPU overclocking. Vcore is set at 1.5v for 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.
SiSoft; Sandra 2007
Sisoft; Sandra 2007:
SiSoftware, founded in 1995, is one of the leading providers of computer analysis, diagnostic and benchmarking software. The flagship product, known as "SANDRA", was launched in 1997 and has become one of the most widely used products in its field. SANDRA is used by almost 400 world-wide IT publications, magazines, review sites to analyze the performance of today?s computers.
Multi-Core Support: As well as SMP (multi-processor) and SMT (multi-threading/Hyper-Threading) support we have added multi-core support for future AMD and Intel CPUs. The benchmarks have been optimized to schedule the optimum number of threads on the optimum (virtual) CPU on both multi-core and Hyper-Threaded computers.
Our Sandra tests reveal that our boards are very closely the same performance wise even though these boards represent four different chipsets. This should not really be much of a surprise, as most boards these days are very similar performance-wise at default settings.
POV-Ray 3.7 Beta 13a
Processor Performance on Pov-Ray 3.7 Beta 13a:
The Persistence of Vision Ray-Tracer was developed from DKBTrace 2.12 (written by David K. Buck and Aaron A. Collins) by a bunch of people (called the POV-Team) in their spare time. It is an high-quality, totally free tool for creating stunning three-dimensional graphics. It is available in official versions for Windows, Mac OS/Mac OS X and i86 Linux. The POV-Ray package includes detailed instructions on using the ray-tracer and creating scenes. Many stunning scenes are included with POV-Ray so you can start creating images immediately when you get the package. These scenes can be modified so you do not have to start from scratch. In addition to the pre-defined scenes, a large library of pre-defined shapes and materials is provided. You can include these shapes and materials in your own scenes by just including the library file name at the top of your scene file, and by using the shape or material name in your scene. Since this is free software feel free to download this version and try it out on your own.
The most significant change from the end-user point of view between versions 3.6 and 3.7 is the addition of SMP (symmetric multiprocessing) support, which in a nutshell allows the renderer to run on as many CPU's as you have installed on your computer. This will be particularly useful for those users who intend purchasing a dual-core CPU or who already have a two (or more) processor machine. On a two-CPU system the rendering speed in some scenes almost doubles. For our benchmarking we used version 3.7 as all of the processors we are testing today are dual-core.
Once rendering on the object we selected was completed, we took the score from dialog box, which indicates the average PPS for the benchmark. A higher PPS indicates faster system performance.
The Foxconn with the Intel 975 chipset takes the lead here in our render testing in POV Ray, although once again, they are all pretty close.
Our CPU score mirrors the results we saw in the Render test, with the Foxconn coming out on top.
POV-Ray Real-Time Raytracing
Legit Reviews was e-mailed by one of the developers over at POV-Ray to see if LR could include real-time raytracing in our performance analysis of Kentsfield and Quad FX. After spending a bit of time to get the beta software to work correctly LR has some of the only real-time raytracing numbers available for Conroe, Kentsfield and Quad FX platforms.
A little bit of a surprise here, as the 680i ECS PN2 SLI2+ comes in last place in the Real-Time Tracing. The chipset that is the "Little Brother" to the 680i, the 650i, comes in on top.
ScienceMark 2.0 Beta:
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. For the Memory Testing, higher numbers represent better performance. On the remaining tests, lower seconds represent better performance.
Our ScienceMark numbers reveal the Asus P5N-E SLi is the board to beat for Memory Bandwidth. We named our review of that board the 680i killer, and it looks like it is holding true against the ECS 680i board, although it is not too far behind.
EVEREST Ultimate Edition; v3.50:
EVEREST Ultimate Edition is an industry leading system diagnostics and benchmarking solution for enthusiasts PC users, based on the award-winning EVEREST Technology. During system optimizations and tweaking it provides essential system and overclock information, advanced hardware monitoring and diagnostics capabilities to check the effects of the applied settings. CPU, FPU and memory benchmarks are available to measure the actual system performance and compare it to previous states or other systems.
Multi-Core Support:Full support for dual and quad-core Intel Core 2 Duo, Core 2 Quad, Core 2 Extreme and Xeon processors, including CPU diode temperature measurement for all processor cores. Fully optimized CPU and SSE-enabled floating-point benchmarks to show the outstanding performance of Core 2 processors.
The Everest Memory bandwidth results are pretty much a dead heat. This was the logical outcome of these two boards since they are so closely related(we did not have Everest results for the Intel and Nvidia 590). shipset boards)
Super PI Mod v1.5
Our results are all bunched together once again as we look at the SuperPi 2M testing. All of the boards are very close.
MAXON; CINEBENCH 9.5:
CINEBENCH is the free benchmarking tool for Windows and Mac OS based on the powerful 3D software CINEMA 4D. Consequently, the results of tests conducted using CINEBENCH 9.5 carry significant weight when analyzing a computer?s performance in everyday use. Especially a system?s CPU and the OpenGL capabilities of its graphics card are put through their paces (even multiprocessor systems with up to 16 dedicated CPUs or processor cores). During the testing procedure, all relevant data is ascertained with which the performance of different computers can subsequently be compared, regardless of operating system. Again, higher Frames/Second and lower rendering time in seconds equal better performance.
Nothing strange here. Cannot pick out a winner or loser, they all do just fine.
RARLAB - WinRar v3.61 has a multithreaded version of the RAR compression algorithm, which improves the compression speed on computers with several CPU, dual core CPU and processors with hyperthreading technology. Multithreading is enabled by default, but you can disable it in "General" part of "Settings" dialog.
The ECS PN2 SLI2+ does not quite as well and the 650i and the 7975XAB boards in our WinRAR testing. It does beat out its younger sibling quite easily though.
RightMark Audio Analyer
In interpreting the results on the boards, we see that the Dynamic Range and Noise Levels on the ECS PN2 SLI2+ is superior to the other boards represented here, as the greater the dBA the better. We can also see that when it comes to the THD and IMD percentages, the ECS does not do quite as well as the than other boards, since lower percentages mean better audio. Any of the boards audio will probably be fine for most people, even for gaming and movies. But if you are a die hard audiophile, you will likely get an add-on card for the best sound that is available.
Hd Tach 3
Hd Tach 3
HD Tach will test the sequential read, random access and interface burst speeds of your attached storage device (hard drive, flash drive, removable drive, etc). All drive technologies such as SCSI, IDE/ATA, 1394, USB, SATA and RAID are supported. Test results from HD Tach can be used to confirm manufacturer specs, analyze your system for proper performance, and compare your performance with others. HD Tach is very easy to use, quick, and presents data in easy to read graphs, including the ability to compare two storage devices on screen at the same time for easy analysis.
The PN2 SLI2+ falls behind all the other boards in this testing. Even the 590i board trumps it in our HD Tach testing.
3DMark06 includes an array of 3D graphics, CPU and 3D feature tests for overall performance measurement of current and future PC gaming systems. With this broader design approach, 3DMark06 has become the benchmark of choice for all PCs with top-of-the-line graphics hardware and CPUs. 3DMark06 is the first product from Futuremark using the AGEIA PhysX software physics library in two very complex, game-like threaded CPU tests conceived to measure properly performances of single processor, multi-core and multiple processor systems in next generation of games. In addition to using real-time physics, both CPU tests also employ multi-threaded artificial intelligence algorithms. By combining the results of the two CPU tests and four graphics tests, 3DMark06 enables users to get a 3DMark score which reflects the overall gaming performance of their PC.
The ECS board shines in 3dMark testing, as it takes the prize in the over all score, and places second int he CPU score of 3dMark.
Sierra; F.E.A.R w/ v1.0.8 patch:
F.E.A.R. (First Encounter Assault and Recon) is a first-person close-quarters combat game for the PC. The story begins when a paramilitary force infiltrates a multi-billion dollar aerospace compound, and the government responds by sending in Special Forces. The group loses contact with the government when an eerie signal interrupts radio communications--and when that interference subsides moments later, the team has been destroyed. That's where you come in. As part of a classified strike team created to deal with threats no one else can handle, your mission is simple: eliminate the intruders at any cost, determine the origin of the signal, and contain the potential crisis before it gets out of control.
This board also does very well in the FEAR benchmark, scoring better than all the other boards. This board seems to be a board that gamers will like, as it has scored very well in our gaming tests.
Overclocking the ECS PN2 SLI2+ was actually rather easy. The board either posted, or it restarted. This certainly makes things nice when you are trying to overclock the board. I did not have to do a clear CMOS one time when working with the board. At the defaul multiplier this board came aweful close to matching the overclock performance of the Asus 650i board. Actually, I am not sure you can say that is was really any different. We were able to get 401fsb out of the Asus 650i board, which was the highest overclock we have been able to get on our e6600 CPU. The ECS came within 1... hitting 400 fsb, which is a VERY good showing for this board. Here is a CPU shot of the default multiplier overclocking on the PN2 SLI2+ board.
We saw a totally different story when we changed the multiplier to its lowest option (6x). While the Asus was able to reach an astounding 496fsb, we were only able to sqeek out a humbling 431fsb on the ECS PN2 SLI2+ motherboard. I was actually very surprised at this, as I have seen a site or two that reviewed this board and were able to get over 470fsb. Nevertheless, as it always is with overclocking, you never know what you are going to get with any item, whether it is a motherboard or a CPU. I would like to think that the issues we had with the board when using the 6x multiplier were related to our motherboard only, since we have seen other have success. Here is a screen of our 6x multi overclocking...
Overall, it is hard to complain about a board that is able to reach your CPU's ceiling when overclocking. With the ability to run your ram linked or unlinked, there essentially is not much of a reason for the average overclocker to use a 6x multi anyways, so it may just be a moot issue. Just for reference, our extremely successful overclocking adventures with this particular CPU can be seen in our ASUS P5N-E SLI review, and our Foxconn 975xAB review.
Ok, stick a fork in it, this thing is done, so let's wrap it up!
Final Thoughts and Conclusion
ECS made a great choice by using the reference NVIDIA design for their 680 SLI motherboard and in return has brought to market a very solid board that has the support of NVIDIA when it's similar to many of the 680i SLI motherboards, but is backed by the ECS Elitegroups tried and true customer support. The layout of the reference motherboard is not the best we have seen (remember the front panel connectors position), but it gets the job done.
Performance at default settings is in line with the 650i based and the Intel 975X based motherboards that we have reviewed in past months. There is not much that really separates those boards at all, so no matter what board and chipset you pick you can expect the scores to be within five percent of each other. The ECS PN2 SLI2+ motherboard did score well in our gaming tests, so the hard core gamer will want to take a good hard look at the PN2 SLI2+ motherboard when shopping for the base of your gaming system. Since the motherboard supports NVIDIA's SLI technology it will give you an upgrade path that will easily support the recently released GeForce 8800 series of graphics cards like the budget friendly GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB graphics card.
The bundle that comes with the board is certainly "Extreme." If there is one thing that ECS does well, it is giving you plenty of stuff in the box with your shiny new board. The board is a quality built board. The heatsink seems attached very well, and along with the heatpipe seems to do a good job cooling the chips on the board.
Our overclocking of the board brought mixed results, as we noted that the PN2 SLI2+ overclocked very well when using the default 9x CPU multiplier, but had very poor results when we switched to a lower multiplier. We were able to nearly match our highest ever overclock that we achieved on the 650i board from Asus at default settings, but fell short when the multiplier was lowered. The board just would not go any higher even though we added more voltage to the processor than ever before. We have seen other reviews of the board that say they were able to achieve much greater success on this board, so we are going to chalk up our experience with the low multiplier overclocking as being 'unlucky' as not every chipset is a killer overclocker. Overall, there is not much to complain about in the packaging and the performance of the board.
Price will be the only inhibitor to many that will look at this board. Currently, the board can be found at a few e-tailers for around the $245 mark, but is not listed at Newegg. This is a pretty hefty price tag for a board that really does not perform any better than its younger brother, the 650i. Is it worth it to have a few extra features and to be able to say that you have a 680i board? Maybe... Maybe not. That is for you to decide.
Legit Bottom Line:
ECS did a good thing with the release of the PN2 SLI2+ motherboard. It is a solid board that performs very well, and overclocks well when leaving the multiplier alone. If you are in the market for a new motherboard, and are looking for a 680i board, you will want to take a look at this one for sure.