ECS and the 650i




ECS brought forth their flagship motherboard not to long ago in the form of the PN2 SLI2+ motherboard.  As you can read in our review, this board sported the 680i chipset, and for the most part was a stellar board that was packed with features that the 680i has.  Overclocking was good, as it seems to be with that chipset.  The main drawback seems to be the price of this board.  As it is the top dawg, it comes with the top prices that the 680i commands, which is typically $240 and up.  Just the other day, we saw that Nvidia has launched a revision to the 680i, that is cheaper, and leaves out just a few features.  Where this will fit into the market remains to be seen.  I say that because Nvidia also has the 650i chipset that has also proven to be a great performer and overclocker.  With the 650i, I am not sure the 680i revision makes a lot of sense. 

We have already had the opportunity to look at a 650i board in the form of the Asus P5N-E SLI, and came to the conclusion that as far as performance goes, the 650i is the 680i killer.  It matches performance, and only lacks some of the high end features of the 680i, like support for 437 sata drives and 250 USB devices (a little sarcasm there!), and it comes in at over $100 cheaper than its 680i brothers.  With that being the case, we were anxious to see ECS get a 650i chipset based board out of the door to see how it compared to the PN2 SLI2+ board that we just reviewed.  So today, we have the ECS NF650SLIT-A motherboard on the bench.  Is it a falling or rising star for ECS and the 650i chipset legend?  Let's find out! First off, a look at the SPECS:


  CPU
  LGA775 socket for Intel® Core™2 Extreme/Core™2 Quad/Core™2 Duo /Pentium 4 / Pentium D Processors
  FSB 1333(OC)/800/667/533 MHz
  Support Hyper-Threading Technology

  CHIPSET
  NVIDIA nForce 650i SLI
   North Bridge: NVIDIA C55
  South Bridge: NVIDIA MCP51

  MEMORY
  Dual-channel DDR2 memory architecture
  4 x 240-pin DDR2 DIMM socket support up to 8 GB
  Support DDR2 800/667/533 MHz DDR2 Memory

  EXPANSION SLOT
  2 x PCI Express x16 slot (SLI mode: x8+x8, single PCI-E is x8 mode)
  2 x PCI Express x1 slots
  3 x PCI slots

  STORAGE
  Supported by NVIDIA MCP51
   4 x Ultra DMA133/100/66 devices
   4 x Serial ATA2 devices
   NVIDIA MediaShield™ RAID supports RAID 0, 1, 0+1, 5 and JBOD

  AUDIO
  Realtek ALC883 support Intel 8-ch HD Audio
  Compliant with HD specification

  LAN
  Marvell 88E1116 Gigabit LAN PHY

  REAR PANEL I/O
  1 x PS/2 keyboard & PS/2 mouse connectors
  4 x USB ports
  1 x RJ45 LAN connector
  1 x Serial port (COM1)
  1 x Audio port (Line-in, Line-out, Mic-in,Center/Bass,Surround,Side surround)
  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
  1 x Speaker header
  2 x IDE connectors
  1 x FDD connector
  4 x Serial ATA connectors
  2 x USB 2.0 headers support additional 4 USB Ports
  1 x Front panel switch/LED header
  1 x Front panel audio header
  CD in header
  CPUFAN/NBFAN/SYSFAN/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

Board Layout



As you look at the board, you can see that this board has a simple and clean layout.  In fact, there are only a couple minor annoyances that we find as we look at the board, which we will see as we look at it.  It is hard to tell, but the board has a slight purple tint to it. 



The top right of the board is where we find our dimm slots.  This board supports up to 8 GB of DDR2 800/667/533 MHz memory, in dual channel configuration.  We also see the 24-pin power connector and a floppy connector here on this part of the board.  These are located at the edge of the board, which is an excellent position for them.  You also get a shot of the northbridge here, well, of that fan that is used to cool the chipset anyways.  This active cooler seemed to do a fine job of keeping things cool as we ran our board. 



The bottom right of the board sports out SATA connectors.  These are SATA2 compliant, and support RAID 0, 1, 0+1, 5 and JBOD.  To the left of the SATA ports, we see out bios chip and to the left of that we have our passively cooled southbridge.  Underneath the bios chip, at the bottom edge of the board, we have two IDE connectors. Our battery is to the left of those.  Really no issues at all so far with the layout.



The bottom left of the board is where we find all of our pci and pci-e slots.  The NF650SLIT-A comes with legacy three pci slots, two x1 pci-e slots and two x16  pci-e slots.  According to ECS's web site, when running SLI, the board will run the x16 slots at x8+x8, running single PCI-E is also done in x8 mode.  Just above the top x1 pci-e slot, we have an extra 4-pin molex power connector.  This is used when running in SLI to give added stability. 



Our audio chips is located here on the bottom left of the board.  Audio is powered by the Realtek ALC883 which supports Intel 8-ch HD Audio. 



On the top left of the board, we have our 4-pin 12v power connector.  This positioning is not terrible, but is also not the best place it could be.  It is preferred at the very top edge of the board, which helps keep wires out of the middle of the board.  As you can see, there is plenty of room around the CPU socket.  We had absolutely no issues at all using our water cooling setup, and it does not seem that there would be any issues using any air-cooling solution out there.



Our rear I/O ports contain the usual suspects.  We have our ps/2 mouse and keyboard connectors as well as two Digital SPDIF (Optical & Coaxial) out, a serial port, four USB ports, your lan port and your typical 6-port audio jacks.  Nothing unusual here...

 

The only issue that I have with the setup of this board is that of the tabs.  I know we have talked about this before, but these tabs are absolutely horrible to work with.  I really wish ECS would consider using something a little more user friendly. 

Bundle and BIOS



ECS continues the tradition of using the AWARD bios for their NF650SLIT-A.  This is a very popular choice, which makes it very easy to work with.


The Advanced Chipset Features page is where on will find most of the sub-pages that will be used in setting up your board.  You will everything from system clocks to voltage settings someone inside of this page.


The FSB and Memory Config page... let's look closer!



Just as with the 680i board, we have the option to run the memory at Auto, Linked or Expert (unlinked).  THis is a great addition, especially for the power user and constant tweaker. 

FSB settings are allowed up to 2500 (/4=625).  This is more than enough.


DDR can be set at speeds up to1400, this is also plenty (for now!).


Although there are just the basic timings available, this is probably fine for almost every user.  As you can see, the tRCD is set at 5.  We will talk about the impact this has on performance a little later, but this bios would NOT let us keep a setting of 4, it would automatically reset the tRCD to 5. 

 

It is always interesting to see what we are going to be offered on a board in the area of system voltages.  Ecs did an OK job in this area.  Here, you can see that the CPU can be set to 1.6v.  This is not great, but adequate. 


CPU FSB can be set to 1.4v.



VDIMM only has the options up to 2.2v.  This was disappointing, especially to the enthusiast.  I have no idea why they would limit vDimm like this, but it will likely scare some people away from this board.  Two other boards that we have had, the Asus 650i and the ECS 680i were able to go to at least 2.5v, which is much better.  Once again, especially since their 680i board had the options, it is hard to understand why ECS would purposely cripple this board compared to their 680i board.  The vcore is also undervolting slightly, but we still had a little room to go with the top voltage available.


SPP voltage goes up to 1.5v.


The health page on this board is pretty weak, giving very little information.  Also, I want to point out here, that if you look at the vdimm that is reported, it says 2.08v, even though it is set at its max of 2.2v.  The undervolting certainly does not help on a board that already has a low ceiling for vdimm voltage.  The vcore is also undervolting slightly (.04v), but we still had a little room to go with the top voltage available.



Integrated Peripherals is an important page for setting up your drives and other onboard items.  Raid is also configured here.


That is everything interesting for now.  Let's move on! 


Test Setup




Benchmarks and Testing Setup:

Test Platform:

 

Test Platform

Component

Brand/Model

Live Pricing

Processor

Intel Core 2 Duo E6600 (2.4ghz)

Motherboard

ECS NF650SLIT-A

Foxconn 975X7AB

ECS PN2 SLI2+ Extreme

Asus P5N-E SLI

Video Card

ATI X1900 XTX

Memory

Corsair C6400C4 2 GB kit

Hard Drive

Western Digital 250GB, 16mb Cache

Cooling

Corsair Nautilus

Power Supply

PC Power & Cooling 750

Operating System

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.



The ECS 650i board stays right with the pack in our Sandra Arithmetic testing.  It is obvious that the issues that we have with memory timings do not affect the scores of the board here.


Pretty muchthe same thing in the multimedia testing of Sandra.  All the boards are very close.

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.





Surprisingly, the ECS 650iSLIT-A easily bests its big brother with the 680i chipset (as well as every other board in the CPU PPS testing) here in our POV testing. Amazingly, the memory issues once again are of no affect.  Just think of how good it COULD have been if the trcd was able to be set and stay!


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.



Real-time tracing also seess our little ECS 650i board doing very well for itself.  Since this is our second 650i board to test, and our results are consistant with both boards, I think it is appropriate that we named the 650i the 680i killer as far as performance is concerned.

ScienceMark 2.0

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.



As we move into our memory benchmarks, this is where we would expect to see the trcd issues show up the most, and as you can see, this ECS 650i board falls behind the other 650i and the 680i boards that are represented.  Once again, ECS may be able to release a new bios that will help with this situation.  If that happens, this board will really shine!

Everest

Everest Ultimate Edition

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. We use EVEREST because it does memory read and write speed, memory latency measurement to stress the memory and cache subsystem, including references list to compare actual performance with other systems.







Mixed results are shown here in our Everest scores.  In the memory read benchmark, the board shows its weakness again, but in a strange turn of events, it comes back and leads the three represented board in the write scores!

Super PI Mod v1.5

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.



SuperPi also reveals a slightly lower performing score.  Houston, we have a problem!

CineBench 9.5

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.





As expected, the ECS 650iSLIT-A stays with the pack in our CineBench scores.

WinRar v3.61

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.




In our WinRAR testing, we find our featured board falling behind all but one other board, which happens to be the Nvidia 590 chipset board.


RightMark Audio Analyer





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Image Description

Image Description

In interpreting the results on the boards, we see that the Dynamic Range and Noise Levels on the ECS NF650SLIT-A does not quite measure up to some of 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 NF650SLIT-A does quite well compared to the 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.





Disk performance is just fine, besting all but the 590 chipset board.

3dmark2006

Quake 4 Benchmark

3DMark 2006

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.





Our 3dMark scores are unaffected by the memory issue.  It is good to see this board hang with the other boards represented.

F.E.A.R.

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.



Our board scores at the top of the class in our FEAR testing.  Good job ECS!

Overclocking Results

When it came to overclocking this board, there were high hopes, as we have already had some good success with this chipset on the Asus P5N-E SLI.  That board has been our monster overclocker since the day we got it.  We were able to push that board to 401fsb at our default 9x multiplier, and an astounding 496fsb with a 6x multiplier.  You can see the results here.  It is also one of the reasons that we called the 650i the 680i killer.  As stated, we had high hopes for this board.  In the end though, there was some disappointment with things that ECS either did or did not do.  First, out high overclock was 385fsb.  That is not really too bad, but reality is, that both the 680i chipset and the Asus 650i board that we tested could do 400+ fsb, putting this board a little behind.  Here is a pic of our overclocking journey:


Unfortunately, ECS did not include a multiplier adjustment in the bios for this board, so we could not test any further. 

Final Thoughts and Conclusion



ECS put together a decent board in the form of the NF650iSLIT-A.  It is a board that performs wonderfully at stock settings.  As you could see in our testing, the lack of being able to keep tRCD settings for the memory really only hurt in a few of our benchmarks.   Overall, the board hung with its competition, which is quite a statement since we have it up against the likes of chipsets like the Intel 975x and Nvidia 680i, as well as a proven winner in the Asus 650i board.  In fact, it beat out these boards in some of our tests, proving that ECS and this chipset are both to be commended. 

As far as layout is concerned, there are relatively few issues with the board.  I would rather see the 4-pin 12v connection be at the top edge of the board, and certainly I would like to see different clips used on the pci-e slots.  Also, worth noting is that fact that if you wanted to cool the southbridge with a fan, you likely will not be able to use the second pci-e slot.

The bundle is not much to write home about when you compare it the bundle that comes with the ECS 680i board that we just reviewed.  But it is adequate, and will get you started with the essentials. 

Overclocking and tweaking on this board is what will make it or break it for some.  ECS has come a long way in their enthusiast line, but they still need to put a little more attention into some things.  They especially need a little work in their bios department, as it seems like every ECS board we have looked at in the last several months has had some bios issue.  This NF650iSLIT-A is no exception.  Not being able to set the tRCD and have it stick is a major issue.  We are confident that ECS can fix this issue, and we have contacted them, but it generally takes a little time for them, and most enthusiasts do not like having to wait!  Also, not having a CPU multiplier adjustment can be a hindrance to some who are after insanely high bus speeds.

ECS has developed a good board here.  With the price being right at $120, it certainly is good value for what you get.  The question is, is it the best value for what else is out there in that price range?

Once last thing to consider, Nvidia is getting ready to launch the 680i LT chipset which could have a negative impact on the sale of this board due to its aggressive pricing.  If nothing else, this board should go down in pricing, making it an even more attractive. 


The Legit Bottom Line:

 The ECS NF650iSLIT-A motherboard proved to be a solid board, but competing 650i motherboards can be found at the same price point with better BIOS features. The  NF650iSLIT-A is ideal for mainstream consumers who aren't worried about overclocking and just want a stable SLI motherboard and that works when you turn it on.