Features of the Chaintech Zenith 7NJS
Packaging and Contents
When it comes to packing the boards, Chaintech has to be one of the, if not, the ultimate in this field. Encased in a large box with carry handle, this box can easily be identified on any shop shelves.
Inside the box you get yourself a motherboard, user manual - which is extremely well documented in four languages, C-Box2 container, rounded IDE and FDD cables, Serial ATA cables, I/O backplane and all the required driver CDs you will need after Windows has been installed. Chaintech were the first retail motherboard manufacturer to supply rounded IDE and FDD cables with their motherboards. They first introduced them to us with the Apogee line of boards, these features have moved onto the Zenith line.
The board layout is rather like an original nForce motherboard layout. This is distinguishable with the two DIMM's close together with the third DIMM slot having a slight gap, this is necessary to prevent noise between the Dual DDR channels.
Using a 1/6/1 (AGP/PCI/Riser) layout, you have enough expansion for all your needs. Being based on the nForce2 chipset, you can't use older AGP 2x video cards in this board, as it is not electrically compatible.
Placement of the power connector seems like it was done on the fly, with very little thought put into it. Being located between the chipset and backplane, this means you have to drape across the CPU heatsink, reducing cooling over the CPU. The floppy connector is also in a rather bad position, placed at the bottom of the board.
Serial ATA - Future ready
Serial ATA is the newest and upcoming storage protocol to come from the hard disk and ATAPI vendors. Serial ATA uses a serial connection to boost transfer speeds as well as reduce the size of the cables as well as allow better compatibility. IDE cables can only be a maximum of 80cm long, and with ATA-66/100/133 specifications, you meed to have 80 wires (40 transfer and 40 ground), on the other hand Serial ATA uses a cable with just 7 wires. Serial ATA also debuts at 150MB/s. While you have your 150MB/s chip on the board, even when you get a 150MB/s drive you will not be able to take full advantage of this unit due to PCI restrictions.
Since the Serial ATA controller is connected to the PCI bus, you are restricted to the PCI bus max speed of 133MB/s. Even the most basic of math tells you that you can't put a 133mm hose over a 150mm plug and get the full power out of it. A standard IDE port is also on the Serial ATA controller chip for use in RAID mode with the Serial ATA drives.
C-Media PCI Sound - There goes the Dolby
While Chaintech have tried to give us all we wanted this wasn't necessary, actually it is a step backwards. Since the Southbridge has a very advanced Audio controller that is Dolby certified, it is not necessary to replace the AC'97 audio. Chaintech have disabled the Dolby sound and placed the C-media sound chip which is inferior to the APU of the MCP-T. More thought and care next time please Chaintech.
Twin NICs there, why only one?
Another flaw we saw was the use of only one of the onboard NICs. The MCP-T has both nVidia LAN and 3Com 10/100 NIC controllers. The 3Com has been disabled and the nVidia LAN has been used. It would have been nice to have both LAN's enabled for those of us connected to Broadband Internet networks.
Firewire by ACR
Chaintech have given you the option of using the Firewire or not at your leisure. A ACR card has been supplied with the Realtek RTL8801 PHY for interface with the nVidia Firewire controller on the MCP-T. This is why we see an ACR card on a high end motherboard.
Chaintech have been adding the C-Box system to the Apogee motherboards to allow front case access to audio and USB ports. Now we have a new one for the Zenith, C-Box 2. The C-Box 2 adds Firewire front access, as well as a POST code system - no need to open the case to see those codes, now they are available outside the system.