Package and Contents
EPoX has been shipping its high-end motherboards in fancy new packaging. This package is your standard box with a handle, so you can carry it home in style.
Once you have it at your place, the fun begins. Inside the box you get your motherboard, three user manuals (one for the board, one for the Parallel ATA RAID and one for the Serial ATA Raid), rounded IDE and FDD cables for the Parallel ATA, one Serial ATA cable, I/O Faceplate, USB 2.0 and Firewire expansion brackets and Drivers CD.
The board is similar in design to most of the Intel offerings from EPoX. The board comes with 1 AGP 4x slot that can take ONLY 1.5v cards, using AGP 2x cards will destroy the Northbridge and AGP card. Five PCI slots are included for all possible expansion needs. With today's boards having just about everything onboard, five PCI slots are generally enough.
One thing we have come to see on EPoX boards, mostly on Intel based, is the extremely bad placement of the power connectors. Both power connectors are located between the Northbridge and the I/O ports. This means that the very large ATX power cable and the 4-pin Aux have to drape around the CPU's heatsink and fan assembly, reducing air circulation. In an overclocked PC, airflow is vital.
Placement of the peripherals are well thought out. The Southbridge driven IDE ports are colored blue and located on the upper right behind the DIMM sockets, keeping the cables out of the way. The Parallel ATA IDE ports are located at the side of the Southbridge driven ports with the Floppy disk connector in front. This keeps all the very large cables in one place and well out of the way of the forward case fans.
Intel i845PE; The Latest Intel Desktop Offering
Apart from the E7205 chipset (which is more for workstations that the desktop PC), the i845PE chipset is the most updated Pentium 4 chipset available from Intel. Designed with support for the new 533MHz FSB the Intel Pentium 4 runs on, this chipset also incorporates Intel's first DDR-333 memory controller as well as support for Hyper-Threading technology.
Coupled with the Intel ICH4 Southbridge, you receive 6 USB 2.0 ports, AC'97 rev 2.2 5.1 Audio subsystem, ATA-100 IDE controller as well as Integrated LAN controller. On the Northbridge, EPoX has placed what they term Magic Blue. When powered up, the fan glows blue thanks to three small LED's inside the clear plastic fan housing. Very effective for case modders.
While the Intel ICH4 does incorporate a LAN controller, it is only AC'97 controlled. Software driven, it requires a PHY for connection to the outside world. This system chews up a lot of CPU cycles during high network traffic. EPoX have thrown the Intel MAC out the window and elected to go with the Realtek RTL8100B PCI Ethernet Controller. This controller has popped up on many other boards and has proven to be one of the best value network controllers with very little CPU time eaten up when network traffic is high.
We first saw the idea for Dual RAID on the Gigabyte 8INXP. While Abit has had both Parallel IDE and Serial ATA on their Max line of boards for some time now, it has been more a conversion rather than a Dual system. Abit uses the HPT374 IDE controller chip that allows for 4 channels. They convert two of these into Serial ATA channels with the Marvel interface chip, thus being a Parallel conversion. Another downside is if you only want the Serial ATA to run and don't want the Parallel ATA to run, it's not an option on the Max boards
EPoX uses two separate chips. For the Parallel IDE we have the Highpoint HPT372N chip supporting 2 IDE channels for up to 4 IDE devices. For the Serial ATA, the Silicone Image Sil3112 PCI to SATA controller chip is used. This chip is a dedicated Serial ATA controller rather than a Parallel to Serial conversion. This chip can, in theory, handle the full 150MB/s data transfer rate, however, due to PCI constraints, 133MB/s is the theoretical max you will see.
We have criticized motherboards in the past that do not have Firewire onboard. We have come to see Firewire as one of the greatest Serial Communication standards available for the PC. It is superior to USB 2.0 in that it doesn't use anywhere near as much CPU power to run the devices off it. As well as high 400mbps transfer rates and support for daisy chains and repeater hub designs, Firewire is on the grow. EPoX have added two Firewire ports thanks to the Texas Instruments PCI to Firewire controller chip.