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ECS PF1 Deluxe Photon Motherboard - Springdale with some spice

By: Cameron Johnson | Socket LGA 775 in Motherboards | Posted: Jul 22, 2004 4:00 am
TweakTown Rating: 7.5%Manufacturer: ECS

Features of the ECS PF1 Photon Deluxe


- Package and Features



For a company that does more on plane Jane OEM designs, this package looks something out of the hardcore section. Rather than having to buy the motherboard to actually see what it looks like, ECS has it in a box with an open out window, which shows off the actual product inside a plastic bubble case, with all its glory exposed.


Inside the box, ECS has packed in a rather generous amount of information manuals, drivers and little nick knacks to keep you amused for a bit. As usual for a motherboard, you get your User Manual that covers all aspects of installation as well as the BIOS setting in quite a bit of detail - great for those who want to tweak all the memory and FSB settings to their hearts desire, Driver CD with all the latest drivers for the chipset, I/O shield, two PCI expansion brackets for the USB/Firewire and 5.1 Audio, two rounded IDE and one rounded Floppy disk cable and of course, two Serial ATA data cables.


One of the nicer features of this package is the Front Bus. This is essentially an expansion bracket that allows you to place the USB 2.0 and Firewire ports that would go in the front of the case in a 3.5" external bay (a spare FDD floppy bay).


- The Motherboard



The motherboard itself is based on the same ATX 30x30cm size that most I875 and I865 motherboards come in. ECS, have, and continue to use the different coloured PCB's rather than plain and boring green that we have seen so often. In this case the PCB is a dark purple colour, which has been used by ECS for some time now.


The motherboard has four DIMM slots for the Dual Channel memory operations and is colour coded for easy identification of the two separate DRAM channels - the dark blue slots are for Channel A and the light blue are for Channel B. This does remove a lot of need to read the user manual to determine the right channel configuration. The expansion slots are a standard one AGP and five PCI; however, ECS has added what it likes to call PCI Extreme which is the yellow PCI slot you see. Some audiophiles have been complaining of static through the sound card when either the HDD or other devices on the PCI bus are accessing data. ECS has used a designated power supply isolated from that of the other devices on the PCI bus, allowing for a cleaner power signal to the yellow PCI slot, which is a brilliant idea in theory. However, when testing, I never noticed any static on either the white or the yellow PCI, but I am no Audiophile, so I guess I am not the greatest person to comment on that part.


Placement of the IDE and FDD connectors couldn't have been better, with them all behind the DIMM slots along with the 20 pin ATX power connector, the 4 Pin connector could do with some relocating as its placement between the Northbridge and the I/O plate simply makes the cables messy around the CPU.



The chipset of choice is the Intel I865PE Springdale Northbridge coupled with the ICH5 Southbridge. Since the ability to use PAT on the I865PE chipsets had been exploited many months ago just after its release, it has become a mute issue as to the I875P vs. I865PE argument. ECS places an active cooling solution on the Northbridge to facilitate good cooling as the I865PE when tweaked to the maximum can get a little warm.


The ICH5 is included to give USB, Serial ATA and 5.1 audio support. This is only the ICH5 version, so RAID functions are not an option for the ECS PF1 - it's clearly aimed at the budget user. One feature we did like was the SATA ports. ECS has placed the ports in a shield that prevents the ports from being pulled too far, which has caused some people to snap their SATA ports on some other motherboards.



For the Digital enthusiast, or just the plain Firewire nut, the VIA VT6307 two port Firewire controller chip is integrated to give IEE1394a compliancy. The two ports are located on the external I/O bracket that can be placed either in a PCI slot or in a spare 3.5" drive bay at the front of the case.



Despite the native support for the CSA bus on the I865PE chipset, ECS has elected not to use in. Instead they have gone for a PCI bus based Marvel Gigabit Ethernet controller. While this does fit the bill, use of the CSA bus does remove Ethernet traffic from the PCI bottleneck that exists today.



While not as automated as the Gigabyte, Albatron or Aopen Dual BIOS solutions, ECS does promote redundancy with the Photon series of motherboards. A small socket known as "Top Hat" is the backup BIOS for the ECS motherboard.


This system is a BIOS chip placed in a cradle socket. If for some reason (Virus or Bad Flash) you aren't able to boot from the Main BIOS, you simply open your case and stick the Top Hat on the BIOS chip on the motherboard. The motherboard will then read from the BIOS chip that is in the Top Hat unit. You can then boot into MS DOS, save the BIOS image of the BIOS into a FDD then remove the Top Hat while the system is still operating and re-flash the onboard BIOS with the Top Hat BIOS image, a bit of work compared to other but it does prevent bad flashes and a defective motherboard.


Let's take a look at how the ECS motherboard performs against some of the other leading Springdale motherboards on the market.


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