ECS NF650iSLIT-A Motherboard Review
By Gabriel Torres on June 11, 2007
NF650iSLIT-A from ECS is based on the latest NVIDIA mainstream chipset for the Intel platform, nForce 650i, being a motherboard targeted to the average user that wants SLI and support for the forthcoming Core 2 Duo CPUs based on the new 1,333 MHz external bus. Let’s take a look at the features and performance of this model from ECS.
It is important to know that when under SLI mode nForce 650i makes the two PCI Express x16 slots to run at x8 speed and not at x16. This is exactly the same behavior as other previous mainstream chipsets from NVIDIA like nForce 570 SLI and nForce 4 SLI. NForce 650i brings two advantages over these two older chipsets. First, it supports the new 1,333 MHz external bus that will be used by new Core 2 Duo CPUs yet to be released; Second, it officially supports DDR2 up to 800 MHz, while these other chipsets supported only up to DDR2-667.
By the way, on the motherboard setup you can configure your memory as DDR2-1066. We did this as we were using DDR2-1066 memories, however the system wouldn’t work correctly, meaning that this chipset really doesn’t support DDR2-1066.
Since this motherboard competes directly with ASUS P5N-E SLI we will compare the features found on these two motherboards.
Contrary to what occur on ASUS P5N-E SLI, on NF650iSLIT-A you don’t need to change the position of a small board in order to enable SLI mode, which is great. This motherboard from ECS also has two x1 PCI Express slots, while on ASUS model there is only one.
On nForce 650i chipset the north bridge chip is called C55 and the south bridge chip is called nForce 430i (MCP51) – this is the same south bridge chip used by several other NVIDIA chipsets. On this motherboard an active cooler cools down the north bridge chip, while the south bridge chip uses a passive cooler. This is another difference between ECS NF650iSLIT-A and ASUS P5N-E SLI, as on ASUS model the north bridge uses a passive heatsink and the south bridge does not use a heatsink at all.
On the memory side, ECS NF650iSLIT-A has four DDR2-DIMM sockets, supporting up to 8 GB officially up to DDR2-800. On this motherboard sockets 1 and 3 are orange and sockets 2 and 4 are purple. Configuring DDR2 dual channel on this motherboard is pretty easy: just install each module on a socket with the same color.
On the storage side, this motherboard has a total of four SATA-300 ports and and two ATA/133 ports – which is a great feature, since it is becoming very hard to see motherboards with more than one parallel ATA port. These ports are controlled by the south bridge chip supporting RAID 0, 1, 0+1, 5 and JBOD. ASUS P5N-E SLI has an additional eSATA port controlled by an extra chip.
This motherboard has one Gigabit Ethernet port controlled by the south bridge using one Marvell 88E1116 chip to make the physical layer interface.
This motherboard has eight USB 2.0 ports (four soldered on the motherboard and four available through I/O brackets, which don’t come with the motherboard). ECS NF650iSLIT-A has no FireWire ports, while ASUS P5N-E SLI provides two of them.
The audio section from this motherboard provides 7.1 audio, produced by the south bridge chip with the aid of a Realtek ALC883 codec. This codec provides a low (for today’s standards) signal-to-noise ratio for its inputs – only 85 dB. So it is not advisable to use this motherboard for professional audio capturing and editing (the minimum recommended for this application is 95 dB), unless you install a professional add-on audio card on it. Also the maximum sampling rate for its inputs is of 96 kHz, while its outputs supports up to 192 kHz. The signal-to-noise ratio for its output is of 95 dB.
This board has one coaxial and one optical SPDIF outputs soldered directly on the motherboard, which is great as you can easily connect it to your home theater receiver. ASUS P5N-E SLI does not provide an on-board optical SPDIF output.
Another advantage of this model from ECS is that it has independent jacks for all analog inputs and outputs on the rear panel, so you can easily install a 5.1 or 7.1 analog speaker system without “killing” your line in and mic in jacks. ASUS P5N-E SLI does not provide this: it has only three jacks on the rear panel, not making it possible for you to connect a set of 7.1 analog speakers and also “killing” the line in and mic in jacks when a 5.1 analog speaker system is used.
On the rear panel (Figure 2) you can find the Gigabit Ethernet port, four USB 2.0 ports, analog audio inputs and outputs, coaxial SPDIF output, optical SPDIF out, serial port, PS/2 mouse and PS/2 keyboard connectors. This motherboard does not have a parallel port, not even through an I/O bracket.
Some of the capacitors from the voltage regulator circuit are solid, which is great. On this circuit the ones that are not solid are from Toshin Kogyo (TK), a Japanese vendor that uses rebranded OST (Taiwanese) capacitors. Outside the voltage regulator circuit we found capacitors from another Japanese vendor, Sanyo. Even though ECS is finally using very good capacitors on the voltage regulator circuitry and even across the board, the capacitors used on the audio section are from G-Luxon, which is a Taiwanese company (Japanese capacitors have a better quality). We think ECS should have used all-Japanese caps, but at least ECS is finally on the right track.
In Figure 4, you can see all accessories that come with this motherboard.
This motherboard comes with one CD, containing its drivers and utilities.
ECS NF650iSLIT-A main features are:
* Researched at Shopping.com on the day we published this review.
During our benchmarking sessions, we used the configuration listed below. Between our benchmarking sessions the only variable was the motherboard being tested.
We adopted a 3% error margin; thus, differences below 3% cannot be considered relevant. In other words, products with a performance difference below 3% should be considered as having similar performance.
We measured the overall performance of this motherboard using SYSmark2004, which is a program that simulates the use of real-world applications. Thus, we consider this the best software to measure, in practical terms, the system performance.
The benchmarks are divided into two groups:
The software delivers specific results for each batch and also an overall performance result, all in a specific SYSmark2004 unit.
We compared the reviewed board to ECS PN2 SLI2+ (nForce 680i), ASUS P5N-E SLI (nForce 650i), MSI P35 Platinum (Intel P35), MSI P35 Neo Combo (Intel P35), ASUS P5B (Intel P965), ASUS P5B Premium (Intel P965) and Intel D975XBX2 (Intel 975X). On the graphs present on this and on the following pages you will see the clock rate we configured our memories. Since we had DDR2-1066 memory modules installed, we ran our tests two times, first with our memories configured at 800 MHz and then configured at 1,066 MHz, whenever possible. Some motherboards (like the ones based on nForce 650i and Intel 975X chipsets), however, do not support DDR2-1066 and that is why you won’t find DDR2-1066 results for them.
You can see the results on the charts below.
ECS NF650iSLIT-A achieved an overall performance similar to ASUS P5B Premium (Intel P965), ASUS P5B (Intel P965), Intel D975XBX2 (Intel 975X), ECS PN2 SLI2+ and ASUS P5N-E SLI (nForce 650i). Only motherboards based on the new Intel P35 chipset were faster: MSI P35 Platinum was 3.27% faster and MSI P35 Neo Combo was 4.17% faster than the reviewed board. To make this comparison fair these numbers refer to the motherboards running with their memories at 800 MHz.
On Internet Content Creation the same thing happened: only motherboards based on Intel P35 chipset were faster, with MSI P35 Platinum being 3.23% faster and MSI P35 Neo Combo being 3.46% faster. We are comparing the results with all memories running at 800 MHz.
On Office Productivity ECS NF650iSLIT-A achieved a performance similar to ASUS P5B (Intel P965), Intel D975XBX2 (Intel 975X), ECS PN2 SLI2+ (nForce 680i) and ASUS P5N-E SLI (nForce 650i), with ASUS P5B Premium and MSI P35 Platinum (Intel P35) being 3.85% faster and MSI P35 Neo Combo (Intel P35) being 5.38% faster than the reviewed motherboard.
We measured processing performance using PCMark05 Professional program. PCMark05 Professional measures the system performance by running several tests. The System batch, which was the one we used, performs the following tests: HDD XP Startup, Physics and 3D, 2D Transparent Window, 3D Pixel Shader, Web Page Rendering, File Decryption, 2D Graphics Memory – 64 lines, HDD General Usage and three multithreading tests. The results are given in a PCMark05 specific unit.
Here all motherboards achieved the same performance level. The only significant difference was to ECS PN2 SLI2+ (nForce 680i) with DDR2-1066 memories, which was 3.56% faster. But since on this motherboard the memory was running at 1,066 MHz and on the reviewed board, 800 MHz, this difference should not be taken into consideration, as we are comparing apples to bananas.
We upgraded Quake 4 to version 1.3 and ran its multiplayer demo id_demo001 at 1024x768x32 with image quality settings configured at “low” four times. The first result was always discarded, and from the other three values, we discarded the highest and the lowest score, i.e., we used the middle value for our comparison. You can see the results below.
On Quake 4 ECS NF650iSLIT-A achieved the same performance level of Intel D975XBX2 (Intel 975X), ECS PN2 SLI2+ (nForce 680i), MSI P35 Neo Combo (Intel P35) and ASUS P5N-E SLI (nForce 650i), while the other motherboards we included in our comparison were faster: MSI P35 Platinum (Intel P35) was 5.24% faster, ASUS P5B (Intel P965) was 5.45% faster and ASUS P5B Premium (Intel P965) was 5.62% faster. For these numbers we compared only the results obtained with the memories running at 800 MHz.
On ECS NF650iSLIT-A we could find several overclocking options (1.0i BIOS):
This motherboard also provides several memory timings adjustments, as you can see in Figure 5.
This motherboard provides an important overclocking feature not found on other mainstream motherboards and even on some high-end models, which is the ability to lock and configure the memory clock independently from the CPU external clock. On almost all motherboards the memory clock is derived from the CPU external clock, so if when you overclock the CPU you automatically overclock the memory as well. Thus when you reach the maximum overclocking your system can take you will never know what is limiting your computer from reaching an even higher overclocking, the CPU or the memories. With this option you can lock your memory clock at their standard clock rate (e.g., 800 MHz) and only after you found the maximum clock rate your CPU can take you may start increasing the memory clock rate in order to find the maximum clock rate your memories can achieve.
The PCI Express clock configuration is also very important, as you can lock the PCI Express clock at a given value (100 MHz, for example). Usually when you increase the FSB clock you will automatically increase the PCI Express clock as well, and sometimes your overclocking will be limited not by the CPU but by the devices connected to the PCI Express bus. Thus with this option you can increase the probability of setting a higher overclocking.
On this motherboard the external clock rate is configurable at 0.25 MHz steps and a lot of people may not notice this, because in the setup the FSB clock rate is referred by its quadruplicated value (QDR), not by the real clock rate like on almost all other motherboards.
ECS NF650iSLIT-A has, however, a major flaw. On this motherboard you can only configure the memory voltage up to 1.95 V, while overclocking-oriented memories need to be fed with a higher voltage, typically 2.30 V. ASUS P5N-E SLI does not have this problem, as you can feed your memories with up to 2.5 V there.
The maximum external clock rate we could configure on this motherboard was 1,234 MHz (i.e., 308.5 MHz), with our memories locked at 800 MHz. With this overclocking our Core 2 Duo E6700, which normally runs at 2.66 MHz, was running at 3.08 GHz, a 15.79% increase on its internal clock rate. With this overclocking our system performance increased 9.58% on Quake 4 and 8.13% on PCMark05.
We could configure our external clock above that but the system was unstable. We only consider our overclocking to be successful after we can run at least four times Quake 4 and PCMark05 with no errors.
The problem is that we could achieve a better overclocking with other motherboards, especially with ASUS P5N-E SLI, which is also based on nForce 650i chipset: on this motherboard from ASUS we could set the CPU external bus at 327 MHz.
Just for reference, on ASUS P5B Premium we could set our CPU running at 323 MHz, on ASUS P5B we could set our CPU running at 316 MHz, on MSI P35 Neo Combo we could set our CPU running at 314 MHz, and on ECS PN2 SLI2+ we could set our CPU running at 306 MHz.
We, however, didn’t play with voltage settings or any other fancy adjustments, so you may achieve a better overclocking than we did with more time and patience – on this motherboard and also on the other motherboards we reviewed.
ECS NF650iSLIT-A is a good mainstream socket LGA775 motherboard supporting the new 1,333 MHz bus, DDR2-800 memories and SLI.
Competing directly with ASUS P5N-E SLI, it has a few advantages over this competitor: you don’t need to change the position of a small board to enable SLI mode, it provides full 7.1 analog speaker support on the rear panel with independent jacks (ASUS P5N-E SLI supports only 5.1 speakers), it has an optical SPDIF output soldered on the rear panel and it is a little bit cheaper. ASUS P5N-E SLI, on the other hand, provides two FireWire ports, an eSATA port and a far better overclocking capability.
Since both motherboards have the same performance, choosing between the two should be based on the features you like the most. Thus ECS NF650iSLIT-A should be picked by the user that prefers having more audio connectors and is willing to connect his or her computer to a home theater receiver through optical cable and is not into overclocking, while ASUS P5N-E SLI should be picked by the user that wants eSATA, FireWire and is into overclocking.
Honestly, we think ASUS P5NE-SLI brings more features for its price tag – which is only USD 8, on average, higher than NF650iSLIT-A’s –, providing a better cost/benefit ratio than this product from ECS. Since we are talking about averages, you can even find ASUS P5N-E SLI costing less than ECS NF650iSLIT-A.
Of course high-end motherboards will provide a better performance and more features, but they are more expensive. Some mainstream motherboards like ASUS P5B are faster and cost around the same thing, however they do not provide SLI.
Besides its flaw of not allowing us to feed our memories with more than 1.95 V – a major flaw that prevents you from installing overclocking-oriented memories on this motherboard, as they are usually fed with 2.30 V –, there is just only one thing we didn’t like about it: its on-board audio. Even though it is 7.1 it uses a low-end codec, Realtek ALC883, which provides a low signal-to-noise ratio for its inputs – only 85 dB. This means we do not recommend you to use its on-board audio for capturing and editing analog audio, or you will have a lot of noise on your final file. Also the maximum sampling rate for its inputs is of 96 kHz, while its outputs supports up to 192 kHz. The signal-to-noise ratio for its output is of 95 dB, which is ok for the average user. This is the same codec used by its competitor from ASUS.