ECS P35T-A Motherboard Review
By Gabriel Torres on August 10, 2007
ECS P35T-A is based on the latest Intel mainstream chipset, P35. This motherboard, however, does not have DDR3 sockets but on the other hand it has some extra features like one eSATA port, six SATA-300 ports and two x16 PCI Express slots. Let’s see the features and performance from this new ECS release.
Intel P35 succeeds Intel P965 chipset, being targeted to mainstream motherboards. The difference between these two chipsets is the support for DDR3 memories and the new 1,333 MHz bus on P35. Please note that DDR3 support does not mean that all motherboards based on P35 accept DDR3 memories: since DDR2 and DDR3 sockets are different, is up to the manufacturer to decide which kind of memories the motherboard will accept. This is the case of P35T-A: it has only DDR2 sockets. We think this was a smart choice. DDR3 isn’t easily found yet, its performance gain is questionable and usually when the motherboard features both DDR2 and DDR3 sockets the maximum memory capacity is cut in half, plus you have only two memory sockets available, so in this case if you want to add more memory in the future you have to replace your old modules – i.e., there is no way to simply add two additional modules, meaning more cost (in this case, for example, if you have two 512 MB modules for a total of 1 GB and you want to have 2 GB total on your computer, you would need to buy two 1 GB modules and remove the old ones; you couldn’t simply add two 512 MB modules).
Another difference between P35 and P965 is the south bridge chip. Intel P965 uses ICH8 chip, while P35 uses the new ICH9 chip, which comes in four flavors. The vanilla ICH9 is identical to the “old” ICH8 chip found on Intel P965 chipset but supporting 12 USB 2.0 ports instead of 10. The ICH9R variant supports RAID, six SATA-300 ports (the plain ICH9 support only four), Viiv support (i.e., support for Quick Resume technology, which allows the PC to imitate the behavior of TV sets, where by pressing the power button located on the remote control the screen goes dark, the sound is muted and the keyboard and mouse stop responding) and the new “Intel Turbo Memory” technology, codenamed Robson Technology, which is a disk cache technology using flash memories, available through the installation of a x1 PCI Express card. Click here to learn more about this technology. ICH9DH (a.k.a. Digital Home) has the same specs of ICH9R but no RAID support, and this is the model used on ECS P35T-A. And ICH9DO (a.k.a. Digital Office) has the same specs of ICH9R but no Viiv support – i.e., no support for Quick Resume technology.
ECS P35T-A is based on the ICH9DH chip, so this chip controls the six SATA-300 ports available on this motherboard, but has no RAID support. The eSATA port and the ATA-133 port are controlled by a JMicron JMB361 chip.
This motherboard has two x16 PCI Express slots. They don’t support SLI, as SLI is a feature found on NVIDIA chipsets only, however they support CrossFire. The main PCI Express x16 slot, which is orange, works at x16, but the second PCI Express x16 slot, which is blue, works only at x4, so even though this motherboard has two x16 PCI Express slots it is not the ideal platform for CrossFire configuration. We see the second x16 PCI Express slot more like a way for you to expand the maximum number of independent video monitors you can have connected to your PC.
This motherboard also has one x1 PCI Express slot and three standard PCI slots, as you can see in Figure 1.
Officially Intel P35 chipset supports DDR2 memories up to DDR2-800 and DDR3 memories up to DDR3-1066 (this motherboard does not support DDR3 as it doesn't have DDR3 sockets). However, just like it happens with Intel P965 chipset, P35 unofficially supports DDR2-1066, but contrary to all other motherboards based on Intel P35 chipset we’ve seen around ECS P35T-A does not have a way to configure your memory to run above 800 MHz. A pity.
This motherboard has four DDR2 sockets, supporting up to 8 GB. On this motherboard sockets 1 and 3 are orange and sockets 2 and 4 are purple. In order to enable dual channel you just need to install your memory modules on sockets with the same color.
This motherboard has one Gigabit Ethernet port controlled by the south bridge using an Intel 82566DC chip to make the physical layer interface.
This motherboard has 12 USB 2.0 ports (six soldered on the motherboard and six available through I/O brackets, which don’t come with the motherboard). FireWire ports are optional, not present on the model we reviewed.
On the audio section this motherboard has eight channels provided by the chipset together with a Realtek ALC883 codec. While this codec provides a good output quality (95 dB signal-to-noise ratio and 192 kHz sampling rate), it does not provide a good input quality for today’s standards (85 dB signal-to-noise ratio and 96 kHz sampling rate). Thus this motherboard isn’t recommended for professionally capturing and editing analog audio. For this kind of application look for a motherboard with at least 95 dB SNR on its input.
On the other hand, this motherboard provides full 7.1 analog audio jacks on the rear panel, feature not found on all mainstream motherboards. So you can easily hook an analog 5.1 or 7.1 set of speakers to this motherboard. But this motherboard does not have any on-board SPDIF connector, which is a pity. The motherboard has a SPDIF out header, but the board doesn’t come with any SPDIF bracket to use it.
On the rear panel (Figure 2) you can find the PS/2 mouse and PS/2 keyboard connectors, one serial port, one eSATA port, six USB 2.0 ports, Gigabit Ethernet port and analog audio inputs and outputs. As you can see this motherboard doesn’t have a parallel port, not even through an I/O bracket.
ECS is finally using good capacitors on their motherboards. On their P35T-A, ECS used a mixture of solid, Japanese (Chemi-Con), and Taiwanese (Toshin Kogyo, TK, which is a Japanese vendor that sells rebranded OST caps) on the voltage regulator circuit. ECS also added a passive heatsink on the MOSFET transistors from the voltage regulator circuit, which is great (see Figure 3). The capacitors used in the other sections of this motherboard are from Taiwanese vendors – OST and G-Luxon. Of course we think all capacitors could be either Japanese or solid and they could also have used ferrite coils instead of iron coils, but this would be asking too much.
Besides the regular ATX12V power plug this motherboard has an extra power plug that needs to be installed when two video cards are used.
There is one thing that ECS must correct immediately: the motherboard manual. The feature section of the manual is totally incomplete, not specifying the chips this motherboard uses and also not explaining that the second PCI Express slot runs at x4.
ECS P35T-A main features are:
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 Abit IP35 Pro (Intel P35), Gigabyte GA-P35C-DS3R (Intel P35), MSI P35 Platinum (Intel P35), MSI P35 Neo Combo (Intel P35), ECS PN2 SLI2+ (nForce 680i), ECS NF650iSLIT-A (nForce 650i), ASUS P5N-E SLI (nForce 650i), 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. Some motherboards (like ECS P35T-A and 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 P35T-A unfortunately don’t have a way to configure our memories at 1,066 MHz, so for a fair comparison we will compare all motherboard with our memories running at 800 MHz only.
The reviewed motherboard achieved an overall performance on the same level of all other motherboards we included in our comparison (see list above) but MSI P35 Neo Combo, which was 3.86% faster.
On Internet Content Creation with our memories running at 800 MHz ECS P35T-A achieved the same performance level of all other motherboards we included in our comparison (see list above).
On Office Productivity with our memories running at 800 MHz ECS P35T-A achieved the same performance level of ASUS P5B (Intel P965), ECS NF650iSLIT-A (nForce 650i), Gigabyte GA-P35C-DS3R (Intel P35), Abit IP35 PRO (Intel P35), Intel D975XBX2 (Intel 975X), ECS PN2 SLI2+ (nForce 680i) and ASUS P5N-E SLI (nForce 650i). Here ASUS P5B Premium Vista Edition (Intel P965) and MSI P35 Platinum (Intel P35) were 3.85% faster and MSI P35 Neo Combo (Intel P35) was 5.38% faster.
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 ECS P35T-A achieved a performance on the same level of all motherboards we included in our comparison.
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 with our memories set at 800 MHz ECS P35T-A achieved the same performance level as Gigabyte GA-P35C-DS3R (Intel P35), Abit IP35 PRO (Intel P35), ASUS P5B Premium Vista Edition (Intel P965), ASUS P5B (Intel P965) and MSI P35 Platinum (Intel P35). The reviewed board was 4.10% faster than Intel D975XBX2 (Intel 975X), 5.16% faster than ECS PN2 SLI2+ (nForce 680i), 7.03% faster than ECS NF650iSLIT-A (nForce 650i), 7.12% faster than MSI P35 Neo Combo (Intel P35) and 8.18% faster than ASUS P5N-E SLI (nForce 650i).
On ECS P35T-A we could find these overclocking options (June 12th, 2007 BIOS):
This motherboard also provides some memory timings adjustments, as you can see in Figure 4.
ECS has never been famous for its overclocking support and on P35T-A we can see two major problems besides the fact that we can’t set our memories above 800 MHz: it doesn’t allow to lock or configure the PCI Express clock (so 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) and its memory voltage setting goes only up to 2 V, while some overclock-oriented memories are usually configured with higher voltages such as 2.1 V or 2.3 V.
The maximum external clock rate we could configure on this motherboard was 307 MHz, what made our memories to run at 921 MHz. With this overclocking our Core 2 Duo E6700, which normally runs at 2.66 MHz, was running at 3.07 GHz, a 15.41% increase on its internal clock rate. With this overclocking our system performance increased 9% on Quake 4 and 8.40% 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.
We could set a higher overclocking with almost all other motherboards we reviewed recently: on ASUS P5N-E SLU we could set our CPU running externally at 327 MHz, on Gigabyte GA-P35C-DS3R we could set our CPU running externally at 324 MHz, on ASUS P5B Premium Vista Edition we could set our CPU running externally at 323 MHz, on ASUS P5B we could set our CPU running externally at 316 MHz and on MSI P35 Neo Combo we could set our CPU running externally at 314 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.
We were somewhat impressed by ECS P35T-A performance, on the same level of other fancy (and more expensive) P35-based motherboards. Since usually ECS products cost less than the competition, this motherboard can be a good buy if you are looking for an updated mainstream motherboard for your Intel CPU.
Its main features include support for the new 1,333 MHz external bus, six SATA-300 ports, one eSATA port and two x16 PCI Express slots supporting CrossFire (even though one of them work at x4).
Once again we want to congratulate ECS to be finally using solid aluminum and Japanese capacitors on the voltage regulator circuit from this motherboard. The other caps are from Taiwanese vendors, but at least this is a good start for a manufacturer addicted to low-end components. On P35T-A they also added a passive heatsink on the MOSFET transistors from the voltage regulator, which is great.
This motherboard has some limitations, so it is not recommended to all sort of users.
First, even though this motherboard has six SATA-300 ports it doesn’t support RAID, as it uses ICH9DH south bridge, not ICH9R.
Second, you can’t configure DDR2-1066 memories to run at 1,066 MHz. All other P35- and P965-based motherboards we’ve seen to date support this option.
Third, the on-board audio input quality isn’t good enough for today’s standards. This board provides only 85 dB on its analog audio input and you need at least 95 dB there. For this reason, avoid this motherboard if you want to build a system to capture and edit analog audio (e.g., converting VHS tapes, cassette tapes, LPs, etc to digital format).
In fourth place, this motherboard does not have on-board SPDIF connectors and even though the board provides a header for SPDIF, it doesn’t come with an SPDIF bracket, making it hard for users willing to connect their PCs to their home theater receivers. It should either have SPDIF connectors soldered on the motherboard or come with this bracket. On the other hand this motherboard provides full 7.1 analog outputs on its rear panel, allowing you to hook a 7.1 or 5.1 analog speaker system without killing the mic in and line in inputs.
If the flaws listed above aren’t a problem for you, this motherboard is probably the P35-based motherboard that provides the best cost/benefit ratio around, being recommended to average users that are not looking for a motherboard full of fancy features.