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As a PC system builder in my dark and murky past, I was reasonably familiar with ECS, or to give it its full moniker, Elitegroup Computer Systems. Invariably its products were specified for budget systems where cost was more important than capability. Despite the fact that ECS was, and still is, a high volume manufacturer, its boards were seen as a poor and often unreliable alternative to the better specified alternatives. In fact you’d be surprised how many unflattering phrases you can make from the acronym “ECS”.
With this in mind I’m sure you can imagine my concerns when regarding this review. This was despite a succession of genuinely innovative recent products from ECS, not least of which was the eminently sensible dual-platform PF88 Extreme, accommodating both Socket 939 AMD CPUs and also LGA775 Intel processors by way of nothing more than an add-in daughter board. Nevertheless, I was all too aware that it takes more than one moment of genius to build a reputation.
The ECS PF5 Extreme is an LGA775 motherboard based on Intel’s popular 945P Express (945P + ICH7R) chipset. Although Intel positions this chipset as a value desktop part, it in fact boasts some high-end features including 1066, 800 and 533 MHz system bus support, PCI-Express x16 graphics, dual-channel DDR2, SATA RAID and high definition audio to name but a few.
First reactions on seeing the PF5 are that something is missing. The clean design and nearly invisible traces combine with what seems like acres of bare, purple PCB to give the impression of it being almost spartan in nature.
Despite the illusion, it’s pretty much all there. Three PCI slots sit alongside a pair of PCI Express x16 slots and a single PCI Express x1 slot. A bank of five blue LED status lights sit alongside each of them, bar the primary PCI Express x16 slot. These either flash to denote that the slot is empty or if the card is not seated or functioning, correctly, or light constantly to denote the slot is in use and is functioning properly. Surface-mount LEDs would have looked neater than the clumsy looking 5mm units ECS opted for.
I mentioned there are two PCI Express slots on this motherboard but before you start thinking SLI let me set you straight. You can run dual graphics cards, and from these you can power up to four displays, but they run discretely. At this point nVidia hasn’t released drivers for SLI on anything but its own nForce4 chipset, but ATI claims that Crossfire will work, though I couldn’t test this. If you do populate both PCI Express slots, the x1 slot that sits between them is disabled due to PCI Express bandwidth limitations.
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