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An odd find in the box was what looked like a spare BIOS chip sat in a plastic housing. This is in fact part of the ECS Top Hat Flash System and enables you to restore a corrupt BIOS by placing it over the onboard hardwired BIOS chip and using it to boot the system into Windows, from where the most recent BIOS file can be downloaded and flashed.
The manual is impressive, and while it doesn’t rank with the greats it was clear and well laid out and vastly superior to the majority.
BIOS options were fairly comprehensive and adequate even for demanding users. Odd was the lack of any option to set CAS latency, made more of an issue by the board’s apparent inability to correctly set SPD values from my PQI DDR2 modules. Rated to run at 4-4-4-12 the board insisted on setting them to 4-5-5-12, and forcing them to x-4-4-12 resulted in a CAS latency of 5 and thus a setting of 5-4-4-12. ECS clearly need to implement CAS latency setting to overcome this problem.
The PF5, like many current motherboards, uses dynamic overclocking to boost board performance without any user intervention. Unfortunately there was no way do disable this function in the BIOS without enabling the overclocking function and locking the FSB at 200MHz. As a result, the 3DMark and SysMark tests were run at the default setting, which set an FSB of around 215MHz and thus ran my 3.6GHz CPU at 3.87GHz, I then locked the FSB to the proper 200MHz setting and ran them again for comparison.
Finally, a quick note about the onboard audio. Although quality from the eight-channel Intel High Definition powered Realtek Codec was comparatively very good, through headphones there was a lot of blitter noise as the mouse cursor was moved. This may be isolated to my test conditions but I’d sooner mention it than not.
On balance the PF5 was a very good performer with some creditable pluses and some niggling weaknesses. It bares all the hallmarks of a product from a company determined to bring new and innovative ideas to a competitive market but who are still finding their feet to some extent. But for a street price around £90 you do get a lot of technology for your money.