With five PCI slots and one AGP slot coupled with the usual four DIMM sockets, the configuration is fairly standard. The North Bridge is only passively cooled, albeit with a fairly hefty heatsink, which should be a bonus to the silent PC lobbyists.
Speaking of noise, audio is taken care of by the C-Media CM19739a. To my ears at least, this offered excellent quality 6-channel sound in line with its claims of a >90 dB S/N ratio & Dynamic Range. There’s also C-Media’s Xear 3D Sound Technology to play with, including the 5.1 Virtual SPEAKER SHIFTER and Earphone Plus mode.
Naturally for a product being thrust at LAN gamers, the networking capabilities have been well catered for. The Realtek RTL8110S Gigabit NIC allows for full duplex operation at 10, 100 and 1000 Mbit/sec.
Perhaps the biggest surprise for me came when I took a wander through the BIOS. Though not quite up with the big-gun enthusiast motherboards, DFI has managed to cover all the important functionality and even add some of its own. In addition to the ability to bump DIMM voltages to a moderately high but still reasonably safe 2.9v, you can also raise the CPU voltage to a slightly scary 1.975v and the AGP voltage to 1.8v. All this is handled in a section of the BIOS that DFI calls the “Genie BIOS”. In here you’ll also find access to the memory dividers and FSB Overclocking options.
Also in the Genie BIOS settings is one called “Super PATCH” which is the name DFI has given to its memory utilization enhancements. Once enabled, Super PATCH should, in theory, raise the performance of the 865 chipset to that of the faster, more expensive i875 “Canterwood” chipset by lowering the CPU to memory latencies. The proviso is that you can only enable Super PATCH if both your CPU and your memory are running synchronously, which translates to an 800MHz FSB CPU and DDR400 memory.
By far the biggest BIOS advancement for me came in the shape of the CMOS Reloaded function. This allows you to create, save and even rename two separate BIOS configurations and then restore them at will. This is a genuinely useful function for experienced tweakers and inexperienced tinkerers alike and is vastly more convenient than having to keep setting up your BIOS parameters manually after every failed overclock or optimisation. I suppose the only real failing is that the PC needs to be able to POST in order to get to BIOS so you can restore things, but even then you only need clear the CMOS manually using the jumper first. I wouldn’t mind seeing a third EZ Touch style button added for the purpose of clearing the CMOS, just to make life that bit simpler.
It could just be me, but I found I was constantly choosing the wrong option when hurriedly using the CMOS Reloaded function. The “Backup” option saves your current BIOS configuration while the “Load” function loads it. Even as I type it I can see that it should be quite simple to understand, so why did I keep choosing ”Backup” when what I wanted was to do was load a saved configuration? I think maybe naming the two options “Save” and “Restore” would have made more sense, to my warped logic at least.