In the mainstream and high end motherboard markets, there seems to be an "arms race" between the various manufacturers; each stuffing as many integrated peripherals and features into its products as possible. Consumers are definitely benefitting, motherboards these days come with almost every features you can think of, and ample expansion space on top of that.
While most of the attention has been spent on physical attributes, a few manufacturers like Foxconn are moving beyond the hardware and into software features. Overclocking is big business now and a strong software overclocking/tweaking utility can help win over users. After all, who wouldn't love the ability to tweak their computer settings while from the comfort of the Windows desktop?
Foxconn has made a pretty big splash in the retail
market with its motherboards and videocards, and the company is considered a top tier manufacturer (in terms of quality) with the likes of Asus, MSI and Gigabyte. The Foxconn MARS motherboard certainly looks like a great enthusiast friendly motherboard, particularly because it's based on Intel's hot P35 Express and ICH9R chipsets.
With a retail price of $187
CDN ($190 US, £92 GBP), Foxconn is targeting high end users with the MARS motherboard. In terms of integrated goodies, the motherboard has a Gigabit network card, two IEEE 1394a ports, onboard 7.1 channel high definition Azalia audio codec, six Serial ATA II ports (with RAID 0,1,5,10) along with an eSATA jack and twelve USB 2.0 (six on the rear I/O, six headers).
In terms of expansion the Foxconn MARS motherboard
offers up two PCI Express x16 slots for videocards, two PCI Express x1 and three 32 bit PCI slots. This Intel P35 Express based motherboard will support all current Intel Pentium 4/D/XE and Core 2 Duo/Quad processors running on an 800/1066/1333 MHz FSB. The four DDR2 memory slots will accommodate a maximum of 8GB of DDR2-667/800/1066 memory. The Mars platform supports Windows Vista and the next-generation 45nm Intel multi-core processor.
Accessories of importance include a two-port 1394 bracket, six sets of SATA data/power cables and a dog tag. Yup. It seems once you go Foxconn, you're part of its quantum-force.net team!
The Foxconn MARS motherboard is fancy, and
it's hard to miss the very elaborate chipset and MOSFET cooling
systems. The big Intel P35 Express chipset heatsink jumps out of the center
of the Mars motherboard like a hulking V8 engine block! Despite the
theatrics, the Foxconn Mars is well laid out and on-board components are organized. We're particularly happy with the six USB 2.0 ports and eSATA port at the rear of the board. The six additional USB2.0 headers will accommodate front panel case connectors and things of that nature. There is one IEEE 1394a port on the rear I/O, and the other is available by the Firewire bracket.
Installation and Set Up
The Foxconn MARS motherboard comes with a few special measures for desktop tweakers, so if you like to run computers without cases, you'll find the power, reset and clear CMOS buttons within fingertip reach. If the Clear CMOS button doesn't work for some reason, there is a set of jumpers next to the battery.
driver CD, Foxconn include an Intel Matrix storage manager floppy diskette. This is useful if you're installing Windows and need that driver. In typical Foxconn fashion, the User's Manual is well written, clearly documenting how to set up the motherboard physically, tweak the BIOS, install the software and create a RAID array.
In terms of custom software, Foxconn bundle in a program
called the "Aegis Panel" What this does is display CPU speed, system temperatures, fans speeds and voltages. By the look of it, you'd
think the Aegis Panel would also allow you to overclock the PC
from the desktop, but sadly the software is a rather clunky display, and that's
about it. From the hype, we would have thought this program did a
lot more, but alas it does not.
Intel P35 Express and ICH9R
PCSTATS has talked a lot
about the features of the Foxconn Mars motherboard, so let's quickly go over the Intel P35 Express before seeing
some more of this enthusiasts motherboard in the highlights section.