Whenever I tell people that upgrading
computer hardware is not as simple as software upgrades, I often get the
response "why?" I guess this shouldn't be much of a surprise since most people
are used to having a great deal of flexibility with their computers. As the computer tech for my circle of friends and family,
I have seen some mind-boggling things such as trying to fit a Socket A AthlonXP
into a Socket 370 motherboard and the common DDR-memory-in-SDRAM-slots act.
The general public simply
doesn't know that the underlying hardware technology of each competing processor
and memory type is completely different and not compatible. We're happy to see
that ECS is trying to break this trend with its brand new PF88 Extreme
motherboard. By default the board supports Socket 775 Pentium 4 processors, but
if you fancy a change, install one of the several SIMA cards and put an Athlon64
For the first time since Socket 7 was the platform for both Intel and AMD, ECS has put
together a motherboard which is compatible with almost every processor and
memory subsystem on the market. Of course this requires users to go out and
purchase the special SIMA cards, but at $50 a pop (plus the cost for all the
other necessary hardware), this can be a very affordable upgrade!
Standard hardware features of the motherboard include
IEEE 1394a, a 7.1 channel audio controller, Gigabit LAN, a wireless USB 802.11G
NIC and a Serial ATA II/RAID controller. The PF88 Extreme comes equipped with a
lot more goodies than the usual ECS motherboard, and that's something we're
happy to see.
The motherboard itself was quite easy to use aside from
the Elite bus jumpers. Should you need to refer to the manual, ECS has done a
good job at explaining things from hardware settings to BIOS and even how to
configure the SiS Serial ATA RAID controller. In our experience, SiS chips
usually run quite cool but the ones on the PF88 Extreme ran like little
infernos. The system was completely stable, but still you'd probably want some
good airflow passing through your case.
About the only thing I have to complain about is having
to switch jumper settings when using the SIMA cards. As it is, ECS requires
users to move two sets of twelve small black jumpers and believe me when I say
it's very easy to misplace them! ECS should definitely include a few extra with
its retail motherboards!
The performance of the ECS PF88 Extreme when using a Pentium 4
540 was mediocre at best, often coming in last in the various benchmarks. To be
fair though, the board is targeted towards the mid-level desktop market and in
that case I'd say the PF88 Extreme did pretty well. On the AMD side of things,
performance was much closer since AMD integrates the memory controller onto the
processor. In fact in many of the benchmarks, the ECS PF88 Extreme performed on
par or slightly faster than its nForce4 Ultra/SLI counterparts!
The ECS PF88 Extreme is not quite ready for prime time
yet and thus we do not know the MSRP. Still if you're looking to upgrade in the
near future and want some flexibility, the ECS PF88 Extreme is a totally unique
solution that earns high marks from us for its innovation. In the motherboard
game it pays to brake new ground, and this is exactly what the ECS PF88 Extreme
does. The benchmarks show that performance is quite good, though not top of the
line, but coming from a board that does so much that is perhaps even more
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