Motherboard Guide

ASRock 939SLI32-eSATA2 review

ASRock 939SLI32-eSATA2 (ULi M1695 + M1697)

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939SLI32-eSATA2 Features and L....

Features

The ASRock 939SLI32-eSATA2 is one of the most fully featured 'mainstream' motherboards to be launched to date. The combination of ULi's M1695 and M1697 chipsets allow the board to have superior graphics capabilities with dual full-speed PCI Express x16 lanes and up to eight more configurable lanes for other devices. Like our recently reviewed EpoX EP-9U1697 GLI (which is based on the single chip M1697 design), the 939SLI32-eSATA2 comes with an inherent ability to support SLI through ULi's PowerExpress Engine Enabling driver. ASRock goes one step bolder than other manufacturers as to actually print in their documentation that the board fully supports SLI, despite NVIDIA stating otherwise. ASRock even provides the SLI bridge and the ULi PowerExpress Engine Enabling driver in the driver CD.

However, just like our experience with the EPoX board (which you can read about here ), NVIDIA's latest ForceWare 84.21 drivers disabled ULi's PowerExpress driver. Thus, we're back to the same conundrum where you will be forced to stick with older ForceWare driver sets (82.12 and below) if you want to keep using the 939SLI32-eSATA2 in SLI mode.

The board comes with some decent expansion capabilities, with three PCI slots and one open-ended PCIe x4 slot instead of a fixed PCIe x1. This should allow the board some flexibility in supporting various PCIe add-on cards as they become available in the future. Of course, depending on the type of cooling your graphics card pack, you may not be able to use the slots beside the PCIe x16. The board also features ASRock's Future CPU Port, which we last saw in the ASRock 939Dual-SATA2 motherboard. Through a daughter card module, users of the 939SLI32-eSATA2 can upgrade the board to support AMD's upcoming AM2 processor and DDR2 memory.

One of the good things about the 939SLI32-eSATA2 is that it makes full use of its chipset capabilities. ASRock did still try to cut corners here and there, but the majority of its features are represented in a way that users won't necessarily feel cheated of the experience. What we're talking about is having onboard features actually featured on the board. For one, the 939SLI32-eSATA2 actually makes use of HD Audio, though you'd have to contend with a 6-channel Realtek ALC660 CODEC instead of the more prominent 8-channel variants. The board also has a very unique approach to SATA functionality by allowing users to re-route two internal ports to enable eSATA functionality. This feature is identical to the one we saw on the ASRock 775XFire-eSATA2 motherboard and while it is a notable add-on, it comes with similar downsides like reduced internal storage and possible cable management problems.

Layout

The layout of the 939SLI32-eSATA2 is very much similar to that of the 939Dual-SATA2 that we've recently reviewed. The upper portion of the motherboard revolves around compatibility with the Future CPU Port. This means that the CPU socket, Northbridge and DIMM slots are pushed towards the front portion of the board.

ASRock also had to contend with a dual graphics motherboard and we think that they've done a decent job with the expansion slot layout, freeing up room for two full-length graphics cards. The two IDE connectors are located between the slots and with the Southbridge placed towards the bottom where ASRock can afford to use a larger heatsink on the chipset.

Overclocking

The 939SLI32-eSATA2 has a much more advanced overclocking BIOS than the 939Dual-SATA2, but ASRock still maintains on using the vague switch-style voltage options. Users get to fine tune frequency controls for both the PCI and PCIe buses, but you will only be able to choose from 'Low', 'Normal' or 'High' when it comes to its voltage settings, which we're sure overclockers aren't too keen about.

  • FSB Settings: 150MHz to 400MHz
  • RAM Frequency: DDR-266, DDR-333, DDR-400
  • PCIe Frequency: 75MHz to 200MHz
  • PCI Frequency: 33MHz to 37.5MHz
  • CPU Voltage Settings: 0.800V to 1.550V (in 0.025V steps)
  • VCCM Voltage Settings: Low, Normal, High, Ultra High, Auto
  • Chipset Core Voltage Settings: Normal, High, Auto
  • Multiplier Selection: Yes (unlocked CPUs only)

Nevertheless, the 939SLI32-eSATA2 proved to be not too shabby in the overclocking department from our tests. We initially had trouble getting the board to budge even past a few MHz over its default clock speeds, even with HTT turned all the way down to 3x. However, the answer seems to be in a BIOS configuration switch named 'Flexibility Option'. By default, the switch was set to 'Disabled', but when 'Enabled', we could easily hit a 280MHz overclock on the HTT bus.