Motherboard Guide

ECS PF22 Extreme review

ECS PF22 Extreme (Intel 955X Express + CrossFire)

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Extreme CrossFire

Extreme CrossFire

Let's have a look at what the PF22 Extreme has in store for you. The motherboard design is pretty much ECS standard, with a purple PCB, rear exhaust duct and the 'Extreme' branding plaque to denote ECS' performance series. The usual galore of ECS' features are also available and we have some useful LEDs placed along the expansion and DIMM slots to indicate power and operational functionality. From what we can see, the motherboard has a layout favoring the upper CPU socket portion. The area looks sufficiently spacious for a good size cooler and DIMM slots are well spaced too. The lower portion is another thing altogether, but we'll look into that later.

In terms of features, ECS doesn't really skimp on components since this is an Extreme series motherboard, but neither do they go overboard with it. Banking on the novelty of dual graphics and CrossFire capabilities, the board's native Intel 955X Express chipset is supplemented by an additional Silicon Image SiI3132 SATA II controller, a two port RAID capable controller with External SATA functionality. Now the chip itself is embedded deep into the board so there isn't an eSATA port as such, but ECS provides a bracket for it. The motherboard also comes with a VIA VT6307 FireWire-400 controller and a Realtek ALC880 CODEC to manage Intel's onboard HD Audio. The inclusion of two Gigabit Ethernet controllers is a good thing, though only one of them (Intel PC82573V) is PCIe based. For once, this move isn't an attempt to reduce cost, but because four PCIe x1 lanes would have to be reserved for dual graphics operation, this is the only way to have full feature functionality.

The PCI Express switching for dual graphics seem be more advanced on the PF22 Extreme than the ASRock 775i915P-SATA2 we reviewed before. Users aren't required to mess around with blocks of jumpers to enable the second PCIe x16 slot and it is simply plug and play. CrossFire operation works the same way though sometimes the cards need to be re-detected before it gets activated (an anomaly we've noticed with non-native CrossFire motherboards). You might have noticed that the single PCIe x1 slot will be blocked between the two PCIe x16 slots, but we think that this is a deliberate design for this board. With both the extra SATA II and Ethernet controllers using a PCIe x1 lane each, the remaining four must be routed to the second slot for CrossFire, thus disabling the sole PCIe x1 slot when the secondary PCIe x16 slot is in use.

Overclocking

  • FSB Settings: 266MHz - 500MHz
  • DDR2 Frequency: 400MHz, 533MHz, 667MHz
  • PCIe Frequency: Sync, Auto
  • CPU Voltage Settings: 1.2000 - 1.6000V (in 0.0125V steps)
  • Memory Voltage Settings: + 0.1V - +0.45V (in 0.05V steps)
  • NB Voltage Settings: +0.05V - +0.15V (in 0.05V steps)
  • Multiplier Selection: Yes (unlocked CPUs only)

Ever since ECS launched the PF5 Extreme (based one the Intel 945P Express), their current lineup of Intel LGA775 motherboards are all labeled as good overclockers that can reach past the 1.2GHz FSB with ease. From our experience so far, Intel's Anchor Creek platform has proven themselves to have a decent overclocking bandwidth. This is no different for the PF22 Extreme. We managed a maximum stable overclock of 313MHz FSB (roughly 1250MHz in QDR mode). This number matches the PF5 Extreme and Gigabyte GA-GI855X Royal, though the ASUS P5WD2 Premium still holds a slight lead at 315MHz. Of course, the good thing about the board is that it can overclock quite well, but the downside is that it doesn't come with extensive overclocking options. The BIOS covers the basic voltage and frequency timings well enough for the average overclocker, but hardly sufficient to satisfy the ardent enthusiast.


The Bad

As mentioned before, the motherboard has a spacious upper area where the CPU socket and DIMM slots are, but the lower half looks very cramped. All the storage connectors are placed side by side together and we've not yet taken into account the various other cables from expansion brackets like additional USB, FireWire and Parallel port headers. With two graphics cards in a CrossFire configuration, you can imagine how cluttered the area will become. Other than this, there is one other issue with that didn't sit well with us; there just aren't enough fan headers. Actually, there are four in total, but two of which have already been taken up by the Northbridge cooler and rear exhaust. So if we take the CPU cooler fan header out, there is one left to use and it is well hidden at an inconvenient spot below the PCI slots.