For a microATX motherboard, Foxconn has not skimped out on gearing up the G9657MA-8EKRS2H. The board is based on the Intel G965 IGP chipset, supporting all the latest socket LGA775 processors up to the quad-core Intel Core 2 Extreme X6700. The board will also work with DDR2-800 memory and features Intel's new GMA X3000 DirectX 9 onboard graphics. On the downside, the board only comes with VGA output, but then there's always the full PCIe x16 slot for a dedicated graphics card if you require more power. It is also the only method to have HDCP compliant video if you intend on building a HD ready PC.
However, what's real interesting is the fact that it comes with the full ICH8R Southbridge, instead of the vanilla ICH8. This puts the G9657MA-8EKRS2H in a small percentage of microATX boards that has a strong SATA controller with a full range of RAID capabilities up to RAID 5 and 10 as well as being eSATA compliant. Like all Intel 965-series boards, the G9657MA-8EKRS2H sports an additional JMicron JMB361 controller to provide the necessary Ultra-ATA port for two optical drives and any other IDE devices you may still have.
During our early testing phase, we encountered storage initialization errors for both the JMicron and ICH8R during POST which led to a frustrating time setting the board up to install Windows. Foxconn has since provided us with a BIOS fix and after some extended testing, the problem seems to have been rectified. If you encounter similar issues with the board, check your BIOS revision. If you have a BIOS dated 23/10/06 (631F1P30) and before, it is recommended you update your BIOS.
Like a full-fledged ATX motherboard, the G9657MA-8EKRS2H features an 8-channel HD Audio CODEC (Realtek ALC883) and comes with proper optical and coaxial S/PDIF connections. The board sports a Gigabit Ethernet network connection via a PCI Express Marvell 88E8056 controller and there is even FireWire-400 connectivity through the onboard VIA VT6308P controller.
For a microATX motherboard with as many features, the G9657MA-8EKRS2H is not as packed or congested as one would expect. It has two PCI slots, one PCIe x1 and one PCIe x16. Foxconn also provides all ten USB 2.0 ports available to the chipset as well as two FireWire ports. Its connectors and headers are neatly lined up along the sides, and with such a small board, positioning wouldn't really matter too much. However, we would have liked it better if the IDE and Floppy connector were switched around.
Like most G965-based motherboards, the G9657MA-8EKRS2H isn't much of an overclocker at all. This is seemingly due to the fact that the memory controller isn't set to be asynchronous with FSB and also because its tied to the GMA X3000 IGP, which isn't quite tolerant of overclocking. Even using an external graphics card, we couldn't get the board to post at 270MHz. The G9657MA-8EKRS2H is a good stock board, but you can pretty much forget about tweaking it.