Summary: Looking for an inexpensive nForce4 SLI motherboard for dual 7800 GTX gaming? If so, you may want to check out ECS' KN1 SLI Extreme motherboard. The KN1 SLI Extreme delivers a solid feature set with good performance, but is it enough to dethrone other high-end nForce4 SLI motherboards? Find out in today's review!
Over the last few months, a new player has entered the high-end motherboard segment, a newcomer whose name might ring a few bells. I’m talking about EliteGroup, or ECS for short, and a company that has been a leading supplier of motherboards for the computer industry for over 15 years. If you've ever worked for a computer OEM or a small system builder, chances are you've used a couple ECS motherboards within your tenure; as the company is the #1 shipper of low cost entry-level motherboards in the world.
A question that’s bound to be asked is why the world’s #1 shipper of low cost entry level motherboards would jump into the low-volume, high maintenance world of enthusiast class motherboards? The answer isn’t simple, but is part of ECS’ new global strategy that highlights and brands the ECS name to consumers.
Essentially ECS would be helping their money making high volume motherboard business by creating a solid brand reputation through high-end enthusiast class products.
With that said, today we’re taking a closer look at the ECS KN1 SLI Extreme, ECS’ nForce 4 SLI motherboard. Does ECS have what it takes to take on the offerings of ASUS, Gigabyte, MSI, and DFI? Join us as we take a closer look.
ECS’ KN1 SLI Extreme is the name of the ECS nForce 4 SLI board we’ll be looking at today, and as you can see from the board’s large box and stuffed package contents, ECS is trying to take the enthusiast segment by storm. With their Extreme product line, ECS tries to include a wide array of assorted accessories in the box. Of course, the usual suspects are present: a SLI bridge, two standard ATA cables, floppy ATA cable, four SATA cables, and a SATA power connector. After these basic items, ECS includes a few extras that are unique and noteworthy. They include an Ethernet crossover cable, SLI retention bracket (to keep the SLI bridge in place), 3.5” mounting bay for the USB/Firewire bracket, an extra BIOS chip, and an external SATA data port.
Color is of course always subjective, in fact your favorite color may even be purple, but for me, I’d prefer to see a darker color, like what we’ve had with the ASUS and DFI offerings. Another thing you’ll notice with the KN1 SLI Extreme is that it’s PCB design is less cluttered than that of ASUS and DFI, the KN1 SLI Extreme having a considerable amount of open PCB.
Besides the board’s awkward color, another aspect that catches your eye is the KN1 SLI Extreme’s neon green 40mm fan duct, installed directly adjacent to the CPU socket. Unlike DFI and ASUS, ECS has added an active-cooling solution to cool the board’s MOSFETs. Using a temperature sensor, we’ve noticed that the MOSFETS on the DFI and ECS boards were roughly the same temperature, so using an active cooling solution (that can easily fail) may not be that necessary.
One of the ECS KN1 SLI Extreme’s best features is the fact that it does not have a SLI bridge. The board is capable of adjusting onboard PCIe lanes to accommodate a single or dual graphics card solution, saving you a lot of time and hassle, particularly if you switch out graphics cards on a regular basis.
ECS has the four pin PCIe molex power connector in the same location as the ASUS A8N SLI. As we move down the board, you can see that the KN1 Extreme SLI only features six SATA connectors, unlike the eight in both the DFI and ASUS offerings.
As you’ve probably noticed, the ECS KN1 SLI Extreme, like most of the other boards nForce4 boards on the market, includes color-coded front panel jumpers. These are a relatively new addition to retail enthusiast motherboards, but are nevertheless important as they help speed up motherboard installation.
When we look at the ECS KN1 SLI Extreme’s I/O panel, we see the standard I/O connectors, but only with one exception, the inclusion of a legacy COM port. Let’s be honest, who really uses COM ports in today’s computing environment?
SPECview Perf 8.1:
To start our testing, we’ll be using SPECview Perf 8.1 to examine how the ECS KN1 SLI Extreme performs in 3D Studio Max, Lightwave, and Maya tests.
In our encoding and decoding tests, we're using the latest DivX and XviD codecs and encoding standard MPEG-2 videos. We're encoding 700MB videos for both. For our Winrar tests, we're decoding a 900MB Winrar archive.
Next up we have our standard 3DMark03 and 3DMark05 tests, both running at 1024x768x32.
For our Kribibench tests, we're using a realistic render and the City, Office, Plane, and Ultra scenes.
In our Doom 3 tests, we're running the game through a custom-made demo in the Mars City level. No AA or AF is enabled. We're using version 1.3 of the game.
In our Far Cry tests, we're using version 1.31 and are running custom demos of the game's Pier level. No AA or AF settings are enabled.
Half-Life 2: d3c171:
For our Half-Life 2 tests, we're using the game's d3c171 level.
Unreal Tournament 2004:
Four our Unreal Tournament 2004 tests we're using version 3355 of the game, and running the game's standard Fly By demo.
For our overclocking tests, we’re using Thermaltake’s heavy duty CL-P0114 120mm heatsink fan and are overclocking each motherboard through its respective BIOS to obtain the highest possible stable clock frequency. We’re using the same AMD Athlon 64 4000+ CPU throughout all these tests, with minor voltage changes to obtain the stable overclock from board to board.
We ran a 3DMark03 game test loop for 48 hours at our overclocked frequencies, so these overclocking results should be relatively easy to duplicate assuming you have adequate cooling.
The overclocking section of a motherboard review is often most interesting because it is where the true enthusiast class products often shine. Contrary to our standard test results, our overclocking results show substantial differences between the four motherboards we tested against the ECS KN1 SLI Extreme.
We can see with our test results that the motherboard that yielded the highest stable overclock was the DFI LanParty UT nF4 SLI-DR. DFI’s board managed to run our Athlon 64 4000+ processor 70MHz higher than that of the ASUS A8N SLI Deluxe, and 96MHz higher than the ECS KN1 SLI Extreme.
With that said, it’s important to note that both the ASUS A8N SLI Deluxe and the ECS KN1 SLI were actually able to surpass the 2.7GHz barrier in our initial overclocking tests, but as our 3DMark03 game test looped, our test systems would restart or shut off completely.