ECS A970M-A Deluxe Motherboard Reviewformerstaff - March 7, 2013
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ECS A970M-A Closer Look:
The ECS A970M-A is a three color affair using black, white, and of course the golden touches. It is nice to see that black PCBs are actually back in black now and not 'browned out by the black's opacity and the copper tracers throughout the board. The board itself is a slightly undersized ATX form factor measuring in at 12.01" x 8.66". At the heart of the board is the standard black .053 holed socket compatible with both AM3 and AM3+ (or AM3b as it's known). It has support for a wide range of chips up to 140W from the new eight core high-end FX-8350 flagship to the AM3 45W Sempron single core using the standard AMD tension plate and lever lock-down system. Oddly enough, nowhere on ECS's website, packaging, or manual does it make mention of the phase count of the A970-M's power delivery. A count of the gold plated inductors however indicates that it is a 6+1 phase power delivery, with six phases for the CPU and a single phase for the system memory. The back of the board is standard AMD with a few thousand solder points, the business end of the plastic split pins of the heatsink attachments, and a hefty stamped metal bracket for attaching a behemoth air cooler of your choice. It features all high-grade solid Japanese capacitors, 'Hyper Alloy' chokes, and higher gold content at critical contact points. The ECS A970M-A looks to be a high performance contender for a pairing with your AM3+ processor.
The A970M-A has a few things that immediately stand out as a bit different in the layout and feature set. All of which we will have a look at starting now.
Taking a look at the I/O connectivity we see what you might expect in that there are "a few less" connections than the higher end, more feature-laden 990FX boards. This is one of the critical points to consider when deciding if you can live with a 970 chipset motherboard. With the rear I/O panel on the A970M-A, we are looking at 1 x PS/2 combo port/1 x RJ45 LAN connector/1 x Audio port (1x Line in, 4x Line out supporting the Realtek ALC892 8-Ch High Definition audio CODEC 1x Optical SPDIF Out)/1 x eSATA 6Gb/s port/2 x USB 3.0 Ports (blue)/ and a total of 8 x USB 2.0 ports. For most folks this is at least an ample amount of connections.
Another critical feature to consider when deciding between 990 and the 970 chipset is the discrete VGA options. The ECS A970M-A affords you dual PCIe slots. One running at the full x16 lanes, while the second is operating electrically at x4 lanes. You can most certainly run anything from a single GPU to quad Crossfire with the A970M-A. A word on this if I might to dispel a common myth about PCIe x4 interfaces. It is commonly advised that the x4 is just left of worthless for using in a Crossfire situation, but this is not the case. The x4 slot will produce around 90-95% of the performance of the full x16 interface, and at times a bit more. If you are looking to build a benchmark behemoth, you certainly do not want to give up even a few precious percentage points, however, the x4 slot will add very much to a future graphics upgrade. There is also a pair of PCIe x1 slots for sound, capture cards, or other components, and pair of legacy PCI slots at the bottom of the stack
Along the bottom of the board we come to the majority of the front panel connectivity and few other headers. From left to right you can see the Realtek ALC892 8-Ch High Definition audio chip at the left end of the last PCI slot. Directly below it are the HD audio header, the SPDIF header, system fan header, and the COM port. In the second image, the front panel connections continue with the USB 1, 2, and 3 headers (the grey header being the USB 3) Next is the motherboard speaker header for POST audio codes, the TPM ( Trusted Platform Module), and the front panel LED and power and reset switches. Above the front panel header you can see the red Clear CMOS jumper and the case intrusion pins for enclosures equipped with this feature.
Along the right side of the board we come to the six SATA ports available on the A970M-A, which consist of five SATA 3 6Gb/s and one eSATA 3 6Gb/s port. All five are controlled by the AMD 950SB chipset and support RAID 0,1,5,10. Of the five board-mounted SATA ports, three are mounted vertically and two of them are horizontal.
The A970M-A is equipped with four DDR3 dual channel architecture DIMMs supporting 2133+(OC)/1866/1600/1333 unbuffered memory. The DIMMs are one of the critical places that ECS's '3 x gold' come into play. While the industry standard for gold plated contacts is 5 Microns or 0.000127mm of gold plating, ECS is using 15 microns of gold plating or 0.000381mm. This increases the contact surface as well as the conduction since gold is the most conductive both electrically and thermally of the practical metals. For a bit of future proofing...ahem, the A970M-A will support up to 64GB of system memory when 16GB modules are widely available. Below the DIMMs in the image, we spy the board's main 24 pin ATX power header. ECS is using top end components here. The capacitors are Japanese solid caps and ECS employs their "Hyper Alloy" chokes. This is basically high grade alloy metals used for the core and winding of the inductors that eases capacitance and heat dissipation as well as increases component lifespan by lowering resistance and energy use.
ECS also employs what they call 'ECS Non-Stop Technology' that includes a 72 hour stability test as well as a 50c burn-in test to assure that the board is sufficiently tortured and ready for your overclocking when it arrives at your doorstep.
Along the top of the board I am not concerned with what is there as much as what is not there, and that is the CPU 8-pin power connector. The CPU power connector is oddly placed down the board between the VRM and Northbridge heatsinks. I found that while setting up the A970M-A system in a moderately sized case, an extension was needed to reach it. This of course is not a deal breaker, however it does make clean cable management a bit more difficult. Do make sure in this situation that you use an extension that is of proper gauge for the current carried by the main power connector.
In the socket area of the board we find the familiar black AM3+ tension plate and locking lever surrounded by white heatsink brackets. The A970M-A offers support for up to 140w processors going back to the previous AM3 generation. You may have noticed by now the gold anodized "walls" that surround the socket area on two of the sides. These are what make up a rather unique feature of the ECS A970M-A called the 'Anti Dust Shield' or ADS for short. The idea here is that between the swirling air of the heatsink fan and these gold "walls" the dust (or a majority of it) will be directed away from the memory and graphics card interface area and the memory DIMMs. ECS also claims that the shield helps heat dissipation by moving heated air up off the board to aid in evacuating it from the case faster.
As part of the ECS "Golden" lineup, the A970M-A is adorned with golden accouterments including golden plated inductors, dust shields, and golden anodized heatsinks. Much like the FM2 board from ECS we looked at last week, ECS has done a nice job of making the gold touches flattering and not overpowering. As the A970M-A is made for and aimed at AM3+ users, I dropped the FX-8150 into the socket to see how it would handle high energy loads and FX overclocking. The VRM heat dissipation held up but ran very warm at times. I wonder if a sintered heatpipe between the VRM and Northbridge might be in order here. ECS also has opted for the spring and split pin type method of attaching the various and interestingly shaped heatsinks to the PCB. Have a look at the golden goodies found around the board.
That is a look around the board at the hardware assembled. Next up is a gander at the software and utilities that accompany the A970M-A