ECS A970M-A Deluxe Motherboard Review

formerstaff - 2012-11-20 13:26:01 in Motherboards
Category: Motherboards
Reviewed by: formerstaff   
Reviewed on: March 7, 2013
Price: $69.99

ECS A970M-A Introduction

Last week we took a look at ECS Elite Group's Golden Version of their FM2 Trinity motherboard platform. Today we have a budget oriented solution for the AM3/AM3+ and FX line of AMD processors. The preferred chipset for the enthusiast and heavy overclocker is, and has been, the 990X/FX Chipset. Usually in the range as twice as much price wise, as you might suspect , you are paying for more PCIe lanes/bandwidth, usually a few more phases and/or beefier VRM, more and flexible ways to attain that epic overclock, and the extra bells and whistles that go with it all including a couple more SATA ports. There is a more cost-friendly nest for your AM3+ CPU however, and that is what we have on the bench here today. Much like the ECS FM2 solution I had the chance to bring you last week, this AM3/AM3+ solution is populated with golden accouterments both for the eyeballs' pleasure and the logistics of connectivity. The AMD 970 chipset boards don't garner near the fanfare and accolades of their high-end brethren, so you may not have had the chance to see anything of much depth on them. The ECS A970M-A Deluxe will not require you to break out the dent puller for your wallet, so sit back and have a look at this low cost and high feature home for your AMD processor.

For those not familiar with, or have traditionally looked past ESC when selecting components, a very brief history is in order.

ECS Elite Group is located in Taipei Neihu Technology Park, and was established in 1987. It's a manufacturer of not only motherboards, but notebooks, graphic cards, and a host of mobile devices. Over the years, ECS has been the first to market with many products including the first dual processor Pentium motherboard in 1996 and the first 64-bit motherboard in 1992. In 2002, ECS surpassed the two million unit-per-month milestone in motherboard sales. It's time to get our gold on and have a look at the ECS A970M-A (Black Deluxe).

ECS A970M-A Closer Look

The ECS A970M-A is packaged in a relatively modest retail pack by todays standards, with no multi-level box scheme or Velcro tabs holding down thick flaps that reveal windows (or are they drool guards?). The A970M-A is an smaller, efficiently packed black handled box that lacks glitter and gets straight to the point.










As with other ECS motherboards, a fair bit of space is dedicated to making sure that the consumer knows they use 3 x the gold in the manufacturing of their boards and extolling the virtues of the more efficient conductivity, both thermal and electrical. The gold is used in places around the board such as pin contact, PCIe slots, and DIMM contacts. For the eyeball and side window gazing, there is plenty of aesthetic gold placement as well.




Popping the top we see the gold highlights from outside the prerequisite anti-static protective bag. Amongst the anodized pieces is something a bit different than I have worked with thus far: a feature that ECS has dubbed the 'ECS Anti Dust Shield'. I will have more on that here in a bit. It seems that the disclaimer you have seen in every motherboard manual ever printed that reads "exact motherboard layout is subject to change without notice" has been exercised here. The board pictured on the box seems to have a previous version pictured with a different northbridge heatsink and the lack of the ADS or Anti Dust Shield. Let's let the kitty out of the burlap and find out what is actually inside the black box.



The included accessory bundle is rather standard fare for a board in this price range. Included are five SATA cables that cover all of the on-board SATA ports (a nice feature), a very plain looking rear I/O plate, a full manual and system utility disc, and lastly a full color poster style folded illustrated setup guide. Along the top of the box is a lineup of supported hardware and software from the latest FX series processors to THX sound.



The ECS A970M-A Looks to be one of the more interesting 970 outfitted boards out there. Time to go round that black PCB and see what ECS has assembled here for the AM3+ user who may not need all of the 990FX features.

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

ECS A970M-A Golden Closer Look:

The ECS Utility software suite is dubbed "Intelligent EZ Utility". It is a suite of simple but effective software designed to make adjusting everything from energy efficiency to overclocking hospitable in Windows.














First up is eSF Smart Fan. Split into five modes, eSF is a way to customize fan profiles according to preference and/or load and temperature conditions on the fly without entering the BIOS. EDLU is a semi-automated way to make sure your system is equipped with the latest or most preferred drivers. Once initiated, it searches for current drivers and lists them giving you a choice. Once you decide to install or replace a driver, eDLU will automatically download and install them for you. I have never been a huge fan of automatic driver install, however, I did try this program and it worked flawlessly.




EBLU is the name given to the ECS auto BIOS update in Windows. I also tried this utility and it worked flawlessly. I have never been a big proponent of updating the BIOS live from a website but having said that, it has become at least a bit more safe with the common dual BIOS and overwriting features of today. I still believe in the flash drive method, but if updating this way really racks your nerves, it's nice to have an easy solution like this at hand.

EOC is ECS's Windows overclock utility. It is not nearly as in-depth as BIOS overclocking, but for on-the-fly simple overclocking and voltage adjustment it works well. EOC gives you the option to load the program on startup alone or automatically enforce a saved OC profile. Included in eOC is a monitor tab that displays basic system temperatures, voltages, and fan speeds.




All in all, ECS' software suite is simple and to the point. I have tried all of the utilities above and they all seemed to apply settings accurately and show on the spot values when reporting voltages and temperatures. Up next is a look at the ECS A85F2-A Golden BIOS.

ECS A970M-A Closer Look:

ECS Elite Group uses its implementation of the modern BIOS named "EZ" BIOS. EZ BIOS is a graphical interface BIOS that has both a very simplified mode and a more advanced mode for the enthusiast. In Easy mode you have a one page look at the current settings and the ability to make changes amongst four basic modes: Normal, Performance, Power, and Quiet. Along the bottom of the screen you can drop and drag the various bootable drives into the sequence you want and be done with things after a check of basic voltages and fan speeds. To enter the Advanced version of EZ BIOS you simply click the green advanced tab to reveal the expanded and more versatile version. My apologies in advance for the images of the BIOS here. The ECS BIOS does not have a screen capture feature and for some reason it was extraordinarily hard to photograph.










Under the Main tab you will find the basic system CMOS functions of system time, date, and language.



The Advanced tab gives you a look at basic CPU configuration including CPU model with graphics core and stock frequency. You also get a listing of all of the cache levels and capacities. For those new to the Trinity A-Series APUs, the "no L3 Cache present" is not a mistake. The Trinity is an L3-less version of the Piledriver core. Below this are the adjustments for the AMD power saving features including C6, Turbo Core, and AMD Cool & Quiet. Also under advanced are adjustments for the serial port I/O configuration. The advanced tab is also where you set up your SATA configuration for either SATA, IDE, or RAID as well as checking on all detected drives.



Under the Chipset tab are the Northbridge and Southbridge adjustments. Here you have the ability to adjust the IGD memory manually and the graphics adapter initialization.


For those wanting to squeeze out maximum performance from their A-Series APU, the M.I.B.X. (Motherboard Intelligent BIOS X) tab is where the fun begins. Under M.I.B.X. is where you find the vast majority of the unlocking, under/overvolting, and re-timing settings and sub-menus. At the top of the menu is the core clock multiplier and memory clock. Under this menu you can leave the BIOS to manually set the memory clock and open up the manual timings and sub-timings. The bottom third of the menu is the adjustments for over/under volting for both the CPU, FCH, and the memory.



The Boot portion of the BIOS has all the options you need to choose and manipulate your bootable drives into the order you want them in. At the top of the menu you can change the OS the system boots to for those with dual Operating Systems. At the bottom of the menu are the options for the hard drive boot priorities as well as the optical drives.


The Security tab lets you set up administrator and user passwords. You can also set up a secure boot state, disable it, or set a custom boot state.


The Exit tab has all of the options for saving or disregarding changes before exiting. Here you can restore user defaults as well as save them. You can also do a Boot override of your devices and return to EZ mode if you wish.


The A970M-A BIOS is a bit more simple than the last few A85X boards I have seen. This simplicity is partly due to the ECS board not being equipped with digital power, which adds a fair bit more options to the menu. It is, however, effective and very intuitive for most users, and I had a good experience using it.

ECS A970M-A Specifications:


º Supports AMD® AM3+ & AM3 socket for AMD® FX-Series and Phenom™ II processors
º Note: This board supports CPU up to 140W TDP only; you can refer to AMD website to check your CPU.
º AMD® 970 + SB950
º Dual Channel DDR3 Memory architecture 2133+(OC)/1866/1600/1333 unbuffered memory
º 4 x 240-pin DDR3 DIMM socket support up to 32GB per one DIMM support 8GB
Due to the operating system limitation, the actual memory size may be less than 4GB for the reservation for system usage under Windows® 32-bit OS.
For Windows® 64-bit OS with 64-bit CPU, there is no such limitation
º 2 x PCI Express x16 Gen2.0 slot
º 2 x PCI Express x1 slots
º 2 x PCI slots
º 5 x Serial ATA 6.0Gb/s devices
º 1 x eSATA 6Gb/s port
º Realtek ALC892 8-Ch High Definition audio CODEC
º Compliant with HD audio specification
º Realtek 8111E Giga Lan
º 1 x PS/2 combo port
º 1 x RJ45 LAN connector
º 1 x Audio port (1x Line in, 4x Line out, 1x Optical SPDIF Out)
º 1 x eSATA 6Gb/s port
º 2 x USB 3.0 Ports (optional)
º 8 x USB 2.0 ports
º 1 x 24-pin ATX Power Supply connector
º 1 x 8-pin ATX 12V Power Connector
º 1 x 4-pin 12V Power connector
º 1 x 4-pin CPU_FAN connector with smart fan
º 1 x 3-pin PWR_FAN connector
º 1 x 3-pin SYS_FAN connector
º 1 x Speaker header
º 1 x Front panel audio header
º 1 x SPDIF out header
º 1 x Clear CMOS header
º 1 x Serial port header (COM)
º 5 x Serial ATA 6Gb/s connectors
º 1 x Case Open header
º 3 x USB 2.0 headers support additional 6 USB ports
º AMI BIOS with 32Mb SPI ROM
º Supports Plug and Play, STR (S3) / STD (S4) , Hardware monitor, Multi Boot
º Supports Multi-language BIOS
º Supports Dual Display
º Supports ACPI & DMI
º Audio, LAN, can be disabled in BIOS
º F7 hot key for boot up devices option
º Support over-clocking
º Supports ECS EZ BIOS
º Support ECS M.I.B X Utility
º Supports Page Up clear CMOS Hotkey
º ATX Size, 305mm*220mm


ECS A970M-A Features:


All information provided courtesy of


Testing for the products in this review will consist of putting the components through the OCC benchmarks suite, which uses both synthetic and real world applications to score their relative and finite performance. The gaming benchmarks will consist of both actual gameplay and synthetic testing as well to determine if a product offers a performance advantage over another. A fresh installation of Windows 7 was used for testing purposes as well as the latest non-beta drivers for the XFX HD R7970 Black edition. For the testing, all turbo, low power states, and any CPU throttling features have been disabled so as not to have any effect on the performance or the possibility of skewing the results.


Testing Setup:


Comparison Motherboards:



Overclocking with the ECS A970M-A is a simple affair. I would mention that without a few features of it's more expensive 990FX chipset boards, overclocking did require more voltage than it otherwise might. The impressive overclock of 4789MHz did also create quite a bit of heat requiring a heartier cooling solution than you will be able to find in the 35-40$ range. While the A970M-A achieved a very good OC, heavy 24/7 overclockers will probably opt for the added features of the 990FX chipset.





Maximum Overclock:

All motherboard and CPU combinations have been tested for stability at the frequencies listed. Benchmarks will be run at stock speed and the listed overclocks to determine the performance of each at both speeds.




Scientific & Data:

  1. PCMark 7
  2. HD Tune 5.0
  3. AIDA64 2.50
  4. Sandra 2012 SP6
  5. x264
  6. HandBrake 9.8
  7. ATTO 2.47


  1. DiRT 3
  2. Battlefield 3
  3. 3DMark 11


ECS A970M-A Testing:

PCMark 7 is the latest iteration of Futuremark's popular PCMark system performance tool. This version is designed for use on Windows 7 PCs and features a combination of 25 different workloads to accurately measure the performance of all PCs from laptops to desktops.
















Not much of a difference here, which begins to illustrate that the difference between the chipsets is largely feature driven.

ECS A970M-A Testing:

HD Tune measures disk performance to make comparisons between drives or disk controllers.















AIDA64 Extreme Edition is a software utility designed to be used for hardware diagnosis and benchmarking. I will be using the Queen and FPU Mandel benchmark tool to measure memory performance.




The three boards trade spots at the top with little in the way of performance separating them.

ECS A970M-A Testing:

SiSoft Sandra is a diagnostic utility and synthetic benchmarking program. Sandra allows you to view your hardware at a higher level to be more helpful. For this benchmark, I will be running a broad spectrum of tests to gauge the performance of key functions of the CPUs.












Overall Score



X.264 Benchmark: This benchmark is used to measure the time it takes to encode a 1080p video file into the x264 format. The default benchmark is used with an average of all four tests on each pass taken as the result.





HandBrake 9.8 is an open source application used to transcode multiple video formats to an h.264 output format. The test file size is a 4GB full length movie that is reduced in size to a 1.5GB file.




No significant differences here, however the Gigabyte board has shown a slight lead overall in this battery of tests.

ECS A970-A Testing:

Moving data to and from an external device is something we all do as a means of backing up sensitive data whether it is family pictures, movies, music, or projects. The speed with which this transfer occurs is measurable and can improve with different board partner specific tools. I will be using ATTO version 2.47 to measure an external drives' read/write performance through the USB 3.0 interface. The default test algorithm is used for this test. Motherboards that support a boost to the USB spec such as USB 3.0 Boost on the ASUS offering and XFast USB on the Asrock will be used as they show the maximum potential speeds.
















These is not much of a difference between the 970 and the 990 chipset here either performance wise, which demonstrates once more that the difference is primarily the feature set and a bit more connectivity.

ECS A970M-A Testing:

3DMark11 is the next installment for Futuremark in the 3DMark series, with Vantage as its predecessor. 3DMark11 was designed solely for DirectX 11, so Windows Vista or 7 are required alongside a DirectX 11 graphics card in order to run this test. The Basic Edition gives unlimited free tests on performance mode, whereas Vantage only allows for a single test run. The Advanced Edition costs $19.95 and unlocks nearly all features of the benchmark, while the Professional Edition runs for $995.00 and is mainly suited for corporate use. The new benchmark contains six tests, four of which are aimed only at graphical testing – one that tests physics handling and one that combines graphics and physics testing together. The open source Bullet Physics Library is used for physics simulations and although not as mainstream as Havok or PhysX, it still remains a popular choice.

The new benchmark comes with two new demos that can be watched; both of which are based on the tests, but unlike the tests, contain basic audio. The first demo is titled "Deep Sea" and involves a number of vessels exploring what looks to be a sunken U-Boat. The second demo is titled "High Temple" and displays a location similar to South American tribal ruins with statues and the occasional vehicle. The demos are simple in that they have no story, but really demonstrate testing conditions. The vehicles have the logos of the sponsors, MSI and Antec, on the sides, helping to make the Basic Edition free. The four graphics tests are slight variants of the demos. I will use the three benchmark test preset levels to find the performance of each card. The presets are used because they are comparable to what can be run with the free version, so results can be compared across more than just a custom set of test parameters.













DiRT 3 is the third iteration of this series. Published and developed by Codemasters, this game uses the EGO 2.0 game engine and was released in the US on PC in May of 2011.





Battlefield 3 is a first-person shooter video game developed by EA Digital Illusions CE and published by Electronic Arts. Battlefield 3 uses the Frostbite 2 game engine and is the direct successor to Battlefield 2. Released in North America on October 25, 2011, the game supports DirectX 10 and 11.





In each of these gaming tests the ECS A970M-A delivers comparable performance with the same installed hardware. Within a frame or margin of error, the ECS holds its own with the competition.

ECS A970M-A Conclusion:

The ECS A970M-A is a good demonstration that the 970/950 chipset gets short shrift, or is merely misunderstood by the DIY's out there. The fact is that the items that are not present are connections and features that would many times go unused by many people. If you're not a heavy 24/7 overclocker trying to get to the top of the leader board of the benchmarking scene and are among the 95% who do not run crossfire, perhaps the $50-$150 you can save by going with the 970 chipset is right up your computing alley.

The ECS A970M-A is equipped with all of the high-end components you will find on the ECS 990-equipped motherboards. the PCB is populated with high quality Japanese solid capacitors, Hyper alloy chokes, and the ECS 3 x industry standard gold contact content for great connection and capacitance. It is also equipped to handle the most power hungry AMD octo-core CPU's like the FX-8150 used today. The relatively high overclock of the FX-8150 surprised even me with the analog power delivery and lack of load line calibration, but the board handled the extra voltage and frequency like a champ throughout the benchmarking session, returning numbers that were within margin of the higher end 990FX boards

The M.I.B.X. or Motherboard Intelligent BIOS X is referred to as "user friendly', and as you might suspect that translates to a bit simpler interface and does not have all of the options of the more sophisticated UEFI BIOS's. It did not, as you have seen, keep us from getting the FX-8150 overclocked to almost 4800MHz

The ECS A970M-A is part of the ECS 3 x Gold lineup that in this case includes gold accents for the eyeballs as well as the real thing in critical contact points. Like the A85F2-A "Golden" on the FM2 side we looked at from ECS last week, the golden accents are tastefully done and not gaudy or overpowering. The difference between the two models is that the A970M-A has anodized heatsinks and plated inductors/chokes while the capacitors remain the stock factory color. The ADS or Anti Dust Shield in place on the A970M-A is something I am hesitant to comment on for it's effectiveness. For one, I used a closed loop water cooler on this setup, not giving the ADS a chance to do it's thing. I can see how it may be effective in keeping your graphics card heatsink from accumulating, or at least less frequently, the dust bunnies between the fin array that can be difficult to remove with even a blast of compressed air.

The ECS A970M-A is a terrific value at its current price of $69.99. If your needs do not include 8 SATA ports, three or four PCIe x 16 slots, or a BIOS that gives you dozen different ways to obtain an overclock, the ECS A970M-A may fit the bill and look good doing it.