ECS GF9300T-A Review
Reviewed by: RA1D
Reviewed on: November 16, 2008
Price: $100 - 110
ECS (Elitegroup Computer Systems) has been in the motherboard game since 1987 and currently ranks as one of the largest manufacturers in the industry. They specialize in affordable boards that appeal to the mainstream consumer with low prices and wide availability. Today, I'll be taking a look at their newest creation, the GF9300T-A. This motherboard sports NVIDIA's new GeForce 9300 chipset, a 1333MHz front side bus, PCIe 2.0 x16 compatibility, Hybrid SLI, HDMI, and DDR2-800 memory support. The integrated graphics provides Blu-ray video and 1080p support, which makes it ideal for HTPC purposes. Read on as I show you everything the GF9300T-A has to offer and find out if this motherboard could be the foundation of your next build.
The packaging reveals ECS' attempt at enthusiast appeal with their new Black Series. The new design is definitely a step in the right direction by providing consumers more attractive packaging and an updated color scheme. Every feature is clearly displayed on the box and gives you a good idea of what the board has to offer.
ECS includes a simple bundle to get you up and running. The user manual is easy to read and the quick install guide may come in handy for new system builders. Four SATA data cables come with the bundle, but I would definitely like to see a couple more included to match the six SATA ports found on the board. The bundle also inlcudes a rear I/O plate and a floppy disk drive cable.
As part of ECS' new Black Series, the GF9300T-A sports an attractive, black PCB color. Overall layout of the board is simple and uncluttered. You will find plenty of room around the CPU socket area if you decide to install an oversized heatsink and the open area surrounding the memory slots let you remove or install RAM sticks easily. With exception of the SATA ports, most of the data and power connections are found along the edge of the board. A couple more fan headers would be useful.
The GF9300T has four DIMM sockets as you can see here. It supports dual channel DDR2 800 or 667MHz modules. The lack of DDR2-1066 support is a bit of a head scratcher considering the budget basement prices for DDR2 memory these days. Given the fact that this is a new chipset supporting 1333 front side bus speeds really makes the DDR2-800 limit look like a step backwards. Each slot supports 8GB for a total of 32GB of system memory which is an interesting feature since RAM tops out at 4GB modules. I suppose it's a nice option to have if 8GB sticks were to be manufactured in the future, but I highly doubt it.
This board comes with two yellow PCIe x1 slots, one red PCIe 2.0 x16 slot, and three black PCI slots. Only one PCIe x16 socket means no discrete videocard SLI action, but that matches up with the budget focus of the board.
This motherboard features six orange USB ports located between the memory sockets and the red PCIe slot. This is an odd place to put them and I would much rather have them along the edge of the board. This design requres a bit more SATA cable length along with a more cluttered look, escpecially if you are making use of all six ports. But at least they don't interfere with the installation of long videocards in the PCIe slot.
The small red and yellow buttons found on the corner of the GF9300T are actually onboard power and reset switches. I like the addition of these switches as they come in handy if you ever need to troubleshoot the board out of the case.
There is a complete set of I/O ports on the rear panel, including PS/2 connectors, a VGA port, an HDMI port, six USB ports, one LAN port and audio ports. A DVI port would have made a nice addition here though. Additionally, the lack of a DVI port for this board almost requires the inclusion of a VGA-DVI adapter in the bundle, which it lacks.
The GF9300T-A comes with a standard AMI BIOS that is easy to use and simple to navigate. The main menu displays the available submenus available for tweaking. Although this is not an enthusiast board, the BIOS has an MIB menu which allows for some speed and voltage modifying. Here you will be able to change the CPU multiplier, front side bus, memory speed, RAM voltage and Northbridge voltage. Unfortunately, that's all you get to choose from as overclocking is obviously not a focus for this product. But It would have been nice to allow for memory timing options and a CPU voltage setting.
After you install the motherboard and load an operating system, dig into the bundle and find the motherboard disk. Within it, you should find the necessary drivers to get your system up and running. In this case, the GF9300T-A motherboard disk comes with the NVIDIA chipset, RAID, and device drivers. The device drivers consist of the Realtek audio driver and LAN driver so you can connect to a network.
Socket LGA 775
|Back Panel I/O Ports||
- PCI Express Generation 2.0 compatible
- Integrated GeForce Series DirectX 10 Shader Model 4.0 graphics processor
- Integrated Hybrid SLI technology
- NVIDIA Intellisample AA technolgy
- Full NVIDIA nView mulit-display technolgy capability
- AHCI SATA controllers with integrated PHYs
- NVIDIA MediaShield RAID with support for RAID0, 1, 0+1, 5, JBOD
- PCI 2.3 interface supports up to five PCI slots with dedicated REQ / GNT pairs
- NVIDIA PureVideo HD video supported
For this review, I tested the motherboard with a very fast Intel E8600 processor, Mushkin Redline memory, and a Sapphire 4850. Although the board comes with integrated graphics, I used the 4850 videocard to level the playing field when compared to other motherboads used for comparison. This will allow you to see how the board stacks up against some competition without the handicap of using onboard video.
- Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo E8600 (333 x 10)
- Motherboard: ECS GF9300T-A
- Memory: Mushkin XP2 Redline 8000 2 x 2GB 5-5-5-18 2t
- Video Card: Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 w/ Catalyst 8.10
- Power Supply: Mushkin 800w Modular Power Supply
- Hard Drive: Seagate 7200.11 1TB SATA 32MB Cache
- Optical Drive: Asus BC-1205PT BD Combo Drive
- OS: Windows Vista Home Premium Edition 32-bit SP1
- Gigabyte GA-X48-DQ6
- Asus P5Q Pro
There are some mainstream motherboards on the market that overclock very well. The GF9300T-A is not one of them if you are using a 1333 FSB processor. With limited overclocking options in the BIOS, its very difficult to push your components higher than 1333 FSB. With that said, I gave it my best shot. The board did recognize the E8600 and set its speed correctly but the Mushkin memory was automatically set to 800MHz. There is no CPU voltage adjustment in the BIOS, so pushing the processor past stock speed did not provide stable results. Attempts to get the memory to its rated 1000MHz resulted in data corruption and led to an operating system reinstall. While I was eventually able to push the RAM to 900MHz, I would not recommend overclocking this board with its limited headroom and the lingering possibility of data loss.
- Scientific & Data:
- SPECviewperf 10
- PCMark Vantage Professional
- SiSoft Sandra XII
- ScienceMark 2.02 Final
- CineBench 10
- HD Tune 2.55
- Knights of the Sea
- Call of Duty 4
- World in Conflict
- Call of Juarez
- Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts
- 3DMark 06 Professional
- 3DMark Vantage
Apophysis is an open source, fractal flame editor and renderer for Windows. Fractal flames are a member of the iterated function system class of fractals created by Scot Draves. A fractal is a rough or fragmented geometric shape that can be split into partts, each of which is a smaller copy of the whole. Natural objects that approximate fractals to a degree include lightning bolts and snow flakes. Draves' open source code was later ported into Adobe After Effects graphics software and eventually translated into Apophysis. The results display how many minutes it took to render a fractal flame; therefore, lower numbers reveal better results.
- Resolution: 2750x2048
- Quality: 500
- Limit Memory Use: 512MB
WinRAR is a shareware file archiver and data compression utility. It is one of the few applications that is able to create RAR archives natively, as the encoding method is held to be proprietary. This program provides complete support for RAR and ZIP archives with the ability to create self-extracting and multi-volume archives. Here, I compressed three files of different sizes and recorded the time it took to compled the task. The results provided were measured in seconds so lower numbers demonstrate preferable outcomes.
The X48 board finished two minutes faster than the GF9300T-A and P45 boards during Apophysis testing. The GF9300T-A kept pace with the comparison boards with the exception of the 100MB and 500MB RAR files. During these two benchmarks, the ECS board finished quite a bit slower.
SPECviewperf 10 benchmark is a standardized software that establishes graphics performance results for systems running under OpenGL and other application programming interfaces (API). The program evaluates performance based on CAD/CAM, digital content creation, and visualization applications. Orginally developed by the Graphics Performance Characterization (SPECgpc) organization, SPECviewperf measures 3D rendering efficiency of systems using OpenGL while providing vendors and consumers the ability to perform their own measurements. Multi-threaded tests were run and the results are displayed below. Here, higher numbers represent superior results.
PCMark Vantage is used to measure complete system performance. We will be running a series of tests to gauge performance of each individual board to see which board, if any, rises above the others.
SPECviewperf really did a number on the ECS board. The GF9300T-A did not perform up to par with the other boards in this benchmark.Another benchmark shows the GF9300T-A trailing in performance. The ECS board falls short of the comparison boards' scores by 300 in PCMark Vantage.
SiSoft Sandra (System ANalyser, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant) is an information and diagnostic utility. It provides a suite of benchmarks and displays the results easy to read reports. Sandra also allows you to compare results against a huge database of hardware.
Power Management Efficiency
Cache and Memory
While the GF9300T-A was able to keep up in some benchmarks, the memory tests revealed underwhelming results.
ScienceMark is a comprehensive benchmark program that stresses your system by performing resource intensive scientific calculations. The program runs six optional tests and provides comparable results between different platforms. Intensive processing and memory requirements of the benchmark make it suitable for use as a stability test. It supports MMX, SSE, SSE2, 3DNow!, Hyper-Threading technologies and multi-processor systems. Sciencemark provides an overall score and higher results provide better performance.
CineBench is a real world benchmarking suite that assesses your computer's performance capabilities. It is based on Maxon's animation software, CINEMA 4D, which is used extensively by studios and production houses worldwide for 3D content creation. CineBench runs several tests on your computer to measure the performance of the main processor and the graphics card under real world circumstances.
The results showed similar performance during CineBench testing.
HD Tune is a hard disk utility that benchmarks transfer rate, access time, CPU usage and burst rate. It also reveals such things as partition information, supported features, firmware version, serial number, disk capacity, buffer size and temperature.
The GF9300T-A did not perform as well as the other boards during Sciencemark testing and fell behind by over 200 points. The ECS board's burst rate result came in surprisingly lower than the comparison boards. All other HD Tune scores were similar.
Crysis is a science fiction first person shooter developed by Crytek and published by Electronic Arts. It is based in a fiction future where an ancient alien spacecraft has been discovered beneath the earth on an island near the coast of Korea. You assume the role of US Delta Force operator, Jake Dunn, referred to by his call sign, Nomad. Armed with various futuristic weapons and a Nano Muscle Suit, you fight both North Koreans and extraterrestrial enemies within the game. Results are measured in frames per second.
- Anti-Aliasing: x2
- Advanced Settings: High
The ECS board did relatively well in Crysis and provided similar performance as the X48 and P45 comparison boards. The exception occured during 1024 x 768 testing but higher resolutions showed comparable results.
PT Boats: Knights of the Sea is a naval simulation that places gamers in charge of a fleet of the Allied Forces, Russia or Germany during the height of World War II. Torpedo boats, trawlers, storm boats and patrol ships sail through the seas in this DX10 real time strategy and simulation game. Knights of the Sea allows you to take command of a boat and control each member of the crew. Results are measured in frames per second.
- DirectX Version: 10
- All resolutions: 60Hz
- Image Quality: High
- Anti-Aliasing: x0
All three motherboards provided almost identical results during Knights of the Sea test runs.
BioShock is set in alternate history and places you in the role of plane crash survivor named Jack. You must explore the underwater dystopian city of Rapture and survive attacks by the mutilated beings and mechanical drones that populate it. The game is a first person shooter that incorporates elements found in role playing and survival horror games.
- All settings to maximum
- V-Sync: Off
The GF9300T-A held its own during Bioshock testing. For the most part, it performed just as well as the comparison boards.
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare is the successor to the Call of Duty crown. This iteration of the game is fought in many of the world's hot spots with modern armaments and firepower. You can play as either a US Marine or British SAS trooper. Since this game does not feature an in-game test, I will run through a section of the game and measure average FPS using Fraps 2.9.3.
- Anti-Aliasing: x4
- Anisotropic Filtering: Max
- Texture Quality: Extra
- All settings max
COD4 testing shows the ECS board trailing just a bit at every resolution but it was not noticeable during gameplay.
World in Conflict is a DX10, Real Time Strategy game that simulates the all-out war the world hopes never comes. The difference in this RTS game is that it is not the typical "generate wealth and build" type of game. Instead, you advance by conquering your foe.
- Graphic Detail: Very High
The ECS board performed similarly to the X48 and P45 during World in Conflict testing.
Call of Juarez is a DX10, First Person Shooter set in the Wild West of the late 1800's. The game is inspired, in part, by the movies of the Wild West genre of the seventies and eighties. The game can be played as both single player and multiplayer. The game focuses on realistic graphics and gameplay designed to take advantage of the latest video cards on the market.
- Details: High
- Shadowmap Size: 2048x2048
- Shadow Quality: Normal
- Anti-Aliasing: MSAA 4X
The GF9300T-A provided almost identical results in Call of Juarez testing.
Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts is a stand alone expansion of the real time strategy game, Company of Heroes, originally released in 2006. The game is set during World War II where you command two US military units during the Battle of Normandy and the Allied capture of France. Company of Heroes is the first title to make use of the Essence Engine which was coded by Relic Entertainment to make use of special graphical effect. It is currently one of the highest rated real time strategy games on the market.
- Antialiasing - 8x
- All other settings Maximum
COH benchmark provides similar results for all three motherboards.
3DMark06 is the sixth generation 3DMark and determines the DirectX 9 performance of graphics cards. The measurement unit of 3DMark06 is intended to give a normalized mean for comparing different graphics processing units. This program features HDR rendering, video post processing, dynamic soft shadows, water shaders, heterogeneous fog, light scattering and cloud blending. The default setting for 3DMark06 is 1280 x 1024 but I conducted several runs using different resolutions to provide more results for comparison. Higher scores provide better results.
- SM2.0 Graphics Tests: GT1- Return to Proxycon, GT2- Firefly Forest
- CPU Tests: Cpu1- Red Valley, CPU2- Red Valley
- HDR/SM3.0 Graphics Tests: HDR1- Canyon Flight, HDR2- Deep Freeze
3DMark06 shows comparable results with all of the motherboards tested and the GF9300T-A was able to keep pace with the other boards.
Testing: 3DMark Vantage DX10 Benchmark
3DMark Vantage is a PC benchmark suite designed to test the DirectX 10 performance of your graphics card. A 3DMark score is an overall measure of your system's 3D gaming capabilities, based on comprehensive real-time 3D graphics and processor tests. By comparing your score with those submitted by millions of other gamers you can see how your gaming rig performs, making it easier to choose the most effective upgrades or finding other ways to optimize your system. 3DMark is widely used by the PC industry, press and media as well as individual users and gamers, for comparing performance levels between whole systems or even specific components. Vantage is the new industry standard PC gaming benchmark, designed for Windows Vista and DirectX 10. By default, Vantage is in the Performance setting which runs at 1280 x 1024 resolution. High (1680 x 1050) and Extreme (1920 x 1200) setting benchmarks were also conducted. Higher scores illustrate superior results.
- All default settings in each preset level
- Entry 1024x768
- Performance 1280x1024
- High 1680x1050
- Extreme 1920x1200
The Entry setting showed the ECS board falling behind in performance by about 800. But all other 3DMark Vantage settings provided very similar results.
The GF9300T-A has several great features that will definitely attract some attention. Sporting NVIDIA's new 9300 chipset, this product gives you high definition video playback capability without the need for a discrete video card. It supports the latest Intel processors with a 1333 front side bus and comes with an appealing color scheme. Throughout testing, the board was able to keep up with the Gigabyte X48 and Asus P45 in most of the benchmarks, especially during the gaming benchmarks.
The biggest issue I had with this board is poor BIOS. Granted, you would not pick up this board to use for overclocking purposes but at a minimum, memory timings should be adjustable along with the option to tweak CPU voltage. Data loss is a concern as I experienced corruption during testing. Of course your results may vary, but the problem occured with minimal tweaking. Also, the lack of memory support higher than DDR2-800 may be an issue for those who want to use faster RAM.
Overall, this product performed well considering its price point and target consumer. If you are in the market for an affordable Intel motherboard with the latest onboard graphics technology, you should check out the ECS GF9300T-A motherboard.
- Blu-ray playback
- Limited BIOS settings
- No overclocking headroom
- Only up to DDR2-800 support
- Odd SATA port placement