Foxconn Mars Review

ccokeman - 2007-06-17 13:13:21 in Motherboards
Category: Motherboards
Reviewed by: ccokeman   
Reviewed on: February 12, 2008
Price: $171.99

Introduction:

Leeeeets get ready to ru.... oops wrong story. When you think of MARS, what crosses your mind? For most it's the little red planet we see in the night sky that some think one day may be the next planet we colonize. On the other hand, there are those that know their Greek and Roman mythology. To them Mars is known as the God of War. Is the MARS we will be looking at much like the inhospitable red planet with little to show in the way of promise for our future, or will it offer God-like performance for the masses? I don't know, but I'm anxious to find out.

The Foxconn MARS is built upon the Intel P35 northbridge chipset and ICH9 southbridge. Each were chosen because of their attributes as well as the overclocking performance of the Intel P35 chipset. The feature set includes 100% solid capacitors for long life, 45nm processor support, 6 phase power regulation, up to 8GB of DDR2 1066 memory is supported, 2 x 16x PCI-E slots (16x X 4x in Crossfire mode), onboard ON/OFF/Clear CMOS switches and so much more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The MARS is part of the Quantum Force series of performance products from Foxconn. The theory behind Quantum Force is to provide the enthusiast with performance without compromises. Basically what the theory is designed to do is get rid of the fluff and provide a lean, mean, fighting machine to allow the user to extract the most performance from the installed CPU and memory. The theory behind Quantum Force is not just a theory, but it is part of a design philosophy used by the engineers at Foxconn called SWORD. This philosophy is the driving force behind the innovation and drive to build a better performance product.

 

Closer look:

The packaging of the MARS board is a brilliant blood red. On the front panel of the box is a representation of the Roman God of War in battle ready to vanquish an enemy. The MARS is part of the Quantum Force series of products from Foxconn. The front panel shows some of the basic features of the board including support for 45nm processors, Crossfire graphics and Windows Vista certification. The rear panel highlights many of the onboard features including DDR2 1066 support, Crossfire support, Coolpipe technology, 6 phase PWM, and 100% solid capacitors. The flip up front panel allows the prospective buyer the opportunity to view some of the highlighted features before making the decision to purchase the MARS.

 

 

Slipping the main box out of the outer sleeve gives us our first glimpse of the MARS. It is locked securely inside of a plastic clamshell. I'm not too sure about the ESD protection that this provides. Pull the clamshell housing the MARS out of the way and we find that the case is divided to house the accessories underneath the board.

 

 

 

Closer Look:

Great googly moogly! The bundle of goods that comes with the MARS is actually pretty substantial. It includes everything you need to get the MARS installed and then some.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The documentation for the MARS includes the manual, driver disk, quick start guide and product registration sheet.

 

The quick install guide provides detailed information to make sure there are not any outstanding issues during the system build process. On the back side of the install guide there are detailed desriptions of each of the pieces on the MARS.

 

 

The drive connection cables provided by Foxconn include the usual floppy and IDE cables. Some manufacturers only provide a couple of SATA cables, but Foxconn has provided well, sending enough to fill up all six SATA slots. Two of the six feature 90 degree ends for those close clearance installations. The I/O panel looks like a standard color coded panel, so even the novice can get the peripherals hooked up right the first time.

 

 

To provide some additional cooling capacity for the "Cool Pipe" heatpipe cooling solution, Foxconn has included a fan designed to mount directly to the northbridge heatsink. This fan is manufactured by ADDA USA and provides 7.5 CFM of airflow through the heatsink.

 

 

Last, but certainly not least, Foxconn has thrown in a bunch of Quantum Force decals to decorate your case, system or home. Something that came with the Mars was the set of Quantum Force dog-tags. Something extra that you don't see a manufacturer include very often. Usually, it's just the bare bones, but Foxconn goes all out with the MARS.

 

 

Closer Look:

After pulling the Mars from the box we find that it is sealed in a plastic clamshell instead of a static resistant bag, something that seems to be happening more frequently lately. The benefits of reduced damage to the PCB and attached components may be worth the additional risk. There was no damage to the motherboard we received.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Mars is an ATX form factor motherboard based on the Intel P35 northbridge and ICH9R southbridge chipsets. DDR2 1066 is officially suported with up to eight gigabytes of capacity. The MARS has a stunning black PCB that makes the rest of the colors on the board stand out with a little bit of "pop."

 

 

The I/O panel on the MARS has what could be called almost the standard set of connectivity options on a modern motherboard. PS/2 connectivity is available for both the mouse and keyboard, S/PDIF out coaxial and optical , E-SATA, six USB 2.0, one 1394 Firewire, one RJ-45 Gigabit LAN, and the 8 channel sound outputs.

 

Expansion capacity is available through two 16x PCI-E slots (16x X 4x in Crossfire mode), two 1x PCI-E slots and three PCI slots. Connectivity across the bottom of the board includes, from left to right, front panel audio, CD in, 1394 Firewire, com port, system fan header, three USB2.0 headers for a total of twelve possible USB connections and the six SATA disk drive connections.

 

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Moving up the right side of the MARS there are a few special features to look at. The first would be the color coded front panel header. This provides an easy guide to ensure that connections are made properly. The second thing is the inclusion of the onboard On/Off and Clear CMOS switches. Onboard and easy to get to, these wil come in handy when you set this one up on the test bench. Next up this side would be the Floppy and IDE drive connections and the four memory slots. All of the connectivity is placed around the outside edges of the MARS.

 

 

There are three main power connections on the MARS. The ATX 24-pin main power, 8-pin auxillary power and a 4-pin molex to add additional power to the PCI-E bus for high end graphics cards.

 

 

The CPU socket area looks to be a little crowded. There is one line of capacitors just to the top side of the socket, which looks to create a tight fit for large aftermarket heatsinks. The clearance between the Tuniq Tower used to cool the CPU in this review came extremely close to touching, if not actually touching, the capacitors in this area.

 

 

The cooling solution on the MARS uses what is called Cool Pipe technology. The heatsinks used are all connected via heatpipes designed to draw the heat away from the critical components of the board. These include the South and Northbridge and the power management circuit for the CPU.

 

 

Included below is a brief explanation of Cool Pipe technology. This graphic from Foxconn illustrates the process as well as the components involved.

 

 

Configuration:

Configuration of the MARS includes not just the BIOS but the included software and utilities. Start off by inserting the driver disc into the DVD drive and allowing the auto-run feature to bring up the installation GUI. From here the included drivers and applications can be installed.

The main page window lists the four main options available. Install drivers, Software, Create a RAID Driver Disk or you can browse the disk for manual installation. The first option is to Install the drivers. Under this section, the drivers for the chipset, sound, LAN, and Jmicron RAID can be installed, as well as Direct X 9.0c and the Intel Matrix storage manager. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The second option is to install additional software. In this section you will find the Aegis Panel, a system monitoring and overclocking utility to use from within the operating system. Fox Live Update is a BIOS updating tool to use in Windows to allow even the novice the ability to install a new BIOS. Adobe Reader and Norton Internet Security are also included.

 

 

The Create a RAID Driver Disk tab allows just that. In this section the drivers are available to create the RAID Driver Disk for the different onboard controllers as well as both 32 and 64 bit operating systems.

 

 

The last option is to browse the disc. If you choose to do so, a manual installation of the drivers can be accomplished through this function.

 

 

Once the drivers and utilities are installed, it is time to take a look at the program that is most useful for the enthusiast, the Aegis Panel. This utility is both a system monitoring tool as well as an overclocking utility. On the Dashboard you get a top line look at the core clock speed, frontside bus speed, memory clockspeeds and the PCI-E bus speed. By clicking the control panel button several wing panels open up and display voltages, temperatures and fan speeds. This is the hardware monitor mode.

 

 

There are several different modes that the Aegis Panel can be set to display. There is the Overclocking mode that permits voltage, CPU clockspeed, multiplier and PCI-E clockspeed adjustments.

 

 

The Alarm mode allows the user to configure alarm settings for voltages fan speeds and temperatures. Many of these are items that are definite must monitor items such as temperature and fan speeds. The last mode available is the configuration mode where you can set the temperature monitoring unit, refresh times and whether the program should start with Windows.

 

 

Closer Look:

The BIOS is an area of product development that can make or break a motherboard. There is a fine line between just enough options to get the job done verses the "every option under the sun" BIOS that takes an electrical engineering degree to understand what all of the adjustments do. The Foxconn MARS treads along this fine line and provides a BIOS that everyone can use. Foxconn has chosen to use a Phoenix Award BIOS on the MARS. I will take a brief look at each section and focus on the Gladiator BIOS section. This area is where the enthusiast will spend most of his time.

 

 

 

 

Standard CMOS Features:

This tab is where the basic hardware setup is shown. Hard drive detection and manual setup can be done here, as well as setting the system time and date.

 

 

Advanced BIOS Features:

Boot priority for all system disks is accomplished under this section. The boot screen can be set to display the Foxconn MARS logo or the standard post screen by enabling this option.

 

 

Advanced Chipset Features & Integrated peripherals:

The Advanced Chipset fetures section allows for detailed PCI-E port setup. The Integrated Peripherals page allows for the configuration of the IDE devices and all of the onboard devices such as sound, Firewire, USB, and serial port.

 

 

Power Management Setup:

In this tab you can set up the energy saving features of the MARS.

 

 

PNP/PCI Configuration:

This section allows for the ability to choose which expansion port to check for a video card first, as well as PCI configuration.

 

 

PC Health Status:

This tab is where the monitoring of voltages and temperatures can be done. In this section the fan speed setup for any fans attached to the motherboard can be managed.

 

Closer Look:

The enthusiast section of the BIOS is where we can tweak the MARS to achieve the results we want from our hardware. While there are as many names for the overclocking section of the BIOS as there are motherboard manufacturers, the name for the Foxconn rendition is a bit different. This section is called the Gladiator BIOS! In here is where the magic happens. Follow along as I take a quick tour through this section.

 

 

 

Gladiator BIOS:

Under this tab the options exist to help enthusiasts to extract the most performance they can fom their components.

 

 

 

CPU Features:

Under this section CPU specific control items such as EIST, C1E and core multiprocessing can be enabled or disabled.

 

 

Memory Timing Config:

In this section you can choose to manually set up the system memory timings and options or leave them in the auto position.

 

 

All Voltage Control:

This tab is exactly what its name implies. All of the voltages that can be controlled by the user are adjustable from within this section of the BIOS. CPU voltage, memory voltage, Northbridge PLL, it's all here.

 

 

The first item under the voltage control is the voltage multiplier. Maximum setting is 1.296. This feature reminds me the special vid section on the DFI NF4 motherboards. Maximum preset voltage to the CPU is kept to 1.6 volts. Now with using the multiplier the maximum voltage is greatly increased. CPU voltage is a maximum of 1.6 volts x 1.296

 

 

DRAM voltage goes up to an ungodly 3.365 volts. This zone is almost certain death for even the best DDR2 modules. But if you want to eek out that last little bit, the power is there to power the modules. Nortbridge voltage also scales well into the death zone at 2.395 volts.

 

 

The last item under the voltage section is the Southbridge and PLL voltage selection. The voltage for this selection tops out at 1.95 volts.

 

OC Gear provides the ability to store several BIOS configurations. If you want to stay stock for a while and then ramp up to the overclocked settings without trying to remmember all of the settings, save the profile in the OC Gear section. You can store, restore and clear out the settings in that profile. Overclock Phase Select gives the user the option of manually overclocking the hardware they have or having an "Instant OC" of 5%, 10%, 15% or more.

 

 

CPU clock ratio is dependent on the type of CPU you have. Usually the multiplier will be locked to a certain range. The Q6600 in this review is locked between 6 and 9 as an example. With a CPU that supports half multipliers (Q9770) and is unlocked both up and down, the maximum multiplier that can be set is 60. THe CPU core clock on the MARS has the highest selectable FSB that i have seen at 999 FSB. Extreme, to say the least.

 

 

 

Memory ratios are selectable from 1:2 through 1:4. PCI-E bus frequency is selectable up to 255MHz and the PCI bus clock speed can be run asynchronously or locked at three select clock speeds.

 

 

After looking at the MARS layout and the BIOS, I can't wait to see how well it handles.

 

Specifications:

Processor:

Intel® Core™2 Quad, Core™2 Extreme, Core™2 Duo, Pentium® Dual Core, Pentium® D, Pentium® 4, Celeron® processors, Socket T (LGA775)

Chipset:
Intel® P35 + ICH9R
Front Side Bus:
1333 / 1066 / 800 MHz (FSB)
Memory:
Dual channel DDR2 1066(oc**)/800/667 x 4 DIMMs, Max. 8GB
VGA on Die:
Discreted
Expansion Slots:
2 x PCIe x16, 2 x PCIe x1, 3 x PCI
IDE:
ATA 133 x 1
Serial ATA(SATA)/RAID:

6 x SATAII + 1 x eSATA w / RAID 0, 1, 5, 10; Intel® Matrix storage technology and Intel® Rapid Recover Technology

Audio:
7.1 channel Audio with Realtek® ALC888 (HDA)
LAN:
GbE LAN with Realtek® RTL8111B
IEEE1394:
2 x1394a, TI TSB43AB22APDT
Back Panel I/O Ports:

1 set 7.1 channel Audio jacks (6 jacks)
1x PS/2 keyboard port
1x PS/2 mouse port
1x S/PDIF Out Coaxial
1x S/PDIF Out Optical
1x IEEE1394 port
1x eSATA
6x USB 2.0 ports
1x RJ45 LAN port

Internal I/O Connectors:

ATX 24-Pin power connector
8-pin ATX 12V power connector
CPU/System/NB/CASE1/CASE2 FAN connectors
1x CD-in connector
1x Front Audio header
1x Floppy connector
1x IRDA
1x Speaker Heatpipe (NB, SB and MOS)
1x Front Panel connector
3x USB 2.0 connectors support additional 6 ports
6x SATAII connectors
1x IDE connector
1x COM header
1x on-board power_LED
1x IEEE1394 connector supports additional one port
3x on-board Switches(Power on, Reset and CLR-CMOS)

BIOS Features:
8Mb flash EEPROM w/ LAN boot PnP, ACPI, WfM, DMI
Support CD:
Drivers, Adobe Reader 7.07, Direct X 9.0c, Norton 2006
Standards/Manageability:
PCI 2.3, USB2.0, DMI 2.5
Special Features:
** Achieved by overclocking
Form Factor:
ATX (12” x 9.6”)

 

Features:

Testing:

The Foxconn Mars will be put through our benchmarking suite to see what kind of performance the motherboard delivers. The OverclockersClub series of benchmarks include both system tests and gaming benchmarks to verify the performance of this product. I will be comparing the performance of the Foxconn against both the Abit IX38 Quad GT and Asus Maximus Formula. Testing will be a direct comparison of our stock speed benchmarking; all clockspeeds and memory timings will be as close as possible to offer a fair comparison on each of the boards. All motherboard and video card settings were left at setup defaults, again to eliminate any variables.

 

Testing Setup:

Comparison Motherboards:

 

Overclocking:

Overclocked settings:

Overclocking the MARS is much like overclocking many other P35 chipset motherboards. Some boards have a ton of BIOS options, some don't, and some have just the right amount of overclocking options. The MARS falls into the last category. There are enough options to keep the enthusiast happy, but not so many that novices can't work their way around. The "Gladiator" BIOS is simple to navigate through with all of the items clearly marked and definitions usually to the right of the item you are working on. In the voltage section, the voltages are color coded to let the average or novice overclocker know they are getting to a severe level. Now on to the good stuff! First things first. This is the first board that I have been able to boot up my stubborn little Intel Q6600 at 4.0GHz. Now no way in the world was it stable at that speed, but I was shocked, to say the least. After making adjustments to the Northbridge voltage, PLL voltage and several others, I managed to get to a speed of 470 x 8, or 3.78GHz to complete our benchmark suite. This represents a 180MHz increase over the previous best CPU speed. The highest frontside bus that was possible was 487 FSB, three more than the Asus Blitz Extreme we recently reviewed. With the limitations imposed by my Q6600, the results speak for themselves. A faster core clock and overall faster CPU speed mean the MARS beat my chip into submission and made it play nice at the higher speeds. Sweet!

 

Benchmarks:

  1. Apophysis
  2. WinRAR
  3. SpecviewPerf 10
  4. PCMark Vantage Professional
  5. Sandra XII
  6. ScienceMark 2.02 Final
  7. Cinebench 10
  8. HD Tune 2.54
  1. Crysis
  2. Knights of the Sea
  3. Bioshock
  4. Call of Duty 4
  5. World in Conflict
  6. Call of Jaurez
  7. 3DMark 06 Professional

 

Testing:

The first part of our testing regimen will be the system specific benchmarks.

 

Let's get started with Apophysis. This program is used primarily to render and generate fractal flame images. We will run this benchmark with the following settings:

 

 

The measurement used is time to render, in minutes, to complete.

 

Lower is Better

 

WinRAR is a tool to archive and compress large files to a manageable size. We will use 10MB, 100MB and 500MB files and test the time needed to compress these files. Time will be measured in seconds.

 

ZIP:

 

 

 

RAR:

 

 

 

At stock CPU speeds, the results are similar in this series of benchmarks.THe MARS stands out in the RAR compression testing.

 

 

Testing:

Specview 10 is a benchmark designed to test OpenGL performance. I will be using the multi-threaded tests to measure the performance when run in this mode. The tests used for comparison are listed below. The default multi-threaded tests were chosen to be able to compare across platforms. In these tests, higher scores equate to better performance.

 

 

 

Higher is Better

 

Higher is Better

 

 

 

Higher is Better

 

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.

 

Performance highlights for the MARS include PCMark Vantage, along with the Catia and Maya benchmarks.

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 areas of the motherboards.

 

 

 

 

 

Processor Arithmetic

 

Multi-Core Efficiency

 

Memory Bandwidth

 

Memory Latency

 

Cache and Memory

 

File System

 

Physical Disks

 

Power Management Efficiency

 

The MARS finished first or second for the majority of tests.

Testing:

Sciencemark tests real world performance instead of using synthetic benchmarks. For this test, we ran the benchmark suite and will use the overall score for comparison.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Higher is Better!

 

Cinebench is useful for testing your system, CPU and OpenGL capabilities using the software program CINEMA 4D. We will be using the default tests for this benchmark.

 

Higher is Better

 

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

 

Higher is Better

 

 

Lower is Better

 

THe MARS finished either number one or a strong number two in all of the tests so far. How will it fare in the gaming benchmarks?

 

 

Testing:

Crysis is a new addition to the gaming benchmark suite used at OverclockersClub.com. This game is one of the most anticipated and system intensive games to be released to the market right now. The Crysis single player demo includes a GPU benchmark to test the performance of the video card installed in the system. 

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The benchmark scores in Crysis are within +/- 1 frame per second on each benchmark with the exception of the 1920 testing. The demands that Crysis puts on a system makes small increases a measurable difference.

Testing:

PT Boats: Knights of the Sea is a new DX10 title that features its own proprietary graphics engine currently in development. The game is a combination of real time strategy and simulation. You have the ability to control the entire crew or just a single member. Play as the German, Russian or Allied navies and prove your mettle on the open seas.

 

The settings we will use are below:

 

 

 

 

 

 

The results in Knights of the Sea are dead even at the highest resolution. At the lowest resolution the MARS is on top by 9 FPS.

Testing:

Benchmark: BioShock

BioShock is one of the newest games on the market. It is a demanding game that will make your hardware scream for mercy. This first-person shooter allows for an infinite number of weapons and modifications to provide a unique experience each time it is played.

 

Settings:

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

The results are fairly even all the way from 1280x1024 through 1920x1200.

Testing:

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 U.S. Marine or British S.A.S. 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.

 

The settings used are listed below:

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

The results on with similar hardware show similar bench scores.

Testing:

World In Conflict is a newly released DX10 real time strategy game that simulated the all out war that 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. You advance by conquering your foe.

 

The settings we will use are listed below:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Performance is dead even across the board at the higher resolutions while at the lowest resolution the MARS just crushes the competition.

Testing:

Call of Juarez is a DirectX10 First Person Shooter set in the Wild West of the late 1800s. 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.

 

The settings we will use are listed below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Testing between the three boards showed the level of performance by each board to be similar. In the end, at the 1920x1200 resolution, the performance difference was only two fps on the Maximus. In the lower resolution the difference was one frame per second or less.

Testing

Benchmark: Company of Heroes (Opposing Fronts)

Company of Heroes (Opposing Fronts) is the latest chapter of the Company of Heroes series. The scene is WWII. The Mission is Operation Market Garden, the first allied attempt to break into the third reich. Play as the British or Germans. This real time strategy game is brought to us by Relic entertainment.

 

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

This iteration of the game is more graphically demanding than its predecessor. System performance was spot on across all three platforms until the 1920x1200 resolution.

 

Testing:

3DMark06 is one of the benchmarks that always comes up when a bragging contest is begun. 3DMark06 presents a severe test for many of today's hardware components. Let's see how this setup fares. The settings we will use are listed below.

 

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 3DMark06 The MARS Showed its true colors by coming out on top in three of the four resolutions.

Conclusion:

"Unleash the Power" is the slogan on the front panel of the MARS packaging. Did the MARS unleash the power? More yes than no. In many of the benchmarks that we use, the board finished either first or a strong second. Paired against a supposedly better chipset the MARS fared quite well. The one area that the MARS fell down was in the SiSoft Sandra testing. The MARS scored well in the Sandra memory bandwidth benchmarks finishing on top in both the bandwidth and memory latency benchmarks. In PCMark Vantage, Cinebench and many of the gaming benchmarks the MARS came out on top of the X38 chipset boards.

One area that I was especially impressed with was the ease with which a failed overclock recovered. I found myself pushing so far out of bounds that the hardware had no chance of booting. Boot to a few warning beeps, a shut down and presto, a perfect boot at the default processor and memory settings. Not once did it fail to recover. That's huge in my book. Speaking of overclocking, I was able to push the FSB threshold 3 MHz higher than my previous best with my trusty Q6600. The other side of that is that in raw processor speed, I was able to achieve 3760MHz, which is 160MHz higher than I had been able to get stable before working with the MARS. The Gladiator BIOS is easy to navigate through with the extreme voltage limits clearly marked. As you reach a level that is considered dangerous, the color of the measurement changes from white to red to let you know you are in the high end of the voltage range. While pushing the voltages, I felt the Northbridge heatsink to see if it indeed was getting warm with the voltage put to it. The cooling solution was warm but not hot to the touch and easily kept the components it is responsible for cooling within limits. The one knock on the design of the motherboard is how close the capacitors are to the CPU socket. The Tuniq Tower I use in my testing literally rested upon the row of capacitors. Short term it may be all right, but it is definitely not a long term proposition.

All in all, the MARS experience was all that I had hoped it would be. With motherboard support from one of the world's premier overclockers on its support forums, tips and troubleshooting help are available quickly and come straight from the source. If you are looking for a high performance board, the MARS fits the bill. For a tad less than $200, the price/performance ratio is right on the money.

 

Pros:

 

Cons: