ECS P45T-A Review

ajmatson - 2008-06-18 15:26:49 in Motherboards
Category: Motherboards
Reviewed by: ajmatson   
Reviewed on: August 5, 2008
Price: $109.99

Introduction:

With the wealth of new chipsets on the market now, how do you choose the right one for you? Say you want the latest and greatest, but your wallet frowns when you see the prices of some of the newer boards. What do you do? Well, you should never sacrifice or settle for anything less than what you want, and Elitegroup Computer Systems (ECS) makes all of that possible. ECS has come a long way in the motherboard market, offering stable platforms that will not break your budget. Recently ECS launched its "Black Series" motherboards, which are aimed at enthusiasts and gamers who push their systems to the limit.

Today we are going to take a look at the ECS P45T-A, which is based on the new Intel P45 and ICH10R chipsets. The P45 chipset supports 45nm CPUs with a Front Side Bus up to 1333MHz. This board is designed to give you the maximum amount of performance for the best price. With features like CrossFireX technology and a Motherboard Intelligent BIOS, it makes me curious how good its performance really is.

 

Closer Look:

The ECS P45T-A comes packaged in the new Black Series box that ECS has adopted for their Black Series motherboards. It features a dragon mascot, and has some of the board's specifications on the front of the box for easy recognition. The back of the box highlights specific features, like its energy saving capabilities, and CrossFireX and 45nm readiness. You'll also find specifications for the board and, an angle picture so you can see the board's layout before you buy.

 

 

Opening the box gives you a look at what the ECS P45T-A has to offer. There are two layers inside; the top houses the included accessories, and the bottom protects the motherboard itself. Included with the P45T-A is the manual, a driver CD, an IDE cable, four SATA cables, and an I/O shield. The SATA cables have right angle connectors on one end, which helps to route the cables in tight cases.

 

 

Now that we have everything out of the packaging, let's move on and take a better look at the P45T-A board.

Closer Look:

Now that the ECS P45T-A has been released from its bindings, we can get a better look at the beast in all of its glory. Since the P45T-A is based on the ECS Black Series, it's no surprise that they went with a black PCB; ECS does a great job with the color contrasts on this motherboard, without overdoing it - the mix of colors creates is eye pleasing, without making them too bright and annoying. Since the ECS P45T-A is a full size ATX board, there's a lot of room to work without having to cram cables and components all over the board.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ECS has provided all the necessary expansion ports that you will need on the back panel. Realizing that some people still use PS/2 keyboards and mice, ECS has opted to leave both of the legacy ports on the P45T-A. In addition to the legacy PS/2 ports, ECS also includes the faded Serial COM port, for those of us who still use devices with non-USB connections. For newer devices, there are six USB 2.0 ports on the back as well, and I was pleased to see that ECS included an eSATA port on the back. With newer external drives supporting this connection, it's a pain having to find bridges for boards not equipped with eSATA. Finally, there are the audio ports - the P45T-A supports 7.1 channel High Definition Audio using the Realtek ALC883 codec.

 

 

The area around the CPU on the P45T-A is nice and spacious, with nothing crowding the CPU socket that might block some larger heatsinks. This is a Socket 775 motherboard, supporting Intel processors including the dual-core Pentium, Celeron, Core 2 Duo, Core 2 Quad, and Core 2 Extreme CPUs, and even those built on the 45nm manufacturing process. The Front Side Bus supports 800, 1066, and 1333MHz for fast data transfer. For improved durability and stability, the P45T-A uses Ferrite Core Chokes and solid capacitors around the CPU power area. Surprisingly though, the P45T-A only uses a 4-pin power plug for the CPU, instead of the newer 8-pin plug that provides better power management. There are four memory banks which support up to 16GB of DDR2 memory, at speeds from 667MHz to 800MHz. The banks also feature dual-channel architecture for improved performance.

 

 

On the ECS P45T-A, there are expansion slots a-plenty. Starting from the top, there are two PCI Express x1 slots for expansion cards of the future, and there are also two PCI Express x16 slots (red slots) for blazing fast graphics cards. Each slot uses PCI Express 2.0 architecture, and allows for a CrossFireX setup. The only drawback here is that when there are two cards in the system, the slots operate and x8 speeds electrically.

 

Just like the expansion ports, ECS has provided a lot of headers for even more versatility. Starting from the bottom left, ECS has placed a front panel audio header, a floppy port, an IDE port, three USB 2.0 headers, and the front panel connections. On the right side of the board by the spine, there's a Power and Reset switch, which makes powering the system up or down while working inside the case a breeze. There are also six SATA 3.0Gb/s ports that support RAID 0, 1, 5, and 10 via the ICH10R Southbridge. I like how ECS spaced the SATA ports so that none are blocked by a long graphics card - unless it is one with a huge, dual slot cooler.

 

 

Finally, there are the heatsinks used by the ECS P45T-A. The Northbridge is covered by a passively cooled, copper colored aluminum heatsink with a tribal design on the top for the Black Series motif. The heatsink is not very large, and might pose a problem with heat especially, when the system is overclocked. The Southbridge also uses an aluminum heatsink with the ECS logo to aid in keeping the system cool. I would recommend great airflow in the case since the heatsinks are rather small.

 

 

Now that we have had a good look at the hardware, let's take a look at the BIOS that makes this board tick.

Closer Look:

The BIOS is the heart of any system. Here is where you control the settings for the onboard devices, and where you can overclock the system to get the most out of your components. We are going to take a look at the BIOS in this section, so you get a better understanding of what it has to offer, and where you'll find the tools at.

Main & Standard CMOS:

The main screen is what you are presented with when you first enter the BIOS. This is the gateway to the sections that allow you to tweak your system. The standard CMOS section is where you set up your hard disks and internal drives for proper operation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advanced Setup & Advanced Chipset Setup:

These sections allow you to set up advanced features for the board, and CPU functions such as C1E, Virtualization, and the all important boot sequence. You can also enable memory remapping in the last section.

 

 

Integrated Peripherals & Power Management:

The Integrated Peripherals section is where you can set up and change the options dealing with onboard devices like the SATA, LAN, and audio devices. The Power Management section allows you to set up the power features like the Suspend Type.

 

 

 

PnP/PCI & PC Health Status:

These sections allow you to set which display initializes first for graphics, and monitor the temperatures and fan speeds of your system for health reasons.

 

 

Motherboard Intelligent BIOS (M.I.B.):

The Motherboard Intelligent BIOS section is where you have control for overclocking your system; the BIOS of the P45T-A is quite limited in this regard. Here you have the ability to adjust the frequency of the CPU and the CPU voltage in preset intervals. You can also adjust the memory from 667MHz to 800MHz, and the voltage in preset values. You have no control over the timings other than setting the BIOS to read the SPD of the DIMMs, and that's it. No other options are available for fine tuning your system.

 

 

 

Now that everything is set up in the BIOS, let's get the drivers installed so we can start testing our system.

Closer Look:

The driver CD that comes with the ECS P45T-A motherboard is just that - a driver CD. No extra software, either proprietary or third party, is included - so don't expect any goodies here. The interface that ECS has implemented is a no-brainer, and could not be any easier. When you pop the CD into the drive, the autorun program will bring up a simple menu for you to use to install the drivers. You have three options on the main menu, which are Setup, Browse CD, and Exit. The Browse CD option just opens the CD in the file browser. The Setup option starts the P45T-A's Setup program, and allows you to select what drivers to install. The INF selection installs all of the base chipset drivers for the motherboard. The Device option lets you choose to install some or all of the drivers for the LAN port, the audio ports, and the JMicron RAID controller.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That's it - nothing more, nothing less; plain and simple, without the frills.

 

 

Specifications:

 

CPU
LGA775 socket for latest Intel® Yorkfield/ Wolfdale/ Conroe/Core 2 Extreme/Core 2 Quad/Core 2 Duo/ Pentium Dual Core/ Celeron Dual Core/ Celeron 4xx processor
FSB 1333/1066/800 MHz
Chipset
Intel® Eaglelake P45 & ICH10R
North Bridge: Intel® Eaglelake P45
South Bridge: Intel® ICH10R
Memory
Dual-channel DDR2 memory architecture
4 x 240-pin DDR2 DIMM socket support up to 16GB
Support DDR2 800/667 DDR2 SDRAM
Expansion Slots
2 x PCI Express x16 slots
2 x PCI Express x1 slots
2 x PCI slots
**When using two VGA cards, the bandwidth is @ x8 bandwidth; when using one VGA card, the bandwidth is @ x16.
Storage Interfaces
Support by Intel® ICH10R
6 x Serial ATAII 3.0Gb/s devices
(Supports RAID 0, 1, 5, 10 ICH10R)

Support by JMB 361
1 x IDE channel support 2 Ultra DMA133/100/66 devices
1 x eSATA
Audio
Realtek ALC883 7.1 Channel High Definition Audio codec
LAN
Gigabit LAN, Atheros L1 PCIe GigaLAN controller
Rear Panel I/O
1 x PS/2 keyboard & PS/2 mouse connectors
6 x USB ports
1 x RJ45 LAN connector
1 x Audio port
1 x Serial port (COM1)
1 x Externel SATA connector
Internal Connectors and Headers
CPUFAN/PWRFAN/SYSFAN connectors
1 x IDE connector
1 x FDD connector
1 x Speaker header
1 x SPDIF out header
6 x Serial ATA connectors
1 x Front panel switch/LED header
1 x Front panel audio header
1 x CD in header
3 x USB 2.0 headers support additional 6 USB ports
1 x Power button/1 x Reset button
System BIOS
AMI BIOS with 8Mb SPI Flash ROM
Supports Plug and Play, STR/STD, Hardware monitor, PCI interrupt selection, ACPI & DMI, CPU FSB adjustment increase of 1MHz)
Audio, LAN, can be disabled in BIOS
F11 hot key for boot up devices option
CPU voltage adjustable
Memory voltage adjustable
Support over-clocking
Form Factor
ATX Size, 305mm*244mm

 

 

Features:

 

Testing:

Today I will be putting the ECS P45T-A through its paces by using a series of scientific test and video benchmarks. This will stress the P45T-A to see how well it performs under load. Then, I will be comparing it to two other well known boards based on two competing and current chipsets - the P43+ and the X48 - to see how well it stands up to the competition. During the testing, all components will be operating at their stock speeds, voltages, and timings to keep any variables from interfering with the scores.

 

 

Comparison Motherboards:

 

Overclocking:

Overclocked settings:

Man, overclocking this board was a nightmare. Nothing wanted to work, and I was blue screening constantly no matter what settings I tried. Finally, I maxed the vCore, and from 333MHz, I went up one MHz at a time until I could no longer get a stable boot, and then backed it down to the last good frequency. After hours of messing with this board, I finally was able to boot and complete all of the benchmarks while overclocked. The maximum I could get was a 34MHz bump, which was the most mediocre overclock I have ever had. No matter what I did, the ECS P45T-A would not budge any more from that. So, after all that time, my overclocking scores will be run at 367x8 with vCore at 1.47v.

 

Benchmarks:

  1. Apophysis
  2. WinRAR
  3. SPECviewperf 10
  4. PCMark Vantage Professional
  5. SiSoft Sandra XII
  6. ScienceMark 2.02 Final
  7. CineBench 10
  8. HD Tune 2.55
  1. Crysis
  2. Knights of the Sea
  3. BioShock
  4. Call of Duty 4
  5. World in Conflict
  6. Call of Juarez
  7. Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts
  8. 3DMark 06 Professional

 

Testing:

First up are the system specific benchmarks that will test overall scientific performance. For the science tests, only the scores with the 8800GT are shown to make the direct comparison to the other boards with the same setup.

 

To get things stated, I will begin 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.

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

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

ZIP:

 

RAR:

 

 

Well, the P45 board produced middling scores, and even gave the X48 a run there a few times.

Testing:

SPECviewperf 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

  

 

 

 

 

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.

 

The ECS P45 board scored low in SPECview, but took the win in Vantage when head to head with the P43+ board. The X48, however, still came out on top.

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 scores were very close, but the P45 once again was slightly ahead of the P43+, but behind the X48.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

The P45T-A took the lead vs. the P43+, but still trails the Intel X48-based motherboard.

Testing:

Crysis has been out for quite some time now. In that time, there has yet to be a single or multi-GPU setup that can fully showcase the graphics performance of the game.  The Crysis single player demo includes both CPU and GPU benchmarks to test the performance of your processor and video card.

 

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 

 

 

 

 

 

The ECS board just could not keep up in the Crysis tests.

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.

 

Video Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

In the higher resolutions, it was almost neck and neck.

Testing:

BioShock is one of the creepier games out in the wild, chronicling the building of a perfect Utopian society undersea gone horribly wrong - its inhabitants driven mad with the introduction of tonics and genetic modifications. Now Rapture is just a shadow of its former glory, with little girls looting the dead of what little they have left, while being shadowed by guardians known as "Big Daddies" 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. The environment as well as the story line will wrap you up for hours on end.

 

Video Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Again it was close, and the P45 gave the other boards a real run for it.

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 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.

 

Video Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At stock, the board was a little behind, but when the overclocking power was thrown in, the P45 took over.

Testing:

World in Conflict is a newly released 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.

 

Video Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

The ECS P45T-A was the fastest at the lowest resolution, and tied at the max.

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.

 

Video Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The P45 was just about one frame behind the P43+ the whole time, but matched the X48 the majority of the time.

Testing:

Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts is the latest chapter in 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.

 

Video Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wow, it was a surprise to see the P45 board dominate the Company of Heroes tests!

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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The ECS P45T-A was right in the middle until the end, when the P45 chipset took the lead at 1920x1200.

Conclusion:

So, how well did the ECS P45T-A do? When run at stock settings, it performed quite well. In almost every test, it was faster than the P43+-based motherboard, and a little behind the X48-based board. However, it did match the X48 a few times. The P45T-A offers some great features like CrossFireX support, an onboard eSATA port, and onboard Power and Reset buttons. This board brings a lot to the table for not a lot of money. If you want to get the latest chipset with great features for very little dough, I would check into the ECS P45T-A. As long as you are not overclocking it, this board is the best bang for your buck.

On the flip side, I did go into this review with high hopes considering the other Black Series boards I have tested, but I was left with a sour taste when it came to the overclocking side of the review. This board just did not like any increase I threw at it. I only achieved a 34MHz boost, which is the lowest overclock I have ever gotten. I attribute this to the weak overclocking options in the BIOS, because even raising the vCore to 1.47v could not get me any higher. Another thing you might want to look out for is the IDE port placement, which is at the bottom of the board. This might pose some severe problems for those of you who use IDE-based optical drives with large cases. I was surprised to see that the PCI Express x16 ports are limited to x8 electrically when two cards are placed in a CrossFireX configuration, but considering the bandwidth that PCI-E 2.0 brings to the table, this should not be an issue.

  

Pros:

 

Cons: