AMD's AM2 chips have been out for a while now but I haven't had a chance to make the jump to it yet until just recently. With the price cut, it just didn't make sense to hold off any longer. With the AM2 comes the move to DDR2 for the AMD line. With those two products in my hands, I was ready to handle reviewing an AM2 motherboard. ECS, who's been very generous in the past, provided us with their flagship AM2 board, the KA3 MVP Extreme
. Let's see how this board compares to their previous Crossfire offering, the KA1 MVP Extreme
The KA3 MVP Extreme
sports the Radeon Xpress 3200 (RD580) chipset and supports the AM2 line of AMD processors. The KA3 MVP Extreme
, like it's predecessor, is a Crossfire capable motherboard meaning you can use two ATI Crossfire capable cards to get some nice performance boost in games. The motherboard looks to continue on the line of good offerings by ECS since they did an overhaul on their image in offering low priced motherboards.
Taking a look at the board, you'll see the same familiar color scheme that's been prominent in their recent Extreme line. You'll either hate it or like it. For the most part, I don't mind the wild color scheme that ECS has but they seem to be switching from the brighter purple for future products. If you're one of those that likes to show of the internals of your computer, then the ECS coloring scheme might turn you off a bit.
The board, of course, houses the AM2 socket for the next generation AMD64 processors. At the CPU area, the area's pretty free of capacitors except for one edge where the heatsink housing sits. You should have plenty of room for some oversized coolers with the clearance around the CPU. Off to one of the corners is the CPU power connector.
With the AM2 processors comes support for DDR2 memory. The board sports four DDR2 slots for ram up to 800MHz. For dual channel purposes, the slots are color coded so you can easily tell which two need to be populated. The sets that are colored the same sit next to each other on the board rather than in an every other configuration in some motherboards.
The RD580 northbridge sits between the first PCI-E slot and the CPU socket. The nice thing about the ATI chipset is that it only need a passive cooler. With the trend these days to quiet a PC down, it's nice to see that there's one less fan on the motherboard to cause noise. It might be offset by the fact that there's a fan for the capacitors near the CPU but you can probably disable that fan without causing problems provided you have good airflow through the case.
Two PCI-E X16 slots with a single X1 slot gives you the Crossfire and SDGE connections. What's nice about this board compared to the KA1 MVP Extreme
is that you won't need to plug in a shunt card if you are just using one video card. If you do plug in two cards that take up two slots, you'll be left with only one PCI slot for expansion. The terrible tiny locking clips makes their return here and I wish ECS would put on clips with full length handles so changing cards wouldn't be such a hassle. If you have pretty long cards and want to change out, you'll either need to have very tiny fingers or snake a tool down there to pop the clip. Please ECS, put some better locking clips for the PCI-E slots next time around.
If you're not going to use the second PCI-E slot, you'll have two PCI expansion slots accessible. While I do like that most of what you need is on the board, I would've liked to have seen some more expansion slots. But, the lack of a few PCI slots enables all the connections to be moved closer to the side of the motherboard and allow for video cards to not interfere with the clips near the ram slots like previous boards. You'll see that one of the PCI slots is painted yellow. This slot was made for cards that need some good filtering circuits such as audio boards. It's the place where you should plug a card like the X-Fi sound card. Next to all the slots are an LED tha blinks when there's no card or something is wrong. It can be a little annoying since most of the time, you won't have all your slots filled and there will be some LED blinking away. A choice of changing it to only blink or light up when a card is inserted would've been a nice feature to alleviate the annoyance. If you need to supply some more power to the video cards, a Molex power connector is located next to the first PCI-E slot. This position should make it easier for cords to reach.
To connect storage options, the board features two IDE connectors, one floppy connector, and six SATA connectors for plenty of connecting options. The SB600 is responsible for four of the SATA connectors with a JMicron JMB363 responsible for the other two and one of the IDE connectors. Long video cards could interfer with four of the SATA connectors so make sure you connect them first before you try to plug in a video card. Plugging in my ATI All-in-Wonder X1900
caused two to be blocked as you can see in the picture below. Otherwise, the location of the SATA connectors are pretty good relative to the board. Four sit on the edge of the motherboard so you don't have to route the SATA cable in too much while the two coming from the JMicron sit in a little and near an IDE connector.
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