One PCI Express x16, two PCI Express x1, and three PCI slots round out the expansion area. The PCI-E x16 slot sits below the two PCI-E x1 slot. One of the three PCI slots, colored yellow, offers better stability and is recommended for audio cards. Hopefully, we’ll see more PCI-E x1 cards soon to take advantage of the two that are on this board. Each PCI slot has an LED associated that gives you a status of the slot. When blinking, no data or a problem with the seating of the card lets you know there’s something wrong with it. While I do really like the visual cue, I would’ve rather seen the blinking not be there when there’s no card installed. Those with window cases may find it annoying and hopefully there’s a BIOS update that can let you choose how the LED notifies you.
For storage, there are plenty of connections for both IDE and SATA available. Three IDE connectors are on board with IDE 1 and IDE 2 located close together on one side. The third supporting RAID 0 or RAID 1 through the SiS180 controller sits in a corner. Six SATA connectors ensure that you’ll have plenty of room for storage updates using the latest interface. SATA 5/6 can be used to RAID two SATA hard drives.
Dual network connections are offered through a Realtek RTL8100C controller that supports 10/100 Mbps and a Marvell 88E1111 controller that supports up to gigabit speed. Some may not like the lack of gigabit support on the secondary controller. Given that the board has at least one with that speed, I am more inclined to overlook the lack of it on the other. Because the board uses the nForce4 Ultra chipset, there’s the option of using nVidia’s ActiveArmor hardware firewall. You can never have too much security these days and nVidia’s firewall implementation is pretty good. The hardware firewall should also take fewer resources than a software one. After installing the software, you get Zone Alarm type notifications on applications accessing the network. I was pretty pleased with how it worked and having a built in firewall on the motherboard is a great feature.
For sound ECS went with the older Realtek ALC655 chip that supports 6-channel audio. While it’s an adequate solution, I would’ve liked to have seen the newer ALC882 here. That’s not to say the board doesn’t feature good sound and from my running through various applications, the chip does a good job. But if you’re aiming for a gaming crowd, the newer Realtek audio solution would’ve been a better choice in my opinion. Still, it’s nice of ECS to include two optical outputs. And if you aren’t happy with the solution, you could always purchase a separate sound card instead of using the onboard audio.
The nForce4 chip does get pretty hot and ECS has decided to implement a very high aluminum cooler to help keep temperatures down. While I do like that they have an active cooling solution on the chipset, I am not a fan of the sound it makes. With no way to dial down the speed or have it be regulated, the noise generated along with the other coolers can really turn off those looking for a more quiet solution.
Besides the loud fan on the nForce4 cooler, you’ll also get wind of the duct fan. That fan is also not regulated and there’s no way to have it spin slower. Finally, adding to the triumvirate of sound generation by fan noise, the motherboard doesn’t dial down the HSF chip fan. On other AMD64 boards, my HSF fan would spin up and then dial back once the motherboard determined that cooling was sufficient and it didn’t need to run the HSF fan at full speed. Unfortunately, the KN1 Extreme
doesn’t seem to do that so you have three motherboard fans running at full speed constantly. This leads to a very loud computer and that can be a turnoff for some. After talking with ECS about this problem, they provided me with a BIOS update after a few days. Lo and behold, the BIOS solved the HSF noise problem, making the board a lot quieter than before. I’ll say that dealing with ECS tech support was very easy and they were very responsive in finding the problem on their end and providing a fix to it. Kudos to ECS for their quick response time.
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