ECS KN1 SLI Extreme

Review

posted 9/16/2005 by John Yan
other articles by John Yan
One Page Platforms: PC
A few weeks ago we went a few rounds with ECS’s KN1 Extreme. The board earned some great marks and it’s an impressive product coming from ECS. It’s certainly not a board that you would traditional associate with the company and they are continuing their make over with their update to the KN1 Extreme with the KN1 SLI Extreme.

The ECS KN1 SLI Extreme doesn’t just add SLI to their previous board but also extends it a little. First off, the name will tip you off in that it’s an SLI board sporting the nForce4 SLI chipset. CPU’s that this board supports include the AMD 939 pin line so anything from the Sempron to the dual core AMD64 processors are usable by the board.



Four memory slots allow for a maximum of 4 gigabytes of memory to be on board. Memory speeds support up to DDR400 and they are color coded so that you’ll know which pairs to insert for dual-channel memory access. The KN1 Extreme worked flawlessly with all four slots filled and I expect this board to do the same. We’ll see in the tests if there are any problems filling up the RAM slots.

Two PCI Express x16, one PCI Express x1, and three PCI slots round out the expansion area. The x1 PCI-E slot sits between the two PCI-E x16 slots and if you plan on using two NVIDIA cards. Unlike the ABIT AN8 SLI, you can use the x1 slot here. There’s an increased spacing between the two PCI-E x16 slots and the retention clip can be moved between the two open slots that should be available. Kudos to ECS for being smart enough in their design on this part. 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.

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 SLI 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 ok. 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 pleased with how it worked and having a built in firewall on the motherboard is a great feature.

ECS’s KN1 Extreme had the older ALC655 chip but the SLI version comes at you with the ALC850 for 8.1 channels. I applaud the move here as ECS could’ve easily stuck the same audio solution on the motherboard. Instead they move to the 8.1 product and the improvement is really welcomed. The board still features the dual S/PDIF but since it’s an 8.1 solution now, the rear panel audio connectors feature three more 1/8” plugs to accommodate the extra sound channels.

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. This was a problem with the KN1 Extreme as well.

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, there is the motherboard fan. I had a problem with the KN1 Extreme where the Cool & Quiet wasn’t working correctly and the CPU HSF would be at a constant full speed. The same was experienced with this sample but ECS once again quickly provided a BIOS to fix the problem.

The back panel features most of the basic connections. Missing is the parallel port connector but you can attach an included bracket in your expansion port area if you really need the connector. Since most of the products coming out now are USB based, I don’t mind the omission of the parallel port in the main back panel area. One feature I really liked is two S/PDIF connectors: one optical and one coaxial. While some boards utilize an optical plug to keep the connection dust free when not in use, ECS has done a good job in putting a shutter on the optical connection so you don’t have to keep a plug on hand. I know I’ve lost a good amount of those optical plugs with all my other motherboards and this solution works beautifully. And as I mentioned earlier, there are now six audio plugs rather than the three that was on the KN1 Extreme.

There are four USB connectors with the two LAN connectors that I mentioned earlier. Included with the package is a bracket with two more USB connections and the firewire connection as well. If you would rather have them mounted on the front of your computer, ECS was nice enough to include a housing that will fit in a 3/5” drive slot. I like the fact that ECS gave you a choice here on where you would like your extra connectors placed with the two included options.

A curious inclusion in the accessories department is the external SATA connector. In theory, this would’ve been a great addition as I could then attach SATA drivers without opening the case. But, the bracket fails to include a power connector so you’ll be forced to use some external enclosures.

I really do like ECS’s decision to color code the motherboard giving you a very quick way to identify what connects where. More companies should do this and it really helped speed up my build time. Since I was familiar with the ECS design from my previous build, it was pretty quick to connect the cables to this board as well with the color coding aiding my installation.
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