Budget Core 2 Platforms from ECS and Gigabyte
ECS is best known for creating barebones, but functional motherboard platforms which stress low-cost elements rather than extravagant on-board features. When one first glances at this purple motherboard with brightly colored components, it looks as if it’s targeted at the enthusiast market. This is most certainly a budget motherboard, though, currently selling for sub-$100 levels.
ECS P35T-A - Bottom Right
ECS P35T-A - Top Left
The P35T-A uses Intel’s P35 Express Northbridge paired with the ICH9-DH (Digital Home) Southbridge. It’s unusual to see the ICH9-DH variant, as this version is typically targeted for home theater PC systems. The ICH9-DH supports all the same core features as the stock ICH9, but also supports Intel’s ViiV technology, which (in theory) allows for unique sleep states and quick system startups through new suspend modes. The ICH9-DH, however, does not support RAID functionality, which is a fairly common feature on most P35 Express platforms. ECS cools the ICH9-DH chip with a small aluminum alloy block which sits on top, whereas the P35 Express Northbridge is cooled by a fairly short aluminum alloy heatsink.
This board supports all modern Intel processors, including the upcoming 45nm dual and quad-core processor variants at 1333 MHz FSB speed. ECS doesn’t leave much room around the CPU socket, with a series of capacitors lining one side of the socket fairly closely. Nevertheless, most larger coolers should fit on this board without issue. Power conversion components which sit between the CPU socket and I/O panel are passively cooled by a heatsink as well.
While the P35 Express chipset supports DDR2 or DDR3 memory, ECS has gone with the more popular and less expensive DDR2 option. The board supports up to 8 GB of DDR2-800 memory in single or dual-channel configurations, allowing for peak memory bandwidth of 12.8 GB/s (6.4GB/s per dual-channel link). ECS does not allow for much memory flexibility, only offering memory divisors for DDR2-800 and DDR2-667 in the BIOS. No more, no less.
Serial ATA-II ports and Southbridge
Looking down the board, you can see two PCI Express x16 sized slots, along with a single PCI Express x1 slot and three 32-bit PCI slots. The primary PCI Express x16 slot (orange) supports full x16 speeds, whereas the secondary slot only supports x4 speeds. There is no mention of ATI Crossfire support, although this is a fairly standard feature for P35 platforms, and it’s likely that it will work on this platform as well. ECS includes a 4-pin Molex connector to provide additional power if multiple graphics cards are used.
To the right of the Southbridge, we see a cluster of Serial ATA-II/300 ports (six of them, in-fact), sitting alongside a JMicron controller chip. While the six SATA-II/300 ports are natively connected to the Intel Soutbridge, the JMicron controller supports the eSATA 3.0 GB/s port on the I/O panel. We also see several USB 2.0 pin headers, which support an additional six USB 2.0 ports in addition to the six on the I/O panel, for a whopping twelve native USB 2.0 ports. Sadly, no Firewire.
Onboard Ethernet is controlled by a unique Intel chip, the 82566DC. This teeny-tiny chip supports Gigabit Ethernet connectivity and connects to the Southbridge via PCI Express x1. This Ethernet chip is also ViiV compliant and supports TCP offloading, so it’s actually a pretty solid little chip for a budget board. Sadly, ECS slacks on the onboard audio, opting for a Realtek ALC888 HD Audio CODEC (which is all fine and good), but only providing analog output options. Digital connectivity is not standard on this motherboard. At least one form of S/PDIF digital output connectivity would be appreciated.
Instead of loading the I/O panel with useful things like S/PDIF audio or Firewire, ECS chose to include a Serial port in the mix, which is simply not needed at this point. The rest of the I/O panel is fairly standard, featuring PS/2 ports along with the aforementioned eSATA, six USB 2.0, Gigabit Ethernet, and 8-channel analog audio ports. ECS includes virtually nothing in terms of extras in their box – all you get is a driver CD, an I/O shield, a manual, an IDE and a Serial ATA cable. There are reasons why the board sells for a low-price, and this is definitely one of them.
ECS P35T-A - I/O Panel
Nevertheless, considering the price, it’s got a fairly solid feature set which we don’t have any major qualms with. Sure, we would have liked digital audio, RAID, and Firewire, but these are all more high-end features which increase overall board cost. For the market which ECS is targeting, these features will not likely be missed.