|Introduction, Specification and the Bundle|
Foxconn is a relative newcomer to the commercial motherboard market, but they are no stranger to the industry. Like we reported when we reviewed the Foxconn 875A02, they have been producing computer parts for quite a long time, but mostly as a component maker for different OEMs. With the manufacturing facilities already in place, it was a logical progression to move directly into the retail channel and reap some of the monetary benefits of selling components under their own brand name.
Our first experience with Foxconn was with the above mentioned board based on Intel's proven i875 "Canterwood" chipset. This time around we take a look at another of Foxconn's creations in the form of the 755A01-6EKRS. This board was designed with the Athlon 64 in mind, powered by the promising SiS755 Chipset. There has been a lot of talk of how the SiS755 chipset is a performance powerhouse, so naturally we were eager to test a retail-ready board based on this chipset for ourselves. Pitting the SiS755 against VIA's market dominant K8T800 should be a good test to see how just how good the SiS755 chipset is. Lets take a look and see what the Foxconn 755A01-6EKRS brings to the show.
Based on this list of specs, the Foxconn 755A01 has a lot to offer with Gigabit Ethernet, SATA RAID, IEEE1394, backed by the performance of SiS' proprietary MuTIOL Hyperstreaming Engine. We got our first taste of MuTIOL back when the 655FX chipset was released for the Intel platform. This is a key feature that allows for a full 1GB/s of bandwidth between the Northbridge and Southbridge, optimizing data flow between the two. Below is a breakdown of the SiS755 and SiS964 architecture.
The package is completely devoid of outdated games and other empty "lures", instead offering a modest collection of hardware and software. To start off, the package comes with an oversized diagram of the board with its key components clearly labeled for easy identification. The User's Manual was quite thorough in its breakdown of information. Each area of installation was covered in complete detail, from processor and memory installation to BIOS configuration and Driver installation. Additionally, a manual was provided that exclusively covered SATA RAID setup.
From a complimentary hardware perspective, Foxconn included the bare necessities including a custom I/O shield, 1 Floppy and 1 80 - conductor IDE cable, 2 SATA cables and a power adapter that turns 1 Molex connection into 2 SATA power plugs. A drivers CD includes current drivers for the system's main components including chipsets, SATA controllers, Ethernet and Audio controllers. Additionally, a copy of Norton Internet Security 2004 was included as well as Foxconn's proprietary SuperUtility. SuperUtility is comprised of three components: SuperStep, SuperUpdate and SuperLogo. SuperStep is a system monitoring / overclocking utility that lets you view system voltages, fan speeds and temperatures while giving access to the system's clock generator for overclocking. SuperUtility is used for downloading the latest BIOS updates and applying them from within Windows. SuperLogo is a handy utility design to let users customize their system's boot logo with a JPG or BMP of their choice.
Overall, the Foxconn 755A01-6EKRS offers a good selection of features and functionality backed by a modest bundle of hardware and software. Next we'll take a closer look at the Foxconn 755A01-6EKRS and the BIOS that drives it.
|The Board, the BIOS and Overclocking|
Built upon a blue PCB, the 755A01 is long on looks, with a clean layout that leaves us with little to be critical of. Driven by the SiS755 Northbridge and SiS964 Southbridge, the board brings a healthy feature set to the table. This model is equipped with a common 1-AGP8X/5-PCI slot configuration that supports the latest video cards available while supplying plenty of options for expansion. The system comes with a total of 3 DIMM slots supporting up to 1GB of DDR memory per slot. Adjacent to the DIMM slots Foxconn positioned two ATA133 connections as well as a Floppy connection and ATX main power. A secondary 12v power connector is located at the upper left of the CPU socket to supplement power to the processor. The board also comes with two pairs of SATA connectors, two of which are driven independently by the 964 Southbridge which supports RAID 0, 1 and JBOD (Spanning). The other pair of SATA connectors are powered by a Sil3112 SATA RAID controller offering both Raid 0 and 1 functionality.
The board is also equipped with a series of headers along the left edge. Two additional USB 2.0 headers can be used to expand the available ports by 4, for a grand total of 8. An IEEE1394 header is also provided for expanded FireWire capability. Sadly, Foxconn does not provide the necessary hardware to take advantage of these features. The 755A01 comes with integrated audio powered by Realtek's ALC655 codec delivering 5.1 audio channels. The Foxconn 755A01 comes with Gigabit Ethernet that is powered by Realtek's 8110 LAN controller, offering transfer rates up to 1000Mbps. Oddly, Foxconn opted not to take advantage of the SiS964's integrated 10/100 Ethernet capabilities, whereas, we think a second Ethernet connection is always preferable if the capability is there.
The Foxconn 755A01-6EKRS is equipped with a Phoenix AwardBIOS. This particular version holds some unique features that stand out compared to a lot of other motherboards. The first is the BIOS Features page, which holds some of the more interesting features of this board. The first item is SuperBoot, which aims to reduce the boot time of a system. Foxconn achieves this by creating a profile of the system on first boot and then saving this information for subsequent re-boots. We saw a slight improvement in boot time, but it was only noticeable when we actually timed the process. The next item was SuperBios-Protect which protects the BIOS from being overwritten by a virus. SuperSpeed, which can be used to overclock your CPU, offers a frequency range from 200 to 232MHz. Lastly was the SuperRecovery Hotkey. This setting works in conjunction with an IDE drive to allow users to allocate a hidden partition for backing up and restoring hard drive data. Think of this feature as Norton Ghost built into the BIOS.
When it comes to memory configuration, the Foxconn 755A01 offers with a slew of options. We doubt most users will need to delve this deep into memory configuration, but some of the more hardcore users should appreciate the plethora of options available. The DRAM timings can be configured for Auto or Manual whereas the memory clock can be set for 100, 133, 166 and 200. CAS latency can be set to run at 2, 2.5 or 3 depending solely on the module's capability.
Unlike the memory configuration page, the Frequency/Voltage Control page was spartan, offering PCI Clock, Asyn and Spread Spectrum settings. Completely missing from this page was any voltage adjustments whatsoever, immediately reducing our expectations for any real overclocking potential. Aside from overclocking, we think at the least a DRAM voltage option should be available on all boards ranging from 2.6-2.8v at minimum. We have found on a number of occasions that high performance memory can be quite finicky about voltage and a mere .1v increase can mean the difference between an unusable system and one that is totally stable. Hopefully Foxconn will take this into account in future versions of their motherboards.
|Hothardware Test Bed and Synthetics|
With its lack of voltage settings, we weren't expecting the 755A01 to be a stellar overclocker. Any hope of trying to get a little aggressive with voltage adjustments was simply out of the question, but we rolled the dice to see what we could do anyway. Ultimately, the system would POST with the motherboard's clock generator set to 220MHz (10 x 220MHz = 2.2GHz), but none of our benchmarks would run, often causing a system lock. In the end, we reduced the clock generator to 215MHz (10 x 215MHz = 2.15GHz) and found the sweet spot. At this lower setting, we managed to stabilize the system while enjoying a modest 7.5% performance gain.
To get the benchmarking started, we typically like to run a few of the modules from Sisoftware's SANDRA benchmarking suite. SANDRA allows us to get a quick idea of how a board fits in with its peers. SANDRA utilizes a large database to reference and compare a system's results, giving a basic picture of what we should expect. For this we ran the CPU, Multimedia and Memory performance modules.
There isn't too much surprising here. Performance at stock speed was what we would expect, in-line with the reference systems. What was more interesting was the performance improvements when we raised the clock generator to 215MHz. The end result was an increased processor speed from 2.0GHz to 2.15GHz. The CPU and Multimedia modules registered gains that competed well against a Pentium 4 @ 3.2GHz.in arithmetic instructions and a Pentium 4 @ 2.66GHz across the board. The memory test also registered a decent increase, adding over 300 points to both the integer and floating point results.
PCMark04 is useful tool for assessing a motherboard's overall performance potential. This test assess the 4 key components related to system performance, issuing a score for each, and an overall score. The test gauges CPU, Memory, Graphics and Hard Drive performance. We ran PCMark04 on the Foxconn 755A01 and an MSI K8T Neo based on the VIA K8T800 chipset for comparison.
The SiS755 based board competed quite well when compared to the popular K8T800 chipset. In the total score, the Foxconn model took the top seed by a small margin. We found the CPU results were a dead heat, while the Foxconn model boasted better memory results overall. The clincher was the Graphics performance which surged past the VIA veteran, topping it by close to 400 PCMarks. Conversely, we saw a marked drop in hard drive performance with the SiS755, where it was about 1/3 slower than the MSI board.
|3DMark03 and Gaming|
While 3DMark03's legitimacy as a graphics card benchmark has suffered due to the whole "Driver Optimization" hoopla, we find it's ability to isolate testing to the CPU quite useful for motherboard testing. In this module, we selected both CPU test 1 and 2 and recorded the total score at the end. Once again, comparison testing was done on the MSI K8T Neo.
With pure CPU testing, the Foxconn 755A01 topped the VIA K8T800 comparison board by 23 3DMarks, an edge of 2.8%. Unlike PCMark04, we saw a slight variation in scores favoring the SiS based board. Next we'll run a few games to see if this pattern continues.
Another easy way to assess a system's CPU/memory performance is to load several gaming benchmarks and reduce the affects of the video card by reducing the resolution. This helps to take the video card out of the performance equation altogether. To achieve this we ran a custom demo of UT2004 at 640x480x16 and Comanche4 at default settings with "No Audio" selected.
Once again we saw the Foxconn motherboard take the lead by a small margin. With UT2004 we saw a difference of 5FPS in favor of the Foxconn model. With Comanche4 the differences were even less noticeable, with the Foxconn 755A01 pulling ahead by less than 1FPS.
|Winstone Benchmarking Suite and Conclusion|
For our last round of tests we ran both Content Creation Winstone 2004 and Business Winstone 2004. Each application gauges a system's overall performance with workstation and multimedia applications. Content Creation 2004 tests multimedia intensive applications, while Business Winstone 2004 compares performance with common workstation applications. Below is a list of the programs each test uses to calculate its final score.
If you recall back in the PCMark04 section, we saw a marked drop in hard drive performance with the SiS755 compared to VIA's K8T800. If there was ever a benchmark that is affected by hard drive performance, it's PC Mag's Winstone Test Suite. As you can see, there was nothing getting in the way of the Foxconn 755A01. We saw an average of a 1 point advantage in Content Creation Winstone 2004 and 1.3 in Business Winstone. This may not sound like much, but it adds up to 3.1% and 5.8%, respectively.
This is our second go around with a Foxconn motherboard. By designing boards that are well thought out and can compete with the big name brands in performance and features, we feel Foxconn is well on their way to gaining a foothold in the motherboard market. Their BIOS engineers just need to enable a few more features. We are impressed with their goal to offer unique options like SuperRecovery and SuperBoot, but these features are not enough in our opinion. For one, we feel voltage adjustments are an absolute must, especially with regard to memory. The lack thereof severely limits the user's options when high performance memory modules are involved. Another shortcoming is the lack of D-Brackets needed to expand the USB and FireWire headers, since finding these items after market can sometimes be tough.
With the aforementioned issues aside, we think the Foxconn 755A01-6EKRS to be a fine motherboard with a competitive feature set and top-end performance. In almost all of our tests, the Foxconn 755A01-6EKRS took the lead, even in PCMark04, where the hard drive performance paled in comparison to the VIA based reference board. We were also pleased with the overall design and layout. Some of the system's proprietary features were quite useful while others were mediocre, but we like the direction in which Foxconn is headed. They are trying to make some unique and useful options available to the end-user.
When we took into account the relatively poor overclocking options and no voltage settings and offset that with high-end performance, a quality design and solid feature set, we walked away with a favorable impression of the 755A01-6EKRS. Ultimately, we think the lack of voltage settings is the biggest of all the issues and a serious one at that. However, when you factor in the average retail price for this board falls in the $90 range, we think the Foxconn 755A01-6EKRS is a sweet deal for someone looking to piece together and Athlon 64 based system.
We give the Foxconn 755A01-6EKRS a HotHardware Heat Meter Rating of a 8