|Introduction and Product Specifications|
Until Intel's next-generation chipsets arrive, with support for upcoming multi-core processors, the 925X and 925XE will remain the flagship chipsets for LGA775 based Pentium 4 processors. The 925X and XE are very similar, as Dave pointed out in his introduction to the P4 EE 3.46GHz last October. When we compare the 925X and 925XE, the main difference between the two is that the XE officially supports a system bus of 1066MHz versus the 925X's official peak of 800MHz. This brings full support for the current flagship Pentium 4 Extreme Edition processor, which taps the 1066MHz bus, and potential support for future processors from Intel that will utilize this faster bus speed as well.
Today, we are going to review the Foxconn 925XE7AA-8EKRS2 motherboard, which is built with the 925XE at its core. This board offers all of the features that are integrated into the i925XE, plus a few Foxconn specific features of its own. First, we'll start by getting familiar with the system specifications and retail package, then we'll take a closer look at the board itself...
Looking at the Foxconn 925XE7AA-8EKRS2's retail package, we see that the general theme is "black". Virtually everything about the product is black, from the box, to the user's guide, setup CD and the plethora of cabling included in the package.
The bundle came with both a User's Manual and RAID User Guide as well as the necessary Setup CD and RAID driver floppy disks. The documentation is a strong point with Foxconn, with both guides presenting their information clearly and succinctly.
Another strong point for the 925XE7AA-8EKRS2 is in Foxconn's inclusion of enough cabling to fill every single drive connection on the board. This includes eight SATA cables, three rounded IDE cables and a single rounded Floppy cable. With the potential to connect eight SATA drives, Foxconn includes four Molex to SATA Y-adapters that can feed a total of eight SATA components with four standard Molex power leads. Also included in the bundle was an I/O Shield, four port USB bracket, two port IEEE1394 bracket and a S/PDIF bracket.
Overall, Foxconn provided a complete bundle, with an excellent collection of additional cabling not typically offered by most manufactures. Usually, we see packages come with two IDE and two or three SATA cables, but rarely do we find so many cables included with a motherboard. This gave the impression of a "complete" package that covers all of the potential bases a user may need.
|Close-Up - Board Features|
The Foxconn 925XE7AA-8EKRS2 has an impressive layout. The red PCB contrasts well with the predominantly black and white components on the board. Foxconn appears to be taking a uniform approach to its color schemes, maintaining three to four colors through out the board, unlike other products that have a separate color for each header, drive connection and DIMM slot. Like the retail packaging, the appearance is more subdued than other high-end offerings, but it is still a great looking product in its own rite.
The list of features for this board is long. Thanks to the 925XE chipset and ICH6R Southbridge combination, the board doesn't really lack much. The 925XE7AA-8EKRS2 supports the latest Prescott-T processor using the LGA775 packaging, with both 800 and 1066FSB support, meaning it accepts the broadest range of Socket T processors, including the Pentium 4 Extreme.
As we noted earlier, the 925XE is a DDR2 solution that can handle up to 4GBs of non-registered DDR2 memory. There are a total of 4 DIMM slots that can accommodate 256, 512 and 1GB modules in each slot, thus peaking at 4GB. The slots are paired and color coded to easily distinguish the memory channels, allowing for single and dual-channel configurations. The board comes with a single PCI Express 16x slot which provides a total of 4GB/s bandwidth in each direction, 8GB/s in total. Handling the expansion capabilities, the board balances legacy with newer technology, offering three PCI Express 1x and three PCI slots.
The remaining features are driven by the ICH6R South Bridge which brings a host of options to the table. Starting things off, the board offers a slew of hard drive connectivity options, making it an extremely flexible solution. The ICH6R sports four SATA 150 ports capable of RAID 0, 1, 0+1 and Matrix RAID. Additionally, the South Bridge offers a single IDE connection rated for UDMA 100. Building on this, Foxconn includes a Silicon Image 3114 RAID controller which drives an additional four SATA ports, capable of RAID 0, 1, 5, 10 and JBOD. Rounding out the bunch is an ITE 8212F IDE RAID controller that brings two more IDE ports rated for UDMA 133 operation, with RAID 0, 1, 0+1 and JBOD support as well. As you can see, the storage options with the Foxconn 925XE7AA-8EKRS2 are plentiful, making for extremely flexible storage configurations.
Looking at the rear of the board, we find it offers ample networking flexibility, coming equipped with dual Gigabit Ethernet ports. The motherboard is also equipped with a single IEEE 1394b port capable of 800Mbps data transfers, while two IEEE 1394a ports provide 400Mbps transfers through an on-board header and bracket. For audio, the Foxconn 925XE7AA-8EKRS2 provides 7.1 channel High Definition Audio through an integrated Realtek Codec. The audio ports off the rear of the case provide standard Line-In, Line-Out, MIC, Rear, Center ports while the SPDIF is handled by a bracket and on-board header.
Foxconn seems to have pulled off quite a balancing act with the 925XE7AA-8EKRS2. With extensive RAID options and a complete extended feature set, the 925XE7AA-8EKRS2 seems to have covered all the bases. Even with all of its integrated peripherals and features, Foxconn managed to design a motherboard with a clean layout that is balanced without appearing crowded.
Foxconn included much of what we would expect to find in an enthusiast motherboard's BIOS, while adding several useful features of their own. The collection of custom options resided within the BIOS Feature menu. Located here was a series of custom options prefixed with "Super", Foxconn's catch phrase for their unique feature set. The first item was SuperBoot, which, when enabled, collects hardware information upon first boot and records it for future reference. This in turn results in a faster POST of the board in subsequent boots. Another feature was SuperBIOS-Protect which aims to protect the BIOS from potential viral infections which would render the board useless. SuperRecovery can be configured with a shadow partition to protect hard drive data in case of corruption or infections. Rounding out the custom feature set was SuperSpeed which gives easy access to the board's overclocking settings.
The SuperSpeed menu offers a wide range of overclocking and performance options for fine-tuning system performance to your liking. For memory configuration, the divider settings are limited to either 1:1 or 3:4, although, after working with the board a bit, this seemed adequate. The PCI Express clock was also adjustable, allowing values to be keyed in from 100 up to 200MHz. The CPU voltage was adjustable in 0.0125v increments, topping out at 0.1875v. The CPU clock settings ranged for 200 to 265MHz in steps of 1MHz and could be keyed in directly.
The DRAM timings could be set to AUTO and configured manually. The CAS latency was adjustable from CAS 3, 4 and 5, while the RAS to CAS and Precharge settings ranged from 5, 4, 3 and 2.
Completing the BIOS menus was a thorough PC Health Status window that displayed current system temperatures, voltages and fan speeds. The menu could also be configured to sound a signal when temperatures are running too high, while a shut down temperature could be set if temperatures climbed beyond a specified threshold. A smart fan controller feature allowed the BIOS to throttle system fans based on running temperatures, helping to keep fan noise to a minimum.
|HH Test Bed and SANDRA 2005|
How we configured our test systems: When configuring the test systems for this review, we first entered the system BIOS and set each board to its "Optimized" or "High-Performance Defaults." We then manually configured our RAM to run at 266MHz (DDR533), with the timings set by the SPD. The hard drives were then formatted, and Windows XP Professional (SP2) was installed. When the installation was complete, we hit the Windows Update site and downloaded all of the available updates, with the exception of the ones related to Windows Messenger. Then we installed all of the necessary drivers and removed Windows Messenger from the system altogether. Auto-Updating, drive indexing, and System Restore were also disabled, and we set up a 768MB permanent page file on the same partition as the Windows installation. Lastly, we set Windows XP's Visual Effects to "best performance," installed all of our benchmarking software, defragged the hard drives, and ran all of the tests.
Starting off our benchmarking segment, we have results from several modules within SiSoft SANDRA 2005 to get a quick assessment of a system's performance. Using SANDRA's ever growing internal database, we can get a feel for how a particular setup compares to its peers. Typically, we like to run the CPU, Multimedia, and Memory components of SANDRA to get a baseline representation of performance.
Our first run was with the CPU test, which yielded little surprises. The Foxconn-based test bed was on par with the reference system running the same Pentium 4-E 530. The ALU tests favored the Foxconn board while its FPU test fell slightly short of the reference system. The Multimedia test results were also in the same ballpark as the reference Pentium 4-E 530 system. Here, the Foxconn led in the Floating-Point portion of the test by almost 100 points, while it fell short in the Integer test by 154 points. Memory performance was strong, with the Foxconn 925XE7AA-8EKRS2 falling in line where it should be.
|Synthetic Testing Continued with FutureMark|
Next, we ran FutureMark's 3DMark05 CPU module followed by PCMark04. 3DMark05's CPU module allows us to focus more on the CPU and memory performance while minimizing the affect of the video card on the test. PCMark04 is a great all-inclusive test suite that benchmarks the four major components of a system, namely CPU, Memory, Graphics and Hard Drive. When completed, an individual score is issued for each test, as well as a total score.
When we look at the 925XE7AA-8EKRS2's performance compared to the other two reference systems, we found the ASUS board really shined. The Foxconn 925XE board came in second, beating out the impressive MSI 915P Neo2 Platinum by a margin of 47 points.
PCMark04 does a better job of giving an overall picture of a board's performance potential. In the total results category, the 925XE7AA-8EKRS2 was the top performer, with the MSI 915P model taking the second spot by a 35 point difference. The ASUS P5GDC-V Deluxe came in third, dropping an additional 50 points.
When we break down the results, we see the Foxconn 925XE7AA-8EKRS2 was the best performer in the Memory segment, whereas the ASUS board took top Graphic performance and the MSI Neo2 boasted the best CPU performance. In the end, the Foxconn board took a major lead in memory scores, topping the next best board by 104 points.
|Encoding Tests with XMPEG and Windows Media Encoder 9|
The first test we ran was with XMPEG, where we converted a MPEG file to DivX AVI format. Then we followed that up with a conversion of an AVI file to WMV format using Microsoft's Windows Media Encoder 9.
Typical to what we've been seeing with the 900 series chipsets, each motherboard returned the same performance in this round of tests. Here, we saw consistent times across all three test beds, with no variation in scores whatsoever.
With our Windows Media Encoder 9 tests, we saw a similar trend as with the XMPEG testing, with very slight variations overall. In this case, each board was off by one second, with the Foxconn 925XE7AA-8EKRS2 posting the slowest of the three results. Nonetheless, this is a mere technicality and the results should be interpreted as a three-way tie just like the XMPEG scores.
|CPU Tests with Wolfenstein: ET and UT2004|
To continue gauging performance, we ran some low-res timedemos with Wolfenstein: ET and UT 2004. In each game, we configured the graphical options for "low quality" to minimize the affects of the video card on the results. This results in scores that are more representative of the CPU and Memory performance for each set up.
Our first test was with Wolfenstein: ET. Here, we ran each test with the video qualities set for 640x480x16. As you can see, the results were quite close in each case, with the Foxconn 925XE7AA-8EKRS2 taking the top spot at 116.4 FPS. Again, each system was within a mere fraction of the other, resulting in a near tie overall.
Our next test was with UT2004 and our custom at default video settings. Again, each system returned very similar scores, but once again, the Foxconn model managed a slightly better score at 72.75FPS.
|Application Testing with the Winstones|
PC Magazine's Winstone Test Suite is an excellent benchmarking tool for testing the CPU, memory, and overall system performance. Content Creation Winstone focuses on common media intensive tasks, while Business Winstone assesses general workstation application performance. Below is a breakdown of each package's software complement that is used to issue an overall score when complete.
In Content Creation 2004, the Foxconn and MSI models tied for second place, while the ASUS board took top position by a mere fraction of a point. With Business Winstone 2004 the margins were slightly wider with the 925XE7AA-8EKRS2 topping the MSI Neo2 by 1 point, while the ASUS board was nearly tied with the Foxconn model.
|Overclocking and Final Thoughts|
Foxconn doesn't have a long history of making highly overclockable motherboards, but the 925XE7AA-8EKRS2 had its fair share of overclocking options so we were eager to see what it could do...
We managed to reach a peak bus speed of 251MHz with our retail 3.0GHz Pentium 4. This resulted in the CPU running at 3.78GHz, an increase of 25.5%. This also brought our memory speed up to 669MHz DDR. All of this was achieved with a slight increase in CPU and Memory voltage for good measure and nothing more. The memory voltage was set to 2v while we added 0.15v to the CPU. The CPU and Multimedia tests show the test bed reaching similar performance to a Pentium 4 560 processor, which runs at 3.60GHz, with the reference system having a slight edge in scores. When overclocked, the memory scores took a major leap, running close to 20% faster that the PC24300 reference system.
In our final test, we ran Wolfenstein: ET again and compared the results to the stock scores. The final results tacked on 21.1 additional frames per second, peaking at 137.5 FPS, an increase of 18.13%. While not quite equivalent to the overall CPU and Memory increases, this was a sizeable performance gain in the end.
When looking for the best performing PCI Express solution from Intel, the 925XE chipset is currently the best they have to offer. With support for the latest Socket T Pentium 4 processors, including the Extreme Edition, this chipset brings everything Intel has to the table. And Foxconn seems to have put the i925XE to good use. The Foxconn 925XE7AA-8EKRS2 is a quality motherboard with all of the trimmings.
From a feature standpoint, the Foxconn 925XE7AA-8EKRS2 has it all. With dual Gigabit Ethernet, a multitude of RAID options, IEEE 1394a/b support, DDR2 support, and an impressive retail package, the 925XE7AA-8EKRS2 truly delivers the goods. In fact, the only real complaint we had, albeit minor, was its subdued appearance. Being such a high-end product, some users may want to show it off, and its somewhat subdued appearance may not appeal to hardcore enthusiasts. However, judging any board by appearances alone would be a major mistake.
The Foxconn 925XE7AA-8EKRS2 is a very good motherboard with an impressive list of features and competitive performance. If you are looking to build a high-end Intel based PC, the 925XE7AA-8EKRS2 has what you need. But there is something to consider before taking the plunge. As our performance scores show, when using a Socket T processor with an 800MHz FSB, the i925XE performs at just about the same level as the less expensive i915. With that said, if you are not planning to take advantage of all of the 925XE7AA-8EKRS2's features, it may be overkill. However, if you are looking for an exceptionally flexible motherboard that has room to grow, this Foxconn 925XE7AA-8EKRS2 deserves serious consideration and will likely please even the most critical enthusiast.
We give the Foxconn 925XE7AA-8EKRS2 a Hot Hardware Heat Meter of 8.5.