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ECS P4VXAD Vs. Azza P4X2AV
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Date: Dec 15, 2001
Section:Motherboards
Author: HH Editor
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The ECS P4VXAD Vs. The Azza P4X2AV - Page 1

The ECS P4VXAD -Vs.- The Azza P4X2-AV
Battle of the VIA P4X266s!

By, Marco Chiappetta
November 29, 2001

Intel and VIA are entangled in a nasty legal battle, and because of this, VIA's P4X266 Pentium 4 chipset has been surrounded by much controversy.  Intel is trying to stop the distribution of the P4X266 because they claim VIA is not licensed to use some of their technology, while VIA alleges all of the licenses they need to manufacture this chipset were obtained when they purchased S3.  All of the legal matters surrounding VIA's chipset have prevented some manufacturers from embracing the P4X266.  Dave took a look at a P4X266 board from Shuttle a few weeks back, but other than the Shuttle AV40 we haven't heard of too many other boards that were outfitted with the P4X266.

Things are starting to change now though.  The legal matters are ongoing, but Tyan has announced they will be releasing a P4X266 based board, VIA themselves are selling motherboards and two more players have already released P4X266 based motherboards, ECS and AZZA.  In this review we'll be comparing ECS's P4XVAD and Azza's P4X2-AV.  Both of these boards offer similar features at a very low price.  As of today the ECS board can be found for around $75 US, while the Azza board hovers around $90.  Let's start the comparison and see what we find out...

Specifications / Features of the ECS P4VXAD and Azza P4X2-AV
Fully Loaded...

Click any Image for an Enlarged view...

ECS

Chipset:

  • (North) VIA P4X266

  • Support Pentium 4 System bus

  • Support DDR 200 / 266 SDRAM

  • (South) VIA VT8233

  • Built in high bandwidth 266MB/S

Processor:

  • Intel Pentium 4 in the 478 pin package

Expansion Slot:

  • Support external AGP V2.0 compliant VGA device

  • Support 1X, 2X, 4X AGP data transfer

  • 5 x PCI slots

Onboard Audio:

  • VIA AC'97 2.1 compliant CODEC

Memory:

  • 3 184pin DDR DIMM Slot

On board IDE Controller:

  • 2 x UltraDMA/100 Bus Master IDE

  • 80-pin Cable Backward Compatible Legacy ATAPI Devices

Back Panel:

  • 2 Serial Ports

  • 1 Parallel Port (SPP, EPP, ECP)

  • 1 PS/2 Keyboard Port

  • 1 PS/2 Mouse Port

  • 2 USB Ports

  • 1x Game / MIDI Port

  • 1x Line in, 1x Line out, 1x Mic

Connectors:

  • 1 x ATX power connector

  • 2 X IDE connectors

  • 1 x Floppy

BIOS:

  • Stored in 2 Mb flash memory

  • CPU 100 / 133MHz FSB setting

  • BIOS FSB step-less setting from 100MHz to 133MHz

  • Bootable from Floppy, ATAPI device, USB device, SCSI device

AZZA

Chipset:

  • (North) VIA P4X266
  • Support Pentium 4 System bus
  • Support DDR 200 / 266 SDRAM
  • (South) VIA VT8233
  • Built in high bandwidth 266MB/S

Processor:

  • Intel Pentium 4 in the 478 pin package

Expansion Slot:

  • Support external AGP V2.0 compliant VGA device
  • Support 1X, 2X, 4X AGP data transfer
  • 6  x PCI slots

Onboard Audio:

  • VIA AC'97 2.1 compliant CODEC

Memory:

  • 3 184pin DDR DIMM Slot

On board IDE Controller:

  • 2 x UltraDMA/100 Bus Master IDE
  • 80-pin Cable Backward Compatible Legacy ATAPI Devices

Back Panel:

  • 2 Serial Ports
  • 1 Parallel Port (SPP, EPP, ECP)
  • 1 PS/2 Keyboard Port
  • 1 PS/2 Mouse Port
  • 2 USB Ports
  • 1x Game / MIDI Port
  • 1x Line in, 1x Line out, 1x Mic

Connectors:

  • 1 x ATX power connector
  • 1 x 4 pin 12V ATX power connector
  • 1 x 6 pin 5V / 3.3V ATX power connector
  • 2 X IDE connectors
  • 1 x Floppy

BIOS:

  • Stored in 2 Mb flash memory
  • CPU 100 / 133MHz FSB setting
  • BIOS FSB step-less setting from 100MHz to 133MHz with 1 MHz increment
  • Bootable from Floppy, ATAPI device, USB device, SCSI device

THE BUNDLES:

The ECS P4VXAD came with what we consider a "standard" bundle.  Inside the box, we found an 80-Wire UDMA/100 IDE cable, a standard Floppy cable and a CD containing all of the necessary drivers to get the board up and running.  Our package did not have a complete user's manual (a single page outlining the case header was provided), but boards in the retail channel should have a full manual.

Our findings when we opened the Azza P4X2-AV's box were similar.  The same cables, and a similar driver CD were included, but our Azza board did have a complete user's manual.

We would have liked to have seen both ECS and Azza include the hardware necessary to take advantage of the extra on-board USB headers and perhaps another IDE cable.  As it stands now, both companies provided just enough to get their products up and running.

INSTALLATIONS:

Installation of the ECS P4VXAD was very easy.  We did not experience any "issues" and were able to connect our hardware and have the board up and running within minutes.  We did encounter a few problems with the Azza P4X2 though...

Initially, we could not get our P4X2 to post.  We cleared the CMOS, tried multiple brands of memory, different video cards and power supplies, but nothing worked.  I then removed the board and took it over to Dave's test bench and using his power supply with the same hardware that initially wouldn't work, the board posted.  I then brought it back to my station, and using one of the power supplies that didn't work initially, everything still functioned properly.  We never did narrow down the exact cause of our problem, it could have been an oversight on my part, but nonetheless I felt the need to report our experience.

Out troubles didn't stop there with the Azza P4X2 though.  Before we installed Windows 2000, we adjusted the BIOS so both boards were configured similarly.  We used some Crucial memory set to CAS 2, 1T with 4-Way Interleaving, but Windows 2000 would not install completely.  We would get about half way through the installation, and it would get stuck in a loop.  We lowered the memory timings, and Windows 2000 then installed properly.  We then set the memory back to the more aggressive timings and Windows 2000 continued to run properly and the board remained stable throughout testing...strange...only the installation had a problem.

The BIOSes, Layouts and Quality 

 
 
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The ECS P4VXAD Vs. The Azza P4X2AV - Page 2

The ECS P4VXAD -Vs.- The Azza P4X2-AV
Battle of the VIA P4X266s!

By, Marco Chiappetta
November 29, 2001

THE ECS P4VXAD's BIOS:

                 

                 

                 

If you scroll through these screenshots, you'll no doubt see some familiar images.  The ECS P4VXAD is equipped with an Award BIOS, similar to most other boards currently available.  We did not see anything out of the ordinary while scanning through the ECS board's BIOS.

Here is what you'll find under the "Frequency and Voltage" control menu.  You're able to select Front Side Bus Frequencies (FSB) between 100 and 145MHz. in 2 or 3MHz. increments, but there were no voltage tweaks to be found.  ECS will be sending us an updated BIOS shortly, if there are any more FSBs or options available, we'll update the review accordingly.

Layout and Quality
This Ain't Your Momma's Mobo...

THE ECS P4VXAD's LAYOUT:

We physically inspected the ECS P4VXAD before installing it into our test bed...

    

Mounted on the Northbridge, we found a simple passive heatsink.  The heatsink was mounted with thermal tape and was easily removed.  The P4X266 runs so "cool" passive cooling shouldn't be an issue.  We touched the Northbridge after a few hours of testing and it was just slightly warm.  There is nothing extraordinary to report with the external connectors, they are just like every other board that is equipped with on-board sound!  The slot configuration is decent, but we would have like to have seen a sixth PCI slot in place of that next to useless CNR slot.

 

Placement of the internal audio connectors and ATX power connector isn't ideal. In their current location we had to drape the power and audio cables directly over the CPU.  One good thing to point out though, is that you won't need a new Power Supply or case if you go with the ECS P4VXAD.  The board only requires a standard ATX case and Power Supply connector.  The 4-Pin, 12-Volt, and 6-Pin, 5-Volt power cables needed for most other P4 motherboards are not necessary.  The power array is very clean, laid out between the socket and external connectors.

     

All of the case headers are placed in a good position at the corner of the board, but they were not labeled very well.  There were a few extra headers for USB connectors placed right behind the PCI slots.  Unfortunately, ECS didn't provide the hardware to take advantage of these extra USB headers though.  IDE connector placement was good, mounted at the edge of the board behind the DIMM slots, but the floppy connector was located towards the bottom of the board, mounted perpendicular with the edge.  We would have preferred it be located parallel to the edge, grouped with the IDE connectors.  Another slight disappointment was the lack of fan headers.  There are only two on the entire board.

And I'm sure you've all noticed the pink PCB!  I'll probably take some heat for this, but I think it looks great!  Let's move on to Azza's offering...

Let's See What Azza is up to...

  

 
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The ECS P4VXAD Vs. The Azza P4X2AV - Page 3

The ECS P4VXAD -Vs.- The Azza P4X2-AV
Battle of the VIA P4X266s!

By, Marco Chiappetta
November 29, 2001

OVERCLOCKING PROWESS:

Unfortunately, overclocking isn't a strong point for either of these boards.  Pentium 4s, or any other Intel CPUs for that matter, are multiplier locked.  To overclock an Intel processor, one is forced to raise the Front Side Bus (FSB) to increase the overall clockspeed of their processor.  Due to the Pentium 4's "Quad-Pumped" FSB (100MHz effectively runs at 400MHz), raising the FSB has a much more dramatic effect on clockspeed.  The keep things stable, while increasing the FSB, we would usually increase VCore and Vio voltages, but neither of these boards had that ability.  If we take another look at the Frequency setting screens in the BIOS...

ECS

AZZA

You'll notice both boards have the ability to raise the FSB, but that is the extent of their overclocking options.  The ECS board isn't capable of adjusting the FSB in 1MHz. increments, instead it has a list of preset options ranging from 100-145MHz.  We're expecting to get a new BIOS revision from ECS shortly, if this changes we'll let you know.

Azza on the other hand does offer the ability to adjust the FSB in 1MHz. increments between 100 and 132MHz., but it too does not have any voltage tweaks.  With that said, what we have to report we didn't have much luck overclocking at all.  We were able to take our 1900MHz. P4 up to 1957MHz. (19x103) with the ECS board, and up to 1995MHz. (19x105) with the Azza board.  Because these numbers reflect such a small relative overclock, we won't be including any overclocked benchamarks in this review.

For now, let's move onto the numbers...

The Hot Hardware Test Systems
You Just Have to Love Them!

Intel Pentium 4 1900MHz.

ECS P4XAD (VIA P4X266)

256MB Crucial PC2100 (CAS 2)

GeForce 3 (21.85 Drivers)

3Com 3C905 NIC

On-Board Sound

IBM 7200RPM 30GB HD

Creative Labs 52X CD-Rom

Standard Floppy Drive

Windows 2000 SP2

DirectX 8.0a

Via 4-in-1s v.4.35

Intel Pentium 4 1900MHz.

Azza P4X2-AV (VIA P4X266)

256MB Crucial PC2100 (CAS 2)

GeForce 3 (21.85 Drivers)

3Com 3C905 NIC

On-Board Sound

IBM 7200RPM 30GB HD

Creative Labs 52X CD-Rom

Standard Floppy Drive

Windows 2000 SP2

DirectX 8.0a

Via 4-in-1s v.4.35

Performance Comparisons
Time for some numbers...

The first tests we ran were using the popular synthetic benchmarks in  SiSoft Sandra...

SiSOFT SANDRA:

ECS
CPU @ 1900MHz

AZZA
CPU @ 1
900MHz

As you can see, there is no discernable performance difference between either of these boards in Sandra's CPU test.  Performance was right where is should be for this board / CPU combination.

ECS
MM @ 1
900MHz

AZZA
MM @ 1900MHz

Very similar results here.  Sandra's Multi-Media benchmark shows both boards running neck and neck.

ECS
MEM @ 1
900MHz

AZZA
MEM @
1900MHz

In what is probably the most significant test, we see the Azza board edge slightly ahead of the ECS board.  The difference isn't anything to get excited about though.  As we mentioned earlier, ECS has promised to supply us with a new BIOS that should increase performance.  If things change significantly we'll let you know.

ECS
Hard Disk

AZZA
Hard Disk

Both of these boards used the exact same IDE controller in the 8233 Southbridge, and it shows looking at the above scores.  Let's move on to some gaming numbers...

QUAKE 3 ARENA:

Running Quake 3 at a low resolution isolates CPU performance.  As you can see, both the ECS and AZZA boards performed very well in this test.  The 1% performance lead ECS held is well within the "margin of error", in essence these scores are identical.

Jammin' to the Stones

 
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The ECS P4VXAD Vs. The Azza P4X2AV - Page 4

The ECS P4VXAD -Vs.- The Azza P4X2-AV
Battle of the VIA P4X266s!

By, Marco Chiappetta
November 29, 2001

Synthetic benchmarks and Quake 3 scores only show part of the picture.  We'll move on to some "real world" tests next.  We used ZD Labs' Business Winstone and Content Creation Winstone benchmarks on both boards as well...

More Performance
More of What You're Lookin' For!

ZD Labs released updates to these tests a back on September 14th., so don't compare these scores to any older ones you may find on this, or any other site.  From this point forward we'll be using the updated version (1.0.2) here on H.H.

BUSINESS WINSTONE:

Business Winstone runs a few popular "office-type" applications through a series of scripted activities, monitors how long the system takes to complete those activities and calculates a score accordingly.  The ECS P4VXAD performed just slightly higher than the AZZA P4X2 in this test, but either board can run this type of application with plenty of headroom to spare.

CONTENT CREATION WINSTONE:

The Content Creation 2001 tests are similar to the Business tests, but consist of some more bandwidth hungry applications like Adobe Premiere 5.1(used for video editing) and Photoshop 5.5 (used for image editing).  Once again ECS takes a small performance lead.  I guess the higher memory scores the Azza P4X2 posted in the Sandra tests didn't translate into any real world performance advantage.

CONCLUSION:
After spending a significant amount of time using both of these boards I find it very difficult to come up with a rating.  Both the ECS P4VXAD and Azza P4X2 do exactly what they were meant to do.  Performance with both of these boards is right where is should be, but I must admit I am a bit disappointed.  With all of the legal issues surrounding the VIA P4X266 chipset, and the resulting lack of competition in the P4 DDR motherboard market, manufacturers like ECS and AZZA have been presented with the perfect opportunity to entice enthusiasts with features and performance that they wouldn't be able to find anywhere else at this price point (at least for now).  Unfortunately, in my opinion, neither company has capitalized on this opportunity.  Had there been better overclocking features, like voltage settings, and more features like on-board RAID,  6-Channel sound or an on-board NIC, the story would be different.  For now though, I just don't see too many "power" users getting excited over these products.

That is not to say these boards do not have a place in any of your systems. We can't hold too much against either company for not living up to our expectations, as long as they live up to their claims.  Both the ECS and Azza boards worked as they should, and bring great performance and DDR capability to Intel's Pentium 4, at a price point unheard of a few moths ago.

Based on it's price, performance, ease of installation, stability and features, we give the ECS P4VXAD a HotHardware Heat Meter rating of...

The Azza P4X2 performed well, was stable throughout testing and has excellent expandability with it's six PCI slots.  However, we did hit a few "speed-bumps" with it's installation, so we're giving it a HotHardware Heat Meter rating of...

Think you know about this hardware stuff?  Then get into the New H.H. Forum and Strut your Stuff!

 

 

 
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The ECS P4VXAD Vs. The Azza P4X2AV - Page 5
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