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Epox 4PDA2+ v2.0
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Date: Sep 03, 2003
Section:Motherboards
Author: HH Editor
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Epox 4PDA2+ v2.0 - Page 1

Epox 4PDA2+ V2 Motherboard Review
One Step Closer to Near-Perfection

"Burned" in by Robert Maloney
September 3, 2003

         

Today on HotHardware we have another Springdale-based motherboard to add to the mix. Intel has made some recent comments about "shutting down" the PAT enhancements being done by various OEMs on the i865PE.  However, today's entry, the Epox 4PDA2+ Version 2, has slipped under the wire, with their "Accelerated Memory Mode" (AMM) still a major part of the package. While we did not have a chance to sample the earlier version of this board, for the most part we have heard positive comments about its features and performance. For the second revision, Epox has tweaked the AMM a bit, added a few new features like RAID 1.5 support and a SATA hot-plug bracket, and then gave the board a new color scheme to boot. Let's take our first look at the second version of this fully capable motherboard and see what we can find.

     
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Specifications & Features of the Epox 4PDA2+ v2
Epox takes a second look at the 4PDA2+

CPU SUPPORT

  • Intel® Pentium® 4 Processor with Hyper-Threading Technology

  • Socket 478 Pentium 4 Processors from 1.7GHz up to 3.2+GHz

  • Supports 800MHz, 533MHz or 400MHz Front Side Bus

CHIPSET

  • Intel® 82865PE Memory Controller Hub (MCH)

  • Intel® 82801ER I/O Controller Hub (ICH5/R)

SYSTEM MEMORY

  • Four 184-pin DDR DIMM sockets

  • DDR266/333/400 support (DDR400 only with 800MHz FSB CPU)

  • Supports 128-bit dual channel memory architecture

  • 4GB maximum system RAM (unbuffered)

BIOS

  • Flash EEPROM with Award BIOS

  • PowerBIOS with Aggressive Memory Mode

  • ACPI 2.0 compliant

  • S3 (Suspend to DRAM) sleep-state support

  • SMBIOS (System Management BIOS) v2.2 compliant

  • Supports Power failure recovery

HARDWARE MONITOR

  • Monitors CPU temperature and overheat warning/auto shutdown

  • Monitors CPU/1.5V/5VSB/VBAT/3.3V/5V/±12V voltages

  • Read back capability that displays temperature, voltage and fan speed

  • Option to display PC Health during POST

AUDIO FEATURES

  • Six channel audio with analog and digital output using CMI9739A AC'97 CODEC

  • AC'97 v2.2 complaint

  • Supports 2 channel and 6 channel output from rear panel jacks

ONBOARD LAN

  • Broadcom BCM5705/5788 LAN Chipset

  • Integrated 1Gbps Fast Ethernet controller

ONBOARD FIREWIRE (1394a)

  • Agere FW323 Firewire controller supporting 3 ports

  • IEEE-1394a compliant with up to 400Mbps bandwidth

ACCELERATED GRAPHICS PORT (AGP)

  • AGP 3.0 compliant slot

  • Supports AGP 8x/4x cards with Fast Write Transactions

  • Only 1.5V AGP cards are supported

  • Supports 3.3V AGP card protection

LEGACY I/O CONTROLLER

  • Winbond W83627HF LPC I/O Controller with floppy, printer, game, serial, and SIR interface

SERIAL ATA/RAID INTERFACES

  • ICH5/R supports two Serial ATA (SATA) devices with up to 150MB/s transfer rate

  • ICH5/R supporting RAID 0,1 configurations

  • Silicon Image SIL3122A chip supports an additional two SATA devices

  • SIL3122A also supporting RAID 0.1 configurations

  • SIL3122A chip supports external storage connection using bracket

ATA RAID INTERFACE

  • HighPoint Technologies HPT372 RAID Controller

  • Two IDE ports supporting up to 4 Ultra-DMA133 devices

  • Supports RAID 0,1,0+1, and 1.5 configurations

  • RAID 1.5 delivers RAID 0 performance and RAID 1 data security

PCI IDE INTERFACE

  • 2 IDE bus master (UDMA33/ATA66/ATA100) IDE ports

  • Supports up to four ATAPI devices

  • Supports PIO Mode 3,4 Enhanced IDE and ATAPI CD-ROM

  • Bus mastering reduces CPU utilization during disk transfer

REAR PANEL I/O PORTS

  • 4 USB 2.0/1.1 ports

  • 1 DB-9 serial ports

  • 1 DB-25 parallel port

  • 1 mini-DIN-6 PS/2 mouse port

  • 1 mini-DIN-6 PS/2 keyboard port

  • 3 audio jacks: line-in, line-out,  and Mic-in

  • 1 RJ-45 LAN Port

I/O CONNECTORS

  • 2 connectors for 4 additional external USB 2.0/1.1 ports

  • 3 1394a (FireWire) connectors

  • 1 front audio connector for external line-out and Mic-in jacks

  • 2 internal audio connectors (CD-in and AUX-in)

  • 1 S/PDIF output connector

  • 4 IDE connectors

  • 4 SATA connectors

  • 1 floppy connector

  • 1 Game/MIDI connector

  • 1 Serial Port (COM2) connector

  • 2 ATX power supply connectors

  • 3 fan connectors for CPU fan, NB fan, and chassis fan

  • 1 80 port debug connector

EXPANSION SLOTS

  • 1 AGP 3.0 slot supports 8X/4X modes (1.5V support only)

  • 5 32-bit PCI 2.3 slots with Bus Master support

SPECIAL FEATURES

  • 80 Port Debug LED

  • Provides two-digit POST code during boot to help identify problems

FORM FACTOR

  • 4 layers, ATX form factor

  • 30.5cm x 24.5cm


Manuals, Software, and included components
Fully stocked and ready for anything

     

The effort required to simply remove the inner box from the shell, was our first hint that there was plenty of good stuff included with the Epox 4PDA2+.  Our first stop was with the literature and software.  There were no less than four separate manuals, one each to cover the motherboard setup, IDE RAID configurations, SATA RAID, and the included Magic Flash and USDM monitoring software.  The RAID and SATA drivers came on two labeled floppy disks, making installation of a new system that much easier.  The CD came with all of the expected drivers, as well as Norton Ghost 7 and PC-Cillin 2002.  It's not common practice for us to mention the manual beyond the fact that it is indeed there, but we wanted to take a moment and point it out this one time, at least.  The User's Manual that came with the 4PDA2+ was easily one of the best written and most informative manuals we have laid our eyes upon.  Each motherboard component and BIOS screen was covered in such detail that even we learned a few things.

The good news didn't stop there.  Matching the burgundy IDE RAID ports were two burgundy rounded IDE cables.  However, there were no other IDE cables, matching or not, for use with the standard IDE ports.   Also included was a floppy cable (strangely, not rounded) and two sets of Serial ATA data transfer and power cables.  To complete the package, we found a bracket with 2 FireWire ports, the I/O shield, and another bracket that had a game port as well as another familiar looking but initially unrecognizable port on it.   Further investigation led us to discover that this was the SATA connection for use with external devices.  We haven't seen too many external SATA devices on the market yet ourselves but it can't hurt to be prepared.

Layout of the 4PDA2+ and BIOS screens

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Epox 4PDA2+ v2.0 - Page 2

Epox 4PDA2+ V2 Motherboard Review
One Step Closer to Near-Perfection

"Burned" in by Robert Maloney
September 3, 2003

The Epox 4PDA2+ v2.0 Motherboard:

    

"A green board?" we hear you ask.  Yes, your eyes are not deceiving you.  Blame it on the Hulk, but this "beast" of a board is backed with a standard bright green PCB with maroon or burgundy highlights for the AGP, IDE RAID, and Dual DDR DIMM slots.  The RAID controllers are differentiated from the standard IDE ports by the coloring scheme, with maroon for RAID (matching the rounded IDE cables) and yellow for standard.  If anything, the yellow ports almost seem out of place, where a more subdued color would have been more pleasing to the eye.  (Ah, the artist in us is revealed but we digress...)  All of the IDE and floppy connectors are grouped along the edge of the board which should keep cabling together if not a bit too tight should they all be in use.    Four SATA ports can also be found in the lower left corner, surrounding the Silicon Image SIL3112A SATA and HighPoint HPT372 IDE RAID controllers.

      

The layout is well thought out and simple to follow.  The RAID and SATA controllers are where they should be, close to the actual ports.  The same holds true for the Agere 1394a FireWire controller, sitting just to the right of the three FireWire headers along the side of the board.  Five PCI and the AGP 3.0 slot provide means for adding in additional components.  Just past the slots are the CMI9739A 6-channel audio CODEC and Broadcom BCM5705 Gigabit LAN controller.  The Audio-IN and CD-IN headers used in conjunction with the CMI9739A don't come with the usual plastic retention clip that we were used to seeing, but there shouldn't be any issue connecting the wires, and this is mostly a legacy-type connection anyway that most people can opt not to use.


     

Glittering above the rest of the components was the gold-plated heatsink with the Epox logo.  It was a finned type, passively cooled, and should be ample enough to cool off the North Bridge underneath without taking up one of the three fan headers.  We also should mention that the AGP/DIMM slot conflict was not an issue with this board.  We did not have any problems when removing the DIMMS while our Tachyon G9500 video card was installed.  One feature that we really wanted to point out was the LED Diagnostic found in the lower left corner, near the front panel connector.  Should something go awry during the POST routines, a two-digit code is displayed.  Quickly checking the code against the appendix list in the manual can alert the user to the source of the problem.  This may not be as elegant as Asus' POST Reporter, but it is still a friendly measure, especially for new system builders.  One possible side effect, however, may be a weird sequence when booting the system.  When doing a cold boot, the system powers up as the LED cycles through its codes, shuts down momentarily, and then POSTS and loads in Windows.  Thankfully, this doesn't happen during warm boots and resets.  It actually caused much fretting after initially building the system as we wondered whether there was a real issue here, but nothing ever seems to be amiss and the system operates normally.


The BIOS:

        
 

Once again, we were presented with an AWARD BIOS, whose screens are so familiar that it makes setting up a system a relatively easy task.  Our first stop was in the Advanced Chipset Features, where we checked in on the memory timings.  By default, the DRAM timings found our GEIL DDR sticks at some relaxed timings, so we toggled the first option the 'Manual' and chose the most aggressive settings the board offered, ending up at 2-5-2-2.  Epox's version of PAT on the 4PDA2+ V2 board is labeled "Accelerated Memory Mode", and there are multiple options as to how aggressive you would like this set at.  While we left it as "Max", there were also "Turbo", "Expert" and "Standard" settings for those inclined to use them.  Moving onto the PC Health screen, all of the necessary temperatures and voltages are monitored and be quickly glanced at for trouble spots.  In general, we found that the VCore rail was consistently lower than what we set it at, so we usually bumped it up a bit higher than normal to compensate.  One interesting feature that we had not seen before was an option to display the PC Health monitors during the POST routine.  Now, at every system boot, temperatures and voltages can be viewed, something especially welcome when overclocking the CPU.

     

Speaking of overclocking, the original version of the 4PDA2+ received a few knocks for not providing enough voltage options, especially for the CPU VCore.  This has been corrected with the second version.  The Front Side Bus can be set up to 350MHz, while CPU voltages range as high as 1.825V, using .025V steppings.  It's not quite as high as we have seen on some of the other Springdales, but even during overclocking we never went over 1.775V.  The VDIMM voltage options are also plenty, going from 2.6V up to 3.3V, in .1V steps.  Since raising the FSB has global effects on the system, the memory frequency can be modified using the standard ratios of 1:1, 5:4, and 6:4 (3:2) in order to bring the memory speed back into an operable range.  The AGP/PCI clock can also be modified, using dividers, or setting an exact speed (such as 66MHz) in the subtle tuning item.  What this all comes down to is, Epox listened to the consumer, made some changes, and the 4PDA2+ Version 2.0 motherboard now has what it needs to be competitive with any of the top boards in the Spingdale arena.

How the 4PDA2+ stacks up with the rest

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Epox 4PDA2+ v2.0 - Page 3

Epox 4PDA2+ V2 Motherboard Review
One Step Closer to Near-Perfection

"Burned" in by Robert Maloney
September 3, 2003

PCMark 2002
Synthetic CPU and Memory Bandwidth Testing

We fired up Futuremark's PCMark 2002 to check our previous results with Sandra 2003.  This benchmark performs a series of CPU tasks such as image compression, text searches, and audio conversion to give us three scores: CPU, Memory, and Hard Disk Drive (HDD).   Although it is a relatively quick test to perform, it is perfect for comparing the performance of two or more systems.  We ran PCMark2002 on each of the systems, and jotted down the "CPU" and "Memory" performance results with the CPU clocked at its default speed of 2.40GHz. 

The CPU performance module in PCMark 2002 again shows a tight grouping of scores, with a margin of difference of about 1% from the Asus P4P800 down to the Albatron 865PE Pro-II.   Since all of the boards are essentially using the same chipset, these results are exactly what we should expect to see.  Still, Epox' 4PDA2+ puts up a good show again, coming in a close second behind the Showdown Champion, the P4P800.

Memory Test Technical details: (Quote Taken From Futuremark)

Raw read, write, and read-modify-write operations are performed starting from a 3072 kilobytes array decreasing in size to 1536 KB, 384 KB, 48 KB and finally 6 KB. Each size of block is tested two second and the amount of accessed data is given as result. In the STL container test a list of 116 byte elements is constructed and sorted by an integer pseudo-random key. The list is then iterated through as many times as possible for 2 seconds and the total size of the accessed elements is given as result. There are 6 runs of this test, with 24576 items in the largest run corresponding to a total data amount of 1536 KB, decreasing in size to 12288 items (768 KB), 6144 items (384 KB), 1536 items (96 KB), 768 items (48 KB) and 96 items in the smallest run corresponding to 6 KB of total data.


 
PCMark 2002's breakdown of the memory performance gave us a little better idea of how the Epox 4PDA2+ V2's Accelerated Memory Mode fares when compared to Abit's Game Accelerator and Asus' HyperPath technologies.  Although it seemed closer in Sandra 2003, there is a bit more room between the Asus P4P800 and the Abit IS7-G, and a slight bit more so before we get to the Epox 4PDA2+ V2.  Doing the math, the 215 point difference equates to about 2% less bandwidth.  Although the Albatron 865PE Pro-II does have a memory enhanced mode, it falls sharply behind the rest of the boards. 
   
Business & Content Creation Winstones
Simulated Application Performance

To find out how the boards relate in "Real World" performance, we used eTesting Labs' Business and Content Creation Winstone 2002 benchmarks.  We'll directly quote ZD's eTestingLabs website for an explanation as to how Business Winstone 2002 derives its score. (Content Creation Winstone 2002 uses the same process, but the scripted activities are comprised of different, more bandwidth hungry applications.):

"Business Winstone is a system-level, application-based benchmark that measures a PC's overall performance when running today's top-selling Windows-based 32-bit applications on Windows 98, Windows 2000 (SP2 or later), Windows Me, or Windows XP. Business Winstone doesn't mimic what these packages do; it runs real applications through a series of scripted activities and uses the time a PC takes to complete those activities to produce its performance scores."

Business Winstone Applications:
  • Five Microsoft Office 2002 applications
    (Access, Excel, FrontPage, PowerPoint, and Word)

  • Microsoft Project 2000

  • Lotus Notes

  • WinZip 8.0

  • Norton Antivirus

  • Netscape Communicator

Content Creation Winstone Applications:
  • Adobe Photoshop 6.0.1

  • Adobe Premiere 6.0

  • Macromedia Director 8.5

  • Macromedia Dreamweaver UltraDev 4

  • Microsoft Windows Media Encoder 7.01.00.3055

  • Netscape Navigator 6/6.01

  • Sonic Foundry Sound Forge 5.0c (build 184)

 
 
The Business and Content Creation Winstones are great for checking performance levels of a system, but when we've got scores like this it's hard to make a judgment as to which one comes out on top.  At a quick glance, the Asus P4P800 appears to be the overall leader, with the Abit IS7 and Epox 4PDA2+ V2 nipping on its heels.  But with total differences of 0.3 in Business Winstone and 0.6 in Content Creation, we will happily claim that all boards are equal performers and move onto the gaming side of things.

3DMark and other gaming benchmarks

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Epox 4PDA2+ v2.0 - Page 4

Epox 4PDA2+ V2 Motherboard Review
One Step Closer to Near-Perfection

"Burned" in by Robert Maloney
September 3, 2003

3DMark 2001 and 3DMark03
Synthetic Gaming

We already knew that the Springdales made for fine gaming conditions, but where would the Epox 4PDA2+ V2 wind up?  We took a look at Futuremark's 3DMark 2001 SE and 3DMark03 to get some synthetic scores.  Both of these benchmarks render a variety of scenes, using DirectX 8 and 9 vertex and pixel shaders.  We ran both benchmarks at exactly the same settings; 1024x768 resolution and 32-bit color, with all other settings left at their defaults. 


Both versions of 3DMark give us the same results, regardless of what version of DirectX we were testing with.  Bolstered by it's top-rated memory bandwidth, the Asus P4P800 Deluxe took top honors in each test, although the rest of the pack was very close behind.  With the difference between the Asus and the Epox boards being less than one percent in each version of 3DMark, we can safely say that gaming performance should be on par with each other.  To prove this, let's check on some frame rates from actual games.
   
Comanche 4 Demo and Quake 3 Arena
Let's get a look at some frame rates

With the 4PDA2+ V2 holding its own in the synthetic benchmarks, we next set our sights on two games that have built-in testing modes.  The Comanche 4 Demo from Novalogic is a DirectX benchmark that is highly CPU and Memory bandwidth dependent.  For testing purposes, we ran the benchmark routine at 800x600x32, but disabled the audio.  Quake 3 Arena is a well-known OpenGL benchmark that we have used in almost all of our reviews.  Although a bit dated, it still can be used to give reliable comparisons of system performance.  Since the frame rates can get quite high, we maxed out the graphical settings, and ran "demo four" at a resolution of 1024x768 with 32-bit color and textures.

With the CPU speed remaining equal for the most part, differences in the Comanche 4 demo can be attributed almost solely to the memory bandwidth allocated to the drawing of the textures.  With this in mind, it should come as no surprise that the Asus P4P800 came out on top, just shy of 54 frames per second.  This was followed a half frame back by the Abit IS7, another half of a frame for the Epox 4PDA2+, and yet another half to the Albatron 865PE Pro-II.  Quake 3 Arena, which is much less taxing on the system and therefore less affected by the memory, puts up four numbers which were almost identical.   We will give credit when it is due, however, and point out that the Epox 4PDA2+ V2 posted the highest score of the bunch at 231.8 frames per second.
 
Overclocking Results and the Final Rating

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Epox 4PDA2+ v2.0 - Page 5

Epox 4PDA2+ V2 Motherboard Review
One Step Closer to Near-Perfection

"Burned" in by Robert Maloney
September 3, 2003

Overclocking the Epox 4PDA2+ V2
Like taking candy from a baby

  
WCPUID at Stock Speed and Overclocked

Overclocking the Epox 4PDA2+ V2 was as pleasurable an experience as we can recall.  True, after spending much time tinkering around with the last batch of Springdale boards, we had immediate expectations about where we wanted to go and how to get there.  Luckily for us, Epox must have had the same expectations because they have provided the necessary means to do so.  As we covered earlier, the voltage choices for the CPU and DRAM are extensive, allowing us to stabilize the system when raising the front side bus.  As we raised the FSB, we had to change the memory divider in order to keep the RAM happy, but noticed after a few failed attempts that the DRAM speed reported during the POST operations did not correctly reflect the divider we had chosen.  For example, at a FSB of 235MHz and using the memory ratio of 5:4, we expected the DRAM speed to clock in at 376MHz (235/5=47*4=188*2=376), but the actual speed was reported as 470MHz, which meant that a 1:1 ratio was still being applied.  In the BIOS, we "relaxed" the AMM setting from "Max" to "Turbo", after which we were able to get the correct DRAM speeds.  Other than this one hiccup, it was smooth sailing up into the 280's for the FSB, with the CPU voltage requiring 1.75V to get the system testable.  We reached the wall at 281MHz as highest obtainable speed  (3.372GHz on our P4C 2.4 GHz CPU), any higher and Windows would not complete loading. 

Since Comanche 4 scales so well with CPU and Memory differences, we thought we would at least provide one quick check of the performance gained by overclocking the system.  At a stock speed of 201.44MHz for the FSB, we had attained 52.84 fps, but after overclocking to 281MHz FSB  (3372MHz CPU speed), we jumped up to 69.85 fps, a jump of 17 frames.  That's a performance boost of 32% over stock speeds.  The Epox 4PDA2+ V2 is a powerful board at stock speed, yet still shows it has more horsepower under the hood.

At the conclusion of the Springdale Showdown review, we were confident in our choice of the Asus P4P800 Deluxe as the top board, awarding it the coveted Editor's Choice, but Epox has definitely raised our eyebrows with the second version of the 4PDA2+.  First, care has been taken to produce a board that's very pleasing to the eye, with a good layout of the components.  The set of features onboard included everything that one could hope for with IDE RAID, SATA RAID, FireWire, and even a helpful Diagnostic LED.  Complementing the color scheme of the board is a bundle with matching rounded IDE cables, extra brackets with FireWire and even external SATA ports, and some of the most comprehensive user's manuals that we have ever read.

Aside from these, mostly aesthetic attributes, came the performance and stability that only a top-notch board can provide.  Throughout the course of testing, we did not encounter any issues with the running on any benchmarks even while overclocking the system.  Epox's engineers have done a wonderful job with their implementation of a memory enhancement called "Accelerated Memory Mode".  The memory benchmarks in both Sandra and PCMark 2002 showed that the Epox AMM was almost on par with the well known Game Accelerator Technology from Abit as well as Asus' Hyper Path.  Overclocking the system was also a breeze, and the 281MHz FSB was one of the highest stable overclock speeds we have obtained with the i865PE (second to the Asus P4P800's 285MHz.)  We will stop short of declaring a new champion in the Springdale realm, but offer that the Epox 4PDA2+ V2 motherboard should share the "throne" with the Asus P4P800 Deluxe, awarding it a 9.5 on the HotHardware Heat Meter, as well as an Editor's Choice Award!

 

 
 
Overclocking Results and the Final Rating

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Epox 4PDA2+ v2.0 Page 6


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