Performance Analysis & Final Thoughts
To help summarize our conclusions with each product we evaluated, we've broken them down into segments for clarity.
Retail Package Evaluation: Comparing the two retail packages, the ASUS M2R32-MVP was the more utilitarian of the two. ASUS really only provided the basics in power and data cables as well as external USB bracket. The Q-Connector kit was an added plus, but aside from that, there was little in the way of extras. Only two SATA cables were offered, which was a bit light in our opinion. The User's Guide was also a bit spartan, completely omitting any coverage of the BIOS feature set. The ECS KA3 MVP Extreme, on the other hand, was far more complete. ECS provided plenty of data cabling, tossed in a LAN cable and had a solid collection of expansion ports including eSATA, USB and LPT. Being able to mount the USB ports in a 3.5" bay was a very useful option as well. ECS did an excellent job with documentation, including a User's Guide that was as complete as they get.
Our Choice: ECS KA3 MVP Extreme
Design, Features and Layout: Like its retail bundle, the ASUS M2R32-MVP was not flashy, however, it was laid out well and was relatively complete. The board sported two IDE ports and included four SATA II ports. No secondary RAID controller was offered, instead ASUS opted to add a JMicron 360 controller for eSATA functionality. We did like the second PCI Express x1 slot, which was lacking on the ECS KA3 MVP Extreme. Conversely, the ASUS M2R32-MVP had no LPT port, nor offered any expansion bracket to add it if necessary. This is where the ECS KA3 Extreme was its strongest, offering more options and flexibility overall. While leaving off an integrated rear LPT port, ECS did include a header and optional bracket, so those with older printers are not left in a lurch. The ECS board also weighed in nicely with storage options galore. Not only did the board sport six RAID capable SATA II ports, the system also came with three IDE ports as well. The board's added active cooling at the rear of the unit, to keep the power array cool, was also a nice touch, with a relatively quiet fan that did not add to overall ambient noise levels.
Our Choice: ECS KA3 Extreme
BIOS: Both boards sported BIOS software that offered an excellent collection of performance settings. The American Megatrends BIOS that came with the ASUS M2R32-MVP was awkwardly laid out, but ultimately, any setting we needed was relatively easy to find. Sometimes it felt like the menu structure was too deep at times, but in the end, the software was functional and complete. The ECS KA3 MVP Extreme, on the other hand, sported a Phoenix Award Workstation BIOS that had a more intuitive layout and logical flow. Most of the options we needed were located within two sections, offering ample options for voltage, frequency and timing adjustments. The only real issue we had with it was the need to clear CMOS after an unsuccessful overclocking attempt, which frankly was a major annoyance.
Our Choice: ASUS M2R32-MVP
Overclocking: When we look at overclocking, the ASUS M2R32-MVP was a clear winner. This system was as easy to overclock as it gets. The board was not temperamental at all and needed little finessing to reach high end results. In both cases, with the default x12 multiplier set, each board was able to bring our Athlon 64 X2 4600+ toward its top-end, with the ECS board hitting 2.67Hz with a CPU clock setting of 223MHz while the ASUS model peaked at 228MHz, pushing the CPU to 2.73GHz. The real strength of the ASUS model is its peak CPU clock speed, which comes into play for those lowering their multiplier. This board had much more headroom, topping out at 325MHz whereas the ECS board was limited to 235MHz.
Our Choice: ASUS M2R32-MVP
Performance Analysis: With both boards based on the same chipset and using the exact same memory, CPU and video card for testing, we expected a close race and that's what we got. Both boards returned comparable performance across the spectrum of tests performed. When all is said and done, we're confident that no end user would detect any differences when using either board in a real world environment.
Our Choice: Tie
Value: Looking at the two boards for overall value, the first place to start is price. Using our PriceGrabber search engine, we found the ASUS M2R32-MVP being offered for anywhere from $144 - 159. The ECS KA3 MVP Extreme weighs in a bit lower, ranging from $135 - 145. Taking this into account, unless overclocking is a serious concern, the ECS KA3 MVP Extreme has a lot more to offer at a slightly lower price point. With far more storage options, plenty of data cabling and expansion components, the ECS KA3 Extreme strikes a solid balance between features, performance and price. Conversely, if overclocking is a major factor, the ASUS M2R32-MVP is a great fit, but some might feel its overall retail experience is a bit lackluster for the price.
Our Choice: ECS KA3 MVP Extreme
Final Thoughts and Individual Ratings
ASUS M2R32-MVP: With the ASUS M2R32-MVP, there was a lot to like. For the overclocker, the board is ready to go as high as you can take it with minimal fuss. The BIOS covers the bases as well, offering a fair amount of control overall. The extra PCI Express x1 port was a small plus, but the board was a bit light on storage compared to the ECS model. Additionally, the retail package was also low on cabling and extras in our opinion. The M2R32-MVP was a lesser value overall when comparing features and price point, with overclocking potential being the one difference to set it apart from the ECS KA3 MVP Extreme. There is no arguing the quality and reputation ASUS has in today's market, however, compared to the ECS KA3 MVP Extreme, it looks like ASUS has themselves some competition in overall value. We're giving the ASUS M2R32-MVP a Hot Hardware Heat Meter rating of an 8...
. Second PCI Express x1 Slot
. Solid Performance
. Only one Gigabit Port
. Minimal Retail Bundle
. Basic Storage Capacity
ECS KA3 MVP Extreme: With the overclocking prowess of the ECS KA3 MVP Extreme isn't quit as "extreme" as the name implies, that is the only real shortcoming of this motherboard. When evaluating features, performance and price point, the ECS KA3 MVP Extreme proves to be a very well rounded product for the price. If overclocking is not a major concern, this board should impress with it performance, feature set and price. Overclocking frustration aside, the ECS KA3 MVP Extreme was a pleasant surprise, delivering on all fronts and proving a solid value for the price. We're giving the ECS KA3 MVP Extreme a Hot Hardware Heat Meter Rating of am 8.5...
. Complete Retail Bundle
. Lots Of Storage Options
. Price and Overall Value
. Dual LAN
. One PCI Express x1 Slot
. 10/100 LAN on Second Port