NF4 Ultra Shoot-Out: Abit vs. MSI vs. ECS
ECS KN1 Extreme: The Board
ECS's KN1 Extreme is also laid out well. And even though it's got more drive connectors, and just as many spare headers available as both of the other two motherboards we're looking at here, the ECS KN1 Extreme has a very uncluttered look.
The KN1 Extreme is built upon a lavender / pale purple PCB, that makes the board look fairly unique. And all of the KN1's slots, connectors and headers are color coded as well, giving this board an unmistakable appearance. The slots are configured much like Abit's board, in a two PCIe x1, one PCIe x16, and three standard PCI configuration, and also like Abit's board, the NF4 Ultra chipset is located in an ideal location out of the way of the PEG slot. We should also note that the chipset is adorned with an oversized active cooler, that seemed to do its job quite well. It never got warm throughout our testing.
Surrounding the NF4 Ultra, and continuing on down along the bottom edge of the board, are the majority of the KN1 Extreme's spare headers and connectors, and the large silver plate that declares this board "Extreme". They are all color coded, and very well laid out, with the exception of the floppy connector which is situated way out underneath the last PCI slot. Four of the KN1 Extreme's six SATA ports and two of the three IDE ports are powered by the NF4 Ultra chipset, and have support for multiple RAID configurations, and the third IDE port and remaining two SATA ports are powered by a SiS180 controller. We didn't experience any issues with the SiS180, but would have preferred a more common Silicon Image or Promise controller.
If you look closely at a few of the pictures above, you may also notice that the KN1 Extreme is outfitted with a handful of blue LEDs. These LEDs glow when the system is powered up, and should appeal to the case modders out there that are on a limited budget.
Looking at the KN1's backplane, you can see the board's "OTES-like" exhaust fan that's designed to cool the VRM, and expel warm air out from the rear of the system. The rest of the backplane consists of a pair of PS/2 ports, a serial port, to digital audio outputs, three analog outputs, four USB 2.0 ports, and dual RJ-45 LAN jacks. The KN1's audio functionality comes by way of an ALC655 codec that supports 5.1 channels of audio, and the LAN jacks are powered by a combination of the nForce 4 Ultra and a Marvell PHY (10/100/1000) and a Realtek 10/100 controller.