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| Soltek SL-75MRN-L - Up Close and Personal |
| Under the Hood |
There's a lot to consider when choosing a motherboard for your system. Although this may seem a little foolish, the packaging a product arrives in, can certainly make or break first impression about it. The packaging that the Soltek motherboard arrived in is as about as professional looking as you can expect. To us, it's just like making a presentation in your career; if you presentation is junk, then no one will buy into your ideas. Whereas, if the presentation is well though out and put together, then people are more likely to jump on your bandwagon. Well, upon first sight of this Soltek product, we were very impressed.
There's not a whole lot to find inside the packaging. Two ribbon cables, one for a floppy drive and one for a harddrive, an I/O panel cover, and an extra serial port. There is a case badge in there as well. Also in the box, are the user manuals and two CD's. One CD is the driver CD for the motherboard, while the other CD contains a handful of popular utilities, that many users will find extremely useful. The software contained on the CD is Trend Mark's PC-cillin 2002 & PC-cillin 2000 anti-virus software. Another title is Far Stone's VirtualDrive 7, which can be used to emulate a physical CD-ROM drive, on your hard drive. This allows you to create several virtual CD-ROM's which are all playable at once. Still another title is Far Stone's RestoreIT! 3 Lite, which allows you to recover files, system configurations, and even the operating system you are running. But wait there's more! PowerQuest's Partition Magic 6.0 SE makes an appearance and which most of you already know is used to manage drive partitions from Windows. Finally, there is PowerQuest's Drive Image 4.0, which is cloning software enabling the user to backup and recover hard disk data. Wow, what a great selection of software bundled with this motherboard. Soltek claims this software to be valued at $325 USD, which they throw in for free. In any event, it's easy to see that most of these software titles will come in handy and really are added bonus. One of the most significant parts of the bundle, in our opinion, was Soltek's claim that the CPU "is free from overheating under any circumstance". How can they guarantee that? They provide this little extra which they like to call ABS II CPU Protection. The ABS stands for Anti-Burn Shield and works by shutting down the CPU if it ever gets over 85° C.
ABS II CPU Protection
In the screen shot above we see Soltek's Hardware monitor software. This software monitors temperature of the CPU die as well as fan speeds and voltages. The software allows you to set alarms, in the event temperatures or fan speeds get out of whack. WIth know with the high popularity of overclocking today, one can never be too careful and having software that monitors the health of your system is a must in any system. Another nice touch added to the bundle by Soltek.
Under The Scope: Layout and Features
The Soltek SL-75MRN-L motherboard sports impressive features any end user would like to see on today's motherboards.
Pictured above we have the motherboard fresh out of its packaging. Something we've rarely seen before are the stickers on the major parts of the motherboard explaining what each slot is for. This is a nice touch, especially if the end user is venturing down the build-it-yourself path for the first time. The PCB is a gold color while the PCI slots are done in yellow. All in all I would say that this board looks very good and it's nice to see a motherboard manufacturer stray from the crowd now again when it comes to styling the motherboard.
The layout of the board is fairly straight forward and did not pose any problems. Of course there was one gripe that we see on almost every motherboard today, and that is the fact that memory modules cannot be moved around while a video card is in the AGP slot. The Northbridge IGP chipset is cooled by a gold heatsink and fan. Definitely a nice touch, as we've seen today's chipsets running at higher temperatures all the time. A thermal paste is used as the compound between the heatsink and IGP. As you can see there are only two UATA IDE connectors, a primary and secondary. This board does not offer SATA support or RAID support of any kind. There are two USB 2.0 headers on the board which will give you an additional 4 USB 2.0 ports for a total of 6. There are 2 USB 2.0 ports on the back I/O panel. Also on the back I/O panel we see the game port and 6-channel sound connectors as well as an RJ-45 LAN jack and the USB 2.0 ports. Also you'll find the VGA connector, parallel port, serial connector and the PS/2 connectors for the keyboard and mouse. One other feature to point out is the fact that there is not much space for a larger after-market HSF around the CPU socket. The board layout and quality all rate top-notch in our book. Let's fire up this motherboard and see what the BIOS has to offer.
The Soltek SL-75MRN-L motherboard uses the AWARD Bios and the screenshots below give a glimpse into what it offers.
The upper right screen is the Advanced Chipset Settings, where the FSB frequency and memory frequency are adjusted. There are four settings to set both the memory and system performance at: Optimal, Aggressive, Turbo, and Expert. Depending on which selection is made, will allow for more settings to be adjustable. Selecting the Expert setting allows the user to adjust every configurable setting. The FSB is adjustable all the way up to 200MHz in 1MHz increments and then has three more settings of 204MHz, 207MHz, and 211MHz FSB. All memory settings are adjustable such as CAS Latency, T(RAS), T(RCD), T(RP), and also the frequency, which has settings such as By SPD, 100%, 125%, 133% and even as high as 200% to get the most out of your memory.
As you probably are aware, boosting your FSB frequency and memory frequency, usually requires a little extra juice. The BIOS allows for quite a few voltage tweaks. The CPU vcore is adjustable up to 1.85v in 0.25v increments. The AGP voltage is also adjustable and has four settings: 1.5v - 1.8V in 0.1v increments. Also in the menu is the DIMM voltage. A range of 2.5v all the way up to 2.8v is allowed to be sent to the DIMM's. Another voltage adjustment is to the VDD and that has three settings: 1.6v, 1.7v, and 1.8v. Lastly, we have the CPU Ratio menu for all those out there with an unlocked CPU. The CPU ratio has a range of a 5.0 multiplier all the way to an 18 multiplier. Having a CPU ratio menu is key for finding the sweet spot for both the CPU and memory when overclocking and overall system performance. One other choice from the main menu is "SmartDoc Anti-Burn Shield" which allows the user to pick the temperature at which the system will shutdown. There are six different selections in here starting at 75°C and ending at 100°C in 5°C increments. A nice feature to say the least, just in case that heatsink fan decides to take a vacation someday. To sum it up, this is a feature filled BIOS and has all the means necessary to achieve some good overclocking results. Speaking of which, let's take a look to see how this board performs.
Setup and Benchmarking