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Reviewed by: Carl Nelson [10.13.05]
Manufactured by: ECS


Board Layout

The use of a SIMA card and "Elite System BUS" adapter presents some interesting issues for the layout of this board.

The bottom of the board is laid out like many other ATX motherboards. The onboard SiS storage capacity of 4 IDE channels and 4 SATA channels is supplemented by the Silicon Image SiI 3132, a PCI-E adapter which adds 2 more SATA channels and 2 more IDE channels.

Because the SIMA card does not contain its own CMOS chip, you need to change the chips on the board itself. This is unfortunate, because these chips are not exactly meant to be installed frequently. Do so with care.

Layout-wise, the PF88 at the bottom of the board would receive a slightly above-average score from me. Two of the USB expansion ports are situated at the middle of the board, but everything else is placed well. The front panel header is colour-coded and marked well, which I appreciate.

Although the SiS chipset used by the PF88 supports a total of 20 PCI-E lanes, only 17 are usable. 16x for the graphics slots, and a single x1 slot. When the board is used as a standard P4 board, the top graphics slot is used. When a SIMA card is installed, the bottom slot it used.

Between the two graphics slots, you can see the "Elite System BUS" slot, in which the SIMA card is installed. Near the end of the slot on both sides, there are two sets of 12 mini jumpers. When a SIMA card is being used, you have to uninstall all 24 of these jumpers. I hope you find somewhere safe to store them, because they are not standard size. As you can see in the photo above, I already lost one of the jumpers, and had to bend the pins a bit in order to use a standard jumper. I really hope ECS can use jumper 'blocks' in future revisions, like DFI does with their dual graphics slot NF4 Ultra boards.

Obviously for a budget board, room around the CPU for huge heatsinks isn't exactly on the top of a designer's list. But ECS does a decent job in keeping the socket clear of many high profile electrolytic capacitors. The 24 pin ATX header is placed well, but the 4 pin is not. Thankfully, the Northbridge is cooled by a passive heatsink, and the southbridge has no heatsink at all (though it does get incredibly hot, I came across no stability issues during testing. You may want to add a heatsink to be safe). The newer Socket 939 SIMA card we have has a fan/heatsink on the southbridge, while the first revision we received did not have a fan. We may see future revisions of the PF88 itself come equipped with a heatsink on the southbridge.

At this time, I'll mention that while it may offer best performance, using DDR2 for the Pentium 4 may not have been a good idea in this case. The whole idea behind the PF88 is that you can upgrade to another platform, such as Socket 939 or even Socket 754. Both of those use DDR memory, so you'll need to buy new memory along with the $50 SIMA card. For a budget minded board like this, DDR would have been sufficient I think.

The rear panel is remniscent of 1999, as it gives you two serial ports, and a parallel port. It does get a bit more modern however, with a FireWire and Gigabit Ethernet port. Just the basics here folks; only four USB2.0 ports, and basic analog audio output.

Next Page: (The BIOS)