ECS has put out some great performing boards over the last year, their first foray in to the SLI market, the KN1 SLI Extreme, although late to the game, was a very fast board with some nice features thrown in. This board is still used as one of my main test boards
Now ECS is offering an SLI board to the Intel side of the house, the C19-A-SLI, this board is based on the NForce4 SLI XE chipset, the value SLI offering from nVidia. With the C19-A-SLI on the test board we will see if it is a bargain or just plain cheap.
Packaging and Accessories:
Whatcha got in tha box?
The packaging on the C19-A-SLI is very spartan. With a matt blue finish, the C19-A-SLI box displays the Nforce4 SLI XE, dual core, 64 bit support and the Windows XP logos; these along with the usual knight are on the front cover. The back cover lists some of the features offered by the C19-A-SLI. ECS did not include a ton of accessories with this one. However, this does help keep the cost to the consumer (you) very low.
The C19-A-SLI includes:
1 Floppy Cable
1 SATA Cable
1 PATA Cable
1 Molex to SATA Adapter
SLI Bridge Hold Down Bracket
Board Layout: 4.0 out of 5
SATA Port? Nope it’s a POST.
Many of you have read my rants over the layout of different mainboards; the C19-A-SLI is a board that could use some work on its layout also. However, I started to think about who would be using this board. It is the mainstream user, not the enthusiast or gamer (you know, the ones who don’t feel right if they don’t swap a product out every hour or so). This being said, I am looking at the C19-A-SLI from a completely different point of view. This will be based on ease of installation and airflow. Now that all of that is out of the way, let’s begin our stroll around the board.
Beginning at the beginning, always a good place to start, in the upper right hand corner of the board, as it would be viewed when mounted in a tower case, we find; the RAM slots, the 24-pin ATX Power connector, floppy port and the secondary IDE port.
At first I thought this was an odd configuration, however after thinking about it, this setup gets you closer to your CD/DVD-ROMS and allows you to have the cables for those devices up and out of the way of other devices. This also opens up airflow in the lower portion of the case allowing for better ventilation. Also, the floppy port being located on this portion of the board is not a bad thing. If you still use a floppy drive, this port is in a good place to keep the cable out of the airflow path for the PCI-e slots, allowing more air to get to any SLI pair you may be using. A word on the RAM Slots here, the C19-A-SLI supports upto 16GB of RAM in 128-bit dual channel mode, that is 4x4GB Modules; although this is a value based board, that is more than many of the enthusiast boards on the market today. I have to take my hat off to nVidia and ECS for this very nice addition. Left of all of this is the 775 CPU socket and the C19XE northbridge, the C19XE northbridge is actively cooled by a small heatsink and fan. Moving left again, we come to; the 4-Pin 12V power connector, a 4-pin Molex power connector, a PCI-e 1x slot, the power regulators and the back I/O ports.
Rinse and Repeat…
Moving back to the right side of the board, we find the four SATA II ports. These are run off of the MCP51 Southbridge. This is noteworthy as the majority of Intel SLI boards use the MCP04. The ports are nicely spaced, this makes it much easier to plug and un-plug the SATA cables for your drives. This also helps keep the SATA ports out of the way of the longer graphic cards. Just to the left of the SATA ports is the MCP51 Southbridge; this is passively cooled with a small low profile heatsink. To the left of the MCP51 are the two PCI-e X16 Slots and the standard PCI slots. The two PCI-e slots are single spaced, unlike the KN1 SLI Extreme; while at first I though this was somewhat of a disappointment, I realized that this board is not targeted at the market that would have an SLI pair of 7900GTX or the 7800GTX 512 cards in it, so the spacing is not much of an issue. However, there is a small issue that may become an bigger issue; the PCI-e clips that hold the graphics cards in, they are simply too small. There is no easy way to get the cards out once they are installed.
In the end I removed them for easy graphics card installation and swapping. What still bothers me about ECS designs is how close the RAM slots are in relation to the PCI-e slots, again on the C19-A-SLI we see this. With any card longer than a 6600GT you will have to uninstall your graphic card to add or swap RAM. I hope that in future designs this oversight is corrected. Below the PCI-e slots are three PCI slots, again I wish manufacturers would leave one or more off and open up the spacing on these boards more, the newer components are generating more and more heat and need better spacing to keep everything cool. Here again this is not an enthusiasts mainboard so this, while a personal pet peeve, does not take away from the board. To finish our walk through of the C19-A-SLI, we come to the bottom of the board, here we find the Primary PATA port. This is again a great place for this port and a lot of thought went into putting this here. With the port at the bottom of the board it makes for easier cable management and better air flow. In addition to the Primary PATA port there is; the BIOS, the CMOS reset jumper, two USB 2.0 headers, two Firewire headers and the Front Audio header. In all, the layout of the C19-A-SLI is pretty well thought out for a value board. ECS has made some good choices for airflow and ease of build with this board. Of course there were some bad choices made too, but the good out weigh the bad.
Features and BIOS 4.35 out of 5
This feature not intended for use with the other feature.
The C19-A-SLI is not what you would call a feature packed board. It does not have dual RAID or Dual LAN, it does come with Full SATA II 3GB support, Intel 8 Channel HD audio with optical and coaxial SPDIF in and out, as well as support for up to 16GB of memory. The biggest feature is, of course, SLI; there are not many boards out there for either Intel or AMD that provide SLI at this price.
The C19-A-SLI uses an Award BIOS. Version 1.0D was used during testing.
The BIOS on the C19-A-SLI was fairly well laid out. I will cover the highlights and important sections here.
From here you can see all of the main sub-menus available on the C19-A-SLI. These are really no different from other Intel and AMD mainboards.
Standard CMOS settings:
In this menu you can set your date and time, see the IDE (Both SATA and PATA) drives attached to your system, change settings for your floppy drives, and see the amount of memory you have in your system.
Advanced BIOS Features:
As you would expect, the Advanced BIOS Features menu has advanced settings for your CPU and other items. These are all related to the way the mainboard interacts with them though and no performance options are here. The two main sub-menus are CPU Features and Hard Disk Boot Priority.
The CPU Features sub-menu covers the following settings:
Thermal Management (which is not adjustable)
Limit CPUID MaxVal – This setting is only changed if you are using Windows NT.
C1E Function – This is enabled to reduce power during idle operation
Execute Disable Bit – This is used to protect areas of memory from Malicious Code.
The Hard Disk Boot Priority sub-menu is used, as the name implies, to select the hard disk you want to boot from first. In the Advanced BIOS Features menu you can adjust settings for: CPU L1 and L2 Cache, Hyper-threading, Quick POST, Boot Order, Floppy Drive boot settings (Floppy Seek and Swap), Boot up NumLock status, Gate A20 Options, Typematic Rate, Security Option, OS Select for DRAM above 64MB and if you want the small EPA Logo displayed.
Advanced Chipset Features:
This menu is where you would find all of your performance tweaks and options. There are two sub-menus here, they are the Performance Options sub-menu and the Spread Spectrum Control sub-menu.
In the Performance Options sub-menu you will find settings for:
PCIE Frequency – this allows you to lock the PCIE bus at 100 MHz if you are overclocking,
CPU Clock Ratio, CPU Core Unlock, PSB/Mem Turbo Mode, System Clock Mode, Memory Timings, CPU Voltage Control and Dimm Voltage Control.
For both the System Clock and Memory Timings settings there is a Manual Mode that allows you to further tweak your CPU and Memory settings to get the most performance out of your system.
In the Spread Spectrum Control sub-menu are the options for four different spread spectrum offerings they are CPU, PCIE, SATA and LDT, for the most part these should be set to disable as spread spectrum can cause stability issues.
In addition to these two sub-menus you have options for adjusting the LDT Frequency and for setting System BIOS and Video RAM to Cacheable or not.
In this menu you have the settings for the different peripheral devices that are integrated into the C19-A-SLI. The following sub-menus and options are available in this menu:
IDE Function Setup – This sub-menu allows you to enable, disable and configure the IDE and SATA ports. There are also options to enable or disable DMA transfers and IDE Prefetch Mode.
RAID Config – This sub-menu allows you to enable the RAID functions for the boad and for each SATA port.
OnBoard Device – In this sub-menu you have settings for the onboard USB ports, the Azalia Audio, and the Gigabit LAN. Super I/O Device – Here is where you will find all of your options for the floppy, parallel and serial ports.
In the Integrated Peripherals menus you can also set the Int Display First setting to either PCI or PCI-eX and set the IDE HDD Block Mode to enabled or disabled.
Power Management Setup:
This menu has all of the options for controlling the system power management.
In this menu you have options for controlling the way the PCI bus is configured. Settings include, Reset Configuration Data, Resources Controlled By (Auto ECSD, or Manual), PCI/VGA Palette Snoop, Assign IRQ for USB, and Maximum Payload Size for the PCI Express slots.
PC Health Status:
This menu contains the settings for the Smart Fan Control and Shutdown temperature; it also displays the current system and CPU temperature as well as fan speed and voltages.
The rest of the BIOS options are:
Load Fail-Safe Defaults
Load Optimized Defaults
Set Supervisor/User Password
Save and Exit Setup
Exit Without Saving
The C19-A-SLI is a value board, meant for entry level system builds; as such it does not have a terrible amount of settings or options for overclocking. I very rarely allow the overclocking options or ability of a board to sway my estimation of a board’s performance. All this having been said, the C19-A-SLI does a fairly decent job at overclocking, unfortunately I was unable to push the XE840 I used for testing too far as I was only using the stock Intel CPU cooler and this is not really enough to allow for any major voltage changes to the CPU. All of the overclocking options are located in the Performance Options sub-menu in the Advanced Chipset Features menu.
Performance: 4.5 out of 5
ECS C19-A-SLI Mainboard
Intel Extreme Edition 840
Kingston HyperX DDR2-900 KHX7200D2K2/2G ( 2x 1GB)
2x Seagate 500GB Barracuda 7200.9 SATA II 3GB HDDs (RAID 0)
2x Leadtek PH7800GTX TDH 256MB (both single and SLI)
Sony 16x DVD-ROM
Antec True Power II 550Watt PSU.
Microsoft Windows XP Professional and Windows XP x64 Edition.
The following software was installed in addition to the testing suites and games:
Adobe Acrobat Reader 7.0
SpeedFan Microsoft Office 2003
Diskeeper 10 (trail version)
Avast! Home edition (Trial version)
The methodology that Planetx64.com follows is really very simple. Our goal is to provide you, the user, with the most information we can about how a given product will perform. We install commonly used applications; these are the applications that tend to be on just about everyone’s systems, applications such as FireFox, Speedfan, Acrobat Reader, CPUz, a disk defragmenter, Antivirus/Anti-Spyware software, and some sort of productivity software. When you build your system at home you will not just have a clean system just for gaming; you will want to do work, browse the internet and play your games. We also do not use any Time Demos; these are not a good indication of system performance. For all game testing we use FRAPS (current version in use is 2.7). We also provide our 64 bit users information on how these products will perform in a 64 bit environment.
For Mainboard testing we use:
Sisoft Sandra to test the memory and cache memory bandwidth, this is a fair method for evaluating any bottle necks in memory performance
HDtach is used to determine raw drive transfer speeds. For audio testing we use a variety of subjective testing, these tests include; CD audio, MP3s, DVD-Movies, and game sounds. We also test to determine if the audio codec will cause any potential performance loss in applications and games
PCMark05 to give a good idea of how the components work together
SuperPi is an indicator of how well the CPU and memory perform together
Easy DVD to DivX, VCD SVCD this is a good estimate of the systems overall ability to transfer data along the different buses in the system and are a very good indicator of drive performance in a real world environment
Three system intensive games are used in testing to determine performance of the over all system, the following titles are currently used:
HalfLife 2 Lost Coast
If the mainboard includes Crossfire or SLI support we test performance in both single and dual card modes.
The Memory bandwidth on the C19-A-SLI is what I would expect from an Intel board running DDR2-667.
Memory performance is hindered by having to transfer all data to the Northbridge before getting to the CPU.
The Audio on the C19-A-SLI was of good quality. In our subjective testing the C19-A-SLI did very well with all of the audio types we threw at it. Performance wise there was no noticeable decrease in frame rate in any of the games we tested with.
The Drive performance offered by the MCP51 Southbridge was good. However, it was not as good as many other SLI boards. As mentioned earlier in this evaluation, normally the SLI boards use the MCP04 Southbridge for RAID and SATA. On boards using the MCP04 for RAID there is about a two to three MB/s performance increase in the RAID speed. Additionally the choppy performance shown in the HDtach graph is not usually seen in mainboards with the MCP04 Southbridge.
We use Rider for our network bandwidth tests. The Gigabit LAN on the C19-A-SLI performed as we would have expected a Gigabit LAN to perform.
Ah, what mainboard evaluation would be complete without a single, system wide, testing application? For our evaluation we use FutureMark’s PCMark05. I was a little surprised that the addition of a second graphic card did not improve the score more than it did. The scores here are comparable to other Intel boards with similar hardware.
DivX encoding is one of our “real-world” tests and is a good way to evaluate how well the major systems work together. Encoding any video or audio requires good CPU to Memory to HDD data transfer. If any one of those links are weak then the encoding times will show it.
Although it can be argued that SuperPI is also a static test, I feel it is still a good indication of a systems ability to transfer data between the CPU and memory.
F.E.A.R. is a great game, not only in terms of playability but also in terms of determining how well your system performs. For our testing here I ran the game at 1600×1200 with the Computer performance at Maximum and the Graphics Card Performance at Maximum as well.
F.E.A.R performed very well at these settings with the test system we used in single card mode, in SLI mode we saw a very healthy improvement with an 82% performance increase in XP Pro and an 80% increase in XP x64.
HalfLife 2 Lost Coast:
HalfLife 2 Lost Coast is a small demo that Valve released to show the benefits of HDR. The HDR in Lost Coast is an Integer based calculation; this means that many cards that cannot run traditional HDR with AA enabled will be able to with this type of HDR. What this does instead is place a greater strain on the system to accomplish the same thing. It can be quite rough on a system, in fact on order to run Lost Coast or HalfLife 2 with the HDR updates you need at least a 2.9GHz Pentium CPU. And even at that speed your performance suffers.
At 1600×1200 with 4x AA, 16x AF, reflect all, and HDR enabled, the C19-A-SLI seemed sluggish in single card mode with the hardware I used for testing. In SLI, the game was much more fluid and smooth, I saw a decent 31% increase in XP Pro and 33% Increase in XP x64.
Battlefield 2 is another system stopper, requiring large amounts of memory, a fast CPU, a good GPU, good sound, and a board capable of moving the data back and forth between the components quickly. Battlefield 2 can quickly bog down your system if one of these parts is not quite up to the task. For testing here I used 1600×1200 at 85Hz with all other settings on Max and AA set to 4x.
Here the C19-A-SLI performed very well with frame rates in the 50s. I was surprised to see that SLI did not give a better performance increase; showing only an 11% increase in XP Pro and 12% increase in XP x64.
Price/Warranty: 4.65 out of 5
Available for a limited time at one-half, twice the sale price…
The C19-A-SLI runs for about $77 from Newegg.com, this is a very good price considering the performance is on par with other SLI boards costing twice as much.
The ECS C19-A-SLI is a nice board with a low price tag and very good performance. I was impressed with the ease of build, even with some of the flaws in the layout the board was easy to work with. Setup was a snap with all of the BIOS settings that would need to be changed by a first time builder readily at hand and those that the user may want to change in the future also easy to find and understand. The manual even seemed to be more informative than normal. So what you get is an inexpensive, rock stable, quick mainboard for not a whole lot of money. I cannot stress enough the value of this board. ECS has put together quite an attractive package with the C19-A-SLI. You have a board that is easy on your wallet yet fast enough to keep pace with many enthusiast boards on the market.
8 Channel Audio (With Optical and Coaxial SPDIF)
Supports up to 16GB of RAM
Excellent Price vs. Performance
Board Layout: 4.0 out of 5
Features and BIOS: 4.35 out of 5
Performance: 4.5 out of 5
Price/warranty: 4.65 out of 5
Total: 17.5 out of 20
The ECS C19-A-SLI for its outstanding performance in its cost class earns our Best on the Planet for the Value/Mainstream class