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ECS L4S5A Socket 478 Motherboard (SiS645) review

ECS (Elitegroup) recently sent us their new Socket 478 (mPGA) motherboard based on the SiS 645 chipset for evaluation here at 3DS, namely the L4S5A. Supporting 166 MHz DDR memory and a FSB of up to 400 MHz and a promising feature set, I had high hopes for this multi-colored board. SiS, not having as much action as Via as of late, hope to cash in on the potential of matching up new, fast Pentium 4 processors with DDR memory.

 

First Impressions

The package was supplied with the de-facto manual, floppy cable and single IDE cable. Since I have had other motherboards supplied with four double wired IDE cables, the single IDE cable seemed rather stingy on ECS' half. I guess it helps to cut down costs, and most system builders should have spare IDE cables aplenty, but I would have thought that ECS would see fit to include at least one cable capable of data transfer over UDMA 33 (Notice that this was the case of the review unit we were sent, no word if double wired IDE cables are included on units being sold by retailers).

Onto the crux of the package, the purple board itself seemed quite well designed. The full six white PCI slots were present, along with a CNR shared with the sixth PCI slot, and a standard AGP 2.0 slot. Although I prefer AGP Pro slots to accommodate the larger AGP cards, this at least did have some sort of plastic retention clip which held my large Titan 2 Ultra in securely. The CPU socket had a steel ZIF lever, always preferable to the cheaper plastic ones supplied even on high-end boards. I have broken these arms before, so its good to see a steel arm even on a low-end board like the L4S5A. The bold orange Northbridge chipset heatsink was not fitted with a fan. Perhaps ECS thought that obscuring the bright orange was not preferable to keeping the heatsink cool. In any case, it cuts down on system noise, and a fan can always be fitted later if so desired. The layout was adequate, with IDE connectors to the right of the board, and the ATX power connectors (both standard and the additional 12 volts) on the top left of the board. This would cause the power loom to drag over the CPU socket in some cases, but I was able to simply route the loom around the socket. Similarly, there are quite a few polarized capacitors to the left of the CPU socket, which I had reservations about in regards to CPU heatsink installation.

The floppy drive connector has to be in the WORST position it could be, on the opposite side of the board, causing the cable to drape over the rest of the board. That is, unless you have your floppy drive at the back of your case. Or, like me, you don't use a floppy drive at all. The board only had one half-sized serial port, and no additional sound connectors beyond the standard stereo input and output and mic. Given that the other board that was shipped to me on the same day (Soyo Dragon Ultra), based on exactly the same chipset, gives an additional rear and sub/central stereo outputs and two optical and two coaxial (SP/DIF) connectors, I really think ECS could have done better, but then again it's a reminder of who ECS is aiming this board at. Still, at least the optional RJ45 port was included for Ethernet functions, always welcome as a cheap addition that often comes in useful. One thing I did find strange was that the "power" LED mounted on the motherboard did not light up when there was power to the PSU. It only lighted up when the system was active. This is not essentially "bad", just different, an microcosm for the rest of the motherboard perhaps. The DIMM slots are vertically placed at the right of the board, rather near the AGP slot. In fact, so near, it was to cause me problems in the installation of the L4S5A.

The contents list boasted a "cooling fan retention module", which didn't seem to be present. I can only assume this was, in fact, just the plastic clips mounted around the motherboard CPU socket (which are present on all other such motherboards). I was meant to get an I/O panel, but this was not included. Which was rather awkward, seeing as the rear I/O connectors were unorthodox (more on this later). Similarly, the specifications on the web site listed "Four Extra USB header (LUSB1/USB3 or LUSB2/USB2)" and "Smart Card Reader Header". These do not refer to external connectors, just the pin connectors on the motherboard. "HDD LED" "Reset Switch", "irDA" and "Power Switch" headers are also all listed in the specifications, but again these just refer to the pin connectors on the motherboard. I seriously wonder what motherboards actually don't come with reset and power headers.  ECS included two identical driver CDs. The manual was adequate but not special, but at least it did feature brief French and (what I assume is) Taiwanese instructions, as well the extended English section.

 

Technical specifications

  • Socket 478 for Intel® Pentium® 4 CPU

  • SiS®645 Host/Memory controller with DDR333 and AGP 4x North Bridge

  • SiS®961 MuTIOL Media I/O

  • LPC I/O - IT8705F

  • System Hardware Monitor: Built-in IT8705F

  • LAN: RealTek 8100/B (optional)

  • AC97 Audio Codec

  • Compliant with AC97 2.1 specification

  • Three 184-pin DDR DIMM sockets to support:

  • Three 2.5V DDR SDRAMs (DDR266/DDR200) or

  • Two 2.5V DDR SDRAMs (DDR333)

  • Maximum: 3GB (2GB only for DDR333)

  • Award 2MB Flash EEPROM

  • Supports Plug and Play 1.0A, AMP 1.2, Multi Boot, DMI

  • Full Support for ACPI revision 1.0 specification

  • SiS®961 built-in 256 bytes of CMOS SRAM

  • PS/2 keyboard and PS/2 mouse connectors

  • Dual USB Ports and an optional LAN connector

  • One EPP/ECP/SPP mode parallel port

  • One 16550 serial port

  • Audio Ports (Line-in, Line-out, Mic-in, CD-in and game port)

  • Dual PCI IDE interfaces - support four IDE devices (PIO mode 4, DMA Mode 2, Ultra DMA 66/100)

  • Supports 360K~2.88M Byte, 3 Mode FDDs or LS120

  • ATX12V Power Supply Connectors

  • CPU, BAK and CHS Fan headers

  • LAN Card Wake Up / Modem Ring Wake-Up

  • 6 PCI slots, 1 AGP slot, 1 CNR slot

  • ATX (305mm*244mm), 4 Layers

 



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