Epox 8K3A+ vs. FIC AN17 KT333 motherboard shootout

A feature which made me quite irritated that it had not been implemented on the 8K3A+ predecessor was support for the built in thermal diode on Athlon XP processors. What this is supposed to prevent is a processor which goes up in smoke due to improper cooling, of which three general scenarios can happen. Number one is that the fan on the heatsink stops, the temperature will slowly rise until either the chip fries or the more lucky way, that the system just hangs, another thing that might happen is that the entire heatsink falls of the processor, this is not something that is impossible due to the fact that most heatsinks only uses two of the total six cleats on the CPU Socket, of which I complained on in my Socket A cooler roundup last year. If for example you are playing a game it will just take around two seconds before the core of the CPU reaches 300C. With risk of fire as a result, this can be prevented by the diode just like in the previous case by it constantly monitoring the temperature and in the event that it passes the limit (user selectable) the power from the power supply is cut and thus an immediate shutdown is caused.

The last scenario is when you cold start a computer without a heatsink, this can be either due to you forgetting to install the heatsink or doing it improperly so it doesn't contact the core of the CPU, but also that the heatsink comes loose during the night.

And while Epox implementation (and to my knowing ALL current Socket A mainboards with actual support for the built in thermal diode in the Athlon) will rescue the computer in the first two scenarios (i.e. when the system is up and running) It will not have enough time to initialise when you could boot the computer, with the end result that even though you have a processor with thermal diode and a mainboard supporting it the processor will get fried... It's neither worth nothing that the FIC AN17 has no support at all for the built in thermal diode in the Athlon XP.

BIOS

The BIOS chip itself is well placed on both mainboards right at the edge of it where it will not require you to remove expansion cards if you need to replace it.

Going into the BIOS options, we could clearly notice that Epox has given its customers more control; even with unusual processor voltages of up to 2,2v, this mainboard has been made to reach limits, if you have proper cooling of course ;). A regular heatsink with this voltage will have your CPU fried in no time; water-cooling is the way to go should you intend to increase your V-Core this much.

         
FIC's AN17 BIOS options

The FIC AN17 doesn't allow you to adjust the voltage inside the BIOS, DIP switches are your only choice, and just like most manufacturers they only offer you to go a maximum of 0,1v above normal, which results in 1,85vÖ Multiplier settings are neither present so if you were looking for that, Epox is your name, offering settings from 6x all the way up to 15x.


vs. Epox's BIOS

Taking a look to the advanced memory controls we were greeted with the must-have feature for any KT333 mainboard, a 166 MHz memory bus speed. However this feature is not very useful if you donít increase the FSB accordingly, using a /5 divider at 166 MHz to keep your AGP and PCI BUS within limits.

The FIC mainboard gave us a problem when trying to pursue overclocking results using a higher frequency FSB though, since it offers no multiplier support you will overclock your processor if you move to a 166Mhz FSB, and quite much at that to, my 1,46Ghz Athlon XP would become overclocked to 1,83Ghz if I would try this, a speed it will not be able to run at with even watercooling... Your only choice here would be to get hold of a Thoroughbred "B" processor in the lower MHZ range and hope that it's .13 micron core will give you the headroom to overclock this far, otherwise you are out of luck on the FIC mainboard in regard to 166Mhz FSB.

Although with the Epox mainboard all you have to do is connect the L1 bridges on the CPU and decrease the multiplier until the chip becomes stable, or even is not overclocked at all, this was what I did. I decreased the multiplier to 9x which times 166 yields only 1,5Ghz, just a 33 MHz overclock from my default of 1,46Ghz, something to really keep in mind when you are planning to buy one of these mainboards, and as you will see in the benchmarks on the next page, the increase in FSB can actually be worth it.

I also ran into a bug here on the FIC AN17 mainboard, had it not been for this bug this review would have gotten posted several months back, but I was unable to solve it and thus bought the Epox mainboard instead. Then after a while FIC finally released a BIOS update which seemed to fix the problem, if you would like to have yourself a laugh have a look at this thread in our forums where I find out about this bug. (After a few months of problem solving) ;-) I informed FIC of this bug but got no reply sent to me but I assume it was due to my mail they found out since the BIOS was released a few weeks after I sent them that mail...

I will not go into much more detail about the BIOS on these mainboards; I will just say that the Epox offers much more "tweak-ability" in their BIOS, which you can also see if you compare the pictures of them here.



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