The ECS KN3SLI2 is the latest motherboard from Elitegroup for AMD AM2 processors. In this review, we will take a look at its features and examine how the motherboard performed against other well known AM2 based motherboards from Foxconn and Asus, all based on the nVidia 590SLI chipset.
- ECS KN3SLI2
The KN3 SLI2 motherboard supports the new AM2 CPUs which combined with the NVIDIA nForce 590 SLI chipset, gives enthusiasts and gamers a potent mix of dual full-bandwidth PCI-Express GPU support. The KN3 SLI2 supports versions of the AMD Athlon FX, Athlon 64 X2 Dual-Core, Athlon 64 and Sempron CPUs (all of which are socket AM2) as well as the new AM2 Energy Efficient microprocessors. AMD’s new lineup of low power processors provides 35W and 65W versions of AM2 processors for increased energy savings. Unlike socket 939 and 754 motherboards, the KN3 SLI2 breaks through previous limitations to support dual channel DDR2-533, 667 and 800 SDRAM memory, which increases overall performance.
The KN3 SLI2 meets AMD Live!TM digital media platform requirements. Supported by AMD Live!TM, the KN3 SLI2 provides complete multimedia power to create and bring digital media content to all rooms of a home. The KN3 SLI2 has an 8-channel audio codec for great HD audio, plus numerous I/O and storage features.
The KN3 SLI2 has tremendous overclocking ability that is made easier by ECS’ I.O.C. (Instant Overclocking Controller) that enables the system to automatically boost frequency to enhance overall performance by intelligently detecting changes in CPU loads. This design is great for experienced and less experienced gamers alike, instantly adjusting system performance to match their needs and makes overclocking easy and safe.
The KN3 SLI2 is also part of NVIDIA’s “Tritium” platform development which guarantees the highest out-of-the-box PC platform performance. Tritium MCPs, Tritium GPUs and Tritium DIMMS are perfectly matched to give enthusiasts the overclocking ability and performance they need, with excellent stability and easier configuration. Other KN3 SLI2 features include a Realtek ALC883 audio codec for 8-channel HD audio and a host of I/Os including 6 x SATAII 3.0 Gb/s, 8 x USB 2.0, Dual Gb Ethernet, RAID 5 support, 2 x S/PDIF (Optical and Coaxial), and 2 x 1394a.
- Main features
- NVIDIA nForce® 590 SLI™ MCP chipset that supports NVIDIA® SLI™ technology, at full x16 speed
- Extreme overclocking and unprecedented control over system behavior
- Socket dual channel DDR2 800/667/533
- Supports SATA 3Gb/s and RAID 0, 1, 0+1, 5 functions
- Supports Dual Giga LAN & IEEE1394 connection
- Supports high quality 8-CH Intel® High Definition Audio
- Full specifications
2. The Package
The ECS KN3SLI2 motherboard comes in a retail package big enough to make users curious about its contents. The retail price is around €110:
Opening the big retail package unveils its contents...
Below is a list of what's included at the retail package
- 1x printed manual
- 1x CD-ROM with drivers
- 1x CD-ROM with applications
- 1x I/O shield
- 1x USB+1394 PCI Bracket & Housing
- 1x D-Sub25p Cable
- 1x SATAII External Bracket
- 1x LAN cable (UTP)
- 4x SATA cables
- 1x SATA Power cable
- 1x Bracket for SLI
- 1x SLI card Bridge
- 1x Cables for HDD, CD-ROM, Floppy
- 1x Top-Hat Flash toolkit
The ECS Top-Hat Flash kit allows you to restore the BIOS from the ECS website
(www.ecs.com.tw) or ECS' support CD, in case you current BIOS becomes corrupt, a nice addition from ECS in case something goes wrong...
The board is very tidy in its layout and all major components can be identified easily. The PCB itself is black while all connections such as memory banks, SATA, even the CPU fan mount, are brightly coloured. ECS has also labeled the main components for further, easy identification:
Looking at the motherboard above, at mid-right, we find the CPU socket. In the center, under the passive heatsink, is the Northbridge controller (NVIDIA C51XE), while a little further down and left, under the fan cooler, is the Southbridge Controller (NVIDIA MCP55XE). The area around the CPU is not densely populated, so it should be able to fit most third party CPU coolers. The board provides five SATAII and one IDE ATA133 connections:
The board's memory banks are color coded to differentiate the dual dual channel memory banks:
The ECS KN3SLI2 has enough space between the two PCI-E slots to accommodate the larger sized graphics cards:
The board supports two PCI-e cards for SLI setups. The back I/O panel has the usual connections:
- 7.1 channel Audio (6 jacks)
- PS/2 keyboard and mouse
- 1 x serial
- 4 x USB 2.0
- 2 x 1Gbit LAN
- and lastly 1x eSATA
There's also a rotating exhaust fan encased in a light green plastic shell to help remove heat from the board. The bulked disc includes all required drivers to get everything going:
Despite our initial good impression, there were some problems that occurred after installing our various components. The biggest problem we faced was the lack of power headers for extra fans, especially around the PCI-E area. There is one there, but it is taken up by the air cooler for the NVIDIA MCP55XE, so in order to install a fan cooled VGA card with the need for external power, you have to chase across the motherboard to the memory banks to find an available fan power connection.
There is another power header available close to the PCI-E area, but you need a much longer power cable...
There are several connectors gathered very close to the CPU, which is not necessarily a bad thing...
The main power cable and ATA 133 slots are way too close together. You need to pull at the ATA cable in order to remove it.
ECS has added three blue LEDs in-between the PCI-E and PCI slots for status indication, as well providing extra color, especially at night. According to the manual, the blinking PCI LED indicates PCI slot activity. These LEDs will
stop blinking when a card has been installed. Blinking means no
card is installed or the installed card was not properly installed.
The BIOS is the very familiar Phoenix - Award.
There are two options we will look at closer:
Under the advanced chipset option, we find many useful settings, like FSB:
and DRAM configuration:
DRAM timings can be manually set for optimum performance:
In the Frequency/voltage control settings, you can set:
- the CPU multiplier
and various voltages for the DRAM and CPU.
The Voltage settings for the DRAM don't go over 2.20V
Lastly, you can monitor your system's health:
Using Everest Ultimate Edition 2006, we were able to get more information about the motherboard:
And the on-board chipsets:
There are two CDs included, with various utilities:
and of course the drivers.
Let' see the default running specs with CPU-Z:
We will be comparing the ECS KN3SLI2 with the Foxconn C51XEM2AA and ASUS M2N32 WS Pro motherboards. All tests were done with memory timings set at Auto and default BIOS settings.
5. Everest Ultimate/SiSoft Sandra
EVEREST Ultimate Edition is an industry leading system diagnostics and benchmarking solution for enthusiasts PC users, based on the award-winning EVEREST Technology. During system optimizations and tweaking it provides essential system and overclock information, advanced hardware monitoring and diagnostics capabilities to check the effects of the applied settings. CPU, FPU and memory benchmarks are available to measure the actual system performance and compare it to previous states or other systems. Furthermore, complete software, operating system and security information makes EVEREST Ultimate Edition a comprehensive system diagnostics tool that offers a total of 100 pages of information about your PC. The software has several built-in tests for memory and CPU/FPU.
The Asus M2N32WS Pro has a slight edge in the Memory Read&Copy memory tests with the ECS KN3SLI2 close behind.
In the CPU tests, the ECS KN3SLI2 provided good results in all tests except for CPU Zlib.
SiSoftware Sandra (the System ANalyser, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant) is an information & diagnostic utility. It should provide most of the information (including undocumented) you need to know about your hardware, software and other devices whether hardware or software. It works along the lines of other Windows utilities, however it tries to go beyond them and show you more of what's really going on. Giving the user the ability to draw comparisons at both a high and low-level. You can get information about the CPU, chipset, video adapter, ports, printers, sound card, memory, network, Windows internals, AGP, PCI, PCIe, ODBC Connections, USB2, 1394/Firewire, etc. Sisoft Sandra offers a variety of tests for Memory and CPU.
With Sisoft Sandra 2007 SP1, there is very little between the three motherboards.
6. PCMARK - 3DMARK
PCMark®05 is everything you need to reliably and easily measure the performance of your PC and determine its strengths and weaknesses. With PCMark05, you will be able to select the optimal upgrades for your existing PC, or choose the right new PC that fits your specific needs. This easy-to-use product gives you the same tools and knowledge that virtually every professional tester in the industry uses. Below you can see all three available scores, memory, CPU and total.
Looking at the CPU score, which interests us most, the ECS KN3SLI was the slowest motherboard. However, the overall score places the KN3SLI2 top, with a score of 5566.
3DMark®06 is the worldwide standard in advanced 3D game performance benchmarking. A fundamental tool for every company in the PC industry as well as PC users and gamers, 3DMark06 uses advanced real-time 3D game workloads to measure PC performance using a suite of DirectX 9 3D graphics tests, CPU tests, and 3D feature tests. 3DMark06 tests include all new HDR/SM3.0 graphics tests, SM2.0 graphics tests, AI and physics driven single and multiple cores or processor CPU tests and a collection of comprehensive feature tests to reliably measure next generation gaming performance today.
3D Mar06 tests both CPU/RAM and of course VGA card. At the CPU test, ECS KN3SLI2 was the second faster, while Foxconn C51XEM2AA had the highest overall score.
7. Science Mark - PovRay - Nero Digital
Science Mark 2.0 is an attempt to put the truth behind benchmarking. In an attempt to model real world demands and performance, SM2 is a suite of high-performance benchmarks that realistically stress system performance without architectural bias. Science Mark 2.0 is comprised of 7 benchmarks, each of which measures a different aspect of real world system performance.
Pov-Ray is a high-quality, totally free tool for creating stunning three-dimensional graphics. It is available in official versions for Windows, Mac OS/Mac OS X and i86 Linux. The source code is available for those wanting to do their own ports. We used Pov-Ray 3.7beta15 for all tests, since it supports Dual Core CPUs. We used the built-in benchmark as suggested by the developers.
The ECS KN3SLI2 was the slowest motherboard in both the ScienceMark and Pov-Ray benchmarks.
- Nero Digital
Nero Digital is one of the best known Digital formats, offering both ASP and AVC encoder profiles.
For our tests, we used the latest version of Nero Recode v220.127.116.11 as packaged with Nero Reloaded v18.104.22.168. As a source, we used a VOB file of 5 mins duration. We encoded for each motherboard in two modes (ASP, AVC) with exactly the same preferences (same bitrate and dual pass). The encoding time displayed below is what Nero Recode reported. The less time taken, the better. All results are displayed in seconds.
All three tested motherboard, had similar performance with Nero Recode. The performance differences are very slight.
8. CINEBENCH -SuperPI
CINEBENCH is the free benchmarking tool for Windows and Mac OS based on the powerful 3D software CINEMA 4D. Consequently, the results of tests conducted using CINEBENCH 9.5 carry significant weight when analyzing a computer’s performance in everyday use.
Especially a system’s CPU and the OpenGL capabilities of its graphics card are put through their paces (even multiprocessor systems with up to 16 dedicated CPUs or processor cores). During the testing procedure, all relevant data is ascertained with which the performance of different computers can subsequently be compared, regardless of operating system. All tests were done with the latest available build (R9.5), and the sum of each subtest is displayed at the following chart, except OpenGL Software & Hardware Lighting tests, since both depend at the installed VGA card.
In the CineBench benchmark, the ECS KN3SLI2 had the highest score with 1421 points.
SuperPI has become an utility to benchmark modern systems. In August 1995, the calculation of pi up to 4,294,960,000 decimal digits was succeeded by using a supercomputer at the University of Tokyo. The program was written by D.Takahashi and he collaborated with Dr. Y.Kanada at the computer center, the University of Tokyo. This record-breaking program was ported to personal computer environment such as Windows NT and Windows 95 and called Super PI.
The software offers up to 32M calculations of PI numbers. We tested up to 8M calculations and summed them for a total score.
The ECS KN3SLI2 continues to perform well and takes almost 3 seconds less than the next best motherboard in the SuperPI sum.
9. F.E.A.R - Prey
The story begins as an unidentified paramilitary force infiltrates a multi-billion dollar aerospace compound. The government responds by sending in Special Forces, but loses contact as an eerie signal interrupts radio communications. When the interference subsides moments later, the team has been literally torn apart. As part of a classified strike team created to deal with threats no one else can handle, your mission is simple: Eliminate the intruders at any cost. Determine the origin of the signal. And contain this crisis before it spirals out of control.
The game offers up to 1280x960 resolution, which was used for all our tests. We maxed all details for both CPU and VGA card, except AA/AF and Soft Shadows which are enabled as indicated in each graph. Below are the results after using the built-in benchmark test:
The ECS KN3SLI2 was the slowest motherboard but by only 1FPS.
Prey tells the story of Tommy, a Cherokee garage mechanic stuck on a reservation going nowhere. His life changes when an otherworldly crisis forces him to awaken spiritual powers from his long-forgotten birthright. Abducted along with his people to a menacing mothership orbiting Earth, he sets out to save himself and his girlfriend and eventually his planet.
Prey is serious, dark story, based on authentic Cherokee mythology. Themes of sacrifice, love and responsibility are explored and the story dives into emotional territory not yet explored by similar games. Prey is based on the Quake 3 engine and will certainly keep you awake many nights...
For all tests, we used hocbench which offers all benchmarking options through a GUI. We used the built-in Guru3D timedemo and all results are posted below:
Since Prey uses the Quake3 engine, it is CPU dependent. The ECS KN3SLI2 was faster than the Foxconn C51XEM2AA and slower than the Asus M2N32WS Pro. The differences however, are insignificant.
10. Splinter Cell Chaos Theory - Half Life
- Splinter Cell Chaos Theory
A Japanese Information Defense Force is formed to help face modern threats. Deemed a violation of international law and of the Japanese Post-War Constitution, Korea and China become outraged. Secretly, the head of the IDF begins launching information-warfare attacks against Japan and blaming the attacks on North Korea. When the U.S. intervenes, as they are obligated to under Article 9 of the Japanese Post-War Constitution, the U.S. is attacked as well, forcing North Korea to escalate the situation with a pre-emptive invasion of South Korea.
As war erupts on the Korean Peninsula, Sam Fisher must thwart the alliance between the Japanese Admiral, a neurotic computer hacker, and the head of an international paramilitary company in order to prevent the rekindling of a massive world war in the Pacific.
The graphics engine supports Pixel Shader 3 and HDR along with other new effects. We used hocbench which offers all benchmarking options through a GUI. We used the built-in "Guru3D 2" timedemo and all results are posted below:
The Asus M2N32WS Pro has the best performer with 28.91FPS but again, as in PREY, the differences are insignificant.
- Half Life 2 Episode 1
The world of Half-Life 2 has amazed everyone with its great story, graphics and Valve's great support. Half-Life 2: Episode One is the first in a series of new adventures created by Valve that extend the Half-Life 2 single player experience. It details the aftermath of Half Life 2 and launches a journey beyond City 17.
Stepping into the hazard suit of Dr. Gordon Freeman, you face the immediate repercussions of your actions in City 17 and the Citadel. Rejoin Alyx Vance and her robot, Dog, to once again aid the human resistance in their desperate battle against the totalitarian alien menace of the Combine.
Episode One exposes Alyx's combat skills and knowledge of City 17. Battle side-by-side with her through Valve's first episodic game, a four-to-six hour adventure of greater density and detail than non-episodic releases.
We recorded a timedemo and used the console to do each run with different visual quality settings. For all tests, we set the resolution to 1280x1024 with HDR shadows fully enabled.
In HL2, the Asus M2N32WSPro was again the faster motherboard but again, there's very little difference between the 3 motherboards.
The ECS KN3SLI is based on the Nvidia 590SLI, an AMD platform offering very good overclocking. ECS has also mentioned in an official press release the superb overclocking capabilities, so we were eager to see how this motherboard would perform, especially compared with the other two in this review.
First of all, ECS doesn't provide a utility to use for overclocking the board. Nothing to worry about however, we will use Nvidia's nTune:
But just as with the Asus M2N32WS Pro, nTune also doesn't fully support the ECS KN3SLI2. You cannot set the CPU/DRAM voltages. We then tried to find the maximum FSB for our CPU (AMD Athlon X2 4600+). To our disappointment, the system hung when nTune tried to increase the FSB and test the overclocking stability. Therefore, you have to rely on the BIOS manual settings and find exactly how far you can overclock your CPU.
After carefully looking at the BIOS settings, we noticed that the overclocking settings were much lower than what we had seen with the Asus and Foxconn motherboards. For example, there is no option to lock the PCI-E at any specific clock frequency (usually 100MHz). We proceeded with our tests and by lowering the CPU multiplier, we were able to boot at 236FSB. However, the system was very unstable (default CPU voltage).
By lowering the FSB we reached 216, which can be considered a rather low number for an 590SLI motherboard:
The KN3SLI2 motherboard is the latest motherboard from Elitegroup, supporting AM2 CPUs combined with NVIDIA's nForce 590 SLI chipset, to give enthusiasts and gamers a potent mix of dual full-bandwidth PCI-Express GPU support. We had already tested two other 590SLI chipset based motherboards from Foxconn and Asus, so the comparison was going to prove very interesting.
The ECS KN3SLI2 has the best component color coding of all three motherboards. There is an on board fan, running at low RPMs, located in the rear IO section. Clever move from ECS. The retail package is big and has just about everything a user can ask for. ECS has also included the ECS Top-Hat Flash kit, allowing you to restore the BIOS in case your current BIOS gets corrupted!
The overall design is good, but with some minor design glitches. The most obvious is the lack of power headers near the PCI-E area. There is only one located in front of the PCI-E slots, but our VGA card's power cable wasn't long enough to reach it. There is another power header near the memory banks, which works, but you have a cable passing across half the motherboard. There is one IDE channel, located too close to the motherboard's main power connection making plugging and unplugging a headache. Not a big issue, but we would like slightly more room there. There are 5 SATAII connections available for HDD and optical storage devices, and there are two more SATAII connections for Raid configuration.
The ECS KN3SLI2 was as fast as the other 590SLI based motherboards and any differences between the 3 boards was minimal. Each motherboard was allowed to decide the "best" timings for the used memory modules so any differences, especially in games could be due to this.
Ending our presentation, this has to be one of the lower priced Nvidia 590SLI motherboard. At a retail price of US$120, users can now fully enjoy the AM2 platform. There are some "problems" with overclocking capabilities, but overall if you are looking for a low priced 590SLI motherboard, take a look at the ECS KN3SLI2. It offers good performance at a very respectable price.