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Appeared on: Wednesday, April 18, 2007
Foxconn P9657AB


1. Introduction

Foxconn has a long tradition in releasing motherboards for a wide range of applications. Recently, Foxconn released a new motherboard based on Intel's P965 Express chipset, the P9657AB motherboard. There are many other proposals in the same category on offer from various manufacturers, so choosing the right board for your needs can be a difficult task. We examine how well this board performs under various synthetic tests as well as in gaming performance, compared with other boards that have more or less the same features. Can this board be a true alternative solution for enthusiast users?

- Foxconn P9657AB

The Foxconn P9657AB is based on Intel's 965Express chipset, which supports IntelCore™2Extreme, Core™2Duo, Pentium4EE, PentiumD, Pentium4, CeleronD processors for Socket (LGA775). It features 1066/800/533MHz(FSB), dual-channel un-buffered DDR2 800/667/533 x 4DIMMs with a maximum of 8GB.

- Main features

Supports Intel Quad Core Ready
Intel Core™2 Extreme Quad-Core processors, manufactured using a 65nm silicon technology, are the latest high-performance CPUs. This cutting-edge processor offers significant performance boosts and provides a more energy efficient platform in overall terms. For extreme computing. Enjoy revolutionary levels of performance enabling vivid, high-definition experiences and multi-tasking responsiveness from state-of-the-art Intel dual-core and quad-core technologies.
Supports Intel Core™ 2 Duo processors
Intel Core™ 2 Duo processors set a new standard in desktop processor performance  and energy efficiency. Based on revolutionary Intel Core™ microarchitecture, the breakthrough Intel Core™2 Duo processor family is designed to provide powerful energy-efficient performance so you can do more at once without slowing down.With power-optimized dual-core technology and exceptional energy efficiency, the Intel Core™2 Duo processor excels running the most intense applications.
Windows Vista Premium Certified
Microsoft Windows Vista is designed to dramatically improve the computing experience of every kind of PC user—from people at home who use their PCs for simple web browsing, to business people who must organize and act on large volumes of data, to scientists who routinely perform complex mathematical analysis
FOXONE ™ Technology
Windows and BIOS based over-clocking and system control. automatically run your  machine faster or slower according to loading or manually overclock the system with ease.

Below we can see the major features of the motherboard:

- Intel Core2Quad, Core2Extreme, Core2Duo, Pentium EE, PentiumD, Pentium4, CeleronD processors
- SocketT(LGA775) -1066/800/533MHz(FSB)
- DualChannel DDR2 800/667 x4 DIMMs, Max 8GB
- 2xPCIe x16, 1xPCIe x1,3xPCI
- IDE x1, SATAII x5
- 7.1channelAudio
- 1x GbE LAN
- 10 USB2.0 ports

- Full specifications

Processor: Intel® Core™2 Quad, Core™2 Extreme, Core™2 Duo, Pentium® EE, Pentium® D, Pentium® 4, Celeron® D processors , Socket T (LGA775)
Chipset: Intel P965+ICH8R
Front Side Bus: 1066 / 800 / 533 MHz
Memory: Dual Channel DDR2 800 / 667 x 4 DIMMs, Max 8GB
VGA on Die: N/A
Expansion Slots: 2 x PCIe x16(run x16 + x4 mode, support dual graphics card technology), 1 x PCIe x1, 3 x PCI
IDE: PATA 133 x 1
(To advance IDE transfer speed, you may install JMicron IDE-SATA RAID Drive. You can download the drive by clicking the "drive" icon at the left side.)
Serial ATA(SATA)/RAID: 4 x SATAII + 1 x eSATAII
Audio: 7.1 channel Audio with Realtek ALC883 (HDA)
LAN: GbE LAN with Marvell 88E8056 (PCIe)
IEEE1394: N/A
Back Panel I/O Ports: 1x Parallel port
1x Serial port (COM 1)
1x PS/2 keyboard port
1x PS/2 mouse port
1x S/PDIF Fibre out
1x S/PDIF Coaxial out optional
1x audio jack supports 5 jacks
4x USB 2.0 ports
1x RJ45 LAN jacks
1x External SATA Port
Internal I/O Connectors: ATX 24-Pin power connector
8-pin ATX 12V power connector
CPU / System / NB FAN connectors
CD-in connector
1x Intel Azalia Header
1x ATA HD connectors
1x IRDA
1x Front panel connector
3x USB 2.0 connector support additional 6 ports
1x Floppy disk drive connector
4x SATA connectors
1x Buzzer
BIOS Features: LPC 4MB, ACPI 2.0b, APM 1.2, PnP 1.0a, SMBIOS 2.3, USB 2.0
Support CD: Drivers, DirectX, Adobe Reader, SuperUtilities, Norton Internet Security
Standards/Manageability: PCI 2.3, USB2.0, DMI 2.0
Special Features: SuperRecovery, SuperBoot, SuperBIOS-Protect, SuperStep, Fox Live Update, Superspeed, Ratio Free, Fox One
Form Factor: ATX (12"x8.8")

2. The Package

The retail price for the package is not yet known, but we estimate it to be around €110:

Below is a photo of what's included in the retail package.

To sum it up, the retail package includes:

It is very strange that an SLI adaptor is bulked with the Foxconn P9657AB. The board supports (officially) Crossfire, but we all know that with "hacked" Nvidia drivers, SLI can be supported on Crossfire enabled motherboards, even if with reduced performance, since only Nvidia based boards have 2x PCIe 16x slots. The board itself is well layed out and all parts can be identified easily:

Let's zoom in on the CPU area.

The board is designated as "Vista Ready", meaning that Foxconn has drivers for all components under Windows Vista. Any nearby components are low profile so there shouldn't be any difficulty when installing larger 3rd party cooling solutions. The northbridge use a passive heatsink.

The motherboard has four banks for the memory modules with a total memory capacity of 8GB (4x 2GB). The colour coding indicates which memory banks to use for dual channel operation:

Moving to the southbridge on the board, we can see again a passive heatsink in use and the 6x SATA 2 connections. Also present are IDE and Floppy connections:

The board supports 2x PCI-E slots that can be used for Crossfire setup (run x16 + x4 mode, support dual graphics card technology). There are several I/O internal slots available for extra USB, Front Panel connectors, however these are not included in the retail package. The back I/O panel has the usual connections:


3. Bios

The BIOS is from Phoenix:

In the "CPU Feature", we can disable SpeedStep and allow overclocking capabilities:

In the "FOX Central Control Unit", we can control all the major functions of the board. For our tests, we will set all functions manually, over-riding the auto settings:

FSB can be range from 266MHz up to 600MHz. We will see later on if this is achievable:

The North Bridge chipset controls DRAM. By default, all settings are at Auto. But users can take control and adjust the memory timings for better performance:

DRAM System Memory Frequency has 4 settings to choose from, SPD to DDR2-800MHz.

Each setting represents a different FSB:RAM ratio, so be careful what you select:

Memory, CPU, FSB, NB, SB and ICH voltages can be set according to the following table.

BIOS Setting Feature:
CPU Clock Multiplier
Not possible to set
CPU bus frequency
266 to 600MHz in 1MHz steps
CPU voltage
Normal to +0.3V in 0.0125V increments
DRAM voltage
Normal, -0.15V to +0.6 in 0.05V increments
(2.4V max)
PCI Express frequency
Locked
i965 MCH voltage
Normal, -0.12V to +0.24V in 0.04V increments
FSB voltage
Normal, -0.09V to +0.18V in 0.03V increments

If you overclock the CPU core, here is a suggested configuration:

Hardware monitor is useful to see how hot your CPU runs:


4. Installation

Using Everest Ultimate Edition 2006, we can get more information about the board:

Both the North Bridge and South Bridge chipsets unveiled:

The latest BIOS was installed for all tests:

Let's now see how our CPU was identified with CPU-Z:

For comparison, we post test results for:


5. Everest Ultimate Edition 2006 / SiSoft

Click for official website!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 fastest motherboard with Everest Ultimate Edition was the Asus P5B Deluxe. This motherboard allows you to set the memory to work at FSB:RAM 1:2, resulting in higher performance, which is not available on the other two motherboards. The Biostar couldn't set DDR2-800MHz at 4-4-4-8 timings, so it had the worst performance.

In the CPU tests, apart from Photoworxx where the Asus P5B Deluxe seems to be a clear leader, in all other benchmarks there's very little between them.

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.

In Sisoft Sandra 2007 SP1, all motherboards are very close.


6. PCMARK - 3DMARK

Click for homepage!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 thee scores for memory and CPU.

Looking at the CPU score, the Foxconn P9657AB had good performance.

Click for homepage!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 the CPU/RAM and VGA card. The Asus P5B Deluxe had the best overall performance but the other 2 boards are not far behind.


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 s 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.

In ScienceMark, the Asus P5B Deluxe had the highest performance due to better memory settings, while in Pov-Ray, the Foxconn P9657AB was the fastest with 1055.04 operations/sec.

- 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 v2.3.1.8 as packaged with Nero Reloaded v7.5.0.1. As a source we used a VOB file of 5mins duration. We encoded for each board, 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 motherboards has similar performance with Nero Recode...


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 in the following chart, except for OpenGL Software & Hardware Lighting tests, since both depend on the installed VGA card.

With CineBench, the Foxconn P9657AB performed very well, reaching the Asus P5B Deluxe.

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 for the personal computer environments such as Windows NT and Windows 95 and called Super PI.

The software offers up to 32M calculations of PI numbers, for all CPUs we tested up to 8M calculations and summed them for a total score.

The Asus P5B Deluxe, due to its better memory handling, has the lowest time. SuperPI is affected by the memory timings and the Foxconn P9657AB had the highest calculation time.


9. F.E.A.R - Prey

- F.E.A.R

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 tests. We maxed all details for CPU and VGA card, except for AA/AF and Soft Shadows which are enabled as indicated in each graph. Below are the results after using the built-in benchmark test:

- Prey

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 Quake 3 engine and for sure will 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:


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:

 

- 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 run each board with different visual quality settings. For all tests, we enabled 1280x1024 with HDR shadows.


11. Overclocking

The Foxconn P9657AB isn't exactly advertised as an overclocking champion. We were very curious to see how this board would perform with our test setup. There were some problems with overclocking, at least when compared with other overclockable motherboards:

  1. The P965 doesn't support setting the internal CPU multiplier from within the BIOS. This means limited overclocking possibilities, especially with CPUs like the E6600 and higher. There shouldn't be a big problem for E6300 CPUs however.
  2. The P965 doesn't offer many FSB:RAM ratios, besides the "usual" 1:1, 4:5 & 2:3. Asus boards offer up to 1:2, unleashing the DRAM speed, especially with the proper "fast" memory
  3. If an overclocking attempt fails, the system won't reset the memory/FSB settings to default, so in most cases it won't POST. Therefore, you have to clear the CMOS to return to default settings, which is rather inconvenient.

Having taken note of the above, we can now proceed to the actual tests. Without modifying the voltages, we pumped up the FSB to 330MHz and our E6600 reached 2.978GHz. While we could go higher, the system was not stable. In comparison, the P5B Deluxe with the exactly same setup can go up to 350MHz FSB:

Due to the fact that we cannot lower the internal CPU Multiplier, we couldn't find out how much higher this board could go. We looked all over the net at other reviews and there were indications that the Foxconn P9657AB in most cases could reach ~350MHz FSB. Certainly not the best overclocking board we have tested for the P965 platform.


12. Conclusion

The Foxconn P9657AB-8KS2H is the latest proposal from Foxconn for Intel Core2Duo users. Intel's P965Express chipset has proved its effectiveness and performance margins and is being used by many end users. This board supports all currently sold Intel 775 socket processors - Intel® Core™ 2 Duo/ Intel® Pentium® D/Intel® Pentium® 4/ Intel® Celeron® D processor.

In almost all tests, the Foxconn P9657AB was found to be slower than the Asus P5B Deluxe. In many cases, this is because the Asus P5B Deluxe can set the memory with a higher divider (1:2~533MHz), while the P9657AB can only manage 400MHz. There were cases where the P9657AB had better performance, but it cannot compete with the Asus P5B Deluxe, especially in RAM bandwidth.

Passing to the board itself, the overall design is good. There is plenty of free space around the CPU area, allowing for installation of larger cooling systems. There's also IDE and floppy connections and four SATA II connectors for HDD and optical storage devices.

In our overclocking attempts, the board proved to be overclockable, despite the fact that it doesn't have as many options as the Asus P5B Deluxe does. We managed to reach a top FSB of 330FSB without any voltage tweaks and 9x Internal CPU multiplier. Unfortunately, you cannot set (and lower) the CPU internal multiplier as with most other boards which makes life much easier. With CPUs like the E6600 and on, this could be an issue, but with the E6300 this doesn't apply. We believe that the ceiling with this board is around ~350FSB, which is not that impressive for this category. If overclocking fails, most times the system won't POST and you have to clear the CMOS, rather annoying for enthusiast users.

Ending our presentation, we have no major complaints with the stability of the Foxconn P9657AB-8KS2H motherboard. Entry level users, for an estimated cost of ~€110 can buy a motherboard that supports Crossfire, is based on Intel's P965Express chipset and has official "Vista "support. Overclocking is possible, but not exactly what we were dreaming of...



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