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Reviewed by: Kevin Luck [10.06.01]
Manufactured by: ECS Elitegroup



If there is a bright spot to the current slump in the computer industry, it is that it has created a buyer's market; OEMs are engaged in an ongoing, all-out price war, better hardware can be had cheaper than I ever remember seeing before; indeed, the fact that you can buy 512MB of DDRAM for under $50, when 4 1MB SIMMs used to easily cost $100, just goes to show you how far we've come. Companies are riding razor-thin profit margins just to get our business, bargains abound, and the temptation is strong.

I've been pondering an upgrade for some time now--carefully watching the prices dip lower and lower, steeling myself against one impulse purchase after another. Finally, I promised myself if I could get a top-of-the-line t-bird/motherboard combo for under $200--shipping included--I'd give in. A few weeks ago, I got my chance.

Okay, who spilled the box of IDE cables in this guy's case? - Geoff The Goat

Elite Computer Systems (ECS) is not necessarily a big name in the motherboard field. They tend more towards consumer-level motherboards for OEMs. However, they do have a modest reputation for putting out quality boards, and a good variety of them; indeed, their Socket A offerings run the gamut of most major chipset manufacturers (SiS, VIA, Ali) and feature sets. After looking at the various models available, I settled on the K7S5A. This was based primarily on three factors--the price, the integrated hardware features, and the ability to switch between SDRAM and DDRAM. The latter two options are courtesy the SiS735 motherboard chipset.

The SiS 735 Chipset

The 735 is the latest in Silicon Integrated Systems (SiS)’ line of motherboard chipsets—though in point of fact, "chipset" is a misnomer, as SiS has managed to build a multipurpose, high-performance solution into a single chip. By integrating all its functionality into a single unit, SiS has cut down on overhead and traffic lag, such as between the north and south bridges (which control the interfaces to the rest of the board & peripherals). Usually traffic between the two was relegated to the speed of the motherboards Front-Side Bus (FSB), but the 735 is able to make use of special internal high-speed connections between the two. Fortunately, this integrated design did not come at the cost of flexibility; under the big yellow heatsink for this chip is an impressive array of features:

  • Motherboard & memory FSBs of 100MHz or 133MHz (may be toggled separately)
  • Support for up to 1.5GB of system memory in either up to 3 SDRAM (at up to 1.06GB/s) or DDRAM (up to 2.1GB/s) slots, with up to 512MB each.
  • AGP 2.0 2X/4X slot with FastWrite support
  • Dual ATA 33/66/100 IDE channels
  • Support for up to 6 PCI Masters & 6 USB ports
  • Integrated 10/100MB Fast Ethernet or 1MB/10MB HomePNA
  • AC97 Interface (includes built-in audio, audio/modem riser (AMR) support)
  • ACPI 1.0b and APM 1.2 power management

All in all, a nice set of features for a modern motherboard. Of course, it’s not perfect—I would have liked to have seen support for more than two IDE channels, and the AC97 sound adapter is not the most impressive thing (it does the job, but that’s about it). For an OEM chipset, however, it really is quite flexible.

It’s nice to see Slot A chipsets coming out that support multiple memory formats; on the Intel side of things there has been a marked tendency to keep everything on RDRAM which, while an impressive performer in the right circumstances (i.e., a high-end P4 and a latest-generation chipset), is still quite a bit pricey for most peoples’ tastes. VIA has been showing around a P4 chipset that will allow use of DDRAM, but Intel seems to feel they have no right to distribute it, and have taken steps to halt VIA in its tracks (some people have floated the theory that Intel is doing this mainly as a delaying tactic to hold VIA off the market until they can ready a P4/DDR offering off their own; pure speculation, of course, but stranger things have happened). On the AMD side, however, we are seeing a nice selection of chipsets and motherboards supporting a variety of configurations. This is important; with the industry in the state its in, not to mention AMD’s own particularly low business of late (losing Gateway and all), staying flexible is key to AMD’s keeping a strong presence in the industry.

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