ECS P6BXT-A+ Review
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Introduction
Scouring the web in early March, I was somewhat amazed when I came across Elitegroup's announcement for the release of P6BXT-A+, the first motherboard to have built-in Slot I and Socket 370 CPU connectors - supporting Intel’s entire line of desktop PC processors; the Celeron PPGA, Celeron, Pentium II and Pentium III. The P6BXT-A+ gives endusers in particular, the flexibility to assemble systems that cover the entire cost spectrum, low-end to high-end.

Designed to implement Intel's 440BX chipset based on both Slot 1 and socket 370 architectures and outfitted with 7 expansion slots (4 PCI's, 2 ISA's and 1 AGP) and 3 DIMM slots, supporting up to 768MB PC/100 SDRAM, the P6BXT-A+ is designed to be the heart of a system that can grow along with your needs. Also included is an onboard sound chip – Elite CMI8338 PCI audio providing exceptional HRTF-based 3D positional audio quality supporting four channel speakers with a professional digital sound audio interface as 24bits SPDIF IN (0.5V~5V) and OUT.

Features
Offering support for the Celeron PPGA processor at internal clock speed of 300/333/366/400/433/466MHz on the 66MHz FSB, P6BXT-A+ also supports Intel's current line of Slot-1 Celerons at all of their rated frequencies. The most exciting design feature of P6BXT-A+ is ability to allow the enduser to step up, supporting Pentium II/III processors at the speed of up to 450/500MHz with 100MHz FSB. The Pentium III processor, while rater costly, is designed to provide far better performance on the Slot-1 platform for 3D and floating point intensive applications through the addition of 70 new instructions (SIMD-Katmai?)to the current MMX technology.

P6BXT-A+ has incorporated many of the latest technological features such as LAN/Modem power on, keyboard power on/off, SB-LINK, PC-Cillin anti-virus software, hardware monitoring and magic jumperless configuration. It's LAN/Modem Power On capability allows your to receive in-coming faxes, voice-mail and also data transfers while powered down in "sleep-state". SB-LINK from Creative provides backward compatibility between PCI audio chip and ISA audio chip (PC to PCI technology). ECS has also included a "Resetable Fuse" for this board to protect keyboard, mouse and USB devices during the hot plug process. For full specifications of the ECS P6BXT-A+, Click Here...

Packaging
P6BXT-A+ is boxed with IDE and floppy cables, an excellent user-friendly manual (written in plain, easy to understand English) and is bundled with a support CD containing an online manual, drivers, a full version of PC-Cillin Anti-Virus software, and also provides a "Hardware Monitoring" application which uses the functionality of the Winbond chip, which monitors and reports the environmental conditions of your systems such as system voltage, fan speed and CPU/system temperature with a CPU Thermal Detector.

Setup
The P6BXT-A+ is remarkably easy to set up. Jumperless CPU configuration aside, the board's size, due to space requirement for implementation of both Slot-1 and socket 370 CPU connectors, gives ample room for even the fattest of fingers to manipulate all of the connectors and the few jumpers (which offer special functionality) onboard. Well laid out, clearly marked, it's implementation of colored connectors, compliant with PC 99 standard, thoroughly covered by the manual, all of the functions of the P6BXT-A+ are easily and quickly accomplished with a simplicity that even first time upgraders will zip through with the greatest of ease.

Bios configuration is practically automatic but still offers a wide range of settings for tweaking the most performance out of your system. The soft jumper configuration doesn't however offer a lot in the way of overclocking.  There is a jumper onboard that does allow you to force the 100MHz external CPU frequency which will allow you to push a 300MHz Celeron A up to 450MHz without too much difficulty, but the lack of a 75/83MHz FSB setting and CPU core voltage settings make your ability to overclock dependent wholly on the quality of your processor. My first attempt to overclock an OEM Slot-1 Celeron 300A, while booting cleanly, soon met with failure in the form of random freezes until a final BSOD.  However a retail Celeron 300A performed like a champ immediately following.

Performance
At system defaults the P6BXT-A+ performs on par with most BX based mainboards. Under our testing configuration each of the performance marks shown below are averages of three runs of each application benchmark.

Test Configuration for ECS P6BXT-A+

Mainboard EliteGroup P6BXT-A+
Processor(s) Intel Celeron 300A (Slot-1)
Intel PPGA 370 400MHz
Memory 1x64MB PC100 (CAS 2)
Corsair CM 654S64-BX2
Hard Drive Western Digital Caviar AC36400
6.4G Ultra DMA/33
Graphics Card Creative Graphics Blaster Banshee
16MB AGP
Operating System Windows 98

It is truly unfortunate that I only have the capability of performing benchmarks on this mainboard with the two processors listed above as they cannot show of the true functionality of this one of a kind system board, but that is a major selling point for the ECS P6BXT-A+, it's support of such a variety of processors means it can be upgraded to whatever your pocketbook can bear.

p6bxta2.gif (4671 bytes)

Gaming performance also is fairly consistent with the majority of BX based mainboards.  Running Quake II's Demo 1 demo under Creative's miniGL driver for Quake II produced the following frame rates...

p6bxta1.gif (4435 bytes)

Conclusion
When all is said and done, the P6BXT-A+'s upgradability, feature set, ease of installation, excellent manual, and performance make it a sure winner in the enduser market. With a MSRP of $139.00, ECS' P6BXT-A+ is an cost effective way of building a multimedia and gaming monster of a system on a time limited budget.  While the lack of overclocking settings may cause some to shy away, the near future proof design, as far as Intel processors go, of the P6BXT-A+, make it a great value for money and a system board you'll not regret purchasing over the next few years. The only drawback that I can see is that, if you are anything like me, you'll want to go out and drop a bundle on a Pentium III right away, just to see how it performs...

To learn more about ECS and the P6BXT-A+, check out their website at http://www.ecsusa.com
To Purchase an ECS P6BXT-A+ head on over to Onsale.com   (type "Motherboard" in the Search Engine to bring up a full list of mainboards)

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