EPoX EP-3VBA Review
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Introduction
Offering just about everything you could ask for in a performance mainboard built for the PPGA Celeron EPoX EP-3VBA is sure to catch the eye of any end user looking to take the best advantage of Intel's value priced processors. Built around VIA's Apollo Pro+ PCIset the EP-3VBA is designed to take advantage of the latest in technologies like Ultra ATA/66 and PCI INT# control scheme and AMR.

Packaging
The EP-3VBA comes simply boxed with IDE and floppy cables, a decent User's Guide and drivers disk and although EPoX doesn't include the audio modem riser card, they do include an additional Ultra ATA/66 80-wire 40-pin ribbon cable. The driver CD has all of the necessary patches and drivers to get you up and running.  The disk also includes Norton's Antivirus and Ghost utilities as well as a nifty little hardware monitoring utility.

Features
Offering a great variety of front side bus speeds the EP-3VBA offers excellent support for overclocking  but lacks the ability to adjust the CPU core voltage. Unlike the boards based on Intel chipsets, the CPU frequency and clock multiplier are configured with jumpers and dipswitches but can also be accessed through the BIOS. The front side bus speeds of  66/75/83/100/103/105/110/115/120/124 and 133 can be set by means of a single jumper and a single block of 4 dipswitches allow you to choose clock multipliers from 4x through 8x in 0.5x increments. The board supports up to 768MB of DRAM (EDO, standard or PC100 SDRAM) and can support ECC when using parity SDRAM modules.  Expansion comes as a single 16-bit ISA slot, four 32-bit PCI slots and AGP slot and AMR slot and the board provide two independent dual channel high performance IDE interfaces capable of supporting ATAPI, PIO Mode 3/4 and Ultra DMA 33/66 devices.  

The four PCI slots fully support Bus Mastering and a jumperless PCI INT# control scheme which allows you to determine the interrupts on each slot.  This make for easier configuration when plugging in PCI cards. The EP-3VBA is designed with on chip multi I/O for a single floppy port, an EPP/ECP capable parallel port and a pair of 16550 Fast UART serial ports. The VIA Apollo Pro+ south bridge also supports up to four USB ports.  Advanced features include software power down, remote power on through modem or LAN Keyboard power on and built-in AC97 PCI audio.

Setup
Setting up the EP-3VBA is quite simple even though you do use jumpers and dipswitches. The User's Guide covers all of the basics well so you'll get up and running fast and easy. Everything is where it should be and though you may have trouble fitting full length expansion cards in PCI slot 3/4, there is loads of room around the CPU socket for even the largest of CPU coolers.

Test Configuration for EPoX EP-3VBA

Mainboard EPoX EP-3VBA
Chipset VIA Apollo Pro+
Processor(s) PPGA370 Celerons
300/366/400/466MHz
Memory 2x64MB PC100
Corsair CM 654S64-BX2
Hard Drive Western Digital Expert 9.1G
Ultra ATA/66 7200RPM
Graphics Adapter Diamond Viper 550
Detonator v1.88 drivers
Operating System Windows 98

Performance
EPoX has built stability into the EP-3VBA.  This board never failed to perform at exceptional levels of performance over other socket 370 boards we've tested. Our stress test, a batch file that runs Ziff-Davis Winstone 99 in perpetuity, showed no sign of failure even after 5.25hrs. and the Winstone scores were quite exceptional. The chart below reflects the average scores over a minimum of three runs with each processor.

Overclocking
It is really a shame that EPoX didn't include the means to bump up the core voltage on the EP-3VBA.  With 100MHz Celerons due for release just over the horizon, the board could be a real strong contender for the top performing PPGA Celeron board available.  It still may well be.  The higher clock multiplier on the faster Celerons makes even the 83MHz FSB hard to reach but you also have to take your expansion cards into consideration as well. Very stable at 75MHz I couldn't get a stable enough system to even attempt any benchmarks at 83MHz.  It will be real interesting when PPGA370 Celerons come out with 100MHz default FSB frequencies as the range over 100MHz is wide enough for even the most rabid overclocker.

Conclusion
Without a doubt this is the fastest of any socket 370 boards we've tried to date.  The on board sound is wholly adequate but rather CPU intensive and while the most I could get out of the AMR modem was 26.4kbps this is rather typical for the rural area I live in.  

The ability to program the PCI IRQs is a definite plus and makes hardware conflicts almost assuredly a thing of the past. Impressive stability at default and 75MHz FSB speeds this has gotta be the top choice if you're looking for performance at a modest price.  EPoX also has a slot-1 configuration of this mainboard available in their EP-6VBA.

To find out more about this and other EPoX mainboards, check out their web site at http://www.epox.com  

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