Freetech P6F100 Review
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Freetech's Mercury Mainboard

Introduction
Mercury \Mer"cu*ry\, n. [L. Mercurius; akin to merx wares.]

  1. (Rom. Myth.) A Latin god of commerce and gain; -- treated by the poets as identical with the Greek Hermes, messenger of the gods, conductor of souls to the lower world, and god of eloquence.
  2. (Chem.) A metallic element mostly obtained by reduction from cinnabar, one of its ores. It is a heavy, opaque, glistening liquid (commonly called quicksilver), and is used in barometers, thermometers, etc. Specific gravity 13.6. Symbol Hg (Hydrargyrum). Atomic weight 199.8. Mercury has a molecule which consists of only one atom. It was named by the alchemists after the god Mercury, and designated by his symbol, [mercury].
  3. (Astron.) One of the planets of the solar system, being the one nearest the sun, from which its mean distance is about 36,000,000 miles. Its period is 88 days, and its diameter 3,000 miles.
  4. A carrier of tidings; a newsboy; a messenger
  5. Sprightly or mercurial quality; spirit; mutability.

One might easily interpret, that when Freetech's marketing department tagged it's P6F100 mainboard with the above appellation, they were by way of inference, letting us know that this high performance mainboard was fast. Based on Intel's 82440LX Chipset in a standard ATX form factor, the "Mercury" is a quick and responsive system board offering optimized system performance and manageability for all current PPGA 370 Celeron™ CPUs.

Freetechbox.jpg (12796 bytes) Packaging
A standard ATX system board, the P6F100 has a full compliment of back panel I/O connectors on board and so, ships with one each, floppy and IDE ribbon cables, and a patch and drivers CD-ROM which contains a thorough online manual in Adobe's .pdf format. Freetech designers were so confident in the ease of installation of the P6F100 that the only included hard documentation is a small single sheet "Quick Reference" that points out all of the necessary connections you need to make to get your system up and running.

Features
The P6F100 offers optional system monitoring by means of the Winbond W83783S System Environment chip as well as on board sound provided by the Creative ES1373 audio chip however, the board sent by Freetech for the review had neither option available. What the P6F100 does have is outstanding I/O capabilities. Supported by the Winbond 83977xF chip it sports a full set of PC I/O, such as dual channel PCI Ultra DMA/33 interfaces, a floppy controller, two FIFOed serial port connectors, an SPP/EPP/ECP capable bi-directional parallel port connector, an IrDA
compatible infrared port, dual USB port connectors, and a PS/2 keyboard connector and a PS/2 mouse connector. One AGP slot, four PCI bus master capable slots which all support full length cards and three ISA bus slots provide adequate expandability for add on peripheral cards. Three DIMM slots provide users with the ability to accommodate up to 768MB of EDO or 384MB of SDRAM memory and supports the ECC (Error Checking and Correction) memory protections. The P6F100 offers Soft Menu configuration of the CPU clock speed and multipliers and CPU voltage auto detection.  This means you won't be fiddling around with any jumpers or dipswitches but it still offers some manual settings within the Soft Menu setup for overclocking capabilities.

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Setup
Giving the included "Quick Reference" sheet the once over is a pretty good idea but setting up the P6F100 is practically child's play. Connectors were clearly marked and defined in the reference sheet and, all tolled, took perhaps a grand total of fifteen minutes to set up after removing the PC's exterior case. While I would have liked to see a little more room between the CPU socket and the edge of the PCB (to provide more room for an oversized cooling unit), but, everything else seemed to have logical placement and ample room.  BIOS setup at an UN-tweaked default level is almost automatic.

Test Configuration for Freetech P6F100

Mainboard Freetech P6F100
Chipset Intel LX PCI/AGP set
L2 Cache 128kb on-chip
Processor(s) Intel PPGA370 Celeron 333MHz
Intel PPGA370 Celeron 400MHz
Memory 1x64MB PC100
Corsair CM 654S64-BX2
Hard Drive Quantum Fireball EX
6.4G Ultra ATA/33
Graphics Adapter Diamond Viper 550 16MB AGP
Operating System Windows 98

Performance
The P6F100 rose to meet every challenge with absolute stability, turning in very respectable benchmark scores. It never ceases to amaze me of the level of performance attainable by these Celeron CPUs for their low price and when matched up with a good stable mainboard like Freetech's Mercury, the price-performance ratio is so good as to loosen the purse strings of the most miserly among us.  As my Winstone 99 CD was recently damaged, the system board was tested using Ziff-Davis' Business Winstone 98 performance benchmark, Futuremark's 3DMARK™ 99 MAX and Quake II's Demo 1 and Crusher FPS for OpenGL gaming performance and the Unreal fly-by FPS in D3D applications.  The marks recorded after three runs of each benchmark are then averaged to reflect the scores here.

Winstone.gif (7333 bytes)

Futuremark's 3DMARK™ 99 is not only a great benchmark application for testing your graphics card, the scores it reflects for performance in the form of 3Dmarks and synthetic CPU 3Dmarks can also be a fair reference for overall system performance.     The following are scores generated testing at a resolution of 800x600 and again are the average of three runs of each test...


3dmark.gif (9682 bytes)


  I have also included the Quake II frame rates for Demo 1 & Crusher, and the D3D version of the Unreal flyby to demonstrate the board against a real world gaming application...

Q2D1.gif (7175 bytes) Q2C.gif (7028 bytes)
Unreal.gif (7711 bytes)

Overclocking
Just a brief word here for those of you that, like me, just can't seem to stop tweaking the most performance out of your systems.  Unlike super7 and other mainboards capable of achieving the 100MHz Front Side Bus frequency, LX based mainboards offer no clock divider for the AGP frequency.  This means that your AGP frequency will match your external CPU frequency and your PCI frequency will run at 1/2 the external CPU frequency (as reflected in the table below...)

System Clock CPU Bus Clock AGP Clock PCI Clock
66MHz 66MHz 66MHz 33MHz
75MHz 75MHz 75MHz 37.5MHz
83MHz 83MHz 84MHz 42MHz

This is important to keep in mind because your AGP card and other expansion cards will have to be capable of functioning properly at these frequencies in order to overclock your system.  Under our testing configuration the P6F100 was absolutely solid when overclocking. And, since CPU core voltage is auto-detected, this is a good indication of the processor's stability.

approved370.gif (8837 bytes) Conclusion
I found the Freetech's P6F100 to be an excellent LX-based board for PPGA Celeron support and heartily approve it for ease of installation, stability, manageability and performance.  While I would have preferred to review the system equipped with the system monitoring option, I nevertheless give The Super 7 Hardware Guide's Seal of Approval to this fine system board and hope to see PPGA 370 based boards based on the BX and ZX chipsets from Freetech in the near future.
For more information about products from Freetech, check out their website at
http://www.freetech.com
 
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