ECS P6BA-A+ Review

Our First Ever Slot-1 Review!

Introduction
While Slot-1 system boards are definitely not my forte', since acquiring EPoX' Socket 370 to Slot-1 converter card, I have the ability to run a wide enough range of processors to make the task at least somewhat interesting. Elitegroup, garnering a lot of interest lately with their release of the P6BXT-A+ mainboard (which supports both Slot-1 and socket 370 CPUs), also produces a fine line of Slot-1 Celeron, PII & PIII ready system boards. Since the company was kind enough to forward me some samples I decided it was time to take a look at Slot-1 so that I could better compare socket 7 & 370 system boards to them. The First of these will be ECS' P6BA-A+. A slot-1 system board built around the Elite BX core logic chipset (a remarked VIA Apollo Pro Plus).

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Packaging
The P6BA-A+ comes nicely boxed with IDE and Floppy ribbon cables. As with most of today's ATX form factor system boards, all of the back panel I/O connectors are pre-installed on the board. Something that I find very handy as it makes setup a breeze. The mainboard ships with a well laid out User's Manual, Elitegroup's Installation CD and Slot-1 heatsink support brackets, and, offers optional system monitoring in the form of the Winbond W83781D System Environment IC chip.

Features
Key features of the P6BX-A+ mainboard are the high-level of performance and
the system support for the latest Intel processors and graphics sub-systems.
The mainboard also supports state-of-the-art network management software and
system monitoring hardware. The mainboard uses the latest VIA Apollo Plus logic chipset remarked to carry their own logo, much the same as SOYO remarks the MVP3 chipset to ETEQ. This chipset also supports a 100+ MHz host and memory bus. The P6BA-A+ uses the system BIOS to set the processor frequency, clock multiplier and voltage so system configuration for all supported processors can be made using firmware rather than jumpers. The mainboard has a built-in Advanced Graphics Port (AGP) so that you can optionally install any of the new generation of AGP cards. The system meets the AGP 1.0 standard with support for 1X/2X speed transfers and BIOS control of the memory display buffer. Five 32-bit PCI and two 16-bit ISA slots offer generous room for expansion. The P6BA-A+ has three DIMM sockets, which can be installed with 3.3 Volt unbuffered SDRAM modules. Each memory module can have up to 128 MB of memory so a maximum of 384 MB can be installed. Elitegroup recommends that you use 100 MHz SDRAMs with PC/100 specification for maximum performance. Using an ATX power supply and supporting ACPI (advanced
configuration and power interface)function, the system BIOS supports automatic wake-up for network and modem calls. So, a system built on this mainboard can always be online for critical network and communications applications yet still remain energy efficient. The mainboard has a full range of standard I/O ports;
Two Ultra DMA/33 IDE channels each supporting two devices, one floppy diskette connector supporting up to two drives, one parallel port and two serial ports, two USB ports and PS/2 keyboard and mouse ports.

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Setup
You don't need to be a computer technician anymore to set up a new system board and the ECS P6BA-A+ is as easy as any of the newer ATX boards to get up and running. Now that CPU frequency, multipliers and voltage settings have moved from jumpers to software settings in BIOS setup. Slip the CPU and memory modules into their slots, hook up the ATX power, IDE and Floppy cables. Pop the front panel led and switch connectors over their specific pins and add your expansion cards. If you give the manual a good once over, the act of setting up an ATX system shouldn't take any more than 45 minutes even with a new case. BIOS configuration on the P6BA-A+ is also a breeze. CPU core voltage, FSB speed and multipliers are auto-detected so unless you are overclocking, you don't need to do any more than set the default CPU speed in the BIOS Features screen of CMOS setup. (Actually you won't even have to do that if you don't want to.)

Test Configuration for ECS P6BA-A+

Mainboard Elitegoup P6BA-A+
Chipset Elite BX (VIA Apollo Pro +)
L2 Cache 128kb on-chip
Processor(s) Intel SEC Celeron 333MHz
Intel SEC 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
As my Winstone 99 CD was recently damaged and I have yet to get a replacement, 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.

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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...

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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...

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Overclocking
The P6BA-A+ seems to provide a stable platform on which to overclock the Celeron CPU.   Having no access to Pentium II/IIIs at this time, I found that the highest available front side bus speed in the "BIOS Features" manual CPU configurator to be 83MHz.  Whether or not this would change with the introduction of a processor that operates at 100MHz, I cannot say.

Conclusion
As much as I don't want to I have to give the ECS P6BA-A+ it's due.  The system board makes for an easy, stable and practical upgrade to any system based on the current Slot-1 compatible processor. Well developed, from a technical standpoint, the system board's included "User's Manual" makes setup a snap, the board is nothing if not stable, overclocks well (for the 66MHz processor, at least), offers excellent expansion and has an exceptionally fair pricetag.  While I personally still prefer my super7 platform system, I'd not give a second thought to recommending the P6BA-A+ to anyone in search of a reasonably priced, Slot-1 system Board!!!

  Posted 4/26/99
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