ECS P5VP-A+ Review

That Bus Don't Stop Here...

Introduction
Currently the flagship Super7 mainboard in Elitegroup's small fleet of socket 7 mainboards, the P5VP-A+ offers a wide range of CPU core voltages and external frequencies. Taiwan-based, Elitegroup has dedicated itself not only to mainboard manufacturing technology, but also in the area of BIOS research, system integration, and software support. Combining its know-how in mainboard design and innovation with these new areas of development, Elitegroup's intent is to provide their customers with the lowest total cost of ownership and comprehensive system management capability. With innovations such as their P6BXT-A+ (reviewed here earlier) Elitegroup will no doubt be at the forefront of mainboard and system design and manufacturing as we approach the coming millennium.

Packaging
As with most current ATX mainboards, all backpanel I/O connectors are mounted on the PCB itself so that the only cables/connectors required are floppy and IDE cables, both of which you' find boxed with the mainboard. The package also includes a concise and effective User's Manual along with Elitegroup's Mainboard Support Disk which contains all of the necessary drivers to get your VIA MVP3 core logic based system up and running as well as PC-cillin OEM Ver 4.02 and LANDesk Client Manager 3.30, if you've ordered the optional hardware monitoring chip.

Features
The P5VP-A+ offers support for 66/75/83/95/100/112 and 124MHz front side bus and clock multipliers ranging from x1.5 to x4.5, through a somewhat confusing set of 18 jumper pins. CPU core voltages range from 2.1v to 3.5v in 0.1v increments and even include a 1.2v setting. Along with it's AGP slot, the P5VP-A+ has 4 PCI and 2 ISA (one shared) for expansion and 3 DIMM slots for system memory support up to 768MB. The mainboard provides a basic set of I/O ports. The I/O ports are supported by the Winbond W83877 Super I/O chip and also the VIA chipset. The board has external connectors for two serial ports (UART 16550 –compatible), two USB ports, one parallel port (bi-directional/EPP/ECP), one PS/2 mouse port and one PS/2 keyboard port. A connector is provided for an optional standard infrared port. The mainboard includes an interface for one or two floppy disk drives, and two PCI IDE channels which can support Ultra DMA/33 drives.

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Setup
The P5VP-A+ is a well laid out ATX mainboard and offers ample room for an oversize CPU heatsink/fan combo.  All of the necessary connectors are easy to identify and access.   Were it not for a somewhat confusing jumper array, setup would be a breeze.   As you can see, at right, J1, the jumper block which governs external CPU speed and clock multipliers, is an 18-pin grouping that is configured by means of 6 color-coded jumpers.  It isn't the jumper array itself but rather the manual's explanation of the jumper block that confused me more than anything.  On the whole, I think that the neophyte upgrader may be thrown for a loop when confronted by such an extensive block.   All that aside, the board, once the CPU is properly configured, is simplicity itself.  BIOS configuration is extensive but well documented in the manual with each setting briefly described as well as the manufacturer's recommendation.
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Performance
The P5VP-A+ was tested using Ziff-Davis' Business Winstone 98 performance benchmark, Futuremark's 3DMARK™ 99 MAX and Quake II's Demo 1 and Massive FPS applications.  The marks recorded after three runs of each benchmark are then averaged to reflect the scores here.

Test Configuration for ECS P5VP-A+

Mainboard Elitegroup's P5VP-A+
Chipset VIA MVP3
L2 Cache 1MB PBSRAM
Processor(s) Intel P233MMX
Rise mP6 Pr266
IDT WinChip 2 PR300
Cyrix MII 333
AMD K6-2 350/400MHz, K6-III 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

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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 gauge of how well your system can perform.   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 to demonstrate the board against a real world gaming application...

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Overclocking
While the board is extremely stable at all speeds up to 100MHz, I had a great deal of difficulty getting the system stable when bumping the FSB to 112MHz.  Disabling "Cache Rd & CPU Wt" and lowering the Cache Timing speeds offered some relief but having used the same memory and graphics card in a number of systems, I am well aware of their abilities and was a bit concerned that the L2 cache RAM was not of the extremely high quality necessary for extending FSB speed. I want to add however that the system is so stable at 100MHz that I could overclock the K6-2 350MHz up to 400MHz and the K6-2 400MHz up to 450MHz by increasing the clock multipliers. Neither required increases to the CPU core voltage and ran for hours without any problem after upgrading the BIOS to ver. 2.2.2c.

About The K6-III
Elitegroup's website offers support for the AMD k6-2 450MHz in their newest BIOS update but makes no mention of the K6-III.  The board was not real stable although it managed to get through the benchmark applications without any problem.  Often it would parse the BIOS several times at bootup and certain programs and hardware did cause random lockups especially IE4 when using MS Intellimouse.

Conclusion
Elitegroup will have to make a few changes to the design of their super7 mainboards if they want to compete against the likes of EPoX, SOYO and Iwill.  While the performance is stable and completely adequate, the P5VP-A+'s feature set and difficulty of configuration relegate it to OEMs, VARs and experienced system builders. It's apparent inability to support the K6-III, at this time, also hurts.  ECS' focus currently seems to aimed toward more Intel-based system boards as their numerous high quality socket 370 and Slot-1 boards attest.  Approved for it's stability at default CPU settings and  concise manual, the P5VP-A+ is definitely not our first choice for a super7 system board...
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