Freetech P5F103 Review

Introduction
Freetech's P5F103 is a high quality, high performance, function-enhanced mainboard, based on the super7 specification. Designed around the ALi Aladdin V chipset, the P5F103 mainboard delivers workstation level performance with its integrated AGP, Bus Mastering EIDE (Enhanced IDE) controller, concurrent PCI bus, and its ability to accommodate EDO, Standard and PC100 SDRAM memory. Currently the fastest in benchmark applications of any Aladdin V based mainboards we've tested. When this high data stream bandwidth mainboard is equipped with any of today's latest socket 7 CPUs, it has the power to handle even the most demanding applications.

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Packaging
As with most ATX boards, the P5F103 comes simply packaged with one each, floppy and IDE ribbon cables, fairly current editions of ALI's IDE and AGP virtual device drivers and an excellent manual. The manual although very well written and thorough, shares duties for Freetech's P5F97 microATX form board. While each are clearly defined you need to be aware which board you are working with so as not to get confused.

Features
The P5F103 achieves outstanding reliability by supporting ECC (Error Checking and Correction) memory, enabling the mainboard to provide superior data integrity and fault tolerance as far as memory errors while running applications.
The P5F103 mainboard offers excellent I/O capabilities. It contains the full set of typical super7 platform PC I/O, such as two dual channel Ultra ATA/33 interfaces, a floppy controller, two 16550 UART serial port connectors, an SPP/EPP/ECP capable bi-directional parallel port, an IrDA compatible infrared port, dual USB ports, and a PS/2 keyboard and mouse connector. The AGP slot, four PCI local bus slots and three ISA bus slots provide a comfortable home for even full-length expansion cards. "OnNow", "Managed PC" and PC98 compliant, it also offers optimized system performance, integrated power management, Trend Chipaway Virus and optional hardware management with the Winbond W83781D system environment chip (An option not found on our test sample).
Unlike the majority of today's Aladdin V mainboards, external CPU speeds in excess of 100MHz are dipswitch/jumper configurable, rather than set through the BIOS. The P5F103 offers a spicy set of front side bus speeds ranging from 60 through 120MHz, with settings above 100MHz in 5MHz increments. FSB and clock multiplier settings are handled by a single block of dipswitches and the core voltage is adjusted by means of another block of dipswitches which offer voltage settings from 2.0 to 3.5v in 0.1v increments. The clock multipliers are configurable from 2.0x up to 5.5x.
Features like Plug and Play, Soft-off, APM (Advanced Power Management), External Modem Ring On, Wake On LAN (WOL), Watchdog timer wake up, Sleeping state indicator, fan off in sleeping state (requires Fan with tachometer output) and BIOS upgradability are also provided standard on the PP5F103 mainboard.

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Setup
The only real failing of the Freetech P5F103, and a minor one at that, is the board's layout. The placement of the front panel I/) connectors, floppy connector and ATX power connector, in the upper right hand corner of the mainboard as it sits in the case (bottom left in the diagram above), is great for allowing full-length PCI/ISA cards but, it is also somewhat crowded. Although the extra width of the board is nice, this puts that whole section somewhat behind your CD-ROM drive in many mid-tower cases making front panel I/O connections to their various leads a must before mounting in the case.  In my case the speaker lead was not long enough to reach the speaker connector. The CPU socket is also poorly placed if you want to use an oversized heatsink/fan cooler.  Located so near the top of the board as to push large coolers up against the power supply.   Otherwise, setting the core voltage, clock speed and multiplier is clearly defined in the manual so you won't have any difficulties there and all of the other connectors are easily identified and hooked up.  BIOS configuration is relatively simple and the manual walks you through it with clear and effective documentation.

Testing Configuration for Freetech P5F103

Mainboard Freetech P5F103
L2 Cache 512K P.B. SRAM
Processor(s) AMD K6-2 350/400MHz, K6-III 400MHz
Cyrix MII 333
IDT WinChip 2 PR300
Rise mP6 PR266
Intel Pentium 233MMX
Memory 128MB (2x64MB) PC100
Corsair CM 654S64-BX2
Hard Drive WD Caviar AC36400
6.4G Ultra ATA/33
Graphics card Diamond Viper 330 4MB AGP
Operating System Windows 98

Performance
The Freetech P5F103 really screams as far as performance, leading the pack in Ziff-Davis'   Business Winstone 99 benchmark scores. The marks recorded after three runs of the benchmark at each setting are then averaged to reflect the scores here.

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Overclocking
Under the configuration above the Freetech P5F103 was superbly stable at FSB speeds up to 115MHz.  It as not stable however when I tried substituting Creative's Blaster Banshee 16MB AGP Graphics card for the Diamond Viper 550, or when substituting a Creative/Ensonic PCI sound card for my standard AWE 64 ISA sound card, although both performed excellently at 100MHz FSB and below.

Conclusion
If you aren't afraid jumper/dipswitch configuration and the board's layout is not a problem, and you are looking for performance, this is a tough board to beat.   Although it doesn't offer a lot of what many consider to be, unnecessary features, it definitely stands up in the performance dept...

awardgold.gif (6926 bytes) Although a bit tough to track down retailers for this board on websites such as Pricewatch and KillerApp, the Freetech web site should be more than capable of pointing you in the right direction.  The P5F103's stability and performance are both rock solid and the latest BIOS incarnation supports all current socket 7 CPU's making it sure to support your current and near future upgrade needs.
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