EPoX EP-MVP3G Review
With the release of the new EP-MVP3G-M mainboard and the upcoming release of mainboards built around SiS' 530 and VIA's MVP4 chipsets, EPoX continues it's ardent attempt to remain at the top of the pack with cutting edge super7 technology. Building upon their already extensive experience with VIA's MVP3 chipset, the MVP3G is the best possible anchor upon which EPoX will no doubt rely to carry the baton of the super7 ATX mainboard through the first half of 1999. In limited release currently, you can expect to find this board on the web, at shows and local VAR's widely come the new year.
The MVP3G comes well packaged along with one each IDE and Floppy ribbon cable, an excellent user's manual, and a drivers CD - which contains the latest versions of VIA's IRQ Miniport Router, AGP drivers and Ultra DMA/33 IDE Bus Master drivers as well as EPoX' own USDM hardware monitoring control panel applet. The CD also has full online manuals and product descriptions for all of EPoX' current line of mainboards, and a pretty cool multimedia presentation about the company itself. There is also an included floppy that contains the latest version of High Point's XStore hard disk enhancement utility and CD Xpress. CD Xpress accelerates the accessing speed of the CD-ROM drive by reading and buffering data from the CD-ROM to an area in the hard drive. With CD Xpress, when you access CD-ROM data, you are actually accessing data from a buffer on the hard drive. This results in a tremendous increase in CD-ROM performance without penalties.
EPoX new flagship super7 mainboard documents support for all socket 7 CPUs operating at 133-500MHz. I comes with a full 1MB of fast pipeline burst SRAM for L2 cache which means it has a cacheable system memory area of 256MB but the three DIMM slots can support up to 384MB of system memory. The incorporation of VIA's Apollo MVP3 chipset allows you to select by jumper the speed of the memory bus either synchronously with external CPU frequency or implementing VCS' (Virtual Clock Synchronization) delay-lock-loop locking it at The AGP frequency (2/3 the FSB) so you won't need to rush out and purchase PC100 SDRAM if you already own EDO or standard 66MHz SDRAM DIMMs. EPoX equips all of it's super7 with it's ESDJ "Easy Setting Dual Jumper" jumper block configuration that allows you to select the external CPU speed and clock multiplier with one jumper for each. Clock multipliers range from 2.0 to 5.0 in 0.5 clock increments and external CPU speed settings include 66, 75, 83, 95, 100 & 112MHz settings configurable through jumpers and 95, 100, 112, 124, & 133MHz external CPU frequencies configurable through Chipset Features in the BIOS Setup. There are documented core voltage settings of 2.1, 2.2, 2.4, 2.8, 2.9 & 3.2v also configurable with a single jumper but undocumented are a full range of core voltages in 0.1v increments through the use of additional jumpers. The board supports two dual channel IDE ports up to and including Ultra ATA/33 (UDMA Mode 2) for theoretical hdd transfers at up to 33MB/sec. and will support ATAPI devices on either channel. It also is capable of supporting keyboard power-ON or external modem ring-in power-ON functions. The MVP3G hosts 5 PCI slots and 2 ISA slots (1 shared PCI/ISA slot)as well as the requisite AGP slot and provides back panel I/O connectors for PS/2 keyboard and mouse, 2 9-pin COM port connectors, 1 parallel port and 2 USB port connectors all supported through EPoX' use of the Winbond W83877TF Super I/O Controller, that also provides support for floppy interface, SBLink, Wake-On-LAN and infrared devices. EPoX also provides full support for hardware monitoring through it's incorporation of the Winbond W83781D chip and included "Unified System Diagnostic Manager v.2" software. Full specifications for the EP-MVP3G-M can be found here...
Layout & Setup
Even at first glance it is apparent that EPoX' R&D team took their time in designing the layout for this mainboard. All of the boards components are in logical positions with ample room around them to accomplish even the most delicate of tasks. The setup process is quick and easy and should be accomplished within a very few minutes. Connectors and jumpers are clearly marked on the board as well as in the included manual so you won't be left wondering if you've plugged everything in correctly. And the Easy Setting Dual Jumper system makes processor configuration a breeze.
Testing Configuration & BIOS Settings
Testbed for EPoX EP-MVP3G Mainboard
|Processors|| AMD K6-2
Cyrix MII 333
PC100 (CAS 2)
Corsair CM 654S64-BX2
|Hard Drive||Quantum Fireball EX 12.4G Ultra ATA/33|
|Graphics Card|| Creative
Riva TNT AGP x2 16MB
|Operating System||Windows 98|
I did have some trepidation about using a TNT based graphics accelerator especially after all of the email I received asking for help with their systems after purchasing TNT based cards but I have only seen the card and mainboard hiccup in OpenGL based applications when running the FSB at 124MHz, which conversely sets the AGP bus to just over 80MHz instead of the recommended 66MHz. Otherwise both performed with rock solid stability...
BIOS Settings In Chipset Features
|Bank 0/1 DRAM Timing||SDRAM/Fast|
|SDRAM Cycle Length||2 (3 when running FSB @ 124MHz)|
|SDRAM Bank Interleave||2|
|DRAM Page Mode||Enabled|
|DRAM Read Pipeline||Enabled|
|DRAM Fast Decoding||Enabled|
|Linear Burst||Enable for Cyrix CPU|
|Cache Rd+Cpu Wt Pipeline||Enabled|
|Video BIOS Cacheable||Enabled|
|System BIOS Cacheable||Enabled|
|Memory Hole AT 15Mb Addr||Disabled|
|AGP Aperture Size||64MB|
|Auto Detect DIMM/PCI Clock||Enabled|
|CPU Host Clock (CPU/PCI)|| Default
A Word About HighPoint XStore Drivers
XStore Pro is a disk caching utility that utilizes today's larger system memory sizes and bus mastering capabilities to enhance memory management by working with Windows 95 and 98. XStore Pro optimizes higher system performance by read ahead caching after seeking with a large block size of hard disk. While it does show a marked improvement in benchmark scores there is some debate as to the validity of the drivers in real world applications. I will attempt to follow this up at a later date but have included the benchmark scores for both with HighPoint drivers and without. Below you will find a block diagram illustrating the changes in the data path when using these drivers. I will say that task-switching and opening programs does seem somewhat faster with the drivers installed but copying large files seems to really slow down.
As my copy of Winstone 99 has not yet arrived I am forced to use the 98 version of the ZDBop benchmark, but since I have used it on all of the previous mainboards it will still give a good starting reference point. Scores below are the average of three separate runnings of each test.
|The EP-MVP3G stands alone at the top of the pack stealing the title of "Best Super7 ATX Mainboard" away from Iwill's XA100 Plus. It's speed and stability unquestionably set the standard for the industry to follow. EPoX' attention to detail both in design and the quality of the components chosen to outfit this mainboard make for an all-around high performance mainboard that can satisfy any enduser from the PC neophyte to those with masters degrees in performance tweaking.|
The easy to follow manual, wide list of features and utilities, EPoX fine reputation for technical support and improvement all meld together into one great reason to own this mainboard whether you are new to high performance socket 7 systems or already a total geek. If your not one already owning this board just may help you turn the corner...