Like the 775i915P-SATA2, the 775XFire-eSATA2 is a simple motherboard, featuring only chipset basics and relying on its charm for CrossFire compatibility. In fact, we must say that the board is even more streamlined because of the new chipset used. The previous 775i915P-SATA2 was obviously a transitional motherboard, supporting legacy as well as modern features, but the 775XFire-eSATA2 is made to cater only for new technologies.
While entry-level boards are usually paired with plain-Jane, vanilla ICH Southbridges, users will be happy to know that the 775XFire-eSATA2 comes with the ICH7R instead. This Southbridge not only gives the board native SATA II support, but extra performance with AHCI and NCQ, security and redundancy through Intel's Matrix Storage Technology and the various RAID modes supported (RAID 0, 1, 5, 10). What's more, ASRock has also re-routed two of the board's four available SATA ports for external SATA connectivity with Hot Plug and Hot Swap support. The best part is that users can selectively enable eSATA if they need to or use all four SATA ports for internal drives.
Another differentiating factor that this board has from its predecessor is its audio component. The 775i915P-SATA2 came with a standard AC'97 CODEC, but ASRock has wisely updated this with an Azalia compliant 6-channel CODEC (Realtek ALC660) in the 775XFire-eSATA2. This should give the board a boost in audio fidelity and performance in movies and gaming alike.
CrossFire support is made possible by routing four PCIe lanes off the Southbridge for the second graphics slot. Like most single graphics chipsets modded for dual graphics operation, the second slot (AGI Express) only operates at PCIe x4 speeds. The main difference of the 775XFire-eSATA2 though is that users aren't required to mess around with jumpers to enable the slot, nor will other devices be disabled (such as the earlier 775i915-SATA2) because the ICH7R has more PCIe lanes than older Intel Southbridges.
While the Intel 945PL Express chipset only supports a single DIMM per memory channel, interestingly, the ASRock 775XFire-eSATA2 still sports four DIMM slots. How's that possible you ask? Intel's definition of supporting a single DIMM per channel is based on usage of double-sided (also known as dual-bank) memory. Since the chipset has a dual channel memory controller, it will support a maximum of two double-sided memory modules, but if you are using only single-sided memory, up to four memory modules can be safely installed.
The clean PCB layout of the 775XFire-eSATA2 can be deceiving. On one hand, it has very good component spacing and a clear CPU socket area. However, there is a very high possibility of cable clutter near the center and to the back of the board, which requires some clever cable management to get under control.
This is because of the ATX and extra 12V power headers that are concentrated in the area, not forgetting that most high-end graphics cards will require additional power. Take note that unlike most new motherboards, the main ATX power connector is a 20-pin type. That doesn't mean you can get away with a shabby old power supply unit as you'll still need a good beefy unit to run the latest processors and CrossFire. Since all new power supplies are now equipped with 24-pin ATX power connectors, you'll require a converter cable to interface the 20-pin connector on the motherboard. There's no clearance beside the board's ATX power connector, so if you had thoughts of squeezing in the power supply's 24-pin connector, you are out of luck.
We've also talked about the board's configurable eSATA ports. In order to enable the two rear eSATA ports, users have to run a pass-through cable (a standard SATA cable) to re-route the internal SATA ports to the rear I/O connectors. No points for guessing where these cables converge.
The following overclocking options are available to the ASRock 775XFire-eSATA2:-
- FSB Settings: 100MHz to 300MHz
- RAM Frequency: DDR2-400, DDR2-533
- PCIe Frequency: 50MHz to 200MHz
- VTT: Low, High
- VCCM: Low, Medium, High
- VDDQ: Auto, Low, High
- Multiplier Selection: Yes (unlocked CPUs only)
Since ASRock focuses mainly on entry-level systems, it isn't surprising that the board isn't equipped with an overclocking BIOS. Voltage options are simple switches denoting 'Low' or 'High' with the actual values not shown. We've also noticed that most of its default values are already set at 'High', therefore, there isn't actually any room to play around with. In any case, we were optimistic about the board's overclockability from past experiences with the 775i915P-SATA2 (which managed 250MHz FSB). However, the maximum stable overclock we could achieve on the ASRock 775XFire-eSATA2 was 225MHz. Even though we used an unlocked Pentium 4 with reduced multiplier and lowered memory frequency, we couldn't coax even an extra MHz more from it.