Motherboard Guide

ECS KA1 MVP review

ECS KA1 MVP (ATI Radeon Xpress 200 CrossFire)

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Examining the KA1 MVP

Examining the KA1 MVP

Not only does the KA1 MVP use the CrossFire Edition of the Radeon Xpress 200 Northbridge, the board also features ATI's SB450 Southbridge, compared to the SB400 of the older RX480-A motherboard, with an audio upgrade to support Azalia HD Audio. However, some users might not be to enthused about this combination since ATI still hasn't ironed out the flaky USB performance since the SB400 and dated storage. This is one reason why many manufacturers choose ULi Southbridges instead. Luckily, the saving grace of the SB450 is a more-than-decent storage controller despite it supporting the older SATA standard and lacking NCQ.

Now we've mentioned that the ECS KA1 MVP is an 'Extreme' motherboard, so expect ECS to flesh out the board with a full compliment of features. The KA1 MVP is beefed up with SATA II support through a Silicon Image SiI3132 PCIe SATA II controller, which does come with NCQ and eSATA support. The board also features FireWire capabilities, powered by the commonly used VIA VT6307 IEEE 1394a controller. This 2-port controller should give you basic FireWire support, though we would have loved to see IEEE 1394b (800Mbps) being implemented more in motherboards today. One of the board's better features is its networking support. ECS uses a Marvell 88E8053 PCIe Gigabit Ethernet controller for its primary port, while the second port makes use of a slower Realtek RTL8100C Fast Ethernet controller, so it doesn't matter that it is running of the PCI bus. This slower port would be more than enough to be used for external broadband connectivity, while the high-speed Gigabit port can be put to use within your home LAN environment. This seems to be a favored configuration for ECS.

Besides having enthusiast-level graphics support for CrossFire technology, the KA1 MVP will also feature Realtek's ALC880 HD Audio CODEC for improved onboard audio. However, gamers looking for higher compatibility and lower processing overhead will still find a discreet sound card a better choice.


Layout

One of our largest complaints when we reviewed the older RX480-A motherboard was its design, which resulted in a tightly spaced layout despite the board having only basic features. The KA1 MVP is relatively free of such issues. As far as space is concerned, the board has a very clean design that will do justice to any premium product.

But it isn't perfect, yet. Most motherboard manufacturers today realize the constrains of large graphics cards and with a multi-GPU motherboard, it is very important to ensure expansion compatibility. The KA1 MVP alternates between a PCIe x16 slot and a PCIe x1 slot with both PCI slots located at the bottom. When you look at the design, what you'd notice is that if you have two rather large ATI Radeon X1800's in CrossFire mode, you won't be able to use both the PCIe x1 slots, so unless ATI is able to get single slot cards out, the KA1 MVP might as well not have PCIe expansion at all. On the other hand PCIe x1 devices are still a rare breed, hence the issue isn't all too bad for the moment. ECS will also have to look at certain component placements like power connectors so they won't cause cable management problems.

Overclocking

  • FSB Settings: 200MHz to 500MHz
  • RAM Frequency: DDR200, DDR266, DDR333, DDR400
  • CPU Voltage Settings: 0.825V to 1.550V (in 0.025V steps), +25mV to + 175mV (in 25mV steps)
  • Memory Voltage Settings: 2.60V to 3.00V (in 0.05V steps)
  • CPU Dynamic Overclocking: Disabled, +2MHz to +30MHz (in 2MHz steps)
  • Multiplier Selection: Yes (unlocked CPUs only)

Finally, ECS has answered our call for a better BIOS implementation with more accessible options and tweaking capabilities. ECS has traditionally locked out many advanced functions and timing capabilities of their motherboards with a minimalist BIOS. The KA1 MVP comes with a regular Award BIOS interface, with full access to memory timings including CAS latency and CMD Rate. The only feature missing is chipset voltage control.

In our overclocking tests, we were able to run this baby up to 275MHz completely stable with an 800MHz HT link (HTT multiplier at 4x). Even with a full 1GHz HT link, the board was stable up to 260MHz. This is a very impressive result and although the RX480-A still holds the crown with a 290MHz overclock, the KA1 MVP really feels like a better polished product with more stability.