MetkuMods
Author: Antti Valkeinen
Published: 12.08.2003
Manufacturer: Epox
Product group: Motherboard

Epox EP-4PDA2+


Packet

What we have here today is Epox PDA2+ motherboard based on i865PE & ICH5R chipsets. Epox has really loaded this board full of features and although it's not i875P motherboard it still has so called PAT enabled. PDA2+ looks very promising regarding to specs and expected performance and price is still somewhat lower than high-end Epox 4PCA3+ featuring expensive i875P chipset. Epox has been released few new revisions of this board lately so although our board is rev 1.0 what you will find on stores is probably rev 1.1, 1.2 or rev 2.0. We come back to this later.

Chipset:

I already told something about I865PE and i875P chipsets on our Asus P4P800 review so I'm going to quote that part here too.

"I875P chipset was introduced few months ago and at the time it was first chipset supporting new 800MHz P4's, dual channel DDR etc. Little later Intel introduced i865PE chipset along with 800MHz HT enabled 2.4GHz, 2.6GHz and 2.8GHz P4's. Only things that separates those two chipsets is ECC memory support and feature that Intel calls Performance Acceleration Technology (PAT). And after Asus solved how to enable PAT on i865PE chipset, ECC is only technical difference between those two. So it is quite obvious that because i875P is somewhat 50% more expensive than i865PE, there is no clear reason to choose i875P chipset instead of i865PE.

Intel still claims that it is not possible to enable PAT on i865PE chipsets and don't allow motherboard makers advertise PAT on their i865PE boards. So PAT is called Memory Acceleration Mode (Asus), Game Accelerator (Abit) or something else. I have included few other "PAT" enabled i865PE boards on benchmark sections so we can inspect if there are any differences among i865PE motherboard and of course how P4P800 performs compared to it's competitors."

Specifications:

CPU:Intel® Pentium® 4 (no Williamette support except on rev 2.0)
- Intel® Hyper-Threading Technology ready
Chipset:Intel 865PE Chipset
Intel ICH5R
Front Side Bus:800 / 533 / 400 MHz
Memory:- 4 x 184-pin DIMM Sockets support max. 4GB PC3200/2700/2100 non-ECC DDR SDRAM memory
- Dual Channel Memory Architecture
Expansion Slots:1 x AGP8X (1.5V only)
5 x PCI
Storage:2 x UltraDMA 100/66/33
2 x Highpoint HPT372N UDMA/ATA 133 RAID, 4 drives max
2 x Serial ATA, RAID 0 Silicon Image Sil3112A
2 x Serial ATA, RAID 0 (Microsoft WinXP only)
Audio: C-Media CMI9739 6-channel full duplex integrated sound
LAN:BCM5705 Gigabit Ethernet
Firewire:Agere FW323 3-port FireWire controller
USB 2.0:4 onboard, 4 optional
Special Features:-Debug LCD
-EPoX Power BIOS
-2x blue rounded cables
-Magic Flash
-EZ Boot
Overclock Features: - CPU, Memory, and AGP voltage adjustable
- Stepless Frequency Selection from 100MHz up to 400MHz at 1MHz increment
- Adjustable FSB/DDR ratio, Fixed AGP/PCI frequencies.


Back panel

This board really is packed full of features. IDE and SATA options are extraordinary: PDA2+ comes with totally 4 IDE and 4 SATA channels. Ethernet, firewire and integrated 5.1 audio are also present, but I'm a little disappointed that Epox didn't use Intel CSA LAN and higher quality audio solution.

Bundle shipped with motherboard is quite complete.

  • 2 Ultra ATA rounded IDE cables
  • 2 Serial ATA cables with power adapter
  • Floppy drive flat cable
  • I/O shield
  • IEEE 1394 Cable
  • GAME port
  • 3x floppy discs for SATA and RAID
  • Manuals and driver CD


Bundle

It's nice that Epox included Serial ATA power adapters. I'm also very happy that Epox has decided to bundle Norton Ghost 7 and PC-cillin with its motherboards. I'm big fan of Norton Ghost and I find it and PC-cillin many times more important software than for example popular InterVideo's WinDVD Suite.

Layout:


MB

My favorite color is green so I'm quite happy about Epox PDA2+'s external attractiveness. Colored DIMM slots, AGP slot and IDE connectors are refreshing details to very green appearance. So PDA2+ isn't Christmas tree but it is still rather a good looking motherboard, that is however my personal opinion. When it comes to layout I think that Epox has done very good job with PDA2+. Most of basic layout problems are resolved and only thing that concerns me is location of a CPU socket. Biggest CPU cooling solutions are likely to exceed even PCB's top edge and most cases there is just no space to do that. Six big capacitors are also very close to CPU socket and it could be problem too.


AGP slot & DIMMs


AGP slot & DIMMs

There is lots of space between DIMM slots and AGP slot which is always a good thing. I865PE chipset and its passive cooler are located very near CPU socket as we are used to see most of the new P4 boards. However there is more space between CPU socket and AGP slot than for example at Asus P4P800. This leaves more space to install heavy chipset coolers if needed and whole top part of motherboard looks much clearer.


Connectors

PDA2+ is rich featured motherboard and that really looks when you look about lower part of PCB. All three raid controllers, firewire controller, IDE connectors and debug LCD sure eat all the space they have. Actually very nice looking setup. Fortunately there is only few things that you have to reach more or less frequently: connectors and jumpers. IDE, Firewire, USB, SATA and floppy connectors are all easy to reach but CMOS clear jumper is pain in the ass. It is very hard to get decent grip about it and clear the CMOS. Taller jumper would have been nice.

Power Circuitry:

Epox has used Semtech SC2643VX core voltage regulation solution. Chip is compatible with VRD/VRM10, VRM9.X and K-8 standards so it is very versatile and it is most likely that we are going to see SC2643VX on many upcoming Opteron and Prescott motherboards. PDA2+'s power circuitry seems to be designed upcoming Prescott processors at mind. There is not even support for older Williamette P4's anymore at all revisions of the board. There is good and bad things about VRM10 design. First is that because of VRM10 specs maximum Vcore is limited to 1.6V and second is that because of Prescott's impressive power consumption, power circuitry is somewhat very sufficient for extreme overclocking.


Power Circuitry

Power Circuitry is four phased and consists of two mosfets, two Sanyo 6.3 V 3300 uF and one GSC 16 V 2200 uF condensators per phase. So basic stuff for four phased power circuitry here. 12V power connector is near as it should be and ATX connector is at my favorite place beyond the DIMM slots.

I'm impressed how good work Epox has done with PDA2+. Mainboard's layout is solid and very near perfect. Green PCB has also rounded corners which are nice, I liked overall color scheme too. That's about praising. Motherboard is so complex that there is always something to complain about and this time I like to point out that color coded pwr-switch, hdd-led etc. would have been nice. CPU socket is also little too close to PCB's edge and lastly CMOS clear jumper is at too narrow place.

Features:

IDE and SATA controllers:


Power Circuitry

The most unique feature of PDA2+ is probably its three(!) raid controllers. Two of them are for SATA drives, and if you prefer IDE ,there is HPT372N just for that. ICH5R south bridge has two UDMA100 IDE channels and two SATA channels with raid 0 and 1 support. ICHR5 has currently one of the fastest IDE controllers and definitely the fastest SATA controller. This apparently wasn't enough for Epox so they included Silicon Image Sil3112a SerialATA and Highpoint HPT372N UDMA/ATA 133 RAID. That is just stunning, up to 4 SATA and 8 IDE drives simultaneously.

I tested all controllers as usual. For IDE I used IBM 80GB 120GXP HDD and for SATA tests I used Western Digital WD2500JD SATA HDD. Next graphs shows SiSoft Sandra results.


SiSoft Sandra 2003 HDD performance

Audio:


C-Media CMI9739

One of the weakest points of PDA2+ is its C-Media CMI9739 6-channel audio codec. OK, it has 6-channels and it supports most important features but what I find unfortunate is that audio quality is somewhat low. Don't get me wrong, it is fine chip but these days some manufacturers use very high quality integrated audio solutions and compared to them C-Media CMI9739 is just inferior. So is there actually need for add-on audio card? Well, if I had to choose between Creative's Soundblaster Live! 5.1 and C-Media CMI9739, I would go with Live.

This is actually quite strange as I tested same chip on DFI Lanparty KT400A review and I liked it much more. Maybe it is just that ICH5R & C-Media CMI9739 combo doesn't sound as good as VT8235 & C-Media CMI9739. Here are overall results of a RightMark Audio Analyzer 5.1.

 General performance:Notes
Terratec SoundSystem DMX 6Fire 2496 (dedicated sound card)ExcellentVery good analog outputs
Philips Acoustic Edge (dedicated sound card)GoodOne of the best sound cards when using digital output
CMI9739A (integrated DFI Kt400A)AverageListening experience was better that test results
CMI9739A (integrated Epox PDA2+)AverageListening experience was worse that test results
Soundmax AD1985 (integrated)Good Probably best integrated audio device.
VIA Envy24PT (integrated)Good Excellent features

Tests were driven by using analog output and input (16-bit 44KHz).

LAN:


Broadcom BCM5705

Broadcom BCM5705 Gigabit Ethernet is used instead of Intel CSA LAN. As long as you don't have to transfer data at gigabit speeds all the time normal PCI solution is probably fine. It is a pity that Epox didn't utilize CSA bus but I understand it very well because CSA LAN is much more expensive and performance gain is insignificant if network speed is normal 100Mbps (most home users don't have gigabit LAN). So I tested Broadcom in my 100Mbps LAN and next graph shows results.

 Transfer rateCPU load
Nvidia MCP 10/100 (AMD)9692kB/sec10-20%
RTL8101L 10/100 (AMD)9692kB/sec30-40%
VIA VT6103 10/100 (AMD)9692kB/sec20-30%
3Com 3C940 10/100/1000 (P4)9692kB/sec4-10%
BroadCom BCM5705 10/100/1000 (P4)9692kB/sec4-10%
Intel 82547EI ET LAN (CSA)(P4)9692 kB/sec2-15 %

Maximum transfer rate was tested using SiSoft Sandra 2003 and CPU load test was performed by transferring big file from machine to machine at the same time as I manually monitored CPU load. Transfer rate is limited by another system which I use on the tests.

Broadcom BCM5705 Gigabit Ethernet seems to be just as good as 3Com 3C940 10/100/1000 whitch is Ethernet controller used on Asus P4P800. Very good, although results at gigabit LAN would have been very different.

Special features:


Port 80 diagnostics LCD

I'm big fan of the Port 80 diagnostics LCD. I have found it invaluable tool so many times that I'm surprised that only Epox utilizes this marvellous tool anymore. Post Reporters, debug leds and that kind of diagnostic tools are absolute no much for this.

BIOS:


BIOS

Advanced Bios Settings provides most important memory latency settings and other chipset related settings. CPU Bus Park, Intel Fast CS and Intel CPC Function are i875P specified "PAT" settings which can be enabled fully or partial.


BIOS

PC Health Status is more comprehensive than for example Asus P4P800 system monitor, but not as comprehensive as Abit IS7 has. Especially I liked Vagp, Vdimm which all motherboards do not show although they are important.


BIOS

Power BIOS Features provides most interesting OC settings.

  • FSB: 100-350Mhz
  • Memory Frequency: 1:1-3:2
  • AGP/PCI Clock: fixed or multiplier
  • Vcore: max 1.6V
  • Vagp: 1.5-2.2V
  • Vdimm: 2.6-3.3V


BIOS


BIOS


BIOS


BIOS


BIOS

I liked PDA2+'s BIOS very much. Settings are easy to find and works quite well. AGP/PCI frequency settings didn't work at all however. This seems common problem among new i865PE and i875P boards. I was also quite disapointed that Epox has decided to use VRM 10 compatible power circuitry design, which limits maximum Vcore to 1.6 V. Good thing is that Rev 2.0 is supposed to be VRM 9.x compatible and probably allows much higher vcore settings. Vdimm and Vagp settings are probably highest available on any i865PE board.

Overclocking:

My feelings about Epox PDA2+ are quite divided. Motherboard seems to overclock better than any other motherboard I have ever tested but problem is that it stress other components much harder than for example Asus P4P800. This is really annoying since memory modules are not very stable at the speed in which they work flawlessly on Asus P4P800. Same thing happened to processor as well as with directly comparable settings CPU was stable almost 100MHz lower speed.

I was impressed that Epox PDA2+ clocked very far when using 5:4 memory multiplier. I used default Vagp and default cooling and my system clocked just as high 3:2 and 5:4 settings. CPU was definitely limiting OC this time. It would be most interesting to try how high this motherboard would go, but my 2.4 GHz could not take FSB's above 310 MHz. Absolute marvellous

I also noticed during my tests that if I set Vdimm to for example to 3.0 V it varies between 2.88 V - 3.09 V, this is probably cause of my bad experience of OC'd memory stability.

Mods:

These modifications will void motherboard's warranty and could destroy your motherboard if wrongly done

Epox PDA2+ has very nice Vagp and Vdimm settings but Vcore setting is somewhat ridiculous. So a little modification is needed to power circuitry. I read Semtech SC2643VX datasheets and noticed that it is easily modifiable to VRM 9.x compatible. After that voltages above 1.6V are achievable.

Easiest way to do this mod is to remove one resistor. After that you can set Vcore to 1.65 V and 1.75 V by using BIOS settings 1.475 and 1.45 V. Harder way is to cut line and put 5V straight to the vid5 pin, that adds more usable vcore settings.


Vcore mod

I think that there are still few more mods which could be useful. I already mentioned unstable Vdimm and another is Vcore Droop mode.

Tests

Hardware:
ProcessorIntel Pentium 4 2.40GHz 800MHz HT
RAMKingston HyperX PC3000 2x256MB
Hard DriveIBM Deskstar 120GXP 80GB
Graphics CardSapphire Radeon 9700 Pro 128MB
Drivers:
Graphics DriverCatalyst 3.6
Chipset Driver i865PE5.0.1015
DirectX Version9.0a
OSWindows XP
Benchmarks:
WinRAR 3.10,Best compression
CDex 1.50High Quality, 256kbps
PCMark2002Default test
3DMark2001SEDefault test
SiSoft Sandra 2003Default tests
Superpi 8M8M
Quake III ArenaVersion 1,17, demo001, High quality
Unreal Tournament 2003Version 2225, HardOCP UT2k3 Benchmark utility v2.1, CPU test

I included few other i865PE results on graphs as well as an AMD result. All tests are driven at default clocks. Memory settings are set to 2-2-2-5 and "PAT" features are turned on (except on Albatron which refused to set "PAT" on this system). Next list shows accurate FSB's of test boards.

  • Asus P4P800: 199.9MHz
  • Epox PDA2+: 199.5MHz
  • Albatron PX865PE ProII: 200.0MHz


WinRAR 3.10


CDex 1.50


PCMark2002


SiSoft Sandra 2003


Superpi 8M


Unreal Tournament 2003


3DMark2001SE


Quake III Arena

Benchmarks at default settings shows that Epox PDA2+ is little slower that Asus P4P800. This is probably due to better memory tweaks on Asus.

OC Tests

  • FSB: 290MHz
  • Graphics Card: GeForce Ti4200 64Mb

I drove OC test at 12x290MHz (3480MHz) which was maximum stable FSB where test could be ran on all boards. Asus and Epox could do over 300Mhz but Albatron wouldn't boot over 295MHz. Epox was also only motherboard that could do over 300Mhz 5:4, so I included Epox results at that multiplier.


WinRAR 3.10


CDex 1.50


PCMark2002


Superpi 8M

Epox takes lead and is clearly faster than Asus and Albatron. It seems that Epox is superior when it comes to overclocking performance. It is really unfortunate that CPU and memories won't clock as high as on Asus P4P800, otherwise Epox would be unholdable.

 

Conclusion

Epox PDA2+

 
+ OC Performance
+ Solid layout
+ Passive cooling on north bridge
+ Bios
+ Good OC settings

- Low Vcore
- OC stability

Epox PDA2+ could have been best P4 OC motherboard ever made. But it isn't. OC performance is just great, most of voltage settings are magnificent and most of all, PDA2+ could handle very impressive FSB's. There is however few problems which affect OC stability seriously. Greatest problem is that my CPU just didn't overclock as high as it do on Asus P4P800 and second problem is that Vdimm varies a little too much. Maximum vcore is also way too low but luckily rev2.0 comes with greater Vcore range.

Features are marvellous. Four PATA channels and four SATA channels, integrated 5.1 audio, gigabit ethernet adapter and firewire are nice to have. I also liked that Epox bundled rounded IDE-cables as well as SATA power adapters. Intel CSA LAN and high quality audio solution is however something that this motherboard doesn't have.

I think that there is whole bunch of people which could find Epox PDA2+ suitable for their needs. It is no doubt marvellous OC board if very high FSB's are the seeked feature. It has clearly superior storage expandability compared to almost any other P4 motherboard and very solid layout. Great product.

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Additional information

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