Foxconn G9657MA-8KS2HDec 11th, 2006 | By Archive
: 12/11/06 – 10:58:26 PM
Page 1 : Index
Foxconn (Hon Hai Precision Industry Co., Ltd)
$115 USD (eWiz.com)
Foxconn has stopped by again here at Overclockers Online with a new C2D capable motherboard for the Intel Socket LGA775. Foxconn is the trade name of Hon Hai Precision Industry Co., Ltd. based in Taiwan. Foxconn is a worldwide leader in manufacturing of motherboards, cable assemblies, and other consumer electronics. Today we will be looking at a new motherboard from one of the hottest segments in the motherboard world, the m-ATX form factor for HTPCs.
The HTPC or Home Theater Personal Computer has become a very strong sector in the motherboard market due to the recent amalgamation of the personal computer and the home stereo. This can mainly be accredited to the digitalization of audio and video that started with music and MP3's and has since spread to movies and DVD's. It is almost more common to see a small HTPC in someone's stereo instead of a CD rack anymore and the need for m-ATX form factor motherboards is greater than ever.
The G9657MA-8KS2H is a fully featured m-ATX motherboard built around the Intel G965 + ICH8 chipset for socket LGA775 CPUs including complete Core 2 Duo compatibility. With four DDRII memory slots, an X16 PCI-E slot, 8-channel audio and a total of 10 USB 2.0 connections, the G9657MA packs a punch for such a small motherboard. Make no mistake, size really doesn't matter with this motherboard as you will see in the following pages.
Page 2 : Package & Contents
Foxconn has had some pretty elaborate motherboard packages for their enthusiast line but the lower end models generally have a subdued package to them. This is the case with the G9657MA as it is not exactly an enthusiasts offering.
The front of the box is nothing fancy and quite simple yet very nice. The Foxconn logo and model number is about the only thing that is prominent on the front side from the image of the motherboard stretched out like an airplane runway. I don't particularly like cluttered or shiny packages so this design is right up my ally.
The edges are also about as simple as it gets with nothing more than a carry over from the image on the front and the Foxconn logo although the bottom flap does have the UPC sticker with a few details listed on it. This is primarily for retailers for easy identification of the package.
Most of the major specifications are listed here and can be found useful for consumers when shopping in store.
The rear of the package is very much like the rest of the box, simple and plain. The main focus of all sides on this package is the Foxconn logo and thus far I have avoided the SOL Series jokes so I will continue on that path.
The rear of the box does contain some tid-bits of information about the features of this motherboard but it is limited to one-line comments on the different features they offer, SuperSpeed, SuperBoot, SuperRecovery, SuperLogo, SuperStep, etc. The key features listed here deal with the BIOS and the fact that this motherboard has the capability of recovering a BIOS should something go wrong during a flash or the like. Let's open it up and see what comes with this motherboard as far as accessories are concerned.
Upon opening the lid I was met with a surprise, the motherboard was sitting above the accessories. Usually it is the other way around but not this time. As you can see, the motherboard is protected and wrapped in an anti-static bag.
Directly underneath the motherboard is a cardboard shelf holding the motherboard above the accessories below. Everything is laid out nicely in the box and there is more of an accessory pack than I was originally anticipating. Let's see exactly what we have here.
The accessories are as follows, 2 x IDE ribbon cables, 1 x Floppy ribbon cable, 2 x SATA cables, 2 x 4-pin Molex to 5-Pin SATA power adapters, I/O panel, and the installation CD and manual. I find the two IDE cables to be somewhat funny seeing as there is only a single IDE connection on the motherboard but the rest of the cables are a nice touch. Many budget packages will only supply a single SATA cable and sometimes not even one 4-pin molex to 5-pin SATA power adapters. The last of the accessories is the typical Foxconn poster that I really like.
No other manufacturer that I have seen offers such a poster. It basically covers the layout of the motherboard and also provides a CPU and heatsink installation guide. The last thing the poster provides us are diagrams of the pin outs for the onboard headers. That sums up the package and contents of the G9657MA and we will now have a look at the specifications and chipset that are featured on this motherboard.
Page 3 : Specifications & Features
The specifications page is usually dry and boring, and this one will be no different. Foxconns web site at FoxconnChannel.com does a great job of listing features and specifications of the motherboard so I will be borrowing from them. I will also note that the Foxconn site has had some upgrades this year so if you haven't been there in a while, I would invite you to swing by. The navigation is great and finding the product you are looking for is quite easy. Anyway, let's have a look at the features that are associated with this motherboard.
Intel G965 Express + ICH8
1066 / 800 / 533MHz FSB
DualChannel DDR2-800 / 667 x 4 DIMMs; max 8GB
1 x PCI-E X16,1 x PCI-E X1,2 x PCI
SerialATAII / 300 x 5 (including 1 x eSATA)
7.1 channelHDA (Realtek)
10 x USB2.0 ports
The amount of onboard headers and rear I/O connections on this motherboard is really astounding for being m-ATX. The only thing the G9657MA-8KS2H is missing is a 1394 Firewire connection and an S-Video output. Everything else is there so no Firewire port really isn't a huge issue for most people but the lack of an onboard S-Video output is a bit disappointing. The G965 chipset is very feature rich and offers plenty for its users as we can see above. Here is a diagram of the chipset that I borrowed from the Intel web site:
The list that we looked at above pretty much covers everything that the G965 + ICH8 chipset covers but I would like to provide a little bit more info about the Intel Graphics accelerator X3000. I turn to the Intel web site once again for some information.
Page 4 : Layout
We will now take a floating look over and around this motherboard to see exactly how those specifications layout.
I generally start the Layout section in the upper corner of the motherboard near the I/O panel and this time is no exception. Located here is the PWM area of the G9657MA which appears to be a 3-phase design.
Supplying the CPU with power is an 8-pin EPS connection that is located just below the PWM area. The use of an 8-pin EPS connection was a bit of a surprise but most C2D motherboards have made the jump from the 4-pin P4 design of years past.
The CPU socket area is actually quite open despite the PWM area being so close. The tall capacitors are moved back as far as possible and only short, solid aluminum capacitors are next to the actual socket. This should allow the mounting of any large CPU cooler should you wish.
As mentioned, the taller capacitors near the socket area are a fair distance away and should not play interference to any CPU cooler. Sam Young capacitors are seen here with a few black capacitors in behind.
The capacitors in-behind the front line of Sam Youngs are good quality Rubycon MBZs with the specifications seen here in the photo above.
Over on the other side of the motherboard, which is only a few short inches, is where we can find our 4 memory slots. Many m-ATX motherboards in this price segment will only provide users with a pair of memory slots but the G9657MA offers the full four. This is another one of those features that make this motherboard look almost full size.
The majority of capacitors near the DIMM slots are OST with a row of green Pelon in-between the slots.
The Fintek F71882FG monitoring and super I/O chip is responsible for a number of tasks and is located in the upper right corner like most monitoring ICs are. For a complete list of is specifications and features, you can download a PDF file from the Fintek web site here.
Next to the Fintek I/O chip is our 24-pin power connection, floppy connection, socketed BIOS chip, COM1 connector and a 4-pin system fan header.
We quickly reach the bottom right corner of the motherboard due to the small m-ATX form factor. Down here is connection central highlighted by the bright blue SATA connections and neon green USB headers. Tucked right into the corner are the color coded front panel connections.
The last of the connections on this motherboard are along the bottom edge and these include the single IDE connector, a third USB header, and the front panel audio connection. There is also an onboard speaker which I like as it is one less thing to connect in a case.
We will now turn our attention to the two chipsets on this motherboard, the southbridge which is the Intel ICH8 that comes covered by the thinnest heatsink on the planet that also happens to be passive. Obviously this chip does not get very hot with a heatsink this small. There wasn't even any thermal material between the two.
The northbridge however, is a much more robust chipset that requires a direct die connection to the larger heatsink. Again, a passive design is more than enough with this chipset and these passive heatsinks really lead to a silent motherboard. If the CPU you used didn't require active cooling then this motherboard could be used in a completely silent case.
Running up along the rear edge of the motherboard is the ALC883 audio chip down by sound central and just above it is the baron landscape of what I assume would be a spot for possibly a firewire IC for another model. I am guessing that because of the 1394 label just above it near another un-used soldering pad for a connector.
With all these onboard connectors, if you didn't see a full view of the motherboard, you wouldn't realize it was m-ATX until you look at the expansion slots. We are presented with one X16 and one X1 PCI-E slot along with two legacy PCI slots. As expected each are single spaced and the quarters are cramped where they are staying but still useable with single slot cards.
The rear I/O panel is someone a mix of old and new. On one hand we have PS/2 connections and a parallel port, but on the other hand we also have an external SATA and coaxial S/PDIF audio port. There are also 4 USB 2.0 connections back here with the single RJ-45 network connection and the rest of the audio connections which include an optical S/PDIF and analog connections.
Looking down from above paints the overall picture of this motherboard and despite the amount of connections there are onboard, there isn't a whole lot of cramping going on with enough room for all devices as far as I can tell. The next section will put my thoughts into practice.
Page 5 : Install
We are now ready to start plugging in some hardware to see if any problems arise. I don't really like installing the motherboard in my case and say it installs nicely because your case may be different. Instead, I install specific hardware that I have on hand to ensure the vast majority of CPU coolers, video cards, and memory install without issues.
With the socket area as open as it is on this motherboard I really don't anticipate any problems with large CPU coolers.
I like to use the Thermalright Ultra-120 for CPU cooler testing fitting because it has such a large wingspan and will highlight any fitment issues around the socket. The northbridge chipset heatsink appears to be plenty short enough for coolers that stick out from the socket.
I did notice that the one side of the cooler hangs over the top of the motherboard quite a bit. This may cause problems in some cases with the PSU sitting right above the motherboard, especially small cases designed for m-ATX motherboards.
With the Ultra-120, it is simple fix by twisting the cooler 45 degrees. In this orientation, the capacitors that I thought were standing tall don't seem to be anywhere close to the Ultra-120s large wings. The memory slots on the other side are not even underneath the Ultra-120 fins so the memory slots will definitely not interfere with many large coolers if any at all.
Speaking of memory, I thought I would test fit a set of memory with heatspreaders and even when using DIMM slots right next to each other, there is a nice little gap between modules. I believe dual-channel memory will run in same colored slots on this motherboard so modules won't be side by side like this unless you are running all four slots but even if that is the case, there is plenty of room.
The only other thing to look at is to see how video cards fit in the top X16 PCI-E slot. I noticed that the tabs on the memory slots were a tight fit but they don't appear as if they will be a problem. If using a card longer than the 7300GT I have test fitted here, there might be an issue in releasing memory with the video card installed but I don't have a big enough video card to test that. Either way, that would be a minor inconvenience.
The only minor gripe I have with the layout that deals with installation is the 8-pin EPS connector. I prefer them near the top of the motherboard for ease of cable management but having it located here isn't always a bad thing. Sometimes HTPC cases can have power supplies in odd positions and a central location for this connection could be advantageous in some setups.
Page 6 : BIOS
Like all my motherboard reviews I have gone the extra mile to bring you every screen from the BIOS of the G9657MA-8KRS2H.
Foxconn uses a pretty standard AwardBios for the G9657MA and based on the list of sections we are presented with here, finding the settings you are looking for should be fairly easy.
Standard CMOS Features
Not much to see here but I do like the fact that the BIOS version is listed here.
Fox Central Control Unit
This is ground central for the overclocking options and despite this being a budget m-ATX motherboard with onboard video, the overclocking options are quite plentiful, I was definitely caught off guard.
The Fox Intelligent Stepping option is a way of automatically overclocking the system. Each Step is another level of overclock and the system actually adjusts the CPU clock frequency as well as the voltages of the CPU and chipset as it goes up.
The CPU clock range only goes up to 333FSB but again, this is not an enthusiast board so any kind of overclock is a bonus at this point.
The DRAM Configuration page does have the four basic memory timings of CAS, tRCD, tRP, and tRAS but no other sub timings. Being able to control the four main timings should allow for being able to get the most out of high-end memory kits that might require manual adjustment of these timings. This is much better than having to rely on SPD programmed timings.
Advanced BIOS Features
Advanced Chipset Features
This is where we can control the onboard video settings. The onboard video can either be set to 128MB or 256MB of shared memory.
The Integrated Peripherals section is where we can enable and disable all of the onboard devices such as USB controllers, onboard audio, LAN controller, and others.
Power Management Setup
PC Health Status
The PC Health Status screen provides access to every voltage and temperature monitor you could want. There is also a section at the bottom that allows us to manually setup fan control options based on different temperatures for the CPU fan. This is an extremely handy function and is one of the better ways that I have seen this type of feature implemented.
Page 7 : Software & OCing
The software provided by Foxconn with this motherboard is very much like the last motherboard I reviewed, the 975X7AB-8EKRS2H. A single CD is provided and with the limited amount of software provided with the board, it is more than enough. After installing Windows and putting the disc in the drive, I was greeted with the same GUI as the 975X7AB-8EKRS2H for driver and utility installation.
The list on the right hand side is of the drivers that we can install and there is also an option at the bottom of that list for a one click install. This one click button makes driver installation a breeze as it quickly zips through driver installation including the network adapter drivers, and Intel integrated X3000 driver.
With drivers all installed, I then switched modes to the Utility section to see what was offered.
The list here has nothing that is new to me with the FOX ONE software at the top of the list. This software allows for overclocking and voltage adjustments from within Windows and was used with the 975X7AB-8EKRS2H. We are also provided with a BIOS update utility that is run within Windows, Adobe Acrobat Reader, and Norton Internet Security. This is a pretty basic software package and almost a standard with most motherboards. The last utility is for making a RAID driver installation disk. With the G9657MA being a m-ATX motherboard I was not expecting much for an overclocking performance but I did spend some time with the FOX ONE software that Foxconn provides.
The GUI of the FOX ONE software is similar to the installation disc and is very easy to navigate and understand. I don't particularly like the design of the GUI but it is very effect and straight forward to use. Everything is labeled well and it isn't difficult to figure out how to make adjustments. The one thing I did notice is that the memory frequency reading was off. It always read 966 regardless of changes.
Adjusting the frequency and voltage is very simple and clicking on the appropriate button along the top brings up the adjustment screen as seen above. This screen is for adjusting voltage but the frequency page is identical.
The monitoring page allows the monitoring of multiple sensors including fan speeds and all of the temperature probes on the motherboard. You can set maximum limits that will provide an alarm if so desired when the set maximum is reached.
The last of the sections in the FOX ONE software provides the ability to control fan speed for the CPU fan. You can either set it to SMART control which will adjust the speed based on temperature or by simply setting a set RPM.
I played with voltages, both in the BIOS, and here in the FOX ONE software and was surprised at how much voltage could be applied to the VDIMM and VCORE. These readings shown here are the maximums that I was able to achieve. With large voltage adjustments like this, I was optimistic for a positive overclock experience but that was short lived.
Like I said, I didn't spend a lot of time overclocking because I quickly found a FSB limit of 299. Trying to set anything higher in the BIOS would result in no POST and setting anything higher in Windows would result in a lock-up. Higher chipset voltage would not help. This isn't a big deal because this motherboard isn't considered an enthusiast motherboard and overclocking shouldn't heavily weigh in on purchasing decisions. With that said, the system was completely stable at 299 FSB for the limited testing that I did do.
Page 8 : Test Setup
Here is a complete list of hardware that will be used for testing:
Intel C2D E6300
Team Group PC6400 C4 @ DDR800 4-4-3-5
Biostar Sigma Gate 7300GT 256MB DDRIII 500MHz core / 500MHz memory – ForceWare 91.47
Silverstone Zeus ST56ZF 560W
Seagate Barracuda 7200.9 80GB SATAII
Windows XP Pro SP2 + with all available updates
Components will be setup on my desk
Asus P5B Deluxe Wifi-AP – Intel P965-ICH8R
Foxconn 975X7AB-8EKRS2H – Intel 975X-ICH7R
Foxconn G9657MA-8KS2H – Intel G965-ICH8
Obviously the testing with the Biostar Sigma Gate 7300GT was done with the card in the only X16 PCI-E slot there is on this board. During the testing period, I never ran into any issues with this board and everything seemed to function as it should. Onboard audio was also fine through my headphones and I made a number of phone calls using Skype without any static on the microphone or headphones with all callers being pleased with the audio quality.
Page 9 : System Benchmarks
I will be running my standard battery of benchmarks with the G9657MA-8KS2H and comparing the results with the Foxconn 97X7MA-8EKRS2H and an Asus P5B-Dlx Wifi. The G965 chipset is very similar to the P965 chipset if not exactly alike. I will be expecting similar performance from the Foxconn G9657MA when compared with the P5B-Dlx. We start, as always, with a look at memory performance.
Everest Ultimate 06 2.50.480
I was expecting to see very similar results between the G9657MA and the P5B-Dlx and this is what we get. The P5B-Dlx which sports a P965x chipset seems to have a slight performance lead in memory bandwidth but the differences are not that great.
The memory latency results do show more of a gap between the two 965x based motherboards and the 975x motherboard clearly has a latency advantage over the two 965x based motherboards.
SiSoft Sandra 2007 SP1
The Sandra Multi-Media and CPU benchmarks show almost identical performance on all three motherboards.
The memory results do show a noticeable difference in performance between the three motherboards but the pattern follows that of the Everest results which has the 975x based board first with the P965x and G965x based motherboards following behind.
The results from ScienceMark are of the volition showing the G9657MA slightly behind the P5B-Dlx but again, by a very slight margin. I am quite pleased to see that this m-ATX motherboard is keeping up with the bigger fully featured P5B-Dlx. Memory performance is a bit behind but that doesn't seem to result in a noticeable decrease in performance in applications. Let's see how the SuperPi results are affected by this slight lack of memory performance on the Foxconn G9657MA.
Super Pi Mod 1.4
The SuperPi results are about what I had in mind given the previous results of memory performance slightly behind on the G9657MA. The 1M time shows barely any kind of gap while the 32M time shows up with an almost 40 second lag behind the P5B-Dlx. This really isn't a huge gap and pretty much what should be expected.
PCMark 04 v1.3.0/05 v1.1.0
PCMark 04 and 05 are two benchmarks that test the overall performance of a system from memory to graphics to hard drive performance. For a motherboard comparison, the PCMark benchmarks are a really good way to get an overall look at the performance differences. In PCMark 04 the two 965x motherboards are as close to each other as possible and in PCMark 05, the G9657MA actually outperforms the P5B-Dlx. This is a good indication that the two motherboards are very close in real world applications. Let's now take a look at the 3D performance with both the onboard X3000 integrated graphics and an add-in PCI-E video card.
Page 10 : Gaming Benchmarks
The 3D benchmarking will be completed with both the onboard X3000 video accelerator and a Biostar 7300GT DDRIII. Obviously, my expectations for the onboard video are not that good but it will be interesting to see if the PCI-E video card performs as well as it does on the P5B-Dlx. First we will look at the standard 3D benchmark suite from FutureMark. Like the system benchmarks, the 3D benchmarks are ran three times and averaged out, here are the results:
It is pretty obvious that the three motherboards tested all perform about equal in 3D gaming with 3DMark 03, 05, and 06 being almost dead heats. The slightly lower 3DMark 01 score can be attributed to a slight performance difference in the system, perhaps the memory differences are showing up there.
The first thing of note here is that the onboard X3000 video could not play HL2. It would crash within a few minutes of running. FarCry was not playable either because it wouldn't render properly. The game played fine but everything was blue. That might have been a driver issue but it is fairly evident that the onboard video just can't handle recent games. UT04 only managed an average of 38FPS which is barely playable for even that game. With the 7300GT however, the G9657MA performed quite admirably showing no real weakness and actually outperforming the other two motherboards in HL2. It is clear, stick a video card in this guy and you have yourself a full fledged system on your hands.
Page 11 : Conclusion
I don't have much anything negative to say about the G9657MA-8KS2H and how could I? The specifications and feature list is as long as a full size motherboard, the performance seems to be on par with its older brother the P965x chipset as well as the 975x chipset, and the price is something that will not hurt many people. The G9657MA-8KS2H is almost like a full sized motherboard squeezed into a m-ATX form factor complete with the m-ATX price tag.
The onboard video is more than acceptable for what it should be asked to do. It does struggle in 3D gaming but that is not what it is designed for. If you want to game with this motherboard then utilize the full speed X16 PCI-E slot and go to town. If you want to use this motherboard for its purpose then simply plug it into your favorite HTPC case and you are all set.
m-ATX form factor gives ultimate flexibility
Specifications and feature list that compares to full size motherboards
Passive chipset heatsinks for quiet operation
Intel onboard graphics can't handle 3D Gaming
No s-video out port
Overclockers Online would like to thank Foxconn for making this review possible.