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ECS PF21 Extreme

Name: ECS PF21 Extreme
Manufacturer: ECS
Price: £87 ex VAT (no WiFI) or £100 ex VAT (with WiFi) from DirectFrom
Verdict: A sleeper hit. Lacks brand name, packs features.

ECS, a company not very well known for being an enthusiast motherboard manufacturer, has been often overlooked when new motherboards come to the market.

While this is not the most positive opening statement you’ll ever read, we can say that their recent motherboards have been more than a single step up from the hardware the company once produced. However, they're yet to be as desirable in the eyes of enthusiasts as the likes of ABIT, ASUS, DFI, Gigabyte or MSI.

Aware of this, ECS is beginning to enter the enthusiasts market again with a very competitively priced range of very powerful motherboards with the features to match those that you would expect to see coupled with a hefty price tag.

Surely, there has got to be a catch, right? We can hear the cynics amongst you crying 'nothing is for free.' Well, read on and find out about the latest ECS motherboard based on the Intel 925XE chipset, known as the PF21 Extreme, and discover why it might just be this years most under-hyped board.

Main Features Overview:
  • Support for all LGA775 Intel Pentium 4 processors;
  • Intel 925XE northbridge and ICH6R southbridge;
  • Support for 800MHz, 1066MHz (and 1200MHz) FSB's
  • Phoenix AwardBIOS;
  • 4x 240-pin DDR2 memory slots supporting up to 4GB;
  • 1x PCI-Express x16 slot, 2x PCI-Express x1 slots, 3x PCI expansion slots;
  • 2x ATA133 ports, 4x SATA ports (ICH6R), 2x SATA ports (SIS180);
  • 4 (plus 4)x USB 2.0 ports;
  • 1 (plus 1)x IEEE 1394 Firewire ports (one full sized port via header, and one mini port on back panel);
  • 8-Channel C-Media CMI9880 (Intel HD) audio chip with S/PDIF optical input and output ports;
  • 1x Marvell PCI-Express Gigabit Ethernet Controller, 1x Realtek PCI-based 10/100 Ethernet Controller & 1x USB 802.11g Wireless Network Adapter.

The Bundle

ECS PF21 Extreme Introduction & Bundle ECS PF21 Extreme Introduction & Bundle

An all round good bundle of extras, but considering there are 6 SATA ports and only 2 IDE, perhaps it would have been better to include more SATA cables at the expense of IDE cables. Another reason for this slight moan is the fact that most consumers are likely to already have IDE cables spare from previous motherboards, and very few SATA cables.

The slightly more unique additions are the USB 802.11g (54 Mbit/s) USB dongle and cradle, which has a nice paper-weight feel to it. The cradle can be moved around your desk to locate it in the spot with the best wireless signal, because it's like a paperweight on the end of a wire. You can also unplug the dongle and take the it with you to use elsewhere.

The extra Firewire and 2 USB ports on the PCI back plate can also be made into a front 3.5” bay with the provided plastic adapter. This may seem mundane, but we haven’t seen this feature anywhere else and it is incredibly simple, yet effective way of adding front USB 2.0 and Firewire ports without the need for completely different hardware, just a simple housing to replace the back plate.

Finally, a little gem called the “Top Hat Flash”. It’s basically a backup BIOS chip, but one you remove instead of being soldered onto the motherboard. You pop it on, boot the PC, flip the jumper on the motherboard, remove it and there you have your backed up BIOS. If you mess up the flash or somehow your BIOS becomes corrupt then all you do is pop it back on and restore it. At least, we think; in principle it sounds deceptively simple but the “instructions” are, at best a little vague. It's a fantastic idea though.

In addition to all of this, you get the usual manuals, installation guides and driver CDs which we come to expect with every motherboard you buy these days.