It's pretty obvious for most of us that if you're looking for a motherboard with maximum flexibility and upgrade potential, a full sized ATX board is the way to go. However, smaller boards have come a long way over the past few years, and the end result has been PCs with smaller footprints that are packed with nearly as many features as their larger sized brothers. Hence the popularity of small form factor PCs. Weighing in much less than full sized computers and often packing just as much processing power, they are gaining acceptence among enthusiasts, especially LAN gamers.
We mentioned flexibility earlier though, and that is something of the Achilles' heel of SFF PCs. Typically, you won't find more than two expansion slots, one of which is for video cards. Depending on the manufacturer, the motherboard also cannot be changed for something newer since it may be either tied into the case's design, or they do not offer an alternative PSU.
MicroATX motherboards address that problem in two ways. One, they allow for more upgrade peripherals than smaller, FlexATX motherboards, and two, you can move them around relatively easy between different cases and power supplies, including smaller cases designed specifically for these boards. Like the larger enthusiast level ATX boards, they often match the features and in the case of the Foxconn WinFast 6150K8MA-8EKRS motherboard, it offers integrated graphics. While integrated video isn't high on the list for enthusiasts, there is plenty to get excited about with Foxconn's latest. Will we be as excited at the end of the review? Read on to find out.
||AMD Socket 939, Athlon 64, Athlon X2
||Nvidia C51PV with nForce 430GE Chipset and integrated GeForce 6150 Graphics
||- Integrated Nvidia GeForce 6150 Graphics
- On-board RAID-0, 1 or 5 Controller
- On-board 5.1 Sound, 1394 Firewire
- On-Board Gigabit/100/1000T Ethernet
The Foxconn WinFast 6150K8MA-8EKRS
Foxconn throws in the usual assortment of goodies consumers should normally expect such as manuals, driver and application CDs, and storage related cables. There is a rear IO shield as well as a cable attachment for S-video out. Otherwise, things are fairly unremarkable here, but given the relatively low retail cost of the board, this shouldn't be much of a surprise.
As we've already mentioned, the Foxconn WinFast 6150K8MA-8EKRS is a MicroATX board. In terms of chassis options, you can use this board in almost all sizes of cases supporting ATX and MicroATX. Overall, the layout is very good, though there is one troublesome area which we will get to in a moment. There's really good space around the CPU socket, and the capacitors did not cause any problems for our Koolance water cooling kit, and for larger coolers such as the Zalman CPNS9500.
No noise is one strength of the board as the GeForce 6150 and nForce 430 chipsets are passively cooled. The GeForce 6150 has a large heatsink handling the cooling chores which is both good (better performance) and possibly bad. We mentioned the Zalman fit just fine on the board, but some coolers may have issues with the height of the heatsink used on the Foxconn.
You'll hear the codename C51 tossed around a lot, and C51 represents the NVIDIA GeForce 6100 series GPU and nForce 400 series MCP Southbridge. This particular Foxconn board uses the high(er) end 6150 GPU and nForce 430 combo.
NVIDIA has geared the 6100 series towards the HTPC market, and a lot of manufacturers, Foxconn included, have designed the smaller boards for this purpose. The 6150 GPU supports DirectX 9.0 Shader Model 3.0 and NVIDIA PureVideo Technology. The latter will accelerate MPEG-2 in hardware, as well as Windows Media HD Video (WMV HD). The GPU offloads video decoding from the CPU and should provide smoother video playback and lower CPU usage. PureVideo offers advanced de-interlacing and enhanced 3:2 and 2:2 pulldown to cut down on the blur and ghosting which NVIDIA says is present on competing products.
Despite the DX 9.0C support, there are only two pixel rendering pipelines, so don't expect to blow people away at LAN parties with the framerates. The 6150 GPU, which is clocked at 475 MHz, supports 16:9 HD playback, but this is only partially supported by Foxconn. Since there is only a S-Video output (Component or HDMI are required), TV-Out will not be in HD. Hardware HD acceleration will still be realized if you stick mainly with a PC monitor, so all is not lost.
There are four ram slots that support Dual Channel and a maximum of 4GB. The slots are colour coded and should make configuration easy for those who tend to gloss over the manuals. Compatibility-wise, all of our Corsair modules worked without a hitch, as well as a few Kingston and Samsung ram kits. In regards to placement, the ram slots are fairly close to the PCI Express graphics slot. As seen above, you will have to remove the video card before any ram upgrades.
The Foxconn WinFast 6150K8MA-8EKRS comes equipped with one PCIE x16 slot, and three 32-bit PCI slots. Next to the PCI slots is the NVIDIA nForce 430. The 430 MCP delivers extensive RAID support as well as the ActiveArmor Firewall. In addition, dual channel DDR 400, PCI-Express, Gigabit LAN, and HD audio are all supported out of the box. The 7.1-channel Azalia HD audio codec support is a nice addition and is a must have for those who forego a dedicated sound card as watching DVDs on AC'97 hardware is not as impressive.
Of course, no HTPC will be very useful with small, middling hard drives. The nForce 430 supports Serial ATA II and can be configured to run standalone drives, or RAID 0, 1, 0+1, and RAID 5. For networking, media files can fly quickly via the Gigabit interface and safely thanks to ActiveArmor, which is a hardware based Firewall. ActiveArmor is integrated into the MCP, thus freeing up the CPU, which unlike a software based solution, the CPU does not have to process packets.
Rounding things out are the input and output connections. Moving from left to right, we have; two PS/2 ports, one parallel, serial and the VGA port. Next up are the FireWire, four USB 2.0, Gigabit Ethernet and audio connections.
Foxconn has taken a bit of flack with their inital boards for missing many enthusiast required options, but this has changed, almost 180°, for the better with their more recent offerings. Despite the low price-point of the Foxconn WinFast 6150K8MA-8EKRS, we were pleased to see that the BIOS is very flexible in terms of available tweaking options.
In the main BIOS Features, selecting SuperSpeed will allow you to adjust many performance options. For exampe, the CPU Frequency can be changed here in 1MHz increments from 200 to 450. It's unlikely any of you can even come remotely close to that ceiling, but nothing like a good BIOS tease to get your chops wet.
The ram allocation for the 6150 tops out at a maximum of 128MB. Minimum is 16MB. As for the memory itself, setting things to manual will give you access to CAS latency and other memory settings. Voltage adjustments for memory top out at 2.85V.
Additional settings allow you to enable or disable chipset features, as well as adjusting the PCI Express bus speeds and several HTT options.