Some time ago Asus launched a black PCB version of its well-liked Pentium 3 board, the CUSL2. Now comes the new, very limited edition Black Pearl, based on another of the company’s popular boards, the P4PE.
Asus’s P4PE was and still is one of the better high-end, Intel 845, Pentium 4 boards, offering good performance with stability plus a well-featured BIOS for those who like to tinker. For this version of the Black Pearl, Asus has taken the basic P4PE components and added them to a black PCB.
Black pearls by their nature are very rare and expensive, something Asus has tried to put across with totally new packaging, stylised manuals and a box full of added extras. Based around Intel’s i845PE chipset, the Black Pearl offers support for both 400MHz and 500MHz FSB Pentium 4 processors and also come with HyperThreading support. The Northbridge is passively cooled as on the standard P4PE, but the Black Pearl does have its own stylised cooler.
Three DIMM slots give a maximum supported memory count of 2GB; either PC2700 or PC2100 when using Pentium 4 chips with 533MHz FSB, or PC2100 / PC1600 with 400MHz FSB processors.
One puzzling thing about the Black Pearl, however, is what’s not on the board. For a limited edition, top of the range board you would expect to see Gigabit Ethernet, RAID, Serial ATA or Firewire, but sadly none of these is present. It’s even more surprising because the solder pads are all there for them. But there is integrated 10/100Mbps Ethernet controlled by a Broadcom 4401 chip, along with 5.1 audio courtesy of a SoundMax ADI1980 chip.
The two ATA/100 and single floppy connectors, together with the ATX power connector, are grouped on the right-hand side of the board, along with the Asus EZ plug, a Molex connector that can be used if your power supply doesn’t have the additional 12V connector. The standard 12V connector is in an awkward position, just to the left of the Northbridge.
Asus has included a bundle of utilities with the Black Pearl. Apart from the very useful Asus LiveUpdate – a Windows-based BIOS flashing utility – there is Instant Music which allows you to play a music CD through the CD-ROM drive without having to go into the OS, in the same fashion as some of the newer notebooks. Asus supplies a keyboard label to mark the keyboard shortcut hot-keys. CrashFree BIOS allows the BIOS data to be restored from a floppy if it has been corrupted by bad flashing or a virus, and if you go too far with your overclocking, then a utility called CPU Parameter Recall automatically restores the CPU to the default setting should the system hang.
Extra goodies in the box are black, rounded, ATA100/133 cables, a game bracket with two extra USB2.0 ports, another bracket with digital and optical audio output sockets and a 32MB USB key drive.
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