ECS – PF88 Extreme review

An Intel board that becomes an AMD board
Photo of ECS – PF88 Extreme
£55 + VAT for motherboard, £27 + VAT for SIMA card

ECS is well known for thinking up innovative solutions for motherboards, but the company’s developers have surpassed themselves with their latest motherboard; the PF88 Extreme. As a basic Intel board this is very well priced, but with the addition of the A9S SIMA card, it transforms into a reasonably priced Socket 939 AMD board.

When you first look at the motherboard you could be forgiven for thinking it’s one of the new Intel Socket 775 SLI boards, as there are two PCI-E graphic slots. But on closer inspection the long slot and two rows of jumpers that separate the two reveal the truth. The reason for two graphic cards slots is quite straightforward; once you add the SIMA card into its slot it covers one of the PCI-E slots.

The basic PF88 Extreme is a well laid out Socket 775 board using an SIS 656 Northbridge combined with an SIS 965 Southbridge, and has four DIMM slots supporting up to 4GB of either dual channel DDR2-533 or DDR-667, DDR2 memory.

By using the SIS chipset, the PF88 Extreme offers something over the usual Intel 915/925 series of boards, namely two ATA/133 ports, which is very useful if you are still using an ATA drive as well as an optical drive; at least you can use both with this board.

SIS’s 965 chipset offers more support for hard drives in the form of four SATA ports which can be set up in either RAID 0, 1, 0+1 or JBOD arrays. Just for good measure there are two more red-coloured SATA ports which are controlled by a Silicon Image Sil3132 chip. This offers SATA 2 support for these two ports which means NCQ (Native Command Queuing) as well, something not offered by the SIS chipset.

Adding to the features list are three PCI slots, integrated Gigabit Ethernet, FireWire and eight channel audio (Realtek ALC850), so as it stands the PF88 Extreme looks like a well featured, good value Intel motherboard.

Add another £27 (plus VAT) and the whole dimension of the board changes. For this money you get the A9S SIMA converter card which supports Socket 939 AMD processors. The card comes with an SIS 756 PCI-E compatible Northbridge which controls the two DDR400 DDR1 DIMM slots.

Unfortunately, lack of space between these memory slots and CPU socket means you have to use either the older style of AMD cooler or an appropriate sized third-party cooler, since the standard 939 cooler is just too large.

Fitting the card is a doddle, once you remember to remove the twenty (yes, twenty) jumpers that are arranged on either sized of the SIMA slot on the motherboard. The mainboard comes with two separate BIOS’s and the board switches between the two depending on which processor is being used.

The whole thing works remarkably well, and despite our review board being an early sample it worked with few problems once some BIOS issues were sorted out.

Company: ECS

As a standalone Intel-based motherboard, the PF88 Extreme offers remarkable value for money. But with the option of the SIMA card it offers so much more potential, and ECS should be congratulated on daring to be different.