Review: Value board an overclocker's dream?
Today we check out whether a value board can compete with premium boards. Does a price difference of 60% to 100% make any difference in performance? It isn't feature-rich, but who really needs all the fancy stuff? This is what we are about to find out as we test the Biostar TP35D2-A7 board based on Intel's P35 chipset.
Realtek RTL8110C PCI network MAC
JMicro JMB368 PATA controller
iTE IT8718F-S super I/O controller
passive cooling of chipsets
4Mb BIOS, version 923
Mainboard Revision: 5.00
1x PCIe x16
1x PCIe x4
1x PCIe x1
2x Dual-Channel DDR2-slots for PC2-6400U memory up to 8GB
4-Port SATA II
1x PS/2 keyboard
1x PS/2 mouse
1x Gb LAN
6x USB 2.0
1x serial SUB9
7.1 analog Audio
2x SATA cable
1x HDD-power to 1x SATA power cable
1x Floppy cable
1x IDE cable
Bus Speeds: auto, 200MHz to 600MHz in 1MHz increments
Memory Ratios: auto, 533MHz, 667MHz or 800MHz
DRAM command rate: auto, 1T, 2T
DRAM timing control: auto, manual (not all values available)
FSB Frequency: auto, CPU-FSB to 700MHz in 1MHz increments
PCIe Frequency: auto, 100 to 200 MHz in 1MHz increments
CPU Clock Multiplier: auto, manual
Core 2 Duo: 6x-11x in 1X increments - Core 2 Duo, downwards unlocked
Core 2 Extreme: 6x-16X, downwards unlocked
CPU Voltage: +0.012 to 0.787V in 0.012V increments
DRAM Voltage: auto, 2.00V to 2.60V in 0.10V increments
FSB Termination Voltage: auto, 1.20V to 1.50V in 0.10V increments
North Bridge Voltage: auto, 1.25V to 1.55V in 0.10V increments
South Bridge Voltage: auto, 1.050V to 1.225V in 0.025V increments
Biostar has used their usual layout, which means the power connector is on the back of the board. This is quite annoying, because you have to deal with the cable mess around the CPU cooler.
The chipset is cooled by a standard aluminum cooler, which doe not do its job well. While the temperature goes way beyond 60°C the board remains stable. We are under the impression that if you overclock too much you might ruin your board in a short time. Our advice is to get a good Northbridge cooler, such as the Noctua NC-U6, but this will set you back about €23,-.
The VRM is an analog 3-phase design. TForce stands for higher quality mainboards of the Biostar range, but we have doubts about a 3-phase design, as normally only the cheapest boards come with it. The VRM is driven by the Intersil ISL6322 controller, which can do up to four phases.
The memory slots are placed pretty close to the PCIe x16 slot, but with a bit of fiddling around you can replace memory even when a large graphics card is installed.
The nice thing about this board are its three PCI slots. If you still have your old PCI cards, such as a TV tuner, sound card or even an Ageia PhysX, you will have enough space to put them in. When using a dual-slot graphics card in the PCIe x16 slot, the PCIe x4 will still remain free, and we find this as a very good move from Biostar. Of course, the floppy connector is very poorly placed, but hopefully you won't need it. BIOS updates can be done with a software tool.
Network connectivity is provided by a PCI Realtek chip. Gb LAN does not make sense with a PCI chip, so we advise its use only for Fast Ethernet. Sound is provided by the common Realtek ALC888. PATA devices can be used, thanks to the JMB368 controller on board. It does't provide any SATA connections compared to the JMB363, so we miss the eSATA feature on this board.
The SATA connectors are far away from any graphics card and long PCI cards are now uncommon and you won't have troubles with them. Due to the fact this board is 4/5 ATX it is not big enough to put the IDE connector 90° angled to the PCI slots. You should use a round cable to avoid any cable mess.
On the left corner of the board you also find small reset and power-on switches. This may help you set up your board before it is finally put it in a case.
Biostar uses a Phoenix-Award BIOS, with limited capabilities.
You can set the most important functions, but some settings are not available because it's more a value board than a high-end board. We had no problems with overclocking in the BIOS. The auto-overclocking settings are moderate with up to 30%, which should satisfy inexperienced users.
Hardcore overclockers will always try to get more. The DRAM options are troublesome, because you can only set frequencies of 533MHz, 667MHz and 800MHz. When you overclock the FSB you need to calculate the resulting frequency yourself. The board had no trouble running with 1000MHz but we did not try more.
A nice feature is the built in memtest+ which checks your memory with lots of test. We have to state that we always do recalculate the bench results to nominal frequencies. Most vendors do an overclock of their products, maybe to get more bench-points, but we nullify such attempts. The TP35D2-A7 is mostly underclocked or right on target:
Surprisingly, we reached a 485MHz FSB without trouble, but the heatsink got extremely hot. As mentioned before, when you plan to use high FSBs you need to buy a new Northbridge cooler because the mainboard may suffer from too much heat. As expected, the 3-phase VRM design is hindering overclocking. While we could boot up with 3666MHz and run lame-benches, the board always crashed with Gordian Knot.
This may be a combination of inadequate cooling of the Northbridge and increased heat of the CPU, but even with additional cooling we could not keep the board stable. While benching we noticed that the board is slower than other boards around. The BIOS is overprotective with auto-settings, so you may use Memset 3.3 or 3.4 beta3 to increase performance.
Biostar TP35D2-A7 (provided by Biostar)
Intel Core 2 Duo E6700 (provided by Intel)
Scythe Andy Samurai Master (provided by Scythe-Europe)
Corsair 2GB kit PC2-10000 TWIN2X2048-1024C5D (provided by Corsair)
AMD ATI Radeon X1950XTX (provided by AMD)
Silverstone Element SF50EF-Plus (provided by Silverstone)
Western Digital WD4000KD (provided by Ditech)
SilenX iXtrema Pro 14dB(A) (provided by PC-Cooling.at)
Please note that different bios revisions may give different results. All benches are done with AUTO settings, without altering any BIOS option besides CPU VCore and major CL settings. DDR2 speed is always 800MHz or near of 800MHz when not possible.
Gordian Knot/XVID 1.1.3:
For our Gordian Knot testing we took an PAL episode of "Babylon 5" with a length of 41 minutes, 57 seconds and 8 frames.
We tried to "emulate" the most common usage of Gordian Knot:
1st: We have a perfect master, so we only de-interlace the content and resize it, without any other manipulations. We marked this as "fast."
2nd: You get bad mastering on many DVDs, especially "old" stuff or when the studios are in a hurry for the release. In this case you like to improve the picture quality, which is done by filtering the content. You can choose from tons of filters for any purposes you can think of. We only used the most common "undot," "FluxSmooth" and "MSharpen." Of course, we also de-interlaced, filters were done before any resizing took place (which is slower). We marked this as "slow."
If you need more information about filters, we recommend reading the doom9.org forum.
While we were not able to bench at 3666MHz, we did with 3600MHz @ 400MHz FSB.
We used the same episode for our MP3-testing. We don't recommend using MP3 for encoding, because AC3 can do the job better. The audio is almost 42 minutes long and it gives us approximately the length of most of album. A measurement in seconds, as many sites use, is useless, because the differences are too small.
We used the built-in play/CPU ratio, which means the CPU is encoding x-times faster then the track-length. Fast memory does not play an important role here. For your convenience we also show you the single-threaded benches. They will be produced with any other L.A.M.E. version, because only lameMT can do more than one thread and take advantage of a second dice. We used this setting: lamemt --vbr-new -q 2 -V 2 -m j --strictly-enforce-ISO --resample 48.
While the board suffers in overclocking due the VRM design, it shines on idle-power consumption. This is the first board ever which cracked the 100W barrier and stayed below and beat MSI P35 Platinum by considerable 12W. 3-phases are more efficient in idle, but suffer when overclocking reaches high levels, because it needs more amps, thus the CPU temperature is much higher compared to 4-phase VRMs. When the CPU is idle it does reduce the VCore, but be careful as this may cause instabilities.
For a value product this board did well. It is not as fast as others, but the differences are marginal. Using your PC on a daily basis for Web surfing, working, watching movies and listening to music, you won't notice any difference. The biggest disadvantage compared to other boards is the odd placement of the 24-pin power connector. Inside a smaller case you will need be very careful not to hinder the air-flow, especially your back fan. We also think the aluminum heatsink on the Northbridge is inadequate.
If you don't plan to overclock, this board will make an excellent choice for an HTPC, and moderate overclocing will work without a problem. If you plan for higher overclocking you want to be on the safe side and change the aluminum heatsink with a product from Noctua or Thermalright.
The only drawback is the missing RAID option on the ICH9. The more expensive ICH9R would have been a much nicer choice , especially for gamers who do RAID0.
This board costs around €79,- which is an excellent price, despite its layout. Thanks to very good power consumption values we recommend this board to a wide range of users, and due to its affordable price it gets our top value award.