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Review of the EpoX 8KHA+ DDR Athlon Motherboard
Last updated: 7/31/2002

HARDWARE MONITORING.  Like most, if not all, recent motherboards, the 8KHA+ does not fully support the Athlon XP processor.  This processor has a built-in diode circuit to monitor processor temperature and to shut down the system before damage can result from a defective heatsink-fan.  Instead of using this feature, the 8KHA+ employs an inferior combination of the temperature monitoring capabilities of the Winbond 83697HF super I/O chip and a thermister mounted in the center of the socket A, which are a hold-over from previous motherboard designs and are necessary for monitoring and compatibility with older Thunderbird core processors.  Another diode next to the W83697HF monitors the system temperature.

Fan monitoring by the W83697HF is inadequate.  It can only monitor two fans and the jack that the Northbridge heat-sink fan plugs-into is not one of the ones that is monitored.  The processor heat-sink fan jack and the chassis fan jack at the front, right of the motherboard are the only ones that are.  The Northbridge fan jack and chassis fan jack at the rear of the motherboard should be monitored.

The 8KHA+ has a built-in P80P Debug Card with two seven-segment LEDs that display Award BIOS POST (Power-On Self-Test) codes as the BIOS checks the motherboard, etc. during boot-up.  This feature may be useful for troubleshooting problems.

QUALITY.  I counted 53 105C electrolytic  capacitors.   That is an awful lot of capacitors for a motherboard, about 20 more than most motherboards I've seen.  The tighter timing and bypass requirements of higher-speed processors and DDR memory probably accounts for the difference.  Of course, 20 more capacitors are 20 more things that can break.  There are many more bypass, etc. capacitors all over and under the board.

There isn't much information in the EpoX literature about the on-board power supplies and regulation, but voltage regulation components, etc. are apparent all over the motherboard, including the bottom under the main power circuitry for the CPU where there are four CET CEB6030L field effect (FET) power transistors in addition to the three on the top of the board (in fact, there are quite a few smaller components on the bottom of the board, particularly around the  VIA chips).

Masking and wave soldering are good.  Trace and ground plane layout looks very professional.

The silk-screening on this board is very good; however, it is not quite as good as previous EpoX boards which were rated excellent in this category.  Some of the larger labels were a little blurred on the three motherboards that were examined  and labeling of the front panel connectors is a bit confusing.  However, just about everything from the jumpers to I/O connectors is clearly labeled.  If  you lose the motherboard book you can still configure the jumpers.  All of the settings are printed on the motherboard.

There are ten mounting holes and oversized doughnuts surrounding each of them.  One doesn't have to worry about the head of the screw, used to fasten the motherboard to the case, overlapping a trace on the motherboard and capacitively grounding it.

The DDR-SDRAM sockets are of very good quality and have what appears to be gold-plated contacts (they are difficult to see).

Just about when I was going to start calling this board the "A+" board I saw one glaring indication of poor quality.  The word "sleeve" on the small cooling fan on the VIA Northbridge.  On top of the fan it says: Cooler Master, etc., the company that sells the entire heatsink-fan unit.  Unscrewing the fan from the heatsink and looking at the bottom reveals the true manufacturer and model number of the little thing that spins: T&T MW-410M12S.  I cannot find any information on the fan on CoolerMaster's web site and no product info at all on T&T's web site, which appeared to be broken when I tried it.  Fans with sleeve bearings usually have a specified lifespan of about 20,000 hours and single bearing, ball bearing fans roughly twice that long.  My experience with chipset fans is limited, but with CPU sleeve fans it shows that you will be lucky if one doesn't break within a year of average use.  And before they do break they have a nasty habit of expelling bearing residue in the form of a fine black powder, which seems to have an affinity for motherboards and is probably not too good for them.  Passive cooling would be more reliable and the chip/motherboard should be designed to make it possible.  If fans are used they should be high quality and have ball bearings.

7/31/02 Two of the three fans on  the 8KHA+ motherboards I sold have failed already. Excerpts from our forums on the chipset fan problem.

STABILITY.  One measure or quality, the most important, is stability.  This board employs a new CPU with a new chipset and runs faster than any other board I've seen, yet it is one of the most stable motherboards I've encountered.  It is as stable with 1.4 GHz Athlon XP 1600+ as all of the before mentioned are with slower processors and memory.  I have built three computers so far with this motherboard and all of them have been running without incident for months.

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