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Generation Change: Eight Motherboards For The Athlon 64

Epox EP-8HDA3+

Understatement: The board in this package can do more than you'd think.

Board Revision: 1.0

BIOS Version: A06 (October 29, 2003)

The EP-8HDA3+ has premium claims that is clear after a closer look at the hardware. Five PCI slots and two DIMM sockets are par for the course, but not the four phase voltage converters. Also included is a 3COM Gigabit Ethernet chip, four SATA ports, provided by a Sil3114, a modern sound system and a Port 80 debugging system. A two digit display shows hex values representing the corresponding system state at boot up. This enables quick localization of errors.

We found the main memory's supply voltage a little on the high side. If the CMOS is reset to the factory settings, the DIMMs are fed with 2.7 V from the get go. That may make sense for overclocking attempts, but we don't see any need for it in systems running normally. What is useful is a second integrated Ethernet controller, a VT6103 from VIA with 100 Mbit/s. This means that the system can easily be used as an internet gateway in the network, or simply spares you having to buy a second network card for home use when using network and DSL connections simultaneously.

Unfortunately, Epox has yet to come up with Cool & Quiet support. We can't quite understand why exactly it is taking the company so long. After all, this type of energy management also offers energy savings and a generally quieter CPU fan.

We did find it irritating that the FSB speed we measured was no less than 207 MHz. However, this was an evaluation BIOS that is not supplied in this form. The system's performance was correspondingly high. For our benchmarks, we put the official BIOS version through the hoops and produced, lo and behold, 200.0 MHz FSB clock speed. But although the performance on offer is within bounds, we might have been forgiven for expecting more given the many years' experience Epox has with VIA chipsets. Perhaps the next BIOS version will come up with something.

Epox is not heading to the top of the class with its comparatively paltry accessories. A standard cable set has to do; at least the SATA power adapters are included. The software looks a lot better. Besides a Windows Flash utility for the BIOS and a diagnostic program, delivery also features Symantec's Ghost and PC Cillin. The price we were quoted, however, was a little steep.