ECS Black Series P45T-A
Elitegroup Computer Systems realized many years ago that it wasn’t going to win over consumer confidence by competing on price alone, and has since focused on adding value through a combination of better component quality and features. A Web price of around $110 undercuts the two cheapest competitors in today’s comparison, so let’s see how the P45T-A sizes up.
The one big feature ECS has over ASRock and Biostar at comparable prices is electronic switching for its two PCI Express x16 slots, allowing the motherboard to automatically switch between single-slot x16 transfers or dual-slot x8 transfers depending on whether the lower slot is occupied. Both Biostar motherboards require tediously changing eight jumper blocks, and while the ASRock P45TS-R doesn’t even have a second slot, the company’s upscale P45R2000-WiFi requires manipulating a selector card which is no longer accessible once a graphics card is installed.
Next to the electronic switches is a removable BIOS IC, which makes the motherboard repairable in the event of a bad flash. All motherboards up to this point in the comparison have had removable BIOS, a legacy characteristic we’re glad to see making a comeback after several years of soldered-on parts that occasionally leave owners stranded.
ECS carries the two cheapest features from it competitors. Just like Biostar’s TP45 HP, the P45T-A uses electrolytic capacitors, rather than solid capacitors, in low stress locations. And like the ASRock P45TS-R, the P45T-A doesn’t have any heat sink on its CPU voltage regulator. The non-solid capacitors are supplied for both the P45T-A and TP45 HP by a somewhat reputable brand, OST.
Like Biostar, the ECS P45T-A spreads its two x16 slots apart by three spaces and leaves the space under the top slot empty for better cooling. Also like Biostar is the 24-pin main power connector location at the front edge, allowing easy cable management.
Similarities to the more favorable TP45 HP layout end there, as the P45T-A puts its four-pin ATX12V connector beneath the CPU socket, with both the Floppy and Ultra ATA connector under the bottom PCI slot. This means that a key power cable must be wrapped around the CPU cooler, that any floppy cable must be routed messily around graphics cards, and that an Ultra ATA cable doesn’t stand a chance of reaching the upper bays of tower cases. And the bottom-rear corner front-panel-audio header that builders hate but most manufacturers love ? It’s the blue thing.
Serial ATA connectors are easy to reach and won’t conflict with any nearby hard drive cages since they point outward, but anyone considering the P45T-A for use with a CrossfireX configuration of twin HD 4870 X2 graphics cards will be left with only two usable ports—perhaps three—but it’s a tight squeeze. Fortunately, two of the shorter non-X2 HD 4870 cards will fit, and anyone with enough money for two X2’s probably isn’t considering a $110 motherboard anyway.
Power and reset buttons, along with three USB 2.0 headers, are found in the bottom front corner. We like that ECS has put so many USB connections within easy reach, as systems with four front panel USB ports will still be able to support two additional bay devices such as memory card readers.