ECS Black Series X48T-A
Elitegroup Computer Systems has been at the high end a few times, formerly with its Extreme motherboard series and more recently with Nvidia reference designs. The company is stepping into a new direction in its “Black” series, shunning flashy board colors and noisy fans in an effort to provide enthusiasts what they really want : features, performance and stability.
Layout and Features
ECS really cleaned up the design of its X48T-A, but without removing many features. The most striking design elements include the enormous sinks of the heat pipe assembly, but the southward-positioned DIMM slots draw a second look.
The reason most companies are moving DIMM slots so far down the board is to shorten trace lengths for better memory stability at super-high speeds, but the trade off is loss of room for expansion cards. The X48T-A comes with only six slots, and the uppermost x1 slot is limited to cards no more than 7.1” (180mm) long. The X48T-A comes with only two PCI-Express x16 slots ; the top slot is in the third position on a case ; and both slots provide full PCI-Express 2.0 transfer modes.The elimination of a third x16 slot is no big loss, considering how competing brands are forced to provide theirs with only four lanes (at most) in PCI-Express 1.0 mode, but giving up a useless feature is still a gutsy move when so many buyers ignore practicality. Other expansion options include two PCI-Express x1 and two legacy PCI slots, but only one of each will be available in CrossFire configurations using double-slot cards.
But ECS’ design isn’t quite perfect, as two of its six internal SATA ports can easily be blocked off by the long coolers of double-GPU graphics cards. For buyers who don’t use such monster graphics, the benefit of facing the ports outward rather than forward is that they won’t be blocked by the hard drive cage of snug cases.
Like ASRock, ECS forces builders to stretch their front panel audio cables all the way back to the motherboard’s lower rear corner, which is a commonly used location that should have been done-away with long ago.
Maintaining a clean layout did require ECS to make a more serious compromise of placing the Ultra ATA connector under the lowest PCI slot, where its cable couldn’t possibly reach the upper drive bays of most cases, but the firm probably believes builders will opt for SATA optical drives instead. In the place the Ultra ATA connector “should have been,” we instead found a floppy cable header, which was ideally positioned at the front edge of the board, just above the center line. Many Windows XP users will be grateful that installing a floppy drive for RAID or AHCI drivers has been eased, and we think it’s ironic that the “presumed dead” floppy interface is now outliving Ultra-ATA thanks to Microsoft’s former OS installation requirements.
Moving back to the giant chunk of aluminum ECS uses to cool the Northbridge, we can see the heat pipes are glued in with thermal adhesive, rather than soldered on. This isn’t a problem as most companies would have you believe, as each of the sinks is generously sized for its specific task. In fact, ECS could have done away with heat pipes entirely, if not for the need to entice uninformed buyers.