ECS KN1 Extreme review
Having the latest technology nestled in your PC can be expensive, but ECS has thrown down the price gauntlet with its KN1 Extreme. Built around the excellent nForce4 Ultra chipset (which remains the fastest we’ve seen), it put in a decent performance of 2.19 in our application benchmarks, using the same components as the MSI and Soltek boards.
Unlike the A-Listed Gigabyte GA-K8NXP-9, which can handle up to eight Serial ATA hard disks at once, the KN1 Extreme has six ports. Four of these are connected to the nForce4 Ultra chipset and conform to the SATA II standard. Two of the ports are connected to the SiS180 RAID controller and are cross-compatible with one Ultra ATA/133 connector, meaning you can still have RAID0+1.
Gigabit Ethernet is available, joined by a further 10/100 port; the K8NXP has dual-gigabit support. Some may also miss the lack of eight-channel sound: Realtek’s six-channel, ALC655 chip powers the three mini-jacks and two S/PDIF outs (one optical and one coaxial) on the back. Otherwise, the backplane has everything you’d expect minus a parallel port, which is included on a backplate.
There are four USB 2 ports on the back of the board, with the option to add up to six further ports via the three risers that are sat awkwardly between the third Ultra ATA connector and floppy connector. A pair of FireWire risers sit next to them. Note that all of these risers are unenclosed, so installing extra ports is going to be a pain if the motherboard is already installed.
It’s not helped by the board layout either. Although we like how the 1x PCI-Express ports are located above the 16x graphics card port (allowing you to install a double-width graphics card without impinging on future expansion), the drive connectors are sprinkled around the board with little potential to keep cables tidy. The third Ultra ATA connector is located well away from the other two, while the floppy connector is below the PCI ports. Careful planning is going to be needed if you want to avoid a case full of airflow-obstructing wires.
Like the Gigabyte board, the KN1 comes with an 802.11b/g WLAN adaptor, although in this case it’s an external USB device. Whether you prefer this to an internal card is a matter of choice – one way adds a wire to your desktop, the other costs you a PCI slot – but it’s a useful inclusion.
There’s an extra 40mm fan enclosed in a lime-green duct to direct cool air over the VRM (voltage regulator module), an area of the board that can get very hot if you’re working the system hard. This is good news for longevity of the VRM itself, although it’s one more source of noise. A quintet of purple LEDs flashes the entire time the system is on, which some will love but others will find distracting.
The price is certainly right for the KN1 Extreme, and at about £13 cheaper than the Gigabyte it’s a serious contender. However, even at the higher price, the Gigabyte is still a better deal. Little things like enclosed USB risers and big things like dual gigabit Ethernet and better twin-RAID support (the Gigabyte’s Sil3114 chip supports four SATA devices instead of two) mean that the Gigabyte is still the more tempting proposition.