ECS KN3 SLI2 Extreme is the most high-end socket AM2 motherboard from ECS based on NVIDIA nForce 590 SLI chipset and targeted to Athlon 64 CPUs supporting DDR2 memory. Part of ECS Extreme series, this motherboard comes with a truck loaded of features and it is aimed to be a cheaper competitor to other nForce 590 SLI motherboards from tier 1 manufacturers like ASUS, Gigabyte and MSI. Let’s take a look at it.
The main difference between ECS KN3 SLI Extreme and competing models from ASUS (M2N32 SLI De Luxe), Gigabyte (GA-M59SLI-S5) and MSI (K9N Diamond) is the absence of a passive heatsink solution using a heat-pipe. This is probably where ECS could make a cheaper motherboard but keeping tons of extra features.
This motherboard is part of the Extreme series from ECS, where all motherboards look like a carnival, with every single plastic part using a different color. As we have already said in other reviews, this may please the eyes of Chinese and Taiwanese customers, but for the western eye we think a more sober color scheme could be used. For example, a black printed circuit board with all plastic parts using the same color (red, for example) would cause a far better impression, in our opinion. As ECS is working their way to become a decent high-end motherboard supplier, this is one of the places they should work to establish a better perception of their brand. On the good side we have say that ECS made something better on this board, replacing the traditional purple lacquer layer they use on their printed circuit boards with a dark brown lacquer, removing the amateurish look of the PCB used on this motherboard.
The problem isn’t only that they use plastic parts with several different colors – on this model we could count seven different colors (lime-green, yellow, white, blue, orange, red and purple). The main problem is that color shades don’t match! For example, the CPU cooler support, two memory sockets, one x16 PCI Express slot and five SATA ports are supposedly orange, but each part uses a different shade of orange! With this amateurish look it is hard to think of ECS as a serious competitor to tier 1 manufacturers, even if they deliver good products. At the end, the looks count a lot.
Like other members of the Extreme series, KN3 SLI2 features “Dr. LED,” a series of blue LEDs near each PCI slot and near each x1 PCI Express slot that indicates that the slot is working fine when it is blinking. The LEDs blink randomly, so when turned on your motherboard looks like a nightclub.
Talking about slots, this motherboard has two x16 PCI Express slots supporting SLI and truly running at x16 when SLI mode is enabled, two x1 PCI Express slots and two regular PCI slots. One of them is yellow and called “PCI Extreme” by ECS, using a solid aluminum electrolytic capacitor, which offers a better quality over regular electrolytic capacitor. That is why this slot is recommended for installing your add-on sound card. But it wouldn’t be better if all capacitors were solid on this motherboard instead of using just one?
Talking about capacitors, even though ECS used some Japanese capacitors from Chemi-Con on the voltage regulator circuit, all other electrolytic capacitors found on this motherboard are from Taiwanese suppliers like G-Luxon and OST. Also, three big capacitors on the voltage regulator are from OST. This can be seen in Figure 4: the black capacitors are from Chemi-Con and the blue ones are from OST. Once again, why not using all capacitors from Chemi-Con or even all solid like Gigabyte is doing on some of their high-end motherboards? Of course this is where ECS saves some bucks and is able to deliver a cheaper product.
Like other members of Extreme series KN3 SLI2 has a duct with a fan right above the voltage regulator, pulling hot air from inside the computer to the outside. Even though we don’t like the color of the duct (UV-sensitive lime-green) we think this idea is great, not only because the voltage regulator generates a lot of heat, but also because it is in front of the CPU, which is obviously the component that produces the highest amount of heat inside a computer. But we think ECS could have added a passive heatsink on top of the MOSFET transistors found on this stage but, once again, here is where ECS saved some bucks.