Soltek QBIC EQ3901 SFF barebones system

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SYSTEM INSTALLATION

The following components were installed:

  • AMD64 3500+ S939 processor (2.2GHz Winchester core, 1 GHz HTT)
  • 1 x 512 MB OCZ DDR SDRAM PC3700 Dual Channel Gold
  • Matrox G550 AGP passively cooled video card
  • Samsung 40G notebook HDD - nestled on soft foam in 3.5" HDD bay.
  • Samsung SM-352B Combo Drive (CD-RW + DVD-ROM)
  • Microsoft Windows XP Pro SP2 fully updated

As is becoming the standard for our SFF reviews, a 2.5" notebook drive was used in order to minimize the amount of noise added to the system. The noise measurements made in this review reflect this choice; using a full 3.5" drive can be expected to add 2~4 dBA/1m in vibration and resonance, especially when hard mounted in an aluminum case such as this one.

Installation was somewhat more difficult that usual due to the tightly packed layout and the blower that impedes access to the right side of the case. Temporarily removing the power supply made the case considerably easier to work in. Because the RAM slots are located between the blower and the CPU, inserting the RAM sticks into place can be a little tricky. Additionally, the position of the CPU socket under the power supply means that the heatsink must be clipped into place blind.


Removing the power supply makes is much easier to install RAM and the CPU.

Installing the heatsink is quite straightforward, which is very helpful in the tight confines of the case. Two parallel metal clips on either side of the heatsink hook easily onto the retention module while not under tension. Once they are in place, the whole heatsink is placed under tension by a large lever, which locks the HSF into place.

A caution about the heatsink: Although it will fit in two different orientations, one of these obstructs the PCI slot. The top of the mounting lever hangs over the side of the heatsink when locked, and interferes with any PCI card if the heatsink is improperly installed.

The position of the CPU fan header between the PCI slot and the heatsink is also awkward. If the heatsink is installed without removing the power supply, it is virtually impossible to maneuver the heatsink into place without unplugging the CPU fan (which makes one more thing to remember when plugging everything back in). Plugging it back in requires a steady hand and a little guesswork, since the header cannot be seen behind the PCI slot.


The CPU fan header is awkwardly wedged between the heatsink and the PCI slot.

Installing the drive cage was a similarly intricate operation. There is very little clearance between the power supply and the end of any optical drives installed. It is absolutely necessary to plug any optical drives in before the drive cage is installed. The detailed (and well illustrated) installation guide would have been more helpful if it had been properly translated. I stopped reading after it instructed me to "screw up the floppy drive this way".

To be fair, Soltek does recommend that optical drives be installed separately from the drive cage through the front of the case. This, however, requires removing the front bezel, which seems like more trouble than it's worth.


No room for extended length optical drives.

Soltek is obviously aware of some difficulties surrounding the size of the drive cage. They have gone so far as to insulate the side of the drive cage with mylar where contact with expansion cards is possible. Even if you aren't using a particularly long card, it's probably a good idea to install the drives before any expansion cards. We had no problems installing our small Matrox card, but we can certainly see how larger cards could be a tight fit.


Long expansion cards are protected from possible short-circuit with mylar glued against the drive cage.

As with most dual channel memory boards, the system will not post with a single stick of RAM unless is installed in the correct slot. Installing RAM in both slots also solves the problem.

BIOS

The EQ3901 BIOS is quite full-featured, with plentiful options for those interested in underclocking to achieve cooler performance. The following ranges of adjustment are available:

  • CPU Multiplier: 4x - 25x, in 1x increments
  • CPU Clock: 200 MHz - 250 MHz, in 1 MHz increments
  • CPU VCore: 0.800V - 1.700V, in 0.025V increments
  • AGP Voltage: 1.50V to 1.80V
  • DDR DIMM Voltage: 2.60V to 2.90V

One feature that is somewhat disappointing is the inability to drop the CPU Clock below the default 200 MHz. This means that underclocking must be achieved by adjusting the CPU multiplier.

The CPU multiplier itself can be set between 4x and 25x, which, combined with the clock range of the CPU Clock, gives a theoretical range of 800-6250 MHz. That's plenty of room for underclocking, and those who feel like experimenting with liquid nitrogen can try to push the 6 GHz limit. It is worth pointing out that only A64 FX processors allow the CPU multiplier to be set above stock. Regular A64 chips are only downward-unlocked, meaning they permit lower multipliers but not higher ones.

Most importantly from a thermal point of view, the motherboard can be severely undervolted, down to 0.800 volts.


CPU Ratio can be set to any integer value from 4 to 25.


The CPU clock cannot be adjusted downwards.


VCore adjustment bottoms out at 0.8 volts.

BIOS Fan Control

The fan control options offered in the BIOS are complex and mostly undocumented. Both the CPU fan and the exhaust blower can be adjusted, although they are not clearly marked in the BIOS. The CPU fan is listed as Fan1, while the blower is shown as Fan2.


The default temperatures that trigger fan activity are 60ºC for the CPU and 40ºC for case ambient.

Each fan is adjusted with two corresponding options, a "Smart Fan Temperature" and a "Tolerance Value". Smart Temperature determines a target temperature for the corresponding fan to maintain. It's not listed which temperature affects which fan controller, but we were able to determine through trial and error that Fan1 (the CPU fan) responds to changes in the CPU temperature, while the speed of Fan2 (the blower) is linked to changes in system temperature.


It's possible to set a target temperature for the CPU.

Smart Fan Temperature is a fairly straightforward option, but this is not true of the second option that affects fan speed. The Fan Tolerance Value had us scratching our heads trying to figure out what it was for. After playing around with different values, we were able to determine that the tolerance value determines how far the temperature is allowed to stray from the value set for Smart Fan Temperature.


The oddly-named Fan Tolerance Value determines how strictly the fan tries to maintain the target temperature.



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