I built the following rig for my cousins to replace their aging P3:
AMD X2 3600+ Brisbane (1.9Ghz, 65W, 1.300V)
Arctic Freezer 64 Pro PWM @ 7V
1GB Corsair Value Select DDR2-667 (128MB allocated to video memory)
Maxtor DM9+ 120GB 8MB SATA1 HD
LG H54N 18x DL DVD+/-RW (PATA)
Sparkle SPI 400W PSU
Apex TX-319 Case
Fans: 100mm Scythe exhaust (came with the Mine Rev.B), 120mm Antec intake (specs unknown, about as loud as a D12SL-12), both at 7V
Acer AL1715S-8 LCD (1280x1024, connected through DVI)
Windows XP Pro SP2
Motherboard accessories came in a nice nylon bag - very nice surprise. Very few accessories though, just an IDE cable, floppy cable, SATA cable, SATA power adapter and backplate. Also a manual and driver CD. Definitely a no-frills product.
One of the best layouts I've seen in awhile. Power connections are at the edge of the board, IDE port is high and aligned vertically. They even put in a power and reset button right on the board, taking a page out of DFI's book. Only negatives are the northbridge heatsink looks awfully small and the area around the socket is a bit tight. The Arctic Freezer installed fine but the first DIMM is obstructed, so if you plan on using that combo, install the memory first (if you're going to use that first bank). Also, beware the 24-pin ATX connector... it's incredibly tight.
The BIOS had a lot of options, especially when it came to memory timings and HT settings. However the BIOS it shipped with did not come Cool n' Quiet support, any kind of fan control or undervolting options (only overvolting). A BIOS update enabled C&Q and Smartfan. The flash utility inside the BIOS allows you to flash from a non-bootable floppy, but it still has to be a floppy. Updating to the April 27th BIOS improved things a lot and also all the overclocking options were moved to a single menu; very convenient. There's also a CMOS Reloaded section for you to save BIOS configurations, however any saved configurations disappear if you try to boot with unPOSTable settings. When this happens, cut power to the system and turn it back on again. It will POST with default settings, so you don't have to reset the CMOS.
The board gave me zero problems until after I installed Windows. Welcome to driver hell. I could not find updated drivers for this board from any of the Biostar mirror sites. The Taiwan site has a review link for this board on the front page, but I could not find this model listed anywhere on the site. Funny, huh? Not really. I was lucky to even get a BIOS update - I Googled around and found a link to it on the Chinese site (http://www.biostar.cn/driver2005/BIOS/07BIOS/R69AM427.rar
Eventually I found updated drivers from ATI/AMD and individual audio/ethernet drivers from Realtek. Unfortunately, I could not get Catalyst 7.4, 7.3, or 7.2 to work properly (7.4 is the worst, don't even bother trying it unless you like having the screen go black randomly). I had problems playing video until finally I gave up and used the drivers on the CD. They were at least 6 months old, but they worked.
The onboard video I found to be sufficient, though to be fair, I didn't exactly see the point in testing any games on it. I did put it through 3DMark2001 and 2003 and got 5000 and 1500 scores respectively if that counts for anything. It's quite obvious it's only suitable for older games or less demanding modern games at lower resolutions. It did play H.264 content fairly well without any stuttering. CPU usage comparisons (VLC Player):
X2 3600+ @ 2.4Ghz/X1250: 25-38%
Opteron 165 @ 2.5Ghz/7950GT: 14-18%
X2 3600+ @ 2.4Ghz/X1250: 36-52%
Opteron 165 @ 2.5Ghz/7950GT: 18-31%
Weird with a capital W. In the BIOS, the Smartfan values it claims you can use are 0-127. However, it won't let you input a 3 digit number so it's actually 0 to 99. At the "0" setting I estimate the lowest the fan speed was reduced to was about 9V during bootup, which was still too loud for my liking. The threshold temperatures seemed to have no effect on the speed. Once at the desktop level, the speed seemed to remain constant no matter what I did, so I tried the fan control utility off the Biostar driver disc.
When the fan control utility loads up, it's set to AUTO, which is quite aggressive. Switch it off AUTO and you can control the CPU fan and one case fan manually, from a claimed 0-100% (in actuality probably 5V to 12V). However when you exit the utility and load it up again, it sets itself back to AUTO. You can't save the settings and you can't configure it to change dynamically. If you load the utility, set the fan speeds manually, then exit, it will keep the fans at those speeds until you reboot or the utility is run again. Not a completely worthless program, but extremely inconvenient. FYI, you have to connect a 4-pin fan to the CPU fan header to have any control over it.
Unimpressed, I of course installed Speedfan. Unfortunately, Speedfan does not work, you can't control any fans and the temperature is not even reported correctly. Of course it's also reported incorrectly in the Biostar utility as well, always hovering around 50C. Disappointed, I 7V modded all the fans and left it at that. Hopefully Alfredo will be able to add support for this board in the future because two fan headers CAN be controlled, it's just a matter of better implementation.
I prefer overclocking without adding voltage, so I dropped the HT multiplier, set the memory setting to lowest (400Mhz, which is 1:1), loosened the memory timings to 5-5-5-15 and started cranking up the HT frequency in increments of 5Mhz. POSTed at 230Mhz (CPU/RAM), wouldn't POST at 235Mhz. After reading a tip on another forum, I increased the memory setting to 533Mhz (I know that goes against all overclocking sense and reason, but for some reason it helped). POSTed up to 265, but not at 270. Increased vCore by 0.1V just to see if it was the motherboard or the CPU holding me back out of curiousity. It POSTed up to 275 with the additional voltage so I guess it was the CPU's fault. I like even numbers so I settled at 253Mhz to give me 2.4Ghz. I would've gone for 258Mhz to give me 2.5Ghz, but I wasn't confident the cooling setup would hold up all summer in a mATX case.
UNDERVOLTING & POWER CONSUMPTION
Using CrystalCPUID, I found the lowest multiplier I could use was 5. At 4 or 4.5 the system would freeze up. I went with multipliers of 9.5, 7 and 5. Here are the lowest stable voltages I could get along with along with system power consumption figures (directly from the wall socket) at idle and with Orthos running (small FFT setting):
5.0 x 200Mhz = 1.00Ghz, 0.800V, no power figures
5.0 x 253Mhz = 1.27Ghz, 0.900V, 62W, 71W
7.0 x 253Mhz = 1.77Ghz, 1.100V, 64W, 83W
9.5 x 200Mhz = 1.90Ghz, 1.000V, no power figures
9.5 x 253Mhz = 2.40Ghz, 1.275V, 70W, 108W
Mixed opinions, but generally positive. The layout is excellent, the overclocking ability is top-notch (for a mATX board anyway), and it's got a very good set of features (HDMI, DVI, 8 channel HD audio). Drivers are poor as is the fan control, but I feel both will be remedied in time. I found the overclocking memory quirk to be baffling, but then again a year ago I had never heard of FSB holes either, so no big deal. The northbridge heatsink does get quite hot, but it never caused any problems as far as I could tell. If I had to describe this board in one sentence I would say "Quirky but formidable mATX overclocking HTPC board."