Foxconn Black Ops - Raw, Unadulterated Powerby Rajinder Gill on July 30, 2008 11:00 PM EST
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Late last year Foxconn announced their presence in the performance sector with the P35-based Mars motherboard. Like most boards using the P35 chipset, the Mars matured into an outstanding product. In fact, it turned out to be frighteningly close in capabilities to our favorite DFI P35 UT product. On the back of this excellent release, Foxconn has been inspired with the confidence to develop a performance range of motherboards with specific objectives in mind. Given the size of the company and its in-house manufacturing capabilities, the progression into releasing a line of performance-oriented motherboards seems to be perfectly logical.
With over 200,000 employees worldwide, a proven distribution network, and an already established reputation in multiple product lines, one would be lead to believe that competitive volumes of high-end brand motherboard sales will be another notch of success for Foxconn. The mere presence of Foxconn in the performance computer sector at the very least should drive the other big players towards higher levels of innovation - and who knows, perhaps pricing will benefit too. Contrary to that last statement on the subject of pricing, the Black Ops motherboard we're reviewing here today will help relieve you of that irritating bulge in your wallet by setting you back a mere $350 or so.
Okay, so the Black Ops itself is not going to be the cure for ever-increasing high-end hardware costs; let's hope upcoming or future products will fulfill that role. We look at the Black Ops as more of a statement product from Foxconn that announces their presence on the scene, aspiring to win the support of some of the world's top benchmarkers. A few endorsements by well-known and respected individuals can go a long way and can carry enough weight to convince the more discerning among us that something is at least worth checking out.
The pursuit of recognition has lead to Foxconn employing none other than Peter Tan (aka Shamino), who will provide insight into releasing a board built from the ground up with one main purpose in mind: withstand the onslaught of extreme cooling to benchmark and set world records. To the more uninitiated among us, think of this form of usage as drag racing with a processor, memory, and graphics card either for competition or just simply for the thrill. It would be fair to say we can expect a motherboard with toenail curling voltage ranges, multiple cooling options, and rugged power delivery circuits. Let's not forget the customary masses of chipset tuning options via BIOS options that are all deemed essential for extreme benchmarking.
Thus far, we consider the launch of the Black Ops a successful one. The board has broken or holds a number of Futuremark world records and has seemingly gained enough allure to find itself in demand from regular users. It hasn't all been plain sailing though, with all the initial focus falling on out of the box speed rather than "safety", early BIOS releases were set up very tight, and compatibility with certain types of memory modules at launch needed improvement. This left some of the regular users, including us, a little disgruntled. Things have improved with each BIOS release for the 24/7 crowd, although the steep learning curve to mastering the BIOS remains daunting. It takes patience to tune the board, with new users often requiring advice from experienced users to get the most from the board.
On the subject of helping users, Foxconn already seems to have realized that a strong and accessible support staff presence is crucial to ensuring the success of an enthusiast product, as initial launch compatibility issues are often rife on all performance-oriented motherboards. For those of us that are struggling with various configurations, Foxconn employees are available to help users get started and push for BIOS fixes at Foxconn's support forum. Turnaround for such fixes has been lightning fast in most cases, and the board is generally far more compatible overall than it was a few months ago.
It seems there are plenty of positives making up the perimeter of Foxconn's package for the consumer. What we have learned following our quick look at the Black Ops is that teamed with the right components and some perseverance the board is an absolute beast. Before we even continue into this review, let us reiterate that this is an ultra niche product; it's not designed to be particularly mainstream or to offer the best everyday functionality and peripheral compatibility as other boards. This is not to say the board is not compatible or stable - far from it. Let's just say that picking up the groceries and a load of lumber is best left for the SUV and not the Ferrari.
On the plus side, Foxconn will concentrate on overall compatibility qualities on upcoming boards aimed at the mainstream enthusiast market. For now, if you intend to buy the Black Ops and run it in an overclocked everyday configuration, we offer the following advice. Do your homework first, ask questions of support staff and users to find out which components have synergy, and then make your purchasing decisions. Making informed choices will save disappointment later on. Don't let what we say here put you off if you're a die-hard overclocking fan, admire quality, or enjoy tinkering with settings till the cows come home. [Ed: Mooooo!]
With the disclaimers out of the way, we're going to run a few of our standard test suites followed by some benchmarking under cascade cooling to see how the board holds up to the abuse it's built to take.