"The more alternatives, the more difficult the choice."

This quote by Abbe' D'Allanival conveys our feelings about the ASRock 939SLI32-eSATA2 product. ASRock began operations in 2002 as the value brand group for Asus. ASRock has a history of providing very unique and, at times, unusual products based upon alternative chipsets at inexpensive price points. Although ASRock offers a complete line of products based upon mainstream chipsets from Intel and NVIDIA, it is their products based upon ULi, SIS, and VIA chipsets that are usually far more interesting. More information about the entire line of ASRock products can be found here.

The ASRock 939SLI32-eSATA2 motherboard is based on the ULi M1697 and M1695 chipsets. ASRock has done a masterful job in utilizing these recently released chipsets to create a board that might make you think twice about spending any additional money for an NVIDIA nForce4 dual X16 SLI solution. In fact, this board fully supports NVIDIA SLI technology and it works seamlessly with the included ULi PowerExpress Engine Enabling driver although the board is not SLI certified by NVIDIA. Of course, now that NVIDIA has completed their acquisition of ULi, we have to wonder how many manufacturers will be able to provide a similar solution utilizing these chipsets or how long this driver will be available.

Our initial impression of the ASRock 939SLI32-eSATA2 upon opening the box was like a child opening a birthday present, full of surprise and wonderment at the object that we were holding. We were impressed at the extensive list of features included on the board and were very surprised that a board this feature-laden sells at a retail price of US $85. After the initial excitement over our gift from ASRock wore off, we began to wonder if this present would be one that we would toss in the closet, regift to an unsuspecting editor, or cherish over time. The old adage, "If it's too good to be true, it probably is." began to enter our minds as we studied the board's extensive features and read the marketing materials. The only way to come to a decisive conclusion was to test the board thoroughly and utilize it in a variety of situations. We accomplished our goal of running this board through the gamut of test suites with various peripherals while also utilizing it as our everyday office/game system. We were impressed with the board, and our results might change the way that you look at a value based solution.

During our testing and general usage of the ASRock 939SLI32-eSATA2, we found the board's stability to be exceptional and it delivered competitive results in the latest synthetic and game benchmarks. However, our initial impressions were not as positive at the beginning of the test phase as the board would sporadically produce random results in the synthetic benchmarks while generating lockups in the memory benchmarks. Our issue was with the pre-release test BIOS and was not visible in the production release BIOS on the shipping boards. While the performance of the board was slightly lower in most benchmarks, the stability was superb with the release BIOS.


ASRock utilizes the ULi M1695 HyperTransport PCI Express Tunnel chip for the North Bridge. The ULi M1695 is designed to interconnect seamlessly with other HyperTransport based Host or Bridge chips and, in this case, is interconnected to the ULi M1697 acting as the South Bridge. The M1695 fully supports one PCI Express x16 lane or two x8 lanes for graphics cards and two PCI Express x1 or one PCI Express x4 expansion slot. The M1695 offers transfers of up to 16-bit HTT downstream and 16-bit HTT upstream links at 2.0 GT/s, ensuring an excellent communication path between the processor and connecting bridges.

ASRock utilizes the ULi M1697 HyperTransport PCI Express chip for the South Bridge. The M1697 fully supports one PCI Express x16 lane or two PCI Express x8 lanes for graphics cards and three PCI Express x1 or one PCI Express x4 expansion slot. The M1697 also offers transfers of up to 16-bit HTT downstream and 16-bit HTT upstream links at 2.0 GT/s. The M1697 provides dual channel Ultra-DMA IDE support, four SATA ports featuring NCQ, 3Gb/s, eSATA, Hot Plug, RAID 0, 1, 0+1, 5, and JBOD operations. High Definition Audio is natively supported along with eight USB 2.0 ports and 10/100Mb/s Ethernet utilizing a properly supported PHY. PCI Express Gigabit Ethernet can be utilized as a discrete solution with a properly supported PHY. Further information about the ULi product line can be found here.

The ASRock 939SLI32-eSATA2 offers the full complement of options available including two PCI Express x16 connections (fully supports NVIDIA SLI with PowerExpress driver); one PCI Express x4 connection, three 32-bit PCI 2.2 connections, and a unique CPU upgrade port that fully supports the AM2 940-pin CPU with an AM2CPU daughter board. The board also offers HD audio via the Realtek ALC660 HD 5.1 codec, PCI Express Gigabit Ethernet via the Realtek RT8111B PHY, eight USB 2.0 ports (utilizing two USB 2.0 headers), four SATA 3Gb/s connectors, two eSATA 3Gb/s connectors (shared with two SATA 3Gb/s ports), two ATA133 Ultra-DMA IDE connectors, and IEEE 1394 support via the TI TSB43AB22 1394A capable chipset.

Let's find out if this alternative offering leads to a difficult choice.

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  • chesss - Tuesday, March 07, 2006 - link

    quote:

    . We also have to wonder about the inclusion of the AM2 CPU upgrade slot that seems more like a marketing gimmick than something that will be useful in the future.
    hmm I was hoping for a more definite answer from anandtech about this. Anybody else?
    Reply
  • Gary Key - Tuesday, March 07, 2006 - link

    What type of information are you looking for at this time? We have seen prototype AM2 daughter cards but have not been able to test a card yet due to ongoing engineering changes. Although the daughter card will have direct HT access through the M1695 chipset, we have to wonder how well ASRock will be able to optimize the DDR2 memory performance. The daughter card will also limit cooling options available for the CPU choice. The other variable will be cost and if you are upgrading to AM2 then the additional cost of a motherboard in this category should not be an issue. When all is said and done we still think this is a marketing driven feature and not a viable engineering solution for most users. Reply
  • itroxx - Wednesday, March 08, 2006 - link

    Hello everybody,

    I'am also looking for a new system for mainly video editing. Working with Premiere, MPEG2 encoding and DVD authoring. Thats why I found this review cause the AsRock seems the only board available with SATA2-Raid capabilities right now. But I am not sure about how much SATA2 drives can be attached. Is it possible to attach one SATA2 drive for the system and build a Raid0 of two more SATA2 drives? For what reason are the SATA connector on the rear panel?

    The components I've selected at this point are

    AMD Athlon64 X2 3800+ 2x2000MHz 2x512kB Box E4-Stepping
    Asrock 939SLI32-eSATA2 S939 ATX
    2x 1024 Corsair DDR400
    1x Samsung 80GB SATA2 (System)
    2x Samsung 250GB SATA2 (Raid0)
    256MB PCIe x16 ATI RADEON X1300 PRO

    What do you think of my selection? What type of power suply do I need?
    Is 400 Watt enough?

    thanks a lot and greetings from germany
    Daniel
    Reply
  • Redrider - Thursday, March 09, 2006 - link

    Although my expertise is much lower than most of the people on this forum, there are a few things I have gleaned from my experience and research. Here are a couple of suggestion:

    You want the best you can get for the money you spend so as for the processor (I am seriously considering an X2 3800+ myself) I would go for the http://www.amdcompare.com/us-en/desktop/details.as...">ADA3800DAA5CD
    which has the E6 stepping which is a newer revision based on http://www.techpowerup.com/articles/overclocking/2...">this article

    Also, I would boost your power supply. You are spending some serious cash and I don't think skimping on the PS is wise. 400W seems pretty small and I would go with big power overhead just to be sure.
    Reply
  • UJMA - Saturday, March 04, 2006 - link

    The people who invariably buy SLi enabled boards are gamers, and gamers love to OVERCLOCK! unfortunately Asrock have provided this board with a feeble set of voltage options, both the Vdimm & Vcore voltage options are pathetic. No problem, if you're handy with a soldering iron as I'm pretty sure some voltage mods will eventually show up for entusiasts. Probably a better option would be to wait for Epox to launch their new EP-9U1697 GLI mobo based on the same ULi M1697 chipset, you'll get SLi with better overclocking options for a similar outlay! Reply
  • Gary Key - Saturday, March 04, 2006 - link

    quote:

    Probably a better option would be to wait for Epox to launch their new EP-9U1697 GLI mobo based on the same ULi M1697 chipset, you'll get SLi with better overclocking options for a similar outlay!


    We just happen to have that board available for testing now. :)
    Reply
  • UJMA - Friday, March 24, 2006 - link

    2 great reviews on boards using the ULi M1697 chipset. In the red corner we have the Asrock 939SLI32-eSATA2, in the blue corner we have the EPoX EP-9U1697-GLi ... I'm going for the Epox board. Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Saturday, March 04, 2006 - link

    Keep in mind the Epox is dual x8 using a single M1697 chipset, while the ASROCK is an amazing dual x16. If dual x8 is enough for you though, the Epox should be an interesting board. Reply
  • UJMA - Saturday, March 04, 2006 - link

    I was looking at the Epopx website specs ...

    "Two PCI Express (x16) connector compliant with PCI Express 1.0a"

    http://www.epox.com.tw/eng/products_content.php?ps...">http://www.epox.com.tw/eng/products_content.php?ps...
    Reply
  • Gary Key - Saturday, March 04, 2006 - link

    There are two physical x16 connectors on the Epox board but they are electrically x8 lanes in SLI mode. The ASRock 939SLI32 has the same physical x16 connectors but electrically they are x16 lanes in SLI mode. Reply

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