Epox included their Magic Health utilities in the BIOS. This application shows the CPU temperature, fan speed, Voltage AGP, Voltage DIMM and other settings to ensure that the system runs properly at boot. During the POST (Power On Self Test), the boot screen will show these settings, allowing the user to see if the temperature of the CPU or system is too warm.
The BIOS has the ability to over clock the CPU in 1 MHz FSB increments, if the Expert setting is enabled. The default setting allows 100/133/166/200 MHz FSB depending on the CPU used. For example, my 2200+ XP was correctly identified as a 133 MHz FSB CPU and booted at 1804 MHz. The multiplier settings available are from 7x to 24x allowing use of virtually any Athlon or Duron CPU conceivable.
For power users, Epox included a Power BIOS setting in the BIOS. From this menu you can change the voltage of the CPU, AGP, and memory. The range for voltage for the CPU is 1.400V to 2.200V in 0.025V increments. The AGP voltage range allows you to change the voltage from 1.5V to 1.8V in 0.1V increments. Finally the memory voltage range allows settings of 2.50V, 2.63V, 2.77V and 2.90V.
Epox included a utility to flash the BIOS in Windows, called Magic BIOS. In theory, when a new BIOS is released, simply use the utility to download and flash your BIOS to the latest version without the need for a floppy drive. In practice, however, the latest BIOS was already flashed on the motherboard when I first installed it, dated 5/7/2003.
The bundle of the Epox 8RDA3+ is really comprehensive and shows the effort that they put into this motherboard.. The inclusion of rounded IDE cables allows for easy bundling of the wires inside a case. Both of the cables are the 80 wire ATA133 cables. When installing my WD 60GB 7200 RPM, ATA100 hard drive, it was correctly identified by the BIOS as ATA100 and installed as such.
The other hardware components are fairly representative of motherboard hardware bundles. The floppy drive cable is a standard floppy drive cable, the Firewire cable has 2 standard IEEE1394 ports controlled by the Agere chip on the board (Epox included the MCP with the 8RDA3+ which doesn't natively support Firewire). The game and COM port cable is simply that, a cable with a Game port and a COM1 port, which is missing on the board. The backplate is fairly standard and fits easily on my case.
Two SATA cables are included in the package as well. SATA stands for Serial ATA and the 8RDA3+ supports 2 SATA drives with the ability to run them in SATA RAID mode. SATA is enabled via a Silicon Image chip that's onboard. This is the standard SATA interface for most Epox and Asus boards that have it. Epox includes a manual on SATA drives as well.
PC-Cillin 2002 is a potent anti-virus program from Trend Micro. Released last year, the latest version is the 2003 one. However, Trend Micro, like all antivirus makers keep their engines up-to-date even when the next engine is released so the included 2002 version is still useful. Personally, I like Norton's Antivirus software for my antivirus needs. I have bought their SystemWorks suite of programs, which includes the NAV. The inclusion of PC-CIillin 2002, however, is value added software.
Norton's Ghost is a indispensable tool for the reviewer. Ghost allows you to make a "image" of the hard disk drive and restore the image after a format within a few minutes. Instead of an hour-long format/reinstall of Windows XP, it only takes a matter of minutes to install Windows with an image using Ghost.
Epox decided to go with a C-Media chip for the onboard sound, instead of the normal nForce2 onboard audio or Realtek sound chip. I think it's interesting that they decided to use a different chip than they used in the 8RDA+. Using the C-Media CMI9739A CODEC, in conjunction with the NVIDIA MCP Southbridge, the C-Media sound is fully the equal of the Creative Labs Audigy soundcard in most respects.
Sound is provided by the 3 onboard jacks. To enable sound simply plug in the color coded wires into the correct jack. As the chip is based upon C-Media's chipset, it's necessary to install the audio drivers separately, unlike other nForce motherboards that require only the installation of the nForce Unified Driver. You can also purchase an optional S/PDIF cable from Epox or their dealers to enable S/PDIF output.
After the driver is installed, a small control panel is installed for controlling the sound called the C-Media 3D Audio Configuration. From here, you can control the Speaker Output (whether it's headphones, 2 channel, 4 channel or 6 channel speakers), SPDIF Output Source/Format (Playing Audio (48 kHz Output, S/PDIF Input (Loop Back), Analog Input to S/PDIF Out, No Output), Volume Control, Microphone Control, Xear3d controls and Information about the soundcard and it's capabilities.
C-Media's Xear3d Control panel application is easy to use and fun as well. From the panel, you can set the environmental sounds (choices are: Padded Cell, Room, Living Room, Stone Room, Auditorium, Cave, Arena, Hangar, Carpeted Hallway, Hallway, Stone Corridor, Alley, City, Forest, Mountains, Plain, Quarry, Parking Lot, Drugged, Under Water, Dizzy, Psychotic, Bathroom, Concert Hall, Pipes, and Music Pub.
The control panel has a visual representation of the positioning of the speakers. When running the demo program it's very clear from which speaker the sound is emanating from as there's both a flashing speaker and clear distinct sound coming from each speaker as its being used is very effective and appealing. I prefer this to NVIDIA's control panel, where sounds can be tested but music isn't.
So what about using the audio in everyday use? DVD playback using 5.1 enabled DVDs such as Harry Pottter and the Chamber of Secrets was enabled and clear sound was output from the speakers in the configuration and placement that I set the speakers at (I use a set of Creative Labs Inspire 5300 5.1 speakers with a 47W RMS.
The sound supports the various standard audio engines that are around, including A3D 1.0, EAX 2.0 DirectSound Hardware and Software, and Sensaura's HRTF 3d positional sound API. In testing, the audio of the C-Media sound is clear on all speakers. Further, enabling sound in Serious Sam The Second Encounter resulted in a very minimal loss in framerate whether it was WaveOut/DirectSound or EAX that was used.