If asked to characterize the design of this mainboard PCB in a single word, we’d call it “peculiar? As any mainboard PCB design it has highs and lows about it, and there are also a few truly eccentric solutions here, which arouse very diverse reactions. But let’s discuss each feature in its own time.
First of all, the PCB of the ECS KN1 Extreme doesn’t copy the reference one. It’s all right since the reference board on the nForce4 Ultra chipset has a rather mediocre PCB layout. ECS had put more thought into their product. At least, the placement of the slots and connectors is much handier on the ECS KN1 Extreme.
Particularly, the new 24-pin ATX power connector (compatible with the older 20-pin plug) is located in front of the DIMM slots, and the additional 12V connector is found on the right side of the mainboard, behind the CPU socket. The main Parallel and Serial ATA connectors ?the ones the chipset is responsible for ?are also conveniently placed: the Parallel ATA in front of the DIMM slots and the Serial ATA in front of the chipset. The rest of the connectors were almost all moved to the left side of the PCB where they shouldn’t cause any problems. The Clear CMOS jumper is there, too, and is easily accessible even when the mainboard is installed into the system case.
However, this design solution is not absolutely flawless. For example, the FDD connector is also near the left edge of the PCB, at the same level with the PCI slot. It means you have to lay the FDD cable through the entire length of the system case to connect a floppy drive.
The flash memory chip with the BIOS is soldered to the PCB here. This may be a trouble if the contents of the chip become corrupt. And although ECS says the mainboard supports Top-Hat Flash technology for restoring the contents of the flash memory by putting an analogous chip on top of the existing one, there are no necessary tools to do this operation among the accessories supplied together with the mainboard.
The connectors of the additional SiS180 controller aren’t located properly. The Parallel ATA slot is at the left edge of the mainboard and Serial ATA connectors are right in front of the PCI Express x16 slot, so you may have problems with the graphics card if you use them. On the other hand, the owners of the ECS KN1 Extreme will most likely prefer the chipset’s Serial ATA ports, so this is not a very big drawback, actually.
By the way, ECS equipped this mainboard with a new type of Serial ATA connectors: they feature restrictive edging. Such connectors prevent Serial ATA cables from sliding out as happens sometimes with older connectors. It is strange few manufacturers are using such connectors so far, but it a definite plus ECS solution scores against the competitors?background.
The ECS KN1 Extreme carries three PCI slots, like many other nForce4 Ultra-based mainboards. They are located to the left of the PCI Express x16 connector, so you’ll most probably have only two of them at your disposal. A curious feature of the ECS KN1 Extreme is that there’s a blue LED near each PCI and PCI Express x1 slot. The LED starts to blink if the corresponding slot is empty or works incorrectly. If there’s an expansion card installed, the LED is constantly lit up. The manufacturer must have devised this as a means to improve the visual appeal of the product, but we personally thought these constantly blinking LEDs could be rather annoying.
There’s one more LED on the mainboard, called Anti-Burn LED. This red indicator is placed near the DIMM slots and warns the user that modules shouldn’t be installed in until the mainboard is turned off.