Summary: In this article we take a look at Foxconn's first foray to build a truly high-end motherboard capable of taking on boards like the ASUS Blitz line. Does Foxconn's MARS board deliver? Find out inside!
Today, we’re looking at the Foxconn MARS board. Unlike all other Foxconn boards, the MARS contains no numbers, or hints of what chipset is on the board. The MARS is a name similar to what ASUS uses for its ultra-high-end enthusiast motherboards. That’s exactly what the MARS is. Foxconn designed the board with the overclocking, gaming, and performance oriented crowds in mind. The MARS board is part of a new performance product line called Quantum Force. In comparison, ASUS has the Republic of Games line and DFI has their LANParty line. The box is very ornate and shows two Roman soldiers. Mars is the Roman god of war, and Foxconn must be expecting godly performance results. In small letters below the Quantum Force sign, one can see “Performance, without compromise.” That sure is a change from the usually inexpensive boards that lack many features. Let’s look at the specification sheet for the Foxconn MARS board.
On paper, the MARS looks like a great enthusiast board. It has no fewer features than Gigabyte, ASUS, MSI, or DFI performance boards. It supports every LGA775 CPU in existence, even the recently released 9 series quad core CPUs. All FSB speeds are supported, and lots of proprietary overclocking tools are included to surpass those boundaries. Not many accessories are included with the MARS board, but there really isn’t a need for all the extras, as long the board is solid. On to MARS!
The first glance at the Foxconn MARS yields a positive impression. The copper cooling setup is very well designed, blowing air off of the Northbridge and away from the board. The CPU socket area is devoid of any obstructions. Unless your heatsink is extremely wide, it shouldn’t come in contact with the rather tall Northbridge cooler. The 8-pin power connector is at the extreme top edge of the board, which wouldn’t be a favorable situation for cases with bottom PSU mounting. Foxconn decided not to cool the 6 PWM, but that can be done by the user if needed. The expansion slot area is well laid out with two slots in between each PCI Express Graphics (PEG) slots for the AMD’s large two slot video cards. You can see that the entire board is composed entirely of solid capacitors. This one of the Foxconn’s most stressed points. Value-priced boards that Foxconn is accustomed to making usually are made with solid capacitors solely around the CPU socket area. This is why many boards in OEM machines fail within a few years. Solid capacitors have much improved reliability, and efficiency (read: stability, overclockability) over standard capacitors.
The Foxconn MARS motherboard doesn’t have too many controllers onboard; however it has some of everything. The Texas Instruments Firewire (1394a) controller handles two ports, one on the motherboard in the form of a 9 pin header, and one 6 pin port on the rear panel. The Realtek ALC888 controller provides 8-channel HD Azalia audio. The Realtek 8111B controller provides the single Gigabit Ethernet port on the rear panel. The JMicro SATA controller controls the rear panel eSATA port. Finally, the Foxconn MARS’ Phoenix BIOS is located just below the first PEG slot. We’ll go into detail with that later on.
The Foxconn MARS’ bottom corner has every imaginable feature, yet is surprisingly clean. There are six SATA2 ports, and three USB 2.0 headers in addition to the six ports on the rear panel. Foxconn color coded the front panel button connectors and included 3 onboard buttons: power, reset, and clear CMOS. This is a great asset for testing the setup on an open test bench like we did. Usually, if a board doesn’t have those connectors, we are forced to short the two pins with a screwdriver, which is more of a nuisance than anything. We always recommend trying a new build outside of a case anyway, so in case some parts don’t work, you won’t waste valuable time installing and managing your cards and cables.
The area around the memory slots is nothing special; there are four 240pin DDR2 slots divided and color coded into two channels. There is a single IDE connector, a floppy connector, and a 24-pin power connector surrounded by an array of all solid capacitors.
The Foxconn MARS’ rear panel leaves a bit to be desired. There are six USB 2.0 ports, a Firewire port, an Ethernet port, jacks for 8 channel audio, one eSATA port, digital outs, and finally PS/2 ports. There is still a lot of space for extra ports. Foxconn could have easily added another Gigabit Ethernet jack, like the rest of the high end motherboards. There is also room to stack an extra eSATA port, or even a serial port. There’s room, so why not maximize the possibilities? This is a very minor issue, and most users will have no issues with the number of ports that the MARS board currently provides.
Foxconn designed this board for the overclocking crowd, so its BIOS better be fully featured. The Gladiator BIOS is Foxconn’s proprietary name for the tweaking controls section. Let’s take a look at the features Foxconn infused in their first overclocking BIOS.
In the main section of the overclocking section, there are CPU and board frequency settings in BIOS, as well as menus for move control. As with any competent overclocking motherboard, CPU Ratio (FSB Multiplier), CPU Clock (FSB), PCI Express and PCI frequencies can be altered far above or below any CPU’s maximum. Foxconn’s BIOS uses ratios to determine the CPU’s FSB speed in relation to the memory speed. If one has low rated memory, this can be a detriment to overclocking. The lowest ratio of FSB:RAM is 1:2. If you have a low multiplier CPU with a high initial FSB (current G0 Core 2 Duos) and only average memory, you might run out the memory way before the motherboard and CPU are ready to stop. Other motherboards allow RAM and FSB to run independently of each other, so they do not interfere with each other. We’ll discuss this concept with some numbers in a bit.
Foxconn has a special feature called OverClocks Gear. This can automatically overclock the entire system by up to 75%. This is a very unreliable method to overclock, as the board sets predetermined values that may only work for a handful of CPUs. This method is generally used by those who do not want the highest overclock by tweaking, or don’t know how to overclock. Foxconn has a BIOS recovery feature in case some settings don’t work, so we don’t see why even inexperienced users should use the auto-overclock feature. OverClocks Gear can also save 4 user defined configurations, which is great if one doesn’t always keep their CPU overclocked, or uses multiple CPUs on the same board. Other than Foxconn, only DFI has this feature.
The memory timings and voltage sections are very extensive. They allow the user to control almost every setting timing and voltage on the motherboard. Here are the voltage ranges for the Gladiator BIOS:
All these ranges are way above normal limits, so this is the area where one should be cautious when increasing values. For example, performance DDR2 RAM runs at about 2.2-2.3V, while the MARS can take RAM up to 3.365V, which could easily annihilate the memory chips in a fraction of a second. Likewise, you need some hefty cooling on the CPU to run it at the maximum 1.600V, especially with the new 45nm CPUS that default at ~1.100V.
Intel Core 2 Duo E6550
EVGA 680i A1
2GB OCZ PC2-6400 (DDR2-800 4-4-4-12 1.9V)
160GB Western Digital SATA2
Although we never doubted Foxconn’s capability to built high performance motherboards after the C51XEM2AA rolled out in the summer of 2006, we though that the MARS’ god-like designation was a bit of an overstatement. Foxconn proved today that it can provide top notch performance whenever it decides to. The MARS didn’t exactly provide godly performance, but it faired no worse than the motherboards from much more experienced makers of enthusiast boards.
In fact, Foxconn’s MARS didn’t stand out in any category. Everything about it was great. The layout was superior to most other boards. Every connection, port, and slot was in a space easiest to manage and organize. The side blowing fan on the Northbridge allowed the whole cooling assembly to stay as compact as the passive cooling constructions of other motherboards while providing better cooling. There were power/reset/CMOS buttons on the side edge, and all SATA ports were towards the bottom, away from all other wires. While these may be small details, you’ll appreciate them when the board is installed in a case.
Performance wise, the Foxconn MARS never fell behind the leader by more than 2-3 percent. Usually the Gigabyte P35-DQ6, our top raw performance board was ahead, but the MARS managed to take a few benchmarks by a couple of percent. It won the FEAR 1024x768 benchmark by 3FPS, 158 to 155 over the Gigabyte. Although at lower resolutions the difference between motherboard performances is revealed, the extremely high FPS attained by both boards cannot be differentiated by the human eye. At high resolutions, where these games are usually played, FPS is much lower, but so is the gap between boards. This too cannot be differentiated by the eye. As long as a motherboard doesn’t lag behind others of the same chipsets, it can be used.
Now we get to the most important aspect of the MARS: overclocking. Foxconn stated that the MARS was designed with overclocking as a primary feature. Here too, the MARS did not stand out from the rest. It “only” came in second place to the ASUS P5K Deluxe, also a P35 board. Foxconn created a very capable BIOS with nothing to base it on. Other than no option to run memory async to the FSB, the Gladiator BIOS was extremely well equipped for any CPU and memory configuration.
Foxconn’s MARS is a solid all around board. Most enthusiasts have never owned a Foxconn motherboard because Foxconn never filled that niche. Now Foxconn has the MARS P35 and an X38 version on the market to satisfy the needs of performance users. We definitely recommend Foxconn’s new performance board and commend them for creating such well rounded motherboard with little past experience. If you can get you hands on one of the rare Foxconn P35 MARS, you won’t be disappointed.
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