ABIT ZM6 Review

Last year, ABIT broke into the motherboard market in a big way. Realizing the potential of the overclocking, ABIT capitalized with their highly successful BH6 motherboard that is extremely stable (even when overclocked), and incorporated their Softmenu BIOS, which nullified the need for on-board jumpers. For overclockers, the BH6 was a dream come true. After the success of the BH6 and the recent introduction of the PPGA(Plastic Pin Grid Array) Celerons, ABIT has decided to expand it’s product line with both revision 2.0 of their BX6 motherboard (a higher-end version of the BH6), the BM6 (a socket 370 based version of the BH6) and the newest addition, the socket-370 based ZM6.

Without a low-end CPU and AMD rapidly eating into their market share, Intel decided create the Celeron, a L2 on-board cacheless but 128K on-chip cached version of the Pentium II core based CPU that offers virtually identical processing power as the P2. The Celerons, which run only around $100-$150 at most, were highly successful in the mid-range and lower-end market. Again, ABIT realized that what many people are looking for a good low-cost motherboard for Celeron chips. The BH6 is great, but since it is based on the BX Pentium II chipset, it incorporates many higher-end features that Celeron buyers won’t find essential. This is where the ZM6 enters the game. Priced at only $80-$90 USD, the Intel ZX chipset based ZM6 offers virtually the same features, high quality and performance as its big brothers, but is much more competitively priced. So are the differences between the ZM6 and the other ABIT motherboards? Read on…

 

Spec

ZM6 vs. BH6 comparison

 

ZM6

BH6

Form factor

ATX

ATX

Chipset

Intel ZX

Intel BX

CPU Interface

Socket-370

Slot-1

Supported CPUs

PPGA Celeron

Pentium II, Slot-1 Celeron, Pentium III

RAM

3 DIMM slots, 2 double-sided DIMMs or a total of 4 sides

256MB max

3 DIMM, 3 double-sided DIMMs

384MB max

Support Bus Speeds

66/75/83/ 100/105/110/ 112/115/120/ 124/133

66/75/83/ 100/105/110/ 112/115/120/ 124/133

Support Bus Multipliers

2-8X w/ 0.5X increments

2-8X w/ 0.5X increments

CPU Voltage

1.30~2.30V w/ 0.05 increments

1.30~2.30V w/ 0.05 increments

AGP Supported

Yes

Yes

PCI Slots

5 PCI slot (4 PCI bus master + 1 non-bus master

5 bus-mastered PCI slots

CPU Temperature Monitoring

Yes

No

IDE Controllers

2

2

USB Ports

2

2

Keyboard Interface

PS/2

PS/2

 

The Intel ZX Chipset

Intel’s ZX chipset is essentially a scaled down version of the BX chipset. In terms of cost of implementation, the ZX and BX chipsets probably vary very little. The ZX chipset was most likely created to segment the low-end and high-end market. From a practical standpoint of an average user, the differences between the ZX and BX chipset are virtually negligible. The only differences between the two chipsets are, the amount of memory they can address and the number of bus-mastered PCI slots that are supported.

With the BX chipset based BH6, up to 384MB of memory are support with 3 DIMM slots. Since each slot can support up to 128MB of RAM, 3 slots give the 384MB. Most DIMM RAM modules have chips on both sites of the RAM module, and the BH6 supports up to 6 sides of memory. The ZX chipset on the other hand, only supports 4 sides of DIMM memory. At a maximum of 2-sided 128MB per DIMM RAM module, the ZX chipset only supports 256MB of memory. However, ABIT did include an additional slot to that accommodate any single sided memory modules that may be used. Hence, it is possible to use all three slots if single-sided memory is used.

To the average Celeron buyer, the memory limitation of the ZX chipset, should not be much of a deterrent. Someone planning on using more than 256MB of memory is most likely a high-end user, so they probably not be using a PPGA Celeron processor anyway. Hence the ZX should not even much of a consideration. In addition, to the average user, 256MB of RAM is more than enough memory as Windows 95 and Windows 98 do not experience much of a performance gain with more than 64MB of RAM. Even for NT that experiences much more of a performance gain with memory, 256MB is still much more than enough for running standard applications

The other limitation of the ZX chipset is that only 4 of the PCI slots support bus mastering. However, ABIT included a fifth slot because some cards such as some network cards the graphic add-ons Voodoo2 do not require bus-mastering. 4 bus-mastered is plenty for the average user, even more so with AGP video cards occupying the AGP slot and not a PCI slot. Even if a PCI sound card, a network card and a Voodoo2, 2 bus-mastered PCI slots are unused.

 

Features

Softmenu II

Probably the best known feature of the ABIT line of motherboards is the Softmenu feature that enables essentially all settings to be done in the BIOS instead of the on the motherboard itself via jumpers. These settings include bus speed, multiplier setting and core voltage settings as well. ABIT’s jumperless system is extremely useful if a lot of system tweaking is to be done, something that most overclockers do. Softmenu eliminates the need to shut down the computer, open the case and search through the manual to change jumper settings. This Softmenu feature is exactly the same on the ZM6 as it is with all of ABIT’s motherboards.

Board Layout

The layout of the ZM6 is essentially identical to the layout of the BH6. The board itself is only 305mm x 210mm in size which leaves plenty of room for extra fans or anything else that may be added in the case. The layout is clean and well-thought out. The only inconvenience is the location of the RAM slots which become covered in IDE cables and are hard to access when the system is fully installed.

Bus Speeds, Multipliers, Core Voltage Settings

Another set of features that made the BH6 such a popular board, especially for overclockers, were the adjustments that could be made to the multiplier setting, bus speed and core voltage. The ZM6 supports a wide range of bus speeds, from 66 all the way up to 133. With the clock locking of the Celeron though, the multiplier settings are rendered rather useless. However, one of the nicest features of the BH6 and BM6 for overclocking is the CPU core voltage settings. When overclocking, the CPU runs at a much higher clock speed which sometimes creates enough noise and weakens the signal enough so that the system is unstable. By raising the CPU core voltage slightly, this problem can sometimes be remedied, which is great for people looking to overclock. Beware though, increasing the CPU core voltage can easily result in a short CPU life-span or even worse, a burnt out CPU.

System Monitoring

Like the BH6, the ZM6 comes with a system for monitoring vital system statistics such as case temperatures and fan speeds. With the switch over to the PPGA Celeron, CPU temperature monitoring is now possible with the ZM6. Because of the stand-alone structure of the SEPP cartridges, it is nearly impossible to implement an efficient method of monitoring the CPU temperature. However, with the PPGA, the temperature measuring themosister can be placed in the socket mounted on the motherboard directly below the CPU core for an accurate measurement of the CPU temperature.

 

Performance

ABIT ZM6

ABIT BH6

Celeron 300A

Q2 “mon2.dm2” (FPS)

13.9

13.7

Q2 “timedemo” (FPS)

42.0

40.2

Business Winstone 99

17.3

17.4

Celeron 450A

Q2 “mon2.dm2” (FPS)

17.8

17.8

Q2 “timedemo” (FPS)

42.0

41.3

Business Winstone 99

21.9

22.3

Performance

As you can see from the benchmarks, the performance of the ZM6 is almost identical to the BH6 and even faster in some cases. But the exact performance differences here may just be due to slight changes in the testing environment, so it is not possible to truly tell which motherboard is actually faster. However, it is quite clear that the ZM6 is no performance slouch with benchmark numbers to easily match the BH6.

Stability

While testing the ZM6, HardwareCentral found no problems with stability, both at the 66Mhz and 100Mhz clock speed. Like the BH6, the ZM6 is rock solid, even when exposed to the enduring stresses of overclocking.

 

Conclusion

Pros:

  • Low cost
  • Stability
  • Overclockability
  • Softmenu II
  • CPU voltage adjustibility

Cons:

  • Only supports up to 256MB of RAM
  • Only has 4 bus mastered PCI slots

After putting the ZM6 through its paces, HardwareCentral has concluded that ABIT has yet another winner on its hands. The ZM6 offers essentially identical performance, stability and features as the highly successful BH6, but at a much lower cost.

However, if you are a high-end user that requires large amounts of RAM and many PCI expansion slots, the ZM6 is not the appropriate choice. High-end users are much better off with a BX chipset based board such as the ABIT BX6 2.0. In addition, unlike the BX based motherboard, the PPGA CPU interface will not allow upgrading to Intel’s new Pentium III CPU.

In conclusion, if you are looking for a low-cost, stable, high quality board that is very overclockable, the ZM6 is a great choice. At an ESP of $80-90, you probably won’t find a better deal that ABIT’s new ZX socket-370 ZM6 motherboard.

Ludo Morgan
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