ASRock A770 Crossfire Motherboard

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Product: ASRock A770 Crossfire Motherboard
Provided By: ASRock America
Price:

 

Introduction:

We continue on with the line of ASRock AMD motherboards today as we look at the ASRock A770 Crossfire motherboard.  This motherboard is based on the AMD 770 Northbridge chipset and the AMD SB700 Southbridge.  This board is not the latest high-end chipset from AMD as it only supports 8x PCIe when in Crossfire mode.  Even though these slots are PCIe 2.0, the ability to only run a single card in PCIe 16x mode may put a hamper on the extreme performance numbers you can get from a pair of HD4870 X2 cards.  We'll take a look at this board running an Athlon 5000+ X2 processor and drop in a Phenom to see if the IES (Intelligent Energy Saver) feature works on AMD's quad core processors.

 A770 - Box
A770 - Box
 Bundle In Box
Bundle In Box

 

First Look & Impressions:

Much like every other ASRock board on the market, the packaging is quite minimalistic in terms of size and flash.  There is nothing really catchy about the box, and it is about half as thick as the box from a Gigabyte DX6 board.  Surprisingly, ASRock has still managed to cram a lot of goodies in the box to add value to this already value-priced motherboard.

In the package is a Molex-SATA power cable, IDE, Floppy and only two SATA cables.  There are not any extra USB or Firewire brackets that many other boards have.  That is to be expected on such a value priced board however.

A770 - Mobo
A770 - Mobo

As we take a look at the board above, there are a few things worth mentioning that may be of concern.  The power connections are all jammed into the top left corner of the board and will require all of the power cables to run over the CPU HSF.  Many motherboards are putting the power connectors on the right edge and this certainly has benefits for cable management.  That being said, the power on the ASRock board will likely be cleaner as the voltage regulators are located between the power connector and CPU socket.  You'll also notice that ASRock uses a Crossfire/SLI switch card to change from the 16x/4x PCIe configuration to the Crossfire loving 8x/8x configuration.  The last thing that bothers me with this board is the relatively small passive cooling solution and the lack of fan headers.  There are only two fan headers on this board and one of them is required for the CPU.  That only leaves one for a case fan or aftermarket chipset fan.

The SATA connectors are all located at the bottom corner of the board and remain out of the way for long graphics cards.  Five are dedicated to standard SATA and the orange port is designated for eSATA.  There is also another eSATA port located near the rear I/O of the board.  There is no eSATA bracket included with this board so if you want to take advantage of this you'll need to purchase a PCI slot bracket or have a case with this feature built in.

One of the best things about this board is that ASRock has again stuck with their all solid-state capacitor design and this should provide longer, more reliable service than other budget boards that use electrolytic capacitors.

Rear IO The rear IO on this board is pretty straightforward and not as interesting as the WiFi series of boards from ASRock.  This board comes equipped with PS/2 keyboard and mouse connections.  Digital audio output is taken care of by a RCA style connector as well as a digital optical connector.  There is an eSATA port on the back as well as six USB2.0 ports, 8 channel audio and a GB Ethernet jack. Unfortunately there is no Firewire present on the rear I/O or on the board at all for that matter.  Firewire is typically used for external hard drive connections and as eSATA has gained popularity, IEEE 1394 appears to be taking a back seat on some motherboards.  The truth is, I prefer Firewire over USB2.0 for data connections, but due to the popularity of USB2.0, I don't use Firewire that much at all anymore. The only thing I still use it for regularly is for downloading data from my digital video camera.

On the next page we'll take a closer look at this board before we boot it up and look at the BIOS.



Closer Look:

My main concern with this motherboard is the power connector placement and lack of fan headers.  In the pictures below we'll see exactly where these are located and cover other areas of interest on the board as well.   We'll quickly cover the areas on interest on the motherboard without going into a lot of detail.  Please click the thumbnails below for a closer look at the motherboard.  At the end of the pictures, we'll cover a few thing that you may have or may not have noticed.  Most of the items are pretty standard however, and if you've had much experience with motherboards, not much should surprise you here.

The A770 Crossfire motherboard has a standard Molex connector on board for instances where you are running a couple of high-end cards in Crossfire.  This connector helps provide extra power through the PCIe bus to those cards.  Of course they will also be connected by their respective 6-pin or 8-pin PCIe power connectors as well, but this helps put less strain on the PCIe power bus.  You'll also notice that ASRock uses 4-phase voltage regulation for the CPU and 2-phase power for the memory.  It should be nice and stable.

 Fan & Power
Fan & Power
Power & Regulation
Power & Regulation

 

The CPU socket area is pretty clear and thanks to the low-profile solid-state capacitors, there is ample room for mounting larger heatsinks.  The only issue could come from the RAM slots located pretty close to the side of the socket.  I've seen some instances where a large cooler could result in difficulty populating all of the DDR2 slots, but most coolers are tall enough that there is enough clearance.  The SATA and USB2.0 connections are all located in the bottom right of the board and should be pretty self-explanatory.

 DDR2 Slots
DDR2 Slots
 SATA Ports
SATA Ports


ASRock is considered a "budget" board maker, but they use high-quality components.  One area where they save some money is in the SLI/Crossfire department.  Instead of using more expensive integrated, BIOS-controlled switches, they still use the Crossfire Switching card in order to change the PCIe lane configuration from 16x/4x to 8x/8x when it CrossfireX mode.  As you can see below, there are enough PCI and PCIe slots to keep most people happy.  There is a single PCIe 1x slot, two 16x (16x/4x or 8x/8x) slots, and three PCI slots.  If your graphics cards have single slot coolers - you'll be able to populate all of these slots for maximum connectivity.

 PCIe & Crossfire Switch
PCIe & Crossfire Switch
PCI & PCIe Slots
PCI & PCIe Slots

 

The heart of this motherboard is the AMD 770 Northbridge chipset and the AMD SB700 chipset.  We pulled off the passive heatsinks for a closer peek at these.  The Southbridge chipset is much larger than the Northbridge.

 NB Chipset
NB Chipset
SB Chipset
SB Chipset

 

Before we carry on any father, we'll take a look at the chipset and motherboard features and specifications on the next page.


AMD 770 Chipset Info:

 AMD 770 Chipset Specifications
The AMD 770 Chipset is designed for consumers who want the
latest technologies

HyperTransport™ 3.0 Technology More than doubles your CPU communications bandwidth to graphics as compared to HT1.
PCI Express Generation 2.0 Double your graphics bandwidth over earlier PCI Express for improved performance.
Backwards Compatibility Ensures flexibility to build platforms with AMD Athlon™ today and AMD Phenom™ tomorrow.
AMD OverDrive™ Shift your system performance into next gear. Enables control of the 7-Series Chipsets to allow configuration of system settings in Microsoft Windows.
AMD RAIDXpert™ Easily configure your RAID setup from remote locations to personalize your media for extra performance or enhanced reliability.
Low Power Design Ensures you have more power available for other components when you need it.

 

Motherboard Features & Specs:

 General
CPU - Support for Socket AM2+ / AM2 processors: AMD Phenom™ FX / Phenom / Athlon 64 FX / Athlon 64 X2 Dual-Core / Athlon X2 Dual-Core / Athlon 64 / Sempron processor
- Supports CPU up to 140W
- AMD LIVE!™ Ready
- Supports AMD's Cool 'n' Quiet Technology
- FSB 2600 MHz (5.2 GT/s)
- Supports Untied Overclocking Technology
- Supports Hyper-Transport 3.0 (HT 3.0) Technology
Chipset - Northbridge: AMD 770
- Southbridge: AMD SB700
Memory - Dual Channel DDR2 memory technology
- 4 x DDR2 DIMM slots
- Supports DDR2 1066/800/667/533 non-ECC, un-buffered memory
- Max. capacity of system memory: 8GB
*

*Due to the operating system limitation, the actual memory size may be less than 4GB for the reservation for system usage under Windows® XP and Windows® Vista™. For Windows® XP 64-bit and Windows® Vista™ 64-bit with 64-bit CPU, there is no such limitation.
BIOS - 8Mb AMI BIOS
- AMI Legal BIOS
- Supports "Plug and Play"
- ACPI 1.1 Compliance Wake Up Events
- Supports Jumperfree
- SMBIOS 2.3.1 Support
- CPU, DRAM, NB Voltage Multi-adjustment
 Audio, Video and Networking
Graphics - n/a
Audio - 7.1 CH Windows® Vista™ Premium Level HD Audio (ALC888 Audio Codec)
LAN - PCIE x1 Gigabit LAN 10/100/1000 Mb/s
- Realtek RTL8111C
- Supports Wake-On-LAN
 Expansion / Connectivity
Slots - 2 x PCI Express 2.0 x16 slots (green @ x16 mode, blue @ x8 mode)
- 1 x PCI Express 2.0 x1 slot
- 3 x PCI slots
- Supports ATI™ CrossFireX™
Connector - 6 x SATAII 3.0 Gb/s connectors, support RAID (RAID 0, RAID 1, RAID 0+1, RAID 10, and JBOD), NCQ, AHCI and "Hot Plug" functions
- 1 x eSATAII 3.0 Gb/s connector (shared with 1 SATAII port)
- 1 x ATA133 IDE connector (supports 2 x IDE devices)
- 1 x Floppy connector
- 1 x DeskExpress Hot Plug Detection header
- 1 x COM port header
- 1 x HDMI_SPDIF header
- CPU/Chassis FAN connector
- 24 pin ATX power connector
- 8 pin 12V power connector
- SLI/XFire power connector
- CD in header
- Front panel audio connector
- 2 x USB 2.0 headers (support 4 USB 2.0 ports)
- 1 x WiFi/E header
Rear Panel I/O ASRock SPDIF I/O
- 1 x PS/2 Mouse Port
- 1 x PS/2 Keyboard Port
- 1 x Coaxial SPDIF Out Port
- 1 x Optical SPDIF Out Port
- 6 x Ready-to-Use USB 2.0 Ports
- 1 x eSATAII Port
- 1 x RJ-45 LAN Port with LED (ACT/LINK LED and SPEED LED)
- HD Audio Jack: Side Speaker / Rear Speaker / Central / Bass / Line in / Front Speaker / Microphone
 Other Features / Miscellaneous
Unique Feature - ASRock OC Tuner
- Intelligent Energy Saver
- Hybrid Booster:
- CPU Frequency Stepless Control
- ASRock U-COP
- Boot Failure Guard (B.F.G.)
- ASRock AM2 Boost: ASRock Patented Technology to boost memory performance up to 12.5%
Support CD - Drivers, Utilities, AntiVirus Software (Trial Version)
Accessories - 1 x ASRock SLI/XFire Switch Card
- Quick Installation Guide, Support CD, I/O Shield
- Floppy/ATA 133 Cables
- 2 x SATA Data Cables (optional)
- 1 x SATA 1 to 1 Power Cable (optional)
- 1 x HDMI_SPDIF Cable (optional)
Hardware Monitor - CPU Temperature Sensing
- Chassis Temperature Sensing
- CPU Fan Tachometer
- Chassis Fan Tachometer
- CPU Quiet Fan
- Voltage Monitoring: +12V, +5V, +3.3V, Vcore
Form Factor - ATX Form Factor: 12.0-in x 9.6-in, 30.5 cm x 24.4 cm
- All Solid Capacitor design (100% Japan-made high-quality Conductive Polymer Capacitors)
OS - Microsoft® Windows® XP / XP Media Center / XP 64-bit / Vista™ / Vista™ 64-bit compliant
Certifications - FCC, CE, WHQL

 

On the next page we'll take a quick look at the BIOS, do a little overclocking and look at the IES (Intelligent Energy Saver).


ASRock A770 Crossfire BIOS:

The motherboard BIOS is probably one of the most boring areas to look at if you're not an overclocker or enthusiast.  Mainstream users will probably want to skip down to the overclocking section to see how easy it is to tweak and overclock this board.  For you hardcore users, check out the BIOS screenshots below.  This BIOS is pretty straightforward and we've only included a few of the BIOS screens that will be of interest.  Many sections like "Boot Order" have been left out as we simply can't handle that much excitement.  For now, the advanced bios settings will have to keep you happy - and tweaking your RAM, CPU and voltages until your heart's content.

BIOS - Main Setup
BIOS - Main Setup

 BIOS - Advanced Setup
BIOS - Advanced Setup
BIOS - Memory Tweaks
BIOS - Memory Tweaks
   
 BIOS - Processor Voltage
BIOS - Processor Voltage
 BIOS - DRAM Voltage
BIOS - DRAM Voltage

 

In terms of tweaking, the CPU Frequency is adjustable from 150MHz to 500MHz in 1MHz increments and the PCIe Frequency is adjustable from 75MHz to 200MHz in 1MHz increments as well.  If you have an unlocked CPU, you can adjust the CPU Multiplier in 0.5x increments all the way from 4.0x to 25.0x.  CPU and NB voltage can be adjusted from 0.6v to 1.5625v in 0.125v increments.  All of this shapes up to offer a bit of promise for our test setup.

 BIOS - Hardware Monitor
BIOS - Hardware Monitor
 BIOS - Boot Config
BIOS - Boot Config

 

Basic hardware monitoring is present as well as basic boot configuration. Nothing too exciting in these last two screenshots so we'll carry on to overclocking.

 

Overclocking:

With all the adjustments that we just covered, I actually had some hope in this board when it came to overclocking.  Undoubtedly, the thing that will hold is back is an AMD processor.  For this review we used the 5000+ Black Edition in order to play around with multiplier and FSB adjustments.  In the end we were able to run stable at slightly over 3.34GHz no matter if we raised the multiplier and kept the FSB somewhat stable.  The maximum FSB we reached was 420MHz without immediately crashing, but the fastest stable FSB we reached was 400MHz.  For our overclocking results on the following page we opted for 400x8= 3200MHz which had better performance than the highest clock speed we reached - 3.342GHz.  This set a record for our processor and we were able to run rock solid for days at 400FSB with very little effort.  Above this, the system ran unstable even if we raised voltages and applied extra cooling to the passive chipset heatsinks.

 

ASRock includes a nice little overclocking tool called "OC Tuner" and it works very well and if you want to check it out in more detail please refer to our review of the K10N78hSLI-WiFi motherboard here.

Check out the screenshots below of the AMD Overdrive Utility and our overclocked settings.

OC - 3342MHz
OC - 3342MHz
OC - 400FSB
OC - 400FSB

 

Power Saving IES:

If you're feeling a little greener than power hungry, you may be more interested in the Intelligent Energy Saver feature of this motherboard.  This feature only works with Phenom Quad core processors at this time and puts the CPU into a lower power state and even drops the voltage regulation from 4-phase to 2-phase.  This is dynamic and when needed your processor will clock back up to normal speed.  Think of IES as an advanced "Cool & Quiet" for Phenoms.

IES - Duration

 

On the next page we'll take a look at the AMD's RAIDXpert then, jump into testing now that we know a lot about this board.


 

Test Setup:

We have recently reviewed another pair of AM2+ motherboards, the ASRock AM2+ motherboard - the K10N750SLI-WiFi as well as the K10N78hSLI-WiFi and where possible we'll compare the results of this board with the other two boards we reviewed recently.  All boards offer very similar BIOS options but the latest board - the A770 Crossfire actually takes our processor to levels we've not seen before - both in raw clock speed and in FSB speed.  

 

RAIDXpert:

Before we take a look at the HDD tests, we'll cover the RAIDXpert feature that is available on this board.  This is AMDs answer to NVRAID and Intel's Matrix Storage.  AMDs RAIDXpert is accessible through a web browser and offers many features that we may not expect from a consumer product.  On this board only RAID 0, 1, and JBOD are available and the beauty of this is that you can switch between RAID 0 and RAID 1 on the fly.

RAIDXpert Main
RAIDXpert Main

 

Initially I set up a RAID 1 mirror for most of the testing and part way through testing I pulled a drive from the mirror array to see what would happen.  As expected the system popped up a notification that a drive had failed, but ran as normal so I installed another program or two with only half of my RAID 1 set functioning.  After this worked successfully, I plugged the drive back into the system easily thanks to the Zalman GS1000 case and it proceeded to rebuild the array and synchronize both drives to working order again.  After this was completed, I migrated the RAID 1 array into a striped RAID 0 array for some performance numbers.  Before we get into the numbers, feel free to click on any of the thumbnailed images below for a closer look at RAIDXpert.

 RAIDXpert Physical Drives
RAIDXpert Physical Drives
RAIDXpert RAID1 Logical Drive
RAIDXpert RAID1 Logical Drive
   
 RAIDXpert Migration
RAIDXpert Migration
 RAIDXpert Controller Info
RAIDXpert Controller Info

 


Subsystem Tests - HDD:

We start off the subsystem testing with some HDD tests.  For the HDTach test below we used both the RAID 1 mirror and the RAID 0 stripe on a new pair of 640GB HDDs.  You can see that these drives are pretty fast no matter how you slice them - RAID 0 obviously showing it's prowess as it averages 163MB/sec read speed - take that for what it's worth though as this is a synthetic benchmark.

RAID0 vs RAID1
RAID0 vs RAID1

 

Subsystem Tests - Audio:

ASRock claims that some of their motherboards have HD Audio that is capable of 110db dynamic range through the ALC890 codec.  You can find our results of those boards here.  The ASRock A770 Crossfire doesn't make those claims however, so we expected it to have slightly poorer audio quality.  The truth is that most people won't hear the difference when plugged into a $50 pair of speakers or headphones, but for those of you that care about audio quality on the integrated audio, RightMark Audio Analyzer results are below.  We tested a few different bit and sampling rates and have posted the chart below for your viewing pleasure.

 RMAA
RMAA

 

Subsystem Tests - Network:

One area that we have started testing is network performance.  It is easy for a company to claim great networking features as many users never test them out and are puzzled when they can only transfer files at a mere 250Mbit/sec on their 1000Mbit/sec NIC.  We use iPerf for testing network performance and on this board we tested out both wired and wireless performance.

In iPerf, we ran single threaded tests as well as a multi-threaded network test that used five streams at the same time.  Multi-threaded performance always looks better and shows how the network system will hold up when accessed from multiple machines at the same time.  Single thread performance shows client-to-client file sharing performance.

iPerf Performance
iPerf Performance

 

Please keep in mind that the network performance numbers indicate maximum throughput that the networking hardware is capable of.  In reality, you won't see these numbers due to Operating System overhead, CPU and even Hard Disk Drive limitations.  The truth is though; the A770 Crossfire has one of the best performing networks of any of the tested ASRock motherboards.

CPU load averaged 23% when running the wired tests.  CPU load is quite acceptable considering the high bandwidth that the ASRock A770 Crossfire network is capable of.  The wired performance is the best we've ever seen.

On the next page, we'll run some performance benchmarks and see how this board rounds out.


PCMark Performance:

To start things off we'll take a look at PCMark Vantage numbers.  An interesting thing to note is that the K10N78hSLI-WiFi clocks up the CPU to 203x13=2639MHz in order to squeeze some extra performance out of the system without the user knowing it - the A770 Crossfire keeps things all on the up-and-up though and stock CPU is clocked at 200x13=2600MHz.  While we managed to top out at 3.35GHz, we found the system was fastest at 400x8=3200MHz.  For all of our overclocking tests we used the 3.2GHz clock speed setting.  Memory was kept at DDR2-800 4-4-4-12 1T at both stock speeds and in our overclocked results.  The end result is that we ran the CPU at the same raw MHz as previous ASRock motherboards, but the HTT speed is much faster on the A770 which should translate into better overall performance when overclocked.

PCMark Vantage
PCMark Vantage

 

For reference we included the numbers from the K10N750SLI-WiFi and K10N78hSLI-WiFi motherboards we reviewed recently.  Stock performance numbers are included and the systems are quite similar, but we've used an HIS 4850 512MB card with the A770 motherboard and an EVGA 8800GT for the other boards.  This makes the numbers not directly comparable, but still CPU based results should be relevant.

 

To gauge memory performance on the A770 Crossfire we used Everest Ultimate.  For this test we used both stock and overclocked numbers and tried to keep the memory as close to DDR2-800 as possible.  You can see that the stock performance of the K10N750SLI-WiFi motherboard is actually quite a bit better than the other motherboards. All memory timings are exactly the same - 4-4-4-12 1T @ DDR2-800.  However, the overclocked performance of the A770 Crossfire is clearly the winner as the high HTT speed helps us reach close to 9GB/sec read speed.

Everest Memory
Everest Memory

 

Finally we take a look at PM Core - a program that calculates prime numbers.  This program multi-threaded and we used it to calculate 10,000 prime numbers.  The results below are in minutes:seconds.tenths.  Once again, we've put up all ASRock boards against each other at identical stock and overclocked speeds.

PMCore
PMCore

 

In this test the boards produce the same results when running the multi-threaded test at stock speeds, but this change in favor of the K10N78hSLI-WiFi as the rest of the tests progress.  Nothing dramatic but all means but it does edge out the other motherboards.


Gaming Performance:

We begin our gaming performance section with the new 3DMark Vantage.  While many will argue that this is not indicative of real-world performance, it is a simple and effective way to compare similar systems to judge how tweaking, drivers and different hardware can affect your performance.  This benchmark is effective at producing consistent results as it is scripted and 100% repeatable.  Once again we show stock 2.6GHz scores with overclocked 3.2GHz scores.  Both the K10N750SLI-WiFi and the K10N78hSLI-WiFi are running at the same speeds at both stock and overclocked settings using an 8800GT while the A770 Crossfire is overclocked to 400MHz HTT speed and uses an HD4850 - the comparison numbers are merely for reference and are not meant to be directly compared.  We are just in the process of upgrading and migrating to AMD graphics hardware.

3DMark Vantage
3DMark Vantage

 

Because we only have a single HD4850 in this machine we only ran a couple of game benchmarks - and those at stock speeds.  The GPU is the limiting factor here; especially in Crysis.  Crysis was ran at medium detail with no AA while CoD4 was ran at 1680x1050 at high detail and with 2x AA. Because the graphics hardware is so different, we didn't include previous results with other motherboards and 8800GT graphics.

Gameplay Perf
Gameplay Perf

 

Real-World Performance:

We wrap up with a look at video decoding (watching) and encoding.  We've used several HD Video clips at 1080p and 720p on both WMVHD and Quicktime H.264.  The fast CPU on this system makes HD videos play very smoothly although the CPU is much higher than other nVidia based ASRock boards we've looked at.  The chart above can be compared with the results from the K10N750SLI-WiFi here, as well as the K10N78hSLI-WiFi here.  You'll notice that the CPU load on the A770 Crossfire with an ATI HD4850 is much higher than other chipsets.

HD Playback
HD Playback

 

Video encoding is a very CPU intensive application and shows just how efficient the system is.  We've used DVDShrink, ConvertX to DVD in real world tests as well as the x.265 benchmark - which is a scripted test that merely calculates frames per second.  All tests are very CPU intensive.

 ConvertX to DVD
ConvertX to DVD
DVD Shrink
DVD Shrink
x.264 Action
x.264 Action

 

We managed to compare all of our previously reviewed ASRock motherboards on the ConvertXtoDVD and DVDShrink tests and found the A770 Crossfire to come in the middle of the pack in ConvertXtoDVD and last place in the DVDShrink test.  We compared only the K10N78hSLI-WiFi with the A770 Crossfire in the x.264 benchmark and the A770 come is second place again.  Only stock performance numbers are available here.  In both the ConvertX and DVDShrink test, a lower score is better, but on the x264 benchmark, higher is better as the results are in FPS.


Final Thoughts & Conclusion:

The A770 Crossfire motherboard from ASRock has a shorter list of features than the K10N750SLI-WiFi and K10N78hSLI-WiFi motherboards and the price is about the same.  Does that mean that the A770 has less value?  Not necessarily.  Where the ASRock A770 Crossfire has left out WiFi, Firewire and a few other little things such as number of SATA cables, it certainly makes up for in overclocking performance.  With the other boards, chipset limitations that possibly stemmed from integrated graphics resulted in poor overclocking performance.  With the A770 we were able to overclock the HTT speed 100% and ran it up from 200MHz to 400MHz and push our 5000+ Black Edition processor higher, farther and faster than it has ever been before.

ASRock has opted for a 8x/8x Crossfire split and this will provide very good performance for most cards on the market today.  There is ample room between the slots for dual-slot coolers and you should have no issues with SATA, IDE or other ports getting in the way of longer cards.  We'll sum things up with a list of pros and cons.

 

Pros:

  • Crossfire motherboard for ~$100
  • Excellent overclocker
  • Nice software bundle for overclocking and energy management
  • Fastest Ethernet we've ever seen
  • AMD RAIDXpert works very well
 

Cons:

  • No Firewire
  • Crossfire Switch Card
  • RAM slots are close together
  • Not many cables/accessories included

 

BCCRating

 

I'd like to thank ASRock for sending over the A770 Crossfire for testing.  Make sure you go and post your feedback in the forum at the "Comments" link below.