When we first heard news that ATI and AMD would be merging back during Computex 2006, things were spinning in the hardware sector. There were talks, rumours and more talk - that went on for months with "it's on" and then "it's off". Finally we saw the truth come out with an official announcement made by AMD and ATI that the merger was indeed going ahead and that some major changes would soon occur.One of them is the naming of the ATI products; some have continued to keep the ATI logo while others now use the AMD banding. Graphics cards still are known as ATI Radeon series though they do carry the AMD branding. Chipsets for the desktop and mobile sectors are where things now take a turn. During the AMD down under Christmas party for media and partners, we sat down with both AMD and ATI representatives and asked some questions. One of them was will ATI/AMD produce chipsets for its competitors like Intel. A big resounding "Yes" was given to us and explained. Chipsets for the Intel sector will carry the name ATI and likely carry the Xpress naming that has happened with the previous generation of chips. AMD based chipsets will be given a new naming system based on its Northbridge architecture, for example the Crossfire 3200 for AMD has been renamed to AMD 580X (RS580 Northbridge). It's unclear how much the push towards the Intel sector will be considering the relationship AMD and ATI now have, one thing is clear, AMD chipsets will now be bigger and better than ever before.Today we are looking at one of the first culminations from ATI/AMD. While some of the older chips have been renamed, today's contender is the first to be made since the merger occurred last year. Named the AMD 690 chipset series, it carries some new features. ECS have kindly sent us the first sample to us ahead of launch at the end of this month. It's based on the AMD 690G chipset and comes with embedded ATI Radeon X1250 graphics with support for all Socket AM2 processors.
SpecificationsSpecifications of the ECS AMD690GM-M2CPU
Supports All Socket AM2 Series CPUsChipset
AMD 690G ChipsetAMD RS690G NorthbridgeAMD SB600 SouthbridgeATI A-LinkSystem Memory
2 DDR2 SDRAM 240pin DIMM SocketsSupports DDR2-400/533/667/800MHz64/128Bit Dual ChannelSupports up to 4GB Total Memory (2x 2GB)Bus Frequency
200MHz Internal20000MHz ExternalHyper TransportExpansion Slots
1 PCI Express x161 PCI Express x12 PCIConnectivity
1 Parallel ATA port supporting 2 IDE Drives4 Serial ATA ports1 Gigabit Ethernet PortExpansion Ports
1 PS2 Keyboard Port1 PS2 Mouse Port10 USB 2.0 Ports (4 rear accessible, 6 via expansion bracket)1 CRT VGA Port1 DVI-I VGA Port5 Stereo Audio Ports
AMD 690G DetailsAMD 690G
Unfortunately while writing this review AMD/ATI still has the full details of the AMD 690 architecture under wraps of a typical NDA. However we have gotten a few titbits of info out from other sources on the web.
First off the AMD 690 will have a series of chips to come out of the works. So far only the 690G has popped up. This chip has an integrated ATI Radeon X1250 graphics core that can use up to 512MB of system memory for its frame buffer. Compare that to nVidia's GeForce 6150 that can only support up to 256MB. All of the 690 series chipsets will support the full line of AMD Socket AM2 based Athlon 64 series processors. At this stage it is unknown if any of them support HT3, AMD's upcoming interconnect between the next generation Athlon 64 CPU and the external Northbridge's.The Southbridge being used for the 690 series at this stage is ATI's SB600. Being the most advanced chip available from ATI, it has now gained some popularity. Using the same A-Link interconnect as the previous generation Southbridge, in theory any new Southbridge using this connection can be substituted into the mix.So far this is all the data we have on this chipset. We will endeavour to gain more info and update this article as possible, for right now this is all the info we can supply.Let's move onto the ECS motherboard itself now.
In the BoxPackage and Contents
The ECS shipping package for their 690G board is extremely colourful, for a Micro ATX board you wouldn't expect a huge amount of time to go into the package. The base colour scheme is white with green, red and yellow as well as black. The front doesn't offer a lot of info, as you would expect since it's just to intro the model information.
The back is another story; it's a powerhouse of info on the board. You get full explanations of the specs of the board as well as a full colour photo with detailed explanations of the specific areas of the board - for a budget board, an extremely good box.
ECS provides a pretty good documentation as well. There are two major parts, first there is a quick install fold out flyer that shows you where the major features such as USB headers and Front panel headers are. The second part is the user's manual that has a lot more info in it with regards to full explanation of the functions and features. Due to the early nature of the sample we received, the driver and software CD was on a CD-R as this board is not set to launch for some weeks and we certainly won't hold this against ECS.
The extras that the ECS 690G board comes with is quite liberal. There is your rear I/O shield, a single IDE cable, a single SATA data cable and a serial port on a PCI cover plate.
Being a budget board, it's based on the Micro ATX form factor. The PCB used is purple in colour - definitely something different and quite attractive in its own right. Unfortunately being budget based means there is a major gripe about the board - power connectors. The 24-pin power connector is located sensibly behind the memory slots along with the single IDE and FDD port. The 4-pin power connector for the CPU is placed between the Northbridge and the rear I/O ports.In a small case environment with PSU's that follow the budget line, the cables aren't very long, requiring you to route the cable around or across the CPU heatsink, again in a small case, air flow is at a premium and routing cables around the CPU is a real big no no.
Next we come down to the CPU and memory area. The board gives the CPU a 3 phase voltage system, for a budget non-overclocker board, this is more than adequate for the Athlon processor. Since AM2 are all based around the same architecture, unlike LGA775, there are no rogue energy hungry processors. One thing that was interesting is there are two memory slots missing; however, there are solder points on the board? Why the extra DDR-2 DIMM's weren't included is a mystery to us.
The rear I/O is pretty bare compared to most boards, but what you really need is included. It was a shame not to see any form of digital audio output capabilities such as optical or digital coaxial. It's looking more and more like this motherboard is not so much designed for home theatre computers but for an office PC or basic home system. Since this board is designed with integrated graphics, there are two video ports - one DVI and one CRT. You can use dual monitor configuration on the board without any hassles as we proved during testing. It's unclear at this stage if the onboard DVI port provides HDCP support for playback of HD-DVD and Blu-ray movies but it looks unlikely.
Lastly we come down to the expansion setup and there are a total of 4 slots. First is a PCI Express x16 slot which is coloured orange. If you prefer not to use the onboard graphics, you can simply stick an external PCI-E graphics card in and be down with it. A Single PCI Express x1 slot make up the PCI-E expansion possibilities. For legacy setups, 2 PCI slots are included. The only additional extra that is not provided by the Southbridge is a Realtek Gigabit Ethernet chip that runs off the PCI Express x1 bus.
BIOS and OverclockingBIOS and Overclocking
Being a budget board we weren't expecting much, lucky, because that was pretty much what we got. The board uses Award 6 BIOS setup, the typical blue menu screen was our greeting. To find the only overclocking options you have to open the Frequency/Voltage Control menu.
Opening this menu the options are pretty dismal but what do you expect for a board not intended for overclockers? The only frequency option is the CPU clock; you can go from 200MHz to 400MHz in 1MHz increments. For voltages there are only a couple of options. First is the NPT VID which controls the CPU, you can go as low at 1.0v or as high at 1.35v in 0.025v increments, considering the CPU runs nearly 1.35v by default, you get little in the way of CPU voltage. The other voltage option is the DIMM voltage adjustments where you can go from +0.05v to +0.15v in 0.05v increments, very little indeed.Overclocking on this board was simply nonexistent, it just doesn't do it. This could be by design or by the early nature of the BIOS that was shipped. There are no HyperTransport dividers, no PCI Express locks, any attempt to go above default resulted in system resets or BSOD's when loading XP. To this end all our tests are done at stock speeds.Moving on!
Benchmarks - Test System Setup and Memory PerformanceTest System SetupProcessor
: AMD Athlon 64 X2 3800+ AM2Memory
: 2x 1GB DDR2-1066 Corsair (Supplied by Corsair
: 500GB Seagate 7200.9 SATA (Supplied by Seagate
: Integrated Graphics and ATI Radeon X1300XT Cooling
: Gigabyte K8 Neon (Supplied by Gigabyte
: Microsoft Windows XP SP2Drivers
: ATI SB600 Driver 2.506.1540.28, ATI Catalyst 7.1, ForceWare 93.71 and DX9cOur test systems this time are setup to test the boards using integrated graphics.For comparison we used an MSI K9NGM2 which is based on the GeForce 6150 integrated graphics core. We tested both systems out using the same size frame buffer of 256MB which is the largest the GeForce 6150 supports. We then also pushed the AMD 690G to 512MB frame buffer which is the highest this chip supports.We also used an ATI X1300XT for external graphics to see what type of performance impact there is when using the onboard graphics.Let's move on and check out the performance numbers now!EVEREST Ultimate EditionVersion and / or Patch Used:
2006Developer Homepage: http://www.lavalys.com Product Homepage: http://www.lavalys.comBuy It Here
EVEREST Ultimate Edition is an industry leading system diagnostics and benchmarking solution for enthusiasts PC users, based on the award-winning EVEREST Technology. During system optimizations and tweaking it provides essential system and overclock information, advanced hardware monitoring and diagnostics capabilities to check the effects of the applied settings. CPU, FPU and memory benchmarks are available to measure the actual system performance and compare it to previous states or other systems.
When the integrated graphics are turned on, the hit on the memory performance is pretty severe; however there is little performance impact between using the 512MB and the 256MB frame buffers.With the integrated graphics turned off you can see there is no difference between the two boards thanks to the integrated memory controller being on the AMD CPU itself - the chipsets have nothing to do with this part.
Benchmarks - PCMarkPCMarkVersion and / or Patch Used:
1.2.0Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.comProduct Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/products/pcmark04/Buy It Here
PCMark is a multipurpose benchmark, suited for benchmarking all kinds of PCs, from laptops to workstations, as well as across multiple Windows operating systems. This easy-to-use benchmark makes professional strength benchmarking software available even to novice users. PCMark consists of a series of tests that represent common tasks in home and office programs. PCMark also covers many additional areas outside the scope of other MadOnion.com benchmarks.
Here we can see there is a performance hit when using the 512MB frame buffer.
Benchmarks - WorldBenchWorldBenchVersion and / or Patch Used:
5.0Developer Homepage: http://www.pcworld.com Product Homepage: http://www.pcworld.comBuy It Here
WorldBench 5.0 is the fifth generation of PC World's industry-standard benchmarking application. Designed to measure the performance of today's wide range of personal computers, WorldBench has been in continuous use at PC World for nine years.WorldBench 5.0 uses the following applications to gauge system performance: ACD Systems ACDSee PowerPack 5.0, Adobe Photoshop 7.0.1, Adobe Premiere 6.5, Ahead Software Nero Express 184.108.40.206, Discreet 3ds max 5.1 (DirectX), Discreet 3ds max 5.1 (OpenGL), Microsoft Office XP with SP-2, Microsoft Windows Media Encoder 9.0, Mozilla 1.4, Musicmatch Jukebox 7.10, Roxio VideoWave Movie Creator 1.5 and WinZip Computing WinZip 8.1.
WorldBench also shows a hit when the 512MB graphics is used in the overall score. Again with 1/3 of the memory used for the graphics, there is a bit of a punch taken here. However, the scores are still better than the 6150.
Benchmarks - Adobe Premiere ElementsAdobe Premiere ElementsVersion and / or Patch Used:
2.0Developer Homepage: http://www.adobe.com Product Homepage: http://www.adobe.com/products/premiereel/Buy It Here
Our test with Adobe Premiere Elements 2.0 is performed with a raw two hour AVI file. It is then compressed into DivX format using the latest version codec. We measure the time it takes to encode and then record CPU usage.
Encoding needs more bandwidth and lots of memory; the 512MB frame buffer eats into this equation.
Benchmarks - HDD PerformanceHD TachVersion and / or Patch Used:
3.0Developer Homepage: http://www.simplisoftware.comProduct Homepage: http://www.simplisoftware.com/Public/index.php?request=HdTach