It has now been nearly 12 months on since ATI and AMD made the big move to become one company and so far things have not been as rosy as AMD would have liked. AMD has not been able to come up with a new processor technology to combat Core 2, and it is only just recently that the Radeon HD 2900 series came out; nearly 4 months after nVidia released its DirectX 10 part. One thing we will not deny is that the addition of the ATI chipset business to AMD is a definite bonus.In the past AMD had to rely on their third party vendors to support processors. When Athlon first made its appearance on the market, AMD has a hard time getting sales simply because there was only one single chipset available for it, and that was AMD's own 750 Irongate chipset, which was not very fast and plagued with compatibility problems. It was not till VIA finally had its KX133 chipset available did things pick up. Even when Athlon 64 started, chipset support was limited.With the purchase of ATI, chipsets can be ready for their new architectures at the time of release, and being ATI based chipset, it is a proper solution, not a quickly slap it together type of product.The first chipset to come out under the AMD brand is the 690G series which we first looked at though ECS. This chipset is designed to be a value product for AMD and its Athlon processors.Today we have a new motherboard from MSI based on the new AMD 690G chipset series with support for HDMI which makes it perfect for the Home Theatre PC users out there. Let us today have a look at the MSI K9AGM2 and see exactly what it has to offer.
SpecificationsSpecifications of the MSI K9AGM2-FIHCPU
Supports AMD Athlon 64 AM2 Series CPUSupports AMD Athlon 64 X2 AM2 Series CPUSupports AMD Athlon 64 FX AM2 Series CPUSupports AMD Sempron AM2 Series CPUChipset
AMD 690G ChipsetAMD 690G NorthbridgeAMD SB600 SouthbridgeA-Link @ 4GB/sSystem Memory
2 DDR2 SDRAM 240pin DIMM SocketsSupports DDR2-533/667/800MHz64/128Bit Dual ChannelSupports up to 4GB Total Memory (2x 2GB)Bus Frequency
200MHz Internal 2000MHz ExternalHyper Transport InterconnectExpansion 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 D-SUB CRT Port1 HDMI Port1 Parallel Port6 Stereo Audio Ports2 Firewire Ports (1 rear accessible, 1 via expansion bracket)
Inside the BoxPackage and Contents
First as always it is into the packaging that MSI ships its board in as well as the little extras you get with it. The box is a colourful affair with just the model number and the company logo on the front. The size of the box is small, which indicates that the board is a Micro ATX layout design.
The back of the box has a lift of full features that the board supports as well as a few basic explanations of the functions of some of the top features.
Being value based, MSI has included only the basic software and documentation manual. The user manual supplied is pretty basic, with the required info to setup the board, but do not expect full explanations like in some of the more expensive boards. The driver CD does have all the drivers to get Windows XP, XP64 and Vista up and running, which is good news.
There is very little in the way of extras, there is one SATA data cable, one Parallel ATA data cable, one SATA to Molex power converter and the rear I/O shield. There are no FDD cables included which is disappointing, and if you want to use more than one SATA drive, you will need to go out and buy extra cables. It is clear MSI is positioning this motherboard as a cheaper solution, so at least you are not going to need to pay an absolutely fortune for it.
From the box size we surmised that the board was Micro ATX is design, so no surprised when we got the board out. MSI has gone with its traditional red PCB for its standard series of boards. For a basic board the layout is pretty good. The IDE port, FDD and 24-pin power ports are located behind the two DDR-2 memory slots. The board only supports two out of the total four that the AMD Athlon 64 range supports, so it is a cut down board, however it is Dual Channel compliant. The 4-pin power connector is located between the Northbridge and the rear I/O port.
MSI has gone with the 3 phase voltage regulation system. AMD processors draw a lot less power than the Intel Netburst series of CPU, so 3 phases is enough, 4 is better for overclocking, but being budget you cannot expect much overclocking. The capacitors used on this board are the standard electrolyte capacitors, no solid state products here, which is another indication this product has not been designed for high-end users with a focus on keeping the price as fair as possible, which is not a bad thing.The Northbridge used is AMD's new 690G chipset which is based around the newest architecture from the former ATI. It has come from the RS690 ATI design which was already on the board before the merger and renamed upon launch.The Northbridge supports a 16-bit 1GHz Bi Directional Hyper Transport bus to connect the CPU to the Northbridge. The 690G is the first chip to be designed with the latest graphics cores from ATI, known as the Radeon X1250 chipset core - its design comes from the older X700 series of graphics cards with UMA memory design. As for the Southbridge, ATI's SB600 that first appeared on the Crossfire 3200 chipsets makes its return for this 690G motherboard from MSI.
The rear I/O port layout is quite acceptable, in fact quite good for a HTPC setup. One of the first things we noticed was the inclusion of the HDMI port on the board which gives you the option to connect this to new HDTV's with a HDMI port for resolutions up to 1080p. While the board has a CRT board, we would have preferred to see a DVI port with a DVI to CRT converter to make it all digital monitor supported but it wasn't to be - if you wanted DVI support you could go out and buy a HDMI to DVI adapter but you should not really need to do that in our opinion. The rest is standard, but it is very nice to see the six stereo audio ports for 7.1 audio thanks to the HD Audio codec onboard. Then again it would have been even nicer to see optical audio in and out ports but you need to remember this is not a high-end motherboard. You could always an in an external sound card later if you are serious about your audio requirements.
Lastly we come down to the expansion slots and additional features that MSI provides. If you do not want to use the onboard graphics system, a single PCI Express x16 slot is included to allow discrete graphics to be used and a single PCI Express x1 slot and two PCI legacy slots round off the list here.Additional features include a single Realtek Gigabit Ethernet controller chip on one of the spare PCI Express x1 channels and a VIA VT6307S Firewire chip on the PCI bus gives you the digital media expansion.
BIOS and OverclockingBIOS
Now it is down to the BIOS and overclocking.MSI has chosen to go with AMI Mega trends BIOS which they have been using for quite some time now. AMI has come up along way in the last couple of years.The BIOS is quite slim, so we do not have a whole lot to talk about here.Overclocking
While we were not expecting earth shattering overclocking, we were hoping to get a few more MHz out of our CPU but what we found was quite a surprise.There was absolutely no overclocking feature on the board at all, even after updating to the latest BIOS from the MSI website. Normally we see the Cell Menu where MSI keeps its overclocking options; this menu was not here at all, so no overclocking is possible on this board.If you are going for a HTPC board though, you are probably not really going to worry about it seriously since it will no doubt be enclosed in a small HTPC case anyway.If you want a value board with a bit of OC potential, do not even think about this one from MSI.
Benchmarks - Test System Setup and Memory PerformanceTest System SetupProcessor
: AMD Athlon 64 x2 3800+ (200MHz FSB x 10)Memory
: 2x 1GB DDR2-1066 Corsair at 1:1 (Supplied by Corsair
: 500GB Seagate 7200.9 SATA-II (Supplied by Seagate
: Integrated GPU and Radeon X1300XTCooling
: Gigabyte Neon K8 (Supplied by Gigabyte
: Microsoft Windows XP Professional SP2Drivers
: ATI SB600 Driver 2.506.1540.28, ATI Catalyst 7.3, Nvidia ForceWare 93.73 and DX9cIn our tests we did not have any overclocking results, due to the fact that the MSI motherboard did not have any overclocking features at all.We did tests with both the integrated GPU's on both of the two test motherboards as well as using an ATI Radeon X1300XT graphics card to simulate a low-end system setup.Our integrated systems were set with the highest amount of memory available in the BIOS to each - for the ASUS M2NPV-VM (based on Nvidia GeForce 6150) it was 256MB and 512MB on the MSI AMD 690G motherboard. All memory settings were set at 1:1 SPD with the FSB at 200MHz.Let us get this show on the road now and see exactly what MSI's AMD 690G motherboard is capable of producing!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.
Both integrated graphics setups take a huge chunk of the system memory for their frame buffer and this takes quite a toll on the memory bandwidth, especially on the AMD setup that have to go through two Northbridges before it gets to the system memory.
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.
Memory performance with the integrated graphics shows quite a big hit. Overall the system performance with the integrated graphics enabled rather than a low cost discrete graphics setup does not create all the much of a performance penalty.
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.
Again with system memory being fed to the graphics card you see a performance hit again, the 690G however does get a better score than that of the 6150 based system.
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 requires bandwidth, and with integrated graphics system using system memory you are trading off performance for convenience.
Benchmarks - HDD PerformanceHD TachVersion and / or Patch Used:
220.127.116.11Developer Homepage: http://www.simplisoftware.comProduct Homepage: http://www.simplisoftware.com/Public/index.php?request=HdTach