While we've had a lot of Intel based motherboards here at TweakTown over the last couple of years, it's been a one horse show in terms of the power market. Intel has had its finger on the pulse of the end users, and its Core 2 architecture really has helped them get ahead. With the delays and troubles AMD has experienced trying to get its Phenom to market, Big Blue has managed to gain quite a market share back from the gamers that AMD stole from them during the Athlon 64 Vs. Pentium IV days.While things aren't as Rosie for AMD now, Phenom is starting to finally make its way into the market. And with prices of a Phenom X4 9850, their top of the line CPU so far hitting an extremely affordable $270-280 AUD, quad-core processing is not out of the reach of every day users.Though AMD themselves have an impressive chipset line-up for the Phenom, we can't forget one of the biggest supporters of AMD. In fact, they have helped AMD out something incredible. Starting back when the Athlon was a Socket A chip, nForce chipsets have been around to help boost the performance. NVIDIA are back again with GeForce based chipsets sporting IGP graphics. Today we have our first board from ZOTAC, one of the many companies we met at Computex. They have sent us their GeForce 8300 based Micro-ATX offering aimed at the digital home segment. How well does it perform? Read on to find out.
SpecificationsSpecifications of the ZOTAC GF8300-A-ECPU
Supports AMD Phenom X4 AM2+Supports AMD Phenom X3 AM2+Supports AMD Athlon 64 X2 AM2 Supports AMD Athlon 64 AM2Supports AMD Sempron AM2Chipset
NVIDIA Geforce 8300NVIDIA MCP78System Memory
4 DDR2 SDRAM 240pin DIMM SocketsSupports DDR2-533/667/800/1066MHz64/128Bit Dual ChannelSupports up to 8GB Total Memory (4x 2GB)Bus Frequency
200MHz Internal600/1800/1000/1600/1800/2000MT/s ExternalHyperTransport 3.0 InterconnectExpansion Slots
1 PCI Express x161 PCI Express x12 PCIConnectivity
1 Parallel ATA port supporting 2 IDE Drives6 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)6 Stereo Audio Ports1 RCA SPDIF Port2 Firewire ports (1 rear accessible, 1 via expansion bracket)1 RBG D-SUB Port1 DVI-I Port
The Box and What's InsidePackage and Contents
Getting into the thick of things, we start as normal with our packaging the board comes in as well as what you get inside the box. ZOTAC's colour scheme for its boards as well as its company is a golden orange and black, and that's translated into the package here. The box comes with quite a bit of attractive art work on the front with a little bit of marketing info, just what the board is and its general support list.
On the back there is a bit more marketing info. However, ZOTAC has not included a colour photo of the board at all, which leaves you guessing what you're buying. This is something we prefer not to do in this day and age; after all, would you buy a car without looking at it?
Software and instruction manuals; there are one of each. The user manual is rather thin, but being a Micro-ATX board we aren't expecting the world. The user manual is enough to get you started, installed and explains a bit about the software included in the box. The DVD contains Windows XP and Vista drivers for both 32-bit and 64-bit variants. There's no Linux support on the CD, and looking around the net we didn't find much for the alternate OS users, so this would be a board to simply pass on if you're a Linux or Unix user.
Moving along to the accessories, we get a pretty good assortment for its design. Despite the fact the board lacks a HDMI port (which the board clearly has a spot for, and the MCP easily supports) a DVI to HDMI adapter is included. Resembling something like a DVI to RGB converter of the past, it converts the DVI port on the rear I/O to a HDMI interface. For the mass storage side of things we have two out of the total six SATA ports covered with two data cables, one IDE cable with dual drive support and a FDD cable with single drive support. Due to the nature of the board's proprietary connectors, a new I/O shield is needed and is included as always. If it wasn't, what a disaster we would have these days; no company shares the same port configurations anymore.
The MotherboardThe Board
Now we move onto the board itself, This is the first board we have been sent from ZOTAC so we weren't sure what to expect. While the box size did tell us it would be micro-ATX, we didn't know just how ZOTAC would have laid the board out. The board's layout does leave a bit to be desired. First off, the power connectors; the 24-pin one gets placed on the left of the board between the CPU and the rear I/O ports. This is definitely the worst place you can think of putting one of these connectors, as there's too much obstruction around the CPU area. The 4-pin connector is located sensibly between the CPU area and the rear I/O, as close as possible to the I/O connectors and well away from the CPU. The IDE connector is on the upper right side of the board behind the four colour coded DDR2 memory slots. The FDD connector in white sits even further up. The SATA ports sit just in front and below the IDE connector; six of them in total which means ZOTAC has gone and used all six supported by the GeForce MCP.
Moving along to the CPU area, ZOTAC has done a good job keeping it clean of components to allow for large aftermarket heatsinks to be installed. Our OCZ Vanquisher fits without a single problem; install and removal was easy as. As for the CPU itself, the power is fed through a 3-phase voltage system. While enough to keep the CPU running, it leaves no head room for overclocking. ZOTAC also hasn't bothered to swap over to solid state ferrite chokes and capacitors, they are still of the older variety. Hopefully we will see this change very soon.
The rear I/O ports included on the board are nothing spectacular; nothing new here. We are disappointed that the board lacks native HDMI on its onboard graphics, meaning you have to sacrifice the DVI port if you want HDMI. For those who have HDMI TVs and a LCD with DVI, you're not going to be able to run both at the same time, sorry to say.
Lastly, we come down to the expansion slots. While there is a GPU provided by the GeForce 8300 chipset, for any real gaming you're going to need a discrete graphics system. To this end, a single PCI Express x16 slot supporting PCI-E 2.0 specs is included along with a single PCI Express x1 slot supporting PCI-E 2.0 making up the total PCI-E expansion possibilities. The two legacy PCI slots that are included support PCI 2.2 specs and are all bus masters. The GeForce 8300 chipset supports NVIDIA's own Hybrid SLI and Hybrid Power system to allow for an energy saving while supposedly giving the system a boost. With selected NVIDIA cores you can put them into the PCI-E slot and have the onboard GPU running when doing 2D applications like Windows as well as low 3D applications. When more power is needed, the discrete GPU is enabled and combines the power of the IGP and the discrete to increase system performance. That is the theory. However, while we haven't had the chance to see this in action, we have seen some sites reporting performance hits using the Hybrid SLI due to the system memory being used for the IGP's frame buffer, this lowering the overall accessible memory and system bandwidth.
BIOS and OverclockingBIOS
ZOTAC has gone with the Phoenix Award Modular BIOS version 6 which is quite simple. This BIOS has been used quite a lot, but hopefully for not much longer. EFI is around the corner. ZOTAC hides its overclocking options under the Frequency/Voltage Control Menu.Buses
FSB Frequency: 200 - 600 in 1MHz IncrementsPCIE Frequency: 100 - 150 in 1MHz IncrementsVoltages
Memory Voltage: 1.9v to 2.2v in 0.1v IncrementsChipset voltage: 1.2v to 1.35v in 0.05v incrementsOverclocking
Unfortunately being that there's no CPU voltage control or multiplier adjustments, as well as no control over the HT links, we didn't get past 210MHz FSB. However, this board is not aimed at the overclockers; NVIDIA's chipsets arn't rated for high FSBs in the lower price bracket.Important Editor Note: Our maximum overclocking result is the best result we managed in our limited time of testing the motherboard. Due to time constraints we weren't able to tweak the motherboard to the absolute maximum and find the highest possible FSB, as this could take days to find properly. We do however spend at least a few hours overclocking every motherboard to try and find the highest possible overclock in that time frame. You may or may not be able to overclock higher if you spend more time tweaking, or as new BIOS updates are released. "Burn-in" time might also come into play if you believe in that.
Test System Setup and Memory PerformanceTest System Processor
: AMD Phenom X4 9850 @ 2.5GHz (Supplied by AMD
: 2x 1GB DDR2-1186 Geil (Supplied by Geil
: 500GB Western Digital SE16 (Supplied by Wester Digital
: MSI GeForce 8800GTS 640MB (Supplied by MSI
: GIGABYTE Galaxy II (Supplied by GIGABYTE
: Microsoft Windows XP Vista Ultimate SP1Drivers
: Forceware 175.16, ATI CatalystToday we have two separate test systems head-to-head. Our first is based on the AMD 780G chipset from ATI/AMD using our ASUS motherboard we used for the HTPC article. We then have our setup from NVIDIA using the ZOTAC board. We did tests using the IGP on both setups (Radeon HD3200 on the AMD 780G and GeForce 8300 on the MCP78) as well as tests using a GeForce 8800GTS 640MB graphics card to then determine the perfect setup.When using the IGPs, we set the frame buffer to a manual size of 256MB of the system memory, rather than using Auto which can favour one setup over another.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.
First off, memory bandwidth. AMD's 780G chipset manages to use slightly less memory than the NVIDIA setup, but not enough to really make a difference. When swapping to the discrete GPU system, the memory is identical thanks to the memory controller being moved off chipset and onto the CPU die.
Benchmarks - PCMark VantagePCMark VantageVersion and / or Patch Used:
xDeveloper Homepage: http://www.futuremark.comProduct Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/benchmarks/pcmark-vantage//Buy It Here
PCMark Vantage is the first objective hardware performance benchmark for PCs running 32 and 64 bit versions of Microsoft Windows Vista. PCMark Vantage is perfectly suited for benchmarking any type of Microsoft Windows Vista PC from multimedia home entertainment systems and laptops to dedicated workstations and high-end gaming rigs. Regardless of whether the benchmarker is an artist or an IT Professional, PCMark Vantage shows the user where their system soars or falls flat, and how to get the most performance possible out of their hardware. PCMark Vantage is easy enough for even the most casual enthusiast to use yet supports in-depth, professional industry grade testing.
Moving into PCMark Vantage, we see that the results are fairly balances across both platforms here.
Benchmarks - SYSmark 2007 PreviewSYSmark 2007Version and / or Patch Used:
1.04Developer Homepage: http://www.bapco.com/ Product Homepage: http://www.bapco.com/products/sysmark2007preview/>
SYSmark 2007 Preview is the latest version of the premier performance metric that measures and compares PC performance based on real world applications.SYSmark 2007 Preview extends the SYSmark family, which has been widely accepted by IT Managers, PC OEMs, press and analysts worldwide to support Windows Vista. SYSmark 2007 Preview allows users to directly compare platforms based on Windows Vista to those based on Windows XP Professional and Home.The new release also incorporates numerous new features and enhancements such as an improved GUI allowing streamlined start-up and run along with a heads-up-display (HUD) and automated error reporting.SYSmark 2007 Preview is an application-based benchmark that reflects usage patterns of business users in the areas of Video creation, E-learning, 3D Modeling and Office Productivity. This new release includes a robust and refreshed set of applications.
SYSmark 2007 shows little difference between the setups using IGP or discrete GPU. SYSmark doesn't push the GPU, so the systems were almost identical across the board.
Benchmarks - Adobe Premiere Elements 3.0Adobe Premiere Elements 3.0Version and / or Patch Used:
3.0Developer Homepage: http://www.adobe.com Product Homepage: http://www.adobe.com/products/premiereel/Buy It Here
Our test with Adobe Premiere Elements 3.0 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.
Premiere Elements gives a faster encode to the AMD 780G chipset by around a minute over the NVIDIA chipset when using the IGP. When discrete is used, both systems come out equally.
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