While there has been a lot of focus on the Intel Core 2 range, we can't forget AMD. After all, it's AMD who has kept Intel honest by keeping prices as low as possible. Unfortunately, though, the jolly green giant has taken one blow after another with its CPUs of late; AMD held on too long to the K8 architecture, trying to squeeze every last drop out of it, and Phenom's late arrival and poor clock speeds/performance per MHz compared to the Intel counterparts has caused them some grief as well. On the upside, it has made building a multi-core and even Quad Core CPU system affordable; AMD's top Phenom X4 only costs around $360 AUD.
To mate up with this option, AMD has a range of chipsets available for its Phenom processor, these including the 780G chipset; the first of the 7 series to come out from AMD, and by far one of the most powerful integrated chipsets available today.
ASRock has been one of the loyal followers for AMD and has produced some rather impressive boards for its low budget status. The company has come up with a new 780G chipset oriented board designed for the HTPC and Digital PC environment.
Specifications of the A780FullDisplayPort
Supports AMD Phenom x4 AM2+
Supports AMD Phenom X3 AM2+
Supports AMD Athlon 64 x2 AM2
Supports AMD Athlon 64 AM2
Supports AMD Sempron AM2
AMD RS780G Northbridge
AMD SB700 Southbridge
PCI Express x4 Interconnect
4 DDR2 SDRAM 240pin DIMM Sockets
64/128Bit Dual Channel
Supports up to 8GB Total Memory (4x 2GB)
Hyper Transport 3.0
1 PCI Express x16
1 PCI Express x1
1 Parallel ATA port supporting 2 IDE Drives
6 Serial ATA ports
1 Gigabit Ethernet Port
1 PS2 Keyboard Port
1 PS2 Mouse Port
10 USB 2.0 Ports (4 rear accessible, 6 via expansion bracket)
3 Stereo Audio Ports
1 RJ45 Ethernet Ports
2 Firewire ports (1 rear accessible, 1 via expansion bracket)
1 CRT D-SUB VGA Port
1 DVI-I VGA Port
Unfortunately, the board we were shipped from ASRock didn't come in retail packaging. Why this is, we can't really say for sure; but hey, it's still a board and it's ready to be fired up.
Being a HTPC based unit, its size is limited to the Micro-ATX format. While being of a cheaper design, there should be no skimping on the R&D for placement of connectors; it seems like ASRock has done this unfortunately. Normally we see the 24-pin power connector on the right hand side of the board, just behind the memory slots. Keeping it away from the CPU is preferred in order to promote better cooling. ASRock has placed its 24-pin power connector between the rear I/O slots and the CPU retention mechanism along with the 4-pin power connector right above it. This causes some cable clutter around the CPU, and in a small case like the Micro-ATX tower, there is very little room for extra fans to keep things cool. This results in a hotter running system with the cables where they are.
Behind the memory slots, ASRock has located the single IDE port running off the SB700 chip, AMD still believes in IDE like NVIDIA, where Intel boards require an extra chip for IDE.
There are six SATA ports controlled by the SB700; that's right, with the new SB700 chip we get two additional SATA ports over the SB600. This is a nice change to say the least. These ports are located at the bottom right of the board, lined up in three rows of two.
Because of the use of AMDs CPU retention mechanism, there is usually quite a lot of room on the AMD boards to place large heatsinks. This holds true with the ASRock board as well; there are no obstructions for our OCZ Vanquisher to worry about.
Providing power to the CPU is a 4-phase voltage system that is more than sufficient to power the latest generation of Phenom X4 processors. ASRock hasn't swapped out to solid state components yet, this board uses copper wound chokes and electrolyte capacitors. Hopefully we will soon see ASRock join in and start the trend of using power saving solid sate components.
Now we move onto the rear I/O components. Having the 780G chipset power the board, we get the advantages of the Radeon HD 3200 GPU. To that end, on the rear I/O we get two VGA ports; one RGB and one DVI-I. There is no HDMI port which is disappointing. What's more, this board is supposed to be equipped with DisplayPort, however there are no ports on the rear I/O and we didn't get shipped an add-in card. But from what we have been told, a PCI Express based add-in should have been sent that allows for DisplayPort functionality on this board.
One thing that bothered us was the fact that the board only has three stereo audio jacks; this means that if you want 5.1 sound on the board you have to give up the Line-in and Mic jacks. This is rather annoying if you want full 5.1 sound and a Mic at the same time for online gaming.
Lastly, we are onto the expansion slots that the board is equipped with. Being Micro-ATX based we don't have a huge array of options, but there are enough for a HTPC.
Starting off, we have a single PCI Express x16 slot for a discrete GPU, or if you're into the Hybrid Crossfire design, you can combine a selected Radeon graphics card with the onboard GPU. This helps for low end systems and would be of good design for a HTPC that needs a little extra juice for some basic games. The slot is of PCI-E 2.0 specification thanks to the 7 series Northbridge having PCI-E 2.0 compliance.
A Single PCI Express x1 slot also running 2.0 specs makes up the last of the PCI-E expansion options. Thanks to the SB700, all PCI-E slots on the new series of AMD boards will now be 2.0 spec'd. For legacy support there are two PCI slots that make up the final arrangement.
BIOS and Overclocking
ASRock uses the same Award BIOS layout that ASUS uses; the same tab menu system with the grey background. I personally find this BIOS a bit daunting as you have to go looking through quite a few sub menus to locate all the overclocking features, which can be annoying compared to companies like GIGABYTE and MSI who have them all in one menu.
In order to find the overclocking settings you have to navigate to the Advanced tab and sift though about four sub menus to find all the tweaking options; not a productive layout.
CPU Frequency: 150MHz - 500MHz in 1MHz Increments
PCIe Frequency: 75MHz to 200MHz in 1MHz Increments
CPU Voltage: 0.0v to 1.55v in 0.0125v Increments
NB Voltage: 0.0v to 1.55v in 0.0125v Increments
DRAM Voltage: 1.8v to 2.2v in 0.1v Increments
Chipset Core Voltage: 1.1v - 1.2v in o.1v Increments
PCIe Voltage: Auto - 1.8 or 1.9v
While having a few options on the board, the AMD 780G chipset didn't yield much luck. In fact, speeds above 210MHz were impossible due to limited multiplier control of the Upstream and Downstream links. So, overclocking was eliminated from these tests.
We must stress however that this board is not a performance piece, but is aimed at the HTPC and Digital Home environments where silence is the key and digital content is the aim.
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 Performance
Processor: AMD Phenom x4 9850 (2.5GHz)
Memory: 2x 1GB DDR2-1186 Geil (Supplied by Geil)
Hard Disk: 500GB Western Digital SE16 (Supplied by Western Digital)
Graphics Card: GIGABYTE 9800 GX2 (Supplied by GIGABYTE)
Cooling: GIGABYTE 3D Galaxy II (Supplied by GIGABYTE)
Operating System: Microsoft Windows Vista SP1
Drivers: Forceware 175.16, Catalyst 8.5
Today we have put the AMD 780Gs from both ASUS and ASRock against the 790FX board from ASUS which we have already tested.
Our system has been upgraded to Vista SP1 since our Last Phenom tests were run, along with a new 9800 GX2 graphics card. This will allows us to get some better results overall and take some stress off the GPU.
We also performed onboard graphics tests on the two AMD 780G boards, as in today's market this is a very big part. Onboard is coming back, and how well the latest generation of iGPUs are able per perform makes a huge difference for some.
EVEREST Ultimate Edition
Version and / or Patch Used: 2006
Developer Homepage: http://www.lavalys.com
Product Homepage: http://www.lavalys.com
Buy 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 on the list are the memory subsystem tests. When using the IGP on both boards, the memory takes a hit due to 256MB of the total system memory being diverted to the graphics. When we move into discrete tests, all three platforms perform the same due to the memory controller being built into the CPU.
Benchmarks - PCMark Vantage
Version and / or Patch Used: Unpatched
Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com
Product 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 both setups using the IGP perform almost identically within a small margin of testing error. When we go to Discrete, the 780Gs manage to ever so slightly beat out the 790FX due to the SB700 chipset, though this could be put down to a margin of error more than anything else.
Benchmarks - SYSmark 2007 Preview
Version and / or Patch Used: 1.04
Developer 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 puts both IGP tests just about equal; the 790FX chipset gains just a wee bit more momentum over the 780Gs with discrete GPU usage.
Benchmarks - Adobe Premiere Elements 3.0
Adobe Premiere Elements 3.0
Version and / or Patch Used: 3.0
Developer 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.
With both setups using the IGP, we see an increase in the time it takes to encode over the use of the IGP. When we go to Discrete we see the 780Gs about equal and we see that the 790FX is right up there as well.
Benchmarks - HDD Performance
Version and / or Patch Used: 22.214.171.124
Developer Homepage: http://www.simplisoftware.com
Product Homepage: http://www.simplisoftware.com/Public/index.php?request=HdTachBuy It Here
HD Tach has been around for a long time and is excellent when it comes to testing hard drive performance. It is also a very handy program when it comes to testing the controller used on particular motherboards. Tests such as Read, CPU Utilization and Burst are available at a click of the button and give you a good idea of how the hard drive can perform from system to system.
Comparing the two major platforms, the 790FX based board falls a little behind in the burst and sustained speeds.
Benchmarks - 3DMark Vantage
Version and / or Patch Used: 1.01
Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com
Product Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/products/3dmarkvantage/
Buy It Here
3DMark Vantage is the new industry standard PC gaming performance benchmark from Futuremark, newly designed for Windows Vista and DirectX10. It includes two new graphics tests, two new CPU tests, several new feature tests, and support for the latest hardware.
3DMark Vantage is based on a completely new rendering engine, developed specifically to take full advantage of DirectX10, the new graphics API from Microsoft.
Moving into 3DMark Vantage, we are set to see the difference between iGPU and Discrete. Clearly iGPU isn't the way to go if you want a gaming rig.
Benchmarks - Crysis
Version and / or Patch Used: 1.1
Timedemo or Level Used: Custom Timedemo
Developer Homepage: http://www.crytek.com/
Product Homepage: http://www.ea.com/crysis/
Buy It Here
From the makers of Far Cry, Crysis offers FPS fans the best-looking, most highly-evolving gameplay, requiring the player to use adaptive tactics and total customization of weapons and armor to survive in dynamic, hostile environments including Zero-G.
Real time editing, bump mapping, dynamic lights, network system, integrated physics system, shaders, shadows and a dynamic music system are just some of the state of-the-art features the CryENGINE 2 offers. The CryENGINE 2 comes complete with all of its internal tools and also includes the CryENGINE 2 Sandbox world editing system.
Testing Crysis on the iGPU shows us that it is in no way playable when the 9800 GX2 is used, both 780Gs and the 790FX chipset manage to easily get a good score in Crysis.
Power Usage and Heat Tests
We are now able to find out what kind of power is being used by our test system and the associated graphics cards installed. Keep in mind; it tests the complete system (minus LCD monitor, which is plugged directly into an AC wall socket).
There are a few important notes to remember though; while our maximum power is taken in 3DMark06 at the same exact point, we have seen in particular tests the power being drawn as much as 10% more. We test at the exact same stage every time; therefore tests should be very consistent and accurate.
The other thing to remember is that our test system is bare minimum - only a 7,200RPM SATA-II single hard drive is used without CD-ROM or many cooling fans.
So while the system might draw 400 watts in our test system, placing it into your own PC with a number of other items, the draw is going to be higher.
AMD's 780G chipset boards perform just about identically. The 790FX chipset manages to eat up a little more power than the 780G.
As a new measure, we are now monitoring the heat generation from the key components on the motherboards, this being the Northbridge, Southbridge (if it contains one) as well as the Mosfets around the CPU. The results are recorded at idle and load during the power consumption tests.
Moving along to heat generation, we see that the 780G chipset boards perform identically. The 790FX setup is just a bit hotter, but nothing extreme.
ASRock's latest series of boards have been reasonably impressive, however we still have a few issues with the layout of this particular board. First, the locations of the power connectors need a bit of work. Even for a cheap board, it's still not acceptable.
ASRock has managed to bring some good prices to the market with their latest series of boards; while we didn't get the full retail package with this board, we aren't expecting a huge amount of additional features in the box. What was disappointing was not having the DisplayPort card included, which eliminated this from testing.
Overall, the board has good potential for a HTPC as long as you're not after 5.1 audio or HDMI.
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