AMD may not have the performance crown when it comes to its processors. In fact, Phenom has a lot of competition from Intel and a long way to go if they want to regain the top crown they stole from Intel quite some time ago.
But while their CPUs aren't top of the line, their chipset business has been spot on. ATI acquisition has allowed AMD to increase its own chipset production to the level where AMD is able to produce platforms for its own products; something that has been a major problem for them in the past. I can remember the Irongate debacle to this day. Now that's a thing of the past thanks to AMD branded chipsets and the 7 series from AMD being top notch.
The first chipset to have come out in the 7 series was the 780G, the first with the next generation in onboard graphics along with HT3 support for the Phenom processors. AMD really outdid themselves; not only was it future proof, it finally introduced a good onboard graphics accelerator. Not to say that it would rival a discrete solution, but its hardware decoding of HD video along with its ability to combine a second ATI graphics card to increase its 3D potential made it a huge success for the cheap PC market.
GIGABYTE has been one of the biggest producers of motherboards along with ASUS and MSI. And one thing is for certain with these three companies; above all else, if the chipset is good, you will find at least one board based on it. Today we are looking at the GIGABYTE GA-MA78GM-S2H motherboard. How does it stack up as a HTPC board? Let's have a good look.
Specifications of the GIGABYTE GA-MA78GM-S2H
Supports AMD Phenom X4 AM2+ Series
Supports AMD Phenom X3 AM2+ Series
Supports AMD Athlon 64 X2 AM2 Series
Supports AMD Athlon 64 AM2 Series
Supports AMD Sempron AM2 Series
AMD 780G Chipset
AMD RS780 Northbridge
AMD SB700 Southbridge
A-Link @ 4GB/s
4 DDR2 SDRAM 240pin DIMM Sockets
64/128Bit Dual Channel
Supports up to 8GB Total Memory (4x 2GB)
1 PCI Express x16
1 PCI Express x1
1 Parallel ATA port supporting 2 IDE Drives
5 Serial ATA ports
1 e.SATA port
1 Gigabit Ethernet Port
1 PS2 Keyboard Port
1 PS2 Mouse Port
10 USB 2.0 Ports (6 rear accessible, 4 via expansion bracket)
6 Stereo Audio Ports
1 CRT D-SUB Port
1 DVI-I Port
1 HDMI Port
1 Toslink SDPIF Port
1 e.SATA Port
1 RJ45 Ethernet Ports
2 Firewire ports (1 rear accessible, 1 via expansion bracket)
The board we were shipped didn't come with a retail box, so we skipped our usual look at the package. However, we did get the cables and extras which are standard for a Micro-ATX board, so there's nothing special to note here.
The board itself is based around a 6-layer Micro-ATX motherboard layout. Being so small, layout can be a problem. However, GIGABYTE has managed to keep things relatively neat and tidy and in a case the size of a micro-ATX where airflow is more so restricted, it's very important to keep it all neat and tidy.
The 24-pin power connector along with the single IDE port and FDD connector are located behind the four DDR2 memory slots that the board is equipped with on the right hand edge of the board. The 4-pin power connector is placed behind the PS/2 port towers on the top left of the board. This for any board is an optimal layout as it keeps all of the bulky cables well out of the way.
Five of the six SATA ports that are controlled by the SB700 chipset reside on the bottom right hand edge of the board, well away from any of the major components. While the SB700 supports six SATA ports, GIGABYTE has routed the last one off to a single eSATA port at the rear I/O; good idea GIGABYTE. Another interesting thing that GIGABYTE is now doing for all its boards is including a TPM or Trusted Platform Module connector. This allows for the use of TPM to hardware encode the contents of one's hard disk, preventing unauthorised access to the system. If you're a security nut, GIGABYTE has you covered.
The CPU area, thanks to the retention clamp design AMD uses for its heatsinks keeps the CPU clear of high rise components. This allows for clean installation of heatsinks; no matter how big they are, the clips are easy to get to. The power for the CPU is regulated through a 4-phase solid state component system.
Moving to the rear I/O ports, GIGABYTE has put a lot into this board, that's for sure. Of note here are the two obvious video ports; one CRT and one DVI-I for standard displays. If you want to go full digital, the HDMI interface port is included as well, allowing easy connection of the system to a LCD or plasma TV; great for HTPC purposes from the IGP. For digital storage, one eSATA port is included that is controlled from the sixth SATA port of the SB700.
Lastly we have expansion slot possibilities. Thanks to the Hybrid CrossfireX technology, a single PCI Express x16 slot supporting PCI-E 2.0 specs is included. If you have one of the Hybrid CrossfireX certified cards on hand, you can connect it through the PCI-E x16 slot and use both the discrete and IGP together to boost system performance, though don't expect double like standard Crossfire claims, but enough to make some games playable where they normally wouldn't be with the integrated solution alone.
For additional PCI Express connectivity, a single PCI Express x1 slot is included supporting PCI-E 2.0. That's right; SB700 is a PCI-E 2.0 compliant part. Finally, two PCI slots make up the last of the expansion offerings. Two mightn't be much, but remember this is m-ATX. It's not going to have as many as full ATX for obvious reasons, but it's more than enough for a HTPC or basic PC offering.
BIOS and Overclocking
Now we move along to the BIOS and GIGABYTE has gone with its usual Award offering, making it easy to get around just about every GIGABYTE board available. To locate the overclocking options, you simply visit the MB Intelligent Tweaker Menu.
CPU Frequency: 200 - 600MHz in 1MHz Increments
PCIe Frequency: 100 - 200MHz in 1MHz Increments
DDR2 Voltage Control: +0.1 - +0.3v in 0.1v Increments
Northbridge Voltage Control: +0.1 - +0.3v in 0.1v Increments
CPU Voltage Control: +0.1 - +0.3v in 0.1v Increments
In the past, most 780G boards haven't let us do much or any overclocking. The GIGABYTE board, however, gave us a little head room. We managed an FSB of 235MHz stable. But this was the limit; all voltages were turned up to get it just at this level.
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 9800GX2 (Supplied by GIGABYTE)
Cooling: GIGABYTE 3D Galaxy II (Supplied by GIGABYTE)
Operating System: Microsoft Windows Vista SP1
Drivers: Catalyst 8.6, Forceware 175.16
Today's tests will consist of our ASUS M3A78 board and the GIGABYTE MA78GM motherboards. ASUS' board did not overclock at all in a stable manner, so we are unable to do OC tests with this board. But GIGABYTE did manage an increase as you saw just before, so we threw in the OC tests here.
At stock speeds the two systems were running with DDR2-1066MHz memory, since both boards support this with the Phenom X4 processors. At the GIGABYTE overclocked speeds, we ran with the memory at the same divider.
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.
In our first stock tests there is nothing at all in it between the two boards. Only when overclocking on the GIGABYTE do we see a slightly higher result.
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.
PCMark almost gives clone results at stock speeds. At OC a little gain for GIGABYTE is seen, but not really enough to consider it a victory. With the CPU clocked almost at the same speed, only the memory speed gives it a slight lead.
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 manages to give clone results at stock. There's only two marks more at OC to the GIGABYTE board.
Benchmarks - Adobe Premiere Elements 4.0
Adobe Premiere Elements 4.0
Version and / or Patch Used: 4.0
Developer Homepage: http://www.adobe.com
Product Homepage: http://www.adobe.com/products/premiereel/
Buy It Here
Our test with Adobe Premiere Elements 4.0 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.
Premiere Elements puts both boards at stock speeds on top of each other. At OC settings this is where the extra memory bandwidth comes in handy and takes a couple of minutes off of the encode time.
Benchmarks - HDD Performance
Version and / or Patch Used: 220.127.116.11
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.
With the same SB700 controlling both systems, we get identical results on the storage controller here.
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.
Heading into gaming, we start with the synthetic gaming systems and we go with 3DMark Vantage. At stock speeds both platforms are identical in scores; only the slight OC gives the GIGABYTE board a bit of a lead.
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.
Crysis is a lot harder on the system. At stock settings, both systems are identical. Only a extra couple of FPS is gained with overclocking.
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.
On the power usage scales, both boards are just about on par.
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.
Cooling wise, the GIGABYTE board is a couple of degrees cooler overall.
Overall, the 780G chipset is extremely impressive; that much is certain. However, it's usually put into cut-down boards using the Micro-ATX format. While this makes for a great HTPC, some of the potential of the 780G chipset is left unused.
GIGABYTE has done a fantastic job with this board. While it's aimed at the HTPC users and even the office environments, it still has a bit of kick in it in regards to overclocking. While it's not able to push the boundaries like that of Core 2, it's still able to give the AMD platform a kick in the pants and we know that AMD is no where near as easy to overclock as Intel since there are more tweaks needed to get them to run in a stable fashion.
Note from Editor: We originally gave an overall score of 80% to this board, but have since come to realise our scores were off the mark and have re-considered both the quality and performance to be superior than first indicated.
This was not influenced in any way, shape or form by outside sources; rather, our own judgement had us feeling that an adjustment to the final rating was deserved.
Please accept our sincere apologies for the discrepency.
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