While BIOSTAR has been a name we have heard a bit of in the motherboard industry, we haven't had too many of their products cross our labs. So far we have only had one other board, which didn't really impress us too much to be honest. This was not a board aimed for enthusiasts and needed a few design changes to really get us excited.
BIOSTAR has been in the background for a while, but the company seems to be aiming towards pushing into the mainstream market and competing with the big names for recognition.
BIOSTAR has a range of Intel and AMD boards catering to budget to mainstream users and today we have been sent a mid-range AMD motherboard designed for the Phenom range of processors, this based on the NVIDIA nForce 750a chipset. Let's see how the 750a compares to the AMD 780G.
Specifications of the BIOSTAR TPower N750
Supports AMD Phenom X4 AM2+ Series
Supports AMD Phenom X3 AM2+ Series
Supports AMD Athlon X2 AM2 Series
Supports AMD Athlon AM2 Series
Supports AMD Sempron AM2 Series
NVIDIA 750a Chipset
4 DDR2 SDRAM 240pin DIMM Sockets
64/128Bit Dual Channel
Supports up to 8GB Total Memory (4x 2GB)
2 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
12 USB 2.0 Ports (6 rear accessible, 6 via expansion bracket)
6 Stereo Audio Ports
1 DVI-I Port
1 RJ45 Ethernet Ports
2 Firewire ports (1 rear accessible, 1 via expansion bracket)
The Box and What's Inside
Package and Contents
First off, we start on the box that BIOSTAR ships the board and accessories in. On the front it's remarkably plain with only the BIOSTAR company logo and the TPower brand in the middle. The chipset model is also evident on the front as well.
On the back, however, BIOSTAR has a bit of info on the board, a spec sheet which is similar to that on their website and most importantly in the information age there's a full colour photo of the board, so you are made aware of what you're getting before you open the box.
We also get a standard user manual in English which explains the workings of the board, BIOS and the software supplied on the DVD. As for the DVD, there are drivers for XP and Vista in 32-bit and 64-bit variants.
Inside the Box - Continued
Inside the Box Continued
Moving along, we come to the accessories supplied. In terms of the SATA ports supplied on the board, the 750a has six Gen2 SATA ports and BIOSTAR provides six data cables. The cables don't have any locking tabs to prevent the cables accidently being bumped out or jolted free when transporting the case. Five Molex to SATA power converters are supplied; this is a logical arrangement as most cheaper PSUs have just one or two SATA power connectors. With five convertors you can run the total six SATA ports out of the box.
Coming to the end of the package and contents, BIOSTAR provides you with two SLI bridge connectors, but to be honest we aren't sure why you would need two; the 750a doesn't support tri or quad SLI, so one SLI connector is really enough. Since the board doesn't have any S/PDIF outputs on the rear I/O panel, BIOSTAR has provided an expansion cover bracket with RCA and Toslink S/PDIF audio output. While not having native HDMI, you are provided with a DVI-I to HDMI converter so you can still use HDMI if you want to connect the onboard GPU to any HDMI receiver devices.
Now it's time for us to get a look at the motherboard itself. The first thing we noticed was the placement of the memory slots. The last time we saw the memory slot arrangement like this was back when AMD Athlon 64 first made its appearance on the 754-pin package. Since then the memory has always been put on the right hand side, however, BIOSTAR has gone retro and placed it on the very top edge of the board, above the CPU rather than to the side of it.
The PCB is the same full size ATX 30x24cm design, so no size changes have been made. The 24-pin ATX power connector along with the single IDE port provided by the 750a MCP are on the right hand edge, so these haven't changed. BIOSTAR has gone with using the 4/8 pin CPU power connector that Intel now uses on all their 45nm ready motherboards; this is placed in the top left corner behind the PS/2 ports.
The six SATA ports along with a single FDD port are placed in the lower right hand area of the board, lined up one behind the other with the FDD connector below it. Three USB headers line up right on the bottom right hand edge along with the colour coded case connector header.
Thanks to AMDs retention mechanism used to hold down the CPU heatsink, there is quite a bit of room by default for the mounting plate to keep components away from the CPU. BIOSTARs board is quite clean with its CPU socket space; our OCZ Vanquisher was installed and removed without any personal injuries.
The CPU is fed its power through a 4 phase solid state voltage regulation system. The iron core chokes have been replaced with ferrite core chokes and copper capacitors are used rather than electrolyte, allowing for a cooler running and more stable voltage flow.
Continuing along, we now come to the rear I/O ports. In terms of layout there isn't really anything special here; no eSATA, S/PDIF audio or anything really interesting. The only change from the norm is the inclusion of a DVI-I video port. Since the 750a is Hybrid SLI compatible, it has a built in GeForce 8300 GPU and BIOSTAR has elected to support the IGP as well as Hybrid power and Hybrid SLI.
Last but not least are the expansion slots. The 750a supports SLI in its original basic form; that is, the same form that NVIDIA brought it out in back with the nForce 4 chipset, by splitting channels. If you're in single GPU mode, the orange x16 slot gets 16 lanes to go with it. If you want to make use of SLI, eight lanes must be diverted to allow the second GPU some bandwidth. The diverting is also something we aren't real pleased with.
While digital switching is available and doesn't cost much more than installing a paddle card, BIOSTAR has cheaped out by requiring you to actually set eight banks of jumpers to divert the lanes to the second GPU. If we had to do it ourselves, the old paddle card would have been better, however, this jumper design really isn't on. One PCI Express x1 slot makes up the last of the PCI-E options and three PCI legacy slots give you the final arrangement.
BIOS and Overclocking
On to the BIOS section and we see BIOSTAR use a similar design layout to that of which ASUS, ASRock and Intel use; the grey tab menu screen.
In order to access the overclocking options, you need to navigate to the T-Power menu where you can tweak the board to your hearts content.
CPU Frequency: 200 - 600 in 1MHz Increments
PCIE Frequency: 100 - 200MHz in 1MHz Increments
SB to K8 Frequency: 200 to 2000Mhz in Various Increments
CPU OverVoltage: +0.05v to +0.60vv in 0.05v increments
CPU NB OverVoltage: +0.05v to +0.60vv in 0.05v increments
DRAM OverVoltage: 1.8v to 3.3v in 0.05v increments
Chipset OverVoltage: 1.1v to 1.475v in 0.024v increments
HT OverVoltage: 1.2v to 1.6v in 0.025v increments
AMD's overclocking has fallen quite a bit in recent years; the Athlon 64 didn't really push the boundaries of speeds and with Phenom's High speed HT3 interconnect, it's more susceptible to noise on the HT link.
To this end, overclocking isn't as good on Phenom based boards when using Phenom processors. We lowered the HT link speed down to 1000MHz from 2000MHz to help increase its stability; however, we only managed to hit 283MHz FSB with this board and this required tweaks to all the voltages and buses.
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 (10.5x200MHz)
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: nForce Driver 15.24, ATI Catalyst 8.7, Forceware 178.13
Today's tests involve the nForce 750a based BIOSTAR motherboard along with our resident AMD 780G motherboard from ASUS. Today we will be testing out the system using the IGP and discrete graphics in both stock and overclocked configurations to see just how well the systems compare.
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 off, we start with the memory performance and AMDs onboard memory controller always impresses when compared to Intel's chipset based memory controller.
First we see that with the IGPs enabled we see both chipsets use the same amount of memory space and bandwidth. Using the discrete GPU setup we see that the two platforms are identical. When we go to overclocking, we see that the nForce 750a overclocks a lot better than the ASUS board.
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, the AMDs onboard GPU is slightly better than the nForce 750a's built-in IGP. When moving into the discrete setups, both systems perform identical. However, when overclocking we see BIOSTAR's 750a based board pulling ahead.
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.
Moving into SYSmark; using the IGPs both perform almost identical. There isn't any real hard 3D applications used; mostly office and productivity content. With the IGPs disabled we get a slight boost in performance due to the memory being freed up from the IGP. Thanks to a higher clock speed at OC levels, the BIOSTAR board managed to get the win once again.
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 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.
Now into real world applications. We see that the IGP setups perform identically since they aren't doing any 3D work. When the IGPs are disabled in favor of the 9800GX2, we see a boost in performance thanks to the memory being freed up. At OC levels the BIOSTAR wins convincingly.
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.
3DMark Vantage shows us that the IGP on the 780G is a better option for 3D gaming on the basic level. While scoring better than the 750a, it's by no far playable or enjoyable. When the 9800GX2 takes over we see that the game play and enjoyment is much better. At overclocked speeds we see that the BIOSTAR board blows the ASUS away.
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 puts a lot of stress on the system and with the IGPs neither is playable, both giving the same unimpressive score. With the IGPs disabled and the 9800GX2 at play we see that Crysis is indeed playable. With the OC taken into account we see that the BIOSTAR board wins quite well.
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.
Moving into power usage, we see the ASUS 780G board using quite a bit less power with the IGP enabled over that of the 750a based; this could be due to the fact that it's a Micro ATX board with less features, or simply it could be due to the power usage of the 780G chipset being more efficient than the 750a. With the IGPs disabled and the 9800GX2 working we see that the power usage at idle and load increases quite a bit, due to two graphics cards working.
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.
The 780G based ASUS board produces less heat than the 750a chipset, supporting the fact that the 750a chews more power than the AMD 780G does.
The battle between AMD and NVIDIA for the chipset market is now heating up. AMDs latest generation of 7 series chipsets have been extremely impressive, putting NVIDIA on the back foot. NVIDIA, while coming in late for the Phenom line of chipsets aren't out of the running; their IGP isn't as advanced as the AMD offering, however their overclocking has managed to keep them ahead of AMD so far. But will this change with the next generation of chipsets?
The BIOSTAR T-Power 750a is a definite choice for AMD owners who want a mid-range board with Crossfire options, however, don't expect to get twin 9800GX2s to run on this board, as it's a split 8/8 SLI setup.
What we found annoying on this board and it must be said, was the use of jumper banks to switch between SLI and normal mode, making it a hassle to install a second GPU. It requires you to remove the first card to access the jumper banks when digital switching is available and works well. We just can't see why BIOSTAR didn't go with this option.
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