AMD's persistence with the Phenom II processor is to be commended.
It's definitely no major competitor for Intel's Core i7 processors, but to take on the Core 2 Duo and Core 2 Quad processors, especially in a price war, AMD's top clocked processor is alot cheaper than Intel's Core 2 Quad Q9770. We honestly expected AMD to go a bit more stagnant on the chipset front and deal more with the processor, but this is far from the case.
AMD's 785G chipset may sound like a slower model compared to the 790FX and 790GX, while it lacks dual x16 lanes that the 790FX has, the 785G supports all the same features that the 790GX owns such as SidePort memory, support for CrossFireX with dual x8 PCI Express slots and the latest Southbridge. It has a major up on the 790GX and that's a 4xxx HD Radeon graphics core, which brings to the table DX10.1 compatibility, which is especially good if you're going to run Vista and Aero desktop or Windows 7 and Aero.
ASRock has been a company that of late has managed to impress us a lot - at first dealing with the more value and OEM side of things, ASRock has moved into overclocking and tweaking type of boards and is doing a pretty good job.
Today's offering is the M3A785GXH/128M, this board is available on Newegg for an incredible $99.99 USD. Is it worth the dollars? Does it overclock and what does it have for you? Let's get those questions answered right now.
The Box and What's Inside
Package and Contents
ASRock's choice of packaging is quite slim for an ATX board, however it still quite attractive. The base is red, which is very interesting considering AMD's colours are green; this shows that the chipset is still an ATI design, who uses the red colour for their company profile. On the front there is some colourful artwork along with the board model number as well as logo's for the chipset and CPU support.
On the back of the box ASRock has alot of marketing info on its board including info on its EUP, OC Tuner software as well as the Instant Boot feature of the board, which we have covered before. What is lacking is a full colour photo of the board.
Documentation and software is quite extensive. ASRock has a single user manual that is quite thick covering basic info, hardware setup, BIOS features and software explanations. The two DVD's contain drivers, updates and software for Windows XP and Windows Vista in both 32-bit and 64-bit versions. There are no Windows 7 drivers.
Lastly the cables and accessories, from the picture you can see it's very basic - two SATA data cables, an IDE cable and a rear I/O shield.
ASRock's M3A785GXH/128M is based on a full ATX six layer PCB, so it measures the standard 30 x 24cm - a good case will be needed to fit it in. The board isn't packed to the brim with accessories and add-ons, so smaller ATX towers will be able to handle this board. A clean layout is extremely important and ASRock has done a good job with the board.
The 24-pin power connector is located at the very top right of the board behind the four DDR3 memory slots, this is in fact the first time we have seen the power connector this far up. If you were to put this board into an ATX case with limited space this would keep the large bulky power cable well out of the way of the other system components. The 4/8-pin AUX power connector is located in its usual spot just behind the PS2/USB combo tower on the upper left side of the board.
Like all major manufacturers now, ASRock has gone with solid state capacitors and chokes. Only very cheap boards now come with electrolyte capacitors and copper wound chokes. The CPU is fed its power through a five phase voltage regulation system to keep the power levels as clean as possible. There is no cooling for the Mosfets on this board; ASRock believes they are cool enough on their own. The 785G Northbridge comes with its own heatsink as does the Southbridge, both are passively cooled. You can see just under the Northbridge heatsink a small memory chip, this is a 128MB DDR3 memory chip that gives the board its onboard SidePort memory. This chip is not cooled - we would have liked to see the chip cooled as this board supports overclocking the IGP core and Sideport memory.
Moving along down the right hand side of the board we get a view of the media connectors. There are a total of six SATA ports, five are coloured red and one is coloured orange. All six ports are driven off the Southbridge's SATA controller which supports IDE, AHCI and RAID modes. The orange port is used as a bridge and it is something we really are not a fan of seeing.
If you want to make use of the eSATA port on the rear I/O, you have to run a SATA data cable from the orange port at the bottom right of the board to an orange SATA port just behind the eSATA port on the rear I/O.
The ATI/AMD Southbridge still comes with IDE support and a single blue IDE port sits just below the memory slots.
Moving to the rear I/O we get to see ASRock's take on things. The first thing that we saw is there is only a single PS/2 port which you configure in BIOS for either Auto, Keyboard or Mouse operations. Thanks to the IGP there are three video outputs - you get a D-SUB, DVI and HDMI output along with a SPDIF Toslink port for optical audio output.
You can see in this picture the eSATA port in red below the Firewire ports along with the orange SATA bridge port.
Lastly it's down to expansion slots and the additional chipsets the board uses. Thanks to the 785G's CrossFireX support, ASRock has taken advantage of this and included a total of three PCIe x16 slots. 785G only has 16 lanes for graphics, so you either have a single x16 slot or 2 x8 slots for CrossFireX mode. The last x16 slot is simply an x4 slot running off the Southbridge.
ASRock has been given a black mark also on its implementation of CrossFireX switching. Many other companies use digital switches to switch the PCI Express lanes, ASRock has gone and used a switch over paddle card, similar to the ones used when SLI was first released. This makes setting up CrossFireX a bit more of an effort if you already have one card installed. You have to take this video card out, switch the paddle around, reinstall that video card and then install the second video card... annoying to say the least.
Moving along a single PCIe x1 slot sits above the top PCIe x16 slot and two PCI legacy slots make up the expansion possibilities. The network is handled by a PCIe x1 based Realtek GIGABIT Ethernet controller which we know and love. The Firewire is handled by VIA's VT8305 PCI based Firewire controller chip.
BIOS and Overclocking
ASRock's BIOS is very similar is design and layout to the ASUS BIOS setups. After seeing the main screen you are greeted with when first entering the BIOS, you may think you actually do have an ASUS board. This BIOS has been used for quite some time and is pretty easy to navigate around.
The bulk of the overclocking features are located under the OC Tweaker menu. It is here you can adjust the CPU FSB, memory ratios, HT Link dividers and widths, integrated AMD Northbridge clock ratios, voltages as well as the clocks for the IGP and the Sideport memory speed.
There are a few more features to tweak under the CPU Configuration and the Chipset Configuration menu however not alot compared to the OC Tweaker area.
Our overclocking adventures weren't as good as we hoped. Using our 965 based CPU we only managed to get 220 MHz FSB out of the board. It didn't matter if we lowered the CPU ratio or not, this board would not run past 220 MHz FSB.
You can see the validation here.
As all overclocking results are dependent on the hardware you use your results may vary. Results of our overclocking tests are included in the performance section with the stock scores.
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 Comments
Processor: AMD Phenom II 965
Memory: 2x1GB Kingston KHX12800D3T1K3 (Supplied by Kingston)
Hard Disk: Intel X25-M 80GB SSD (Supplied by Intel)
Graphics Card: GIGABYTE GTX285 1GB (Supplied by GIGABYTE)
Cooling: Cooler Master Hyper 212 (with an extra fan) (Supplied by Cooler Master)
Operating System: Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate RTM x64
Drivers: ATI Catalyst 9.6
Our test system was setup with all the above hardware. We didn't experience any compatibility issues of any sort with the video card, memory or CPU, the board has the latest BIOS installed from shipping so our 965 was detected without incident.
The only issues we had was the FSB clocking was limited to 220Mhz, not a huge jump to say the least, but it will give you a bit more speed.
Synthetic Tests - Part I
With any system you will want to see a combination of synthetic testing and real-world. Synthetics give you a static, easily repeatable testing method that can be compared across multiple platforms. For our synthetic tests we use Everest Ultimate, SiSoft Sandra, FutureMark's 3D Mark Vantage and PCMark Vantage, Cinebench as well as HyperPi. Each of these covers a different aspect of performance or a different angle of a certain type of performance.
Memory is a big part of current system performance. In most systems slow of flaky memory performance will impact almost every type of application you run.
To test memory we use a combination of SiSoft Sandra, Everest and HyperPi 0.99.
Version and / or Patch Used: 5.02.1789
Developer Homepage: http://www.lavalys.com
Product Homepage: http://www.lavalys.com
Buy It Here
Everest Ultimate is a suite of tests and utilities that can be used for system diagnostics and testing. For our purposes here we use their memory bandwidth test and see what the theoretical performance is.
First off in Everest compared to the M3A790GX/128H we see that at stock speeds, both boards perform identically. Overclocking wise, we managed to get a better result out of the newer 785G.
Version and / or Patch Used: 2009 SP3c
Developer Homepage: http://www.sisoftware.net
Buy It Here
Again with synthetic memory performance we get the new 785G board in front especially when overclocked.
Version and / or Patch Used: 0.99
Developer Homepage: www.virgilioborges.com.br
Product Homepage: www.virgilioborges.com.br
Download It Here
HyperPi is a front end for SuperPi that allows for multiple concurrent instances of SuperPi to be run on each core recognized by the system. It is very dependent on CPU to memory to HDD speed. The faster these components the faster it is able to figure out the number Pi to the selected length. For our testing we use the 32M run. This means that each of the four physical and four logical cores for the i7 is trying to calculate the number Pi out to 32 million decimal places. Each "run" is a comparative to ensure accuracy, and any stability or performance issues in the loop mentioned above will cause errors in calculation.
Running HyperPi with all four cores in use, we came in with just over 20 minutes. When we overclocked the CPU we managed to reduce this down to over 18 minutes - this is quite good for this type of CPU.
Synthetic Tests - Part II
Disk Drive Controller
The system drive controller is an important part of system performance. In most modern boards your drive controller will run off of the PCI-e bus. The PCI-e bus performance can be affected by poor trace layout as well as many other design choices that show up on different boards.
For testing we use both Everest and SiSoft's Sandra.
ATI's controller is quite good; both boards come out just about even in both tests. Unlike what we saw on our ASRock X58 board tests, overclocking didn't help out the Hard Disk as these are fully locked on the ATI based SB's.
Synthetic Tests - Part III
Overall System performance and Gaming
Here is where we dig out the FutureMark tests.
Version and / or Patch Used: 220.127.116.11
Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/
Product Homepage: www.futuremark.com
Buy It Here
For overall system performance we use PCMark Vantage.
Both platforms perform identical to each other when at stock speeds, however overclocking gives a boost to our new ASrock motherboard.
For synthetic gaming tests we used the industry standard and overlockers bragging tool 3DMark Vantage. This is a test that strives to mimic the impact modern games have on a system. FutureMark went a long way to change from the early days of graphics driven tests to a broader approach including physics, AI, and more advanced graphics simulations. 3DMark Vantage uses the DX10 API in addition to having support for PhysX. Due to the PhysX support and our use of an nVidia GPU we run with PhysX enabled and disabled to give you the best indication of real system performance. For testing we use the Performance test run.
Version and / or Patch Used: 1.0.1
Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/
Product Homepage: www.futuremark.com
Buy It Here
Here we have our synthetic gaming tests, during these tests we ran with PhysX enabled to take as much load of the CPU as possible.
Cinebench R10 x64
Version and / or Patch Used: R10
Developer Homepage: http://www.maxon.net/
Product Homepage: www.maxon.net
Download It Here
Cinebench is a synthetic rendering tool developed by Maxon. Maxon is the same company that developed Cinema4D another industry leading 3D Animation application. Cinebench R10 tests your systems ability to render across a single and multiple CPU cores. It also tests your systems ability to process OpenGL information.
Here we get a pretty good view of the systems in rendering mode. The two boards are just about identical in stock mode, but when we overclock, the ASRock 785G manages a bit more of an effort.
Real-World Tests Part I
Real-world testing allows us to see how well a product will perform when used in the same manner as it would be in your house or office. It is an important side to performance testing as it can uncover hidden glitches in the way a product performs.
It is especially true when testing a mainboard, there are so many components of a board that have to interact that any problems between parts can cause a failure of the whole.
For real-world testing we use some common applications and functions. We test with LightWave 3D for rendering performance, AutoGK for Transcoding from DVD to AVI and two games for gaming testing.
Rendering of 3D Animation is a system intensive endeavor. You need good CPU, Memory and HDD speed to get good rendering times. For our testing we use LightWave 3D. This software from Newtek is an industry standard and has several pre loaded scenes for us to use.
Version and / or Patch Used: 9.6
Developer Homepage: http://www.newtek.com
Product Homepage: http://www.newtek.com/lightwave/
Buy It Here
In real-world rendering with LightWave 3D, we see that stock performance of both platforms are what we expect. When we overclock the ASRock 785G manages to just pull ahead.
Version and / or Patch Used: 2.55
Developer Homepage: http://www.autogk.me.uk/
Product Homepage: http://www.autogk.me.uk/
Download It Here
AutoGK stands for Auto Gordian Knot; it is a suite of transcoding tools that are compiled into and easy to install and use utility. It allows you to transcode non-protected DVDs and other media to Xvid or DivX format. For our testing purposes we use a non-DRM restricted movie that is roughly 2 hours in length. This is transcoded to a single Xvid AVI at 100% quality.
Last off on our real-world application tests we see that the two ASRock boards manage to do a great job at stock. Overclocked we see a gain in performance by both setups, despite the extra clock speed of the 785G is isn't as fast as what we would have expected.
Real-World Tests Part II
Here we have our real gaming tests. Each of the games we chose uses multiple cores and GPUs. They are able to stress the system through use of good AI. Both have decent positional audio that adds impact to the sound subsystem of the board. We ran each game through the level or parts listed and recorded frame per second using FRAPS. This brings the whole game into play.
Cryostasis: Sleep of Reason
Version and / or Patch Used: 1.0
Timedemo or Level Used: From Ship Entry until third Spirit Journey
Developer Homepage: http://www.505games.co.uk
Product Homepage: http://cryostasis-game.com
Buy It Here
Cryostasis : Sleep of Reason is an interesting game it is heavy on PhysX so to play it properly you will really want an nVidia GPU. However that aside it can be immersive, imagine Myst with Guns and monsters. One of the cool concepts is the spirit journeys. These allow you to enter the past of lost souls. You have to change their past to change your future. Each one makes for a nice diversion and requires you to think about what you are doing and how it will affect the outcome of the game. The Settings we used are shown below.
Into Cryostasis we now push the power right up using 1920x1280 resolutions and turning all the additional features on. When at stock we are pushing the boundaries, but overclocking sees the performance jump a bit.
Version and / or Patch Used: V1.00
Timedemo or Level Used: Clearing the Safe house through to the Rescue
Developer Homepage: http://www.ubi.com
Product Homepage: http://farcry.us.ubi.com
Buy It Here
FarCry 2 is a large sandbox style game. There are no levels here so as you move about the island you are on you do not have to wait for the "loading" sign to go away. It is mission driven so each mission is what you would normally think of as the next "Level". In the game to take the role of a mercenary who has been sent to kill the Jackal, unfortunately your malaria kicks in and you end up being found by him. Long story short you become the errand boy for a local militia leader and run all over the island doing his bidding. Settings we used for testing are shown below.
Last on gaming we have Far Cry 2 and again we see a good boost in performance when 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).
At stock speeds both platforms are identical, it's when we overclock we got a huge surprise.
The new ASRock 785G was able to run with less power. That's right, clocked higher and running with less power, we did the tests over and over to see if it was a faulty reading but no, it was confirmed.
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.
Heat generated by the 785G was also lower at stock and overclocked speeds. It seems that AMD has put alot of work into this chipset and ASRock has gotten the best out of it.
AMD may not have the lead in the CPU market, but that isn't going to discourage them. After all, they have been here before, and recovered - Phenom II could be just the stepping stone for them and for now it's a perfectly acceptable alternative to Intel's Core 2 Duo line of processors. And with a cheaper price tag than that of the Core i7 processors, you can afford a good quality gaming system with AMD.
It's very important to see AMD's partners keep supporting them, and ASRock has done a fantastic job keeping AMD products running out the doors, and the MA3785GHX/128M is a fantastic product.
This beauty comes with not only an integrated graphics processor that has its own dedicated 128MB of memory, so you don't have to use any system memory for graphics rendering. And not only does it support Hybrid CrossFireX with certain ATI based discrete GPU's to help bolster the graphics performance with two GPU's running, as well as saving power when the discrete GPU isn't needed. The board also has a full CrossFireX support using two discrete GPU's and will run two of ATI's dual GPU X2 video cards if required - the only problem is that this board doesn't support full speed CrossFireX.
Overall this board comes out quite well especially in price. On Newegg you can have this board for a record bargain price of around $99.99 USD - that's right full ATX, overclocks come in under $100 USD: ASRock you have a winner here for users looking to build a highly affordable system with pretty decent performance.