The integrated desktop graphics market is often one which is overlooked by many users. It's generally understood that integrated graphics adaptors will never be as capable as their beefy standalone cousins, and so tend to get written off as being beneath the interest horizon. While this generalisation is certainly founded in truth, it is also true that apart from games and some high-level graphics rendering applications, there's not much out there that really requires dedicated, high-end graphics cards.So, the role of integrated graphics adaptors is not which one can provide the greatest 3D grunt, but which can provide the most support for the popular standards of the day. Which ones have multiple outputs? Which have native support for media encoders? Can they act as the foundation of a decent system? These are the important questions for onboard GPUs - they all share the advantage of low noise, heat and space footprints, so they need to prove their credentials in other areas.At the end of September, nVidia released the GeForce 6100 range of integrated graphics adaptors. They come in two iterations - the GeForce 6100 and the 6150. The main differences in the adaptors are in the 6150's higher clock speed of 475MHz compared with the 6100's speed of 425MHz. The 6150 also supports TV encoding, DVI and HD MPEG-2/WMP9 playback.The 6100 range supports DirectX 9.0 Shader Model 3.0, as well as the CineFX 3.0 and Intellisample 3.0 technologies.Accompanying this are two supporting motherboard chipsets. The nForce 410 is geared towards the GeForce 6100 but doesn't support the 6150, while the nForce 430 chipset supports both adaptors.Biostar have been very quick to the market with an nForce 410-based motherboard. Read on as we put it through it paces and see just what it's all about and what it has to offer.
SpecificationsSpecifications of the Biostar AMD GeForce 6100-M9CPU
Support AMD Socket 939Supports AMD Athlon 64 up to 4000+Supports AMD Athlon 64 up to FX-57Supports AMD Sempron up to 3400+Chipset
NVIDIA GeForce 6100 NorthbridgeNVIDIA nForce 410 SouthbridgeHyperTransport up to 2000MT/sSystem Memory
4 x 184-pin Dual-Channel DDR SDRAM DIMM socketsMaximum memory supported - 4GBSupports DDR 333 and 400Expansion Slots
2 x PCI1 x PCI-Ex11 x PCI-Ex16Connectivity
2 x PATA connectors supporting 4 IDE drives2 x SATA 3Gb/s connectors1 x FDD connector1 x Realtek RTL8201BL 10/100 Ethernet adaptorExpansion Ports
1 x parallel port1 x serial port1 x PS2 mouse port1 x PS2 keyboard port1 x VGA port8 x USB 2.0 ports (4 rear, 4 front)3 x 5.1 audio ports1 x SPDIF port (via PCI bracket and onboard jumper)Audio
Realtek ALC655 6-channel AC97 CODECRAID
NVIDIA RAID TechnologySupports RAID-0, RAID-1, RAID-0+1RAID standards supported on both ATA-133 and SATA controllersSize
Micro ATX Form Factor: 24.5cm (depth) x 24.45cm (width)
FeaturesFeatures of the Biostar AMD GeForce 6100-M9
The motherboard layout is very clean and uncluttered. Rear ports are stacked to maximise space in the classic small form factor layout. PCI-E/PCI slots, memory slots and the CPU slot are all brightly coloured - this doesn't sound like a noteworthy feature, but try digging around in a cramped micro-ATX case and you'll be thankful that you can see what you're aiming for so easily.
The power slot supports standard 24-pin supplies, but also handles the older 20-pin configuration in case you haven't upgraded your power supply to a newer version.Space on the board has been maximised also. There are heatsinks on the North bridge and South bridge, but they've been positioned to cause minimum disruption. The South bridge is in line with the PCI slots, but unless you're using an abnormally long PCI card this won't be a problem. It could potentially cause problems with a PCI-Express graphics card with a large heat sink running along the length of the card though, and if you're considering purchasing this board with a dedicated card (which may be the case, once you see our benchmarking results!), then keep this in mind when shopping around.As the chipset is nForce-based, it comes with the standard range of nVidia on-chip products - nTune, networking, NVMixer, MediaShield, storage protection, 3GB/s SATA (aka SATA-II) and RAID. RAID is becoming standard on home systems, which is great to see - there's nothing more heartbreaking than losing 200GB of data to a failed drive.Networking on this board is unfortunately limited to a 10/100 adaptor - considering that the next chipset up support 10/100/1000 networking, and most chipsets on the market these days also provide gigabit LAN, this is a little disappointing. Biostar could have added in a third party gigabit network controller but then again that would have added to the price of the board and Biostar are aiming to make this one pretty affordable.
The bundled software consists of the nVidia unified ForceWare drivers and the Biostar monitoring, overclocking and Winflash utilities. The in-OS utilities let you keep a close eye on the system in terms of heat and performance and also let you overclock aspects of the board from within Windows. You can also backup the BIOS from within Windows and download and flash the BIOS with the latest version from the Biostar website - very useful indeed.
OverclockingOverclocking of the Biostar AMD GeForce 6100-M9
Surprisingly, the Biostar 6100-M9 had quite a few inbuilt options for overclocking - certainly more than you generally see on a micro-ATX motherboard which is fairly well budget orientated.In theory, bus speeds can be clocked up to 300MHz, PCI-E speeds up to 125MHz, frame buffer up to 128MB, HyperTransport multiplier up to 5x, DRAM voltage up to 2.93V and core voltage up to 1.7V. This is the theory, at least.Biostar have loaded the onboard Award BIOS with an overclocking feature called ONE - Overclocking Navigator Engine. This comes with three pre-defined overclocked settings - normal, medium and extreme. You do need to disable POST error halting to use this - otherwise the system halts on startup indicating a CPU frequency change.Within the BIOS you can also backup your current BIOS settings, and restore them if things go wrong with the setup - a very useful safety net.Biostar have provided software which leverages off their WarpSpeeder technology to enable in-OS overclocking. We had limited success with this - CPU frequency was able to be clocked higher, although the PCI-E frequency remained stubbornly low and refused to go any higher. We found that trying to tweak the motherboard this way resulted in a fair few freezes and hangups. The best (and most stable) results were achieved by using the in-BIOS pre-defined settings. The Windows-based hardware monitoring utility was pretty good though, and very useful in keeping track of changes to the system.We were able to get the board up to a stable FSB of 272MHz which isn't too bad.
Benchmarks - Test System Setup and PCMark SeriesTest System SetupProcessor(s):
AMD Athlon 64 3500+Motherboard(s):
Biostar AMD GeForce 6100-M9Memory:
2 x 512MB PC3200 RAMHard Disk(s):
2 x Seagate 80GB SATA in RAID-1 (mirror)Operating System Used:
Microsoft Windows XP SP2Drivers Used:
nVidia ForceWare 81.85, ATI Catalyst 5.10 and DX9cOur test system was designed to test the capabilities of the board running a standard installation of Windows XP, so other than disabling visual themes (except for PCMark05 which requires it), we left everything on, including audio. The hard drives were connected in a RAID-1 mirror, which is a reasonable real-life implementation.To give an indication of where the GeForce 6100 sits in the grand scheme of things, we also ran the visual benchmarks against an ATI Radeon X800 Pro. This wasn't to try and compare the two cards - obviously a dedicated X800 Pro would flatten pretty much any integrated graphics controller with ease - but just to get an impression of how the 6100 could perform, and what recommendations to make based on that performance.To that end, we didn't perform any GPU overclocking or high quality visual effects benchmarking. It was always fairly clear that the GeForce 6100 was going to struggle even at 1024x768/noAA/noAF, so it would have been quite unreasonable to push it even further beyond its capacity and then try to come up with a meaningful interpretation of the results, other than "don't play games with this". PCMarkVersion and / or Patch Used:
PCMark04 1.30 and PCMark05 1.10Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.comProduct Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/products/pcmark04/Buy It Here
PCMark is a multipurpose benchmark, suited for benchmarking all kinds of PCs, from laptops to workstations, as well as across multiple Windows operating systems. This easy-to-use benchmark makes professional strength benchmarking software available even to novice users. PCMark consists of a series of tests that represent common tasks in home and office programs. PCMark also covers many additional areas outside the scope of other MadOnion.com benchmarks.
The PCMark benchmarking apps perform system, CPU, memory, graphics and HDD tests - the end result is a weighted average of all these. Overall the Biostar 6100-M9 performed quite well, proving its worth as a powerful basis for a workstation. PCMark05 is a more aggressive test that PCMark04, and also requires Windows XP visual themes to be turned on, so there is a slightly higher memory footprint and more strenuous graphics testing. The board performed well nevertheless, with a drop in score of around 30%. In the individual tests, however, the notable weak point was the graphics testing scores - in both PCMark benchmarks the graphics scores were around 60% lower than the next highest score (CPU), and almost 70% lower than the highest (HDD). So the overall scores were dragged down by the GeForce 6100 onboard GPU.
Benchmarks - 3DMark033DMark03Version and / or Patch Used:
Build 360Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.comProduct Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/products/3dmark03/Buy It Here
By combining full DX8 and partial DX9 support with completely new tests and graphics over the previous version, 3DMark03 continues the legacy of being the industry standard 3D benchmark.Please Note: Due to recent events with the 3DMark03 series, we are adding results purely for those who are still in favour of 3DMark03. These results should not be taken too seriously and are only added for interest sakes.
Well, the results do speak volumes really.Trying to find a way to accurately compare the results, the words "some disparancy" and "thoroughly spanked" come to mind. It's not too surprising, to be honest, and we shouldn't be too harsh on the GeForce 6100.The Radeon X800 is a dedicated GPU with advanced 3D rendering, whereas the GeForce 6100 isn't. It was surprising at just how low the 3Dmark scores were, though. You normally associate that sort of score with Intel Extreme Graphics rather than NVIDIA-based GPUs.
Benchmarks - 3DMark053DMark05Version and / or Patch Used:
Build 120Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.comProduct Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/products/3dmark05/Buy It Here
3DMark05 is the latest version in the popular 3DMark "Gamers Benchmark" series. It includes a complete set of DX9 benchmarks which tests Shader Model 2.0 and higher.For more information on the 3DMark05 benchmark, we recommend you read our preview here
The 3DMark05 results more or less mirrored 3DMark03 - VERY low scores but nothing particularly surprising. The 3DMark results pretty much suggest that the onboard GeForce 6100 isn't likely to make this motherboard a good low-end gaming option - but on with the gaming benchmarks for the definitive results.
Benchmarks - Doom 3Doom 3Version and / or Patch Used:
1.1Timedemo or Level Used:
Benchemall 2548 with Doom 3 demo1Developer Homepage: http://www.idsoftware.com Product Homepage: http://www.doom3.comBuy It Here
Doom 3 is one of the most intensive games to dates. With our own custom time demo we are able to give a realistic rating on what kind of FPS you will be achieving.For more information on benchmarking Doom 3 we recommend you check out our extensive article regarding it here
Doom 3 is certainly an intense game, and it gave our test system a thorough workout. The scores for the GeForce 6100 are true averages - during the timedemo framerates peaked almost three time higher than the end result, but were interspersed with shuddering, freezing and periods of zero fps. Needless to say the results were completely unplayable, but we were impressed by the way in which the Biostar 6100-M9 soldiered on regardless. We've seen comparable systems give up and die, but this one struggled all the way through - we could almost hear it breathe a sigh of relief at the end of each timedemo!
Benchmarks - Half Life 2Half Life 2Version and / or Patch Used:
1.1Timedemo or Level Used:
Route Kanal, Water Hazard, Ravenholm, Highway 17, Nova ProspektDeveloper Homepage: http://www.valvesoftware.com Product Homepage: http://www.half-life2.comBuy It Here
By taking the suspense, challenge and visceral charge of the original, and adding startling new realism and responsiveness, Half-Life 2 opens the door to a world where the player's presence affects everything around him, from the physical environment to the behaviours even the emotions of both friends and enemies.We benchmark Half Life 2 with our own custom timedemos as to avoid possible driver optimizations using the "record demo_name" command and loading the timedemo with the "timedemo demo_name" command - For a full list of the commands, click here
Half Life 2 managed some slightly more respectable scores than Doom 3. Some of the areas like Route Kanal produced better results than the average, but then there are not as many aspects of the environment to interact with. You could conceivably, if you dialled the resolution down to 800 x 600, play the game all the way through. Performance wouldn't be spectacular, and there would be times when you'd wish that you never started, but it's do-able.
Benchmarks - Battlefield 2Battlefield 2Version and / or Patch Used:
1.0Timedemo or Level Used:
Arithon Battlefield 2 BenchmarkDeveloper Homepage: http://www.eagames.comProduct Homepage: http://www.eagames.com/official/battlefield/battlefield2/us/home.jspBuy It Here
One of the latest games to hit our screens, Battlefield 2 offers some intense mapping and polygon rendering. Arithon have put together a useful in-game demo and have provided all the necessary scripting to run it as a timedemo. We ran through it three times and averaged out the results.
Considering that the Radeon X800 managed scores that were ten to twenty times greater than the GeForce 6100, it's fair to say that you really need a dedicated graphics card with beefy 3D rendering to give this game a good run. It was a brave attempt, but no cigar.
Benchmarks - Far CryFar CryVersion and / or Patch Used:
1.3Timedemo or Level Used:
HardwareOC Far Cry Benchmark 1.4.1Developer Homepage: http://www.crytek.comProduct Homepage: http://www.farcrygame.comBuy It Here
There is no denying that Far Cry is currently one of the most graphic intensive games on the market, utilizing PS2.0 technology (the latest versions support Shader Model 3.0 with DX9c) and offering an exceptional visual experience there is no denying that even some of the faster graphics cards struggle.
Despite being the oldest game in our benchmarking suite, Far Cry can still punish any graphics card out there. Surprisingly, the GeForce 6100 acquitted itself rather well, considering its performance in the other titles. The results were still unplayable, but given the huge amount of visual detail in Far Cry, we were actually expecting far worse results.
Final ThoughtsFinal Thoughts
While we were benchmarking our test system, there were two things which became increasingly apparent. Firstly, out of the box, the Biostar 6100-M9 will never make a good gaming rig. The graphics adaptor just doesn't allow for it. Secondly, it's one of the most stable systems (overall) that we've seen recently.We've tested some graphics cards which would simply crash when the going got too tough. This one didn't - in spite of some ultra low framerates and very poor 3D performance, it didn't skip a beat. In Half Life 2, it reached a point where it was ailed to render some of the in-game objects, but it still carried on. This sort of stability is extremely impressive, and as the basis of a decent workstation, you couldn't ask for much more. Unfortunately, without a dedicated graphics card, a workstation is all that this motherboard is good for. The GeForce 6100 would also make an adequate basis for a media center, but as it only supports VGA output, its use is fairly limited (it would have been nice to see DVI as well). Having said that, decent graphics cards with the full array of multimedia outputs are quite affordable, and with the stability and overclocking capabilities of the 6100-M9, not to mention 5.1 audio support and the micro-ATX form factor, you could end up with quite a decent system, especially for your HTPC.Considering that it IS a micro-ATX motherboard, Biostar have done very well to pack so much in, and to make it so customisable. As the basis of a slimline workstation or a media center PC, it's well worth considering and will not cost you an arm and a leg, either. According to our price comparison website, it'll only cost you between $63 - $74 USD which makes it a very affordable motherboard.- Pros
Excellent features for a micro-ATX boardGreat in-BIOS overclocking supportOperationally extremely stableVery affordable, under $75 USDGood foundation for HTPC- Cons
Woeful 3D performanceSome in-OS overclocking instabilityRequires dedicated graphics cards for real modern gaming- Latest Pricing Rating - 8 out of 10