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Biostar TF7150U-M7 - a Motherboard Based on NVIDIA GeForce 7150 Chipset

November 16, 2007



  • NVIDIA GeForce 7150 chipset (unified GeForce 7150/nForce 630i)

Biostar has become one of the few companies, who have rushed to launch a series of motherboards based on the just-released NVIDIA GeForce 7050/7100/7150 chipsets. What is even more interesting, Biostar, like the ECS (though it has produced only one model), has created its own designs for all of the motherboards. In contrast to EVGA and XFX, for example, it hasn't confined itself to selling reference NVIDIA products. This fact, though, is only interesting in terms of company's engineering efforts, because it was not possible to change the functionality of the end-products anyway. Chipsets of the GeForce 7000 series offer quite a reasonable set of capabilities adequate to the expected utilization of the boards that are based on them (as foundations for home media-centers). It simply is not possible to build even a small server based on GeForce 7150.

The board fully utilizes the chipset's video output abilities: all three ports are provided. DVI-D and HDMI ports support secure (HDCP) video streaming. However, HDMI port only provides stereo audio output, which most likely is the limitation of the chipset. Actually, the weak side of Biostar TF7150U-M7 is the audio subsystem. The integrated audio codec is quite simple, without any interesting technological features. The motherboard does not implement the S/PDIF output port, and in order to set it up one has to buy an expansion bracket. The board has no S/PDIF input functionality at all. In addition, this motherboard lacks FireWire support, which some competing products based on GeForce 7000, let alone other integrated chipsets, do offer. What we have here is a budget solution with enhanced video output functionality.

We have no complaints about the board's wiring considering its form-factor. Indeed, some may find two memory slots not enough, though it is a limitation of the chipset (just like operation in the single-channel memory mode). Others may wish to have more than two PCI slots, though it is not possible to fit more than three on a microATX board anyway (while having at least one PCIEx1 slot is quite useful nowadays). Overall, the system can be assembled and upgraded with enough convenience. The on-board power/reset buttons and CMOS-reset jumper are easily accessible. The motherboard's size is 245x245 mm (a standard microATX). It is mounted to the chassis using eight screws with all edges firmly secured. GeForce 7150 chipset is a solid microchip and its heat emission is quite low (unfortunately we do not possess any specific data yet). There is only one aluminum heatsink on the board. Despite being small and simple in design it hardly heats up during operation. From this point of view the board is much recommended for household use.

The three-channel impulse CPU supply voltage stabilizer uses three field transistors per channel, 5 820 microfarad capacitors (Nippon Chemi-con) and 3 1500 microfarad, 16 V capacitors (United Chemi-con). Memory voltage stabilizer contains 7 1000 microfarad capacitors (OST). Clearly, the laudable tendency of using only hardbody capacitors has not been supported in Biostar TF7150U-M7. The choice of electrolytic capacitors also doesn't conform to the tradition of elite motherboard models. However, the overall quality of parts is satisfactory. The latter problem is not very important, considering that the board is not likely to serve as a foundation for a high-end system. Memory controller limitation to a single-channel mode alone eliminates such chance for the models based on GeForce 7000. Therefore, middle or low-end system components will most likely be installed onto this motherboard.

Of the similar Biostar solutions we should note the TF7100P-M7, which has the only difference of being based on GeForce 7100. The sole difference between GF7150 and GF7100 is in the slightly lower integrated graphics adapter clock rate of the latter chipset - 600 MHz versus 630. The two boards are identical in appearance. Biostar has also announced the release of GF7050V-M7 model based on GeForce 7050 (+nForce 610i). However, that board is not a part of the T-Series (geared towards the enthusiasts) and has even more modest capabilities: a single video-output port (D-Sub), 100-megabit network port, and so on.

System Monitoring (ITE 8718F-S, from BIOS Setup data and Windows-based utilities)

  • Voltage of CPU, memory, chipset, HT bus, battery, +3.3, +5, +12 V and +5 V Standby;
  • Rotation rate of the two fans;
  • Temperature of CPU (by built-in CPU sensor) and motherboard (by on-board sensor);
  • Automatic rotation control depending on the temperature for the CPU fan: one can set the desired CPU temperature, temperature for rotation at the maximum rate, and the system shut-down temperature. Additionally, in the manual mode one can gradually adjust rotation rate of the CPU and system coolers. BIOS Setup provides a more flexible system for automatically setting rotation rate of the two coolers, but we find Windows-based version more interesting.

Ports, Connectors and Sockets on Board's Surface

  • Processor socket (Socket 775, there are no details on specific processor support yet, but we expect the list of certified models to become available later on the manufacturer's web-site; all Intel processors with 800/1066/1333 MHz bus are expected to be supported, including all models with Core architecture (Core 2, Pentium Dual-Core, Celeron 4xx), Pentium 4/D, as well as the 45-nanometer Penryn);
  • 2 DDR2 SDRAM DIMM slots (up to 4 GB DDR2-533/667/800; modules must be no less than 512 MB, only the single-channel mode is available);
  • PCIEx16 graphics accelerator slot;
  • PCIEx1 slot;
  • 2 PCI slots;
  • Power supply connectors: standard ATX 2.2 (24 pins) and 4-pin ATX12V for CPU supply;
  • FDD slot;
  • IDE (Parallel ATA) chipset slot, with ability to connect up to 2 ATA133 devices;
  • 4 SATA-II (Serial ATA II) slots for 4 chipset SATA300 devices, that can be combined into a RAID of levels 0, 1, 0+1 and 5;
  • 3 bracket headers for 6 extra USB ports;
  • CD/DVD-drive audio-out header;
  • Block of analog audio-in/out connectors for the computer's front panel;
  • An extra digital audio S/PDIF-Out port bracket header;
  • An extra LPT port bracket header;
  • It is possible to have an extra COM port bracket header, but our unit didn't have it soldered;
  • 3 fan connectors (2 of which provide ability to monitor and adjust the rotation rate, both manually and automatically).

Board's Rear Panel (Left to Right, by Blocks)


click to view the board in 3/4 perspective from the rear panel side
  • 2 USB ports and 1 PS/2 port (for the keyboard);
  • Single-link DVI-D sockets (the connector is of DVI-I format, but can output only digital signal), HDMI and VGA (D-Sub);
  • 2 USB ports and 1 RJ-45 (Gigabit Ethernet) port;
  • 6 analog audio sockets (Line-In, Front, Mic-In, Rear, Center/Sub, Side).

The disposition of the USB ports on the rear panel is peculiar. The three video-out ports lined up in one row have taken up too much room (although, we do not see why they could not have been regrouped). Therefore, the two USB ports have occupied the usual location of the PS/2 mouse port. Nowadays motherboard manufacturers still rarely choose to get rid of PS/2 ports, although we would have only welcomed such a tendency. In most cases an extra pair of USB ports in a modern computer is much more useful than a couple of obsolete PS/2 (let alone such relics as COM and LPT). However, in this case we should not praise Biostar too much, because even with such a «trick" the number of USB ports on the rear panel is limited to just 4.

We shall also note that due to a chipset limitation only one port, either DVI-D or HDMI, can operate at a time. It is curious that the board's BIOS Setup does not have a menu for choosing the port being used, so the selection mechanism remains unclear.

Package Contents

In our case, despite getting the commercial unit, the package was incomplete. We can explain it by the manufacturer's desire to provide the model for testing as soon as possible. Therefore, we can not describe the package contents with certainty. Nevertheless, based on the information on Biostar's web-site they look as follows: English-language user's guide, 2 SATA cables with one supply adapter for 1 device, 1 IDE cable and 1 FDD cable, a rear panel plug and a CD with drivers and utilities. As you can see, orientation towards the economy class is evident.

The set of brand utilities from T-Utility: Hardware Monitor - monitoring of several system status parameters and ability to power the computer down if their values exceed the set limits; Fan Control - fine-tuning automatic rotation control function of the CPU cooler or manual rotation rate adjustment for the two coolers; Over Clock II - monitoring many system parameters and setting some frequencies and voltages (look below for details); BIOS Flash - updating to a new BIOS version in Windows (without the functionality to download the latest version from the manufacturer's web-site that did not work anyway).

Integrated Controllers

  • Audio controller based on the 10-channel (7.1+2) HDA Realtek ALC888 codec (a current middle-class version) provides the ability to connect 7.1 audio systems. It also has a connector for the front audio-ins/outs and an S/PDIF-Out port;
  • Network controller based on the Realtek RTL8111B chip (PCIEx1 interface) supports rates of 10/100/1000 Mbit/s (Gigabit Ethernet).

We have evaluated quality of the integrated audio in 16-bit 44-KHz mode using RightMark Audio Analyzer 6.0 testing suite and Terratec DMX 6fire sound card:

Frequency response (40 Hz - 15 KHz range), dB +0.02, -0.11Excellent
Noise level, dB (A) -88.5Good
Dynamic range, dB (A) 88.3Good
THD, % 0.0030Excellent
THD + N, dB (A) -81.5Good
IMD + N, % 0.010Very good
Channel crosstalk, dB -85.8Excellent
IMD at 10 KHz, % 0.010Very good

Overall rating: Very good.

Proprietary Technologies and Features

  • A set of LEDs that implement POST-controller functionality (2 LEDs altogether, so the user gets minimum information, but in most cases it is enough for resolving a problem);
  • Buttons on the board's surface for powering-on and rebooting the system.

Settings

Based on jumpersCMOS reset jumper 
A set of jumpers for supplying power to the corresponding pairs of USB ports in Standby mode (in order to power-on the system using devices connected to these ports) 
Through BIOS based on AwardBIOS version 6.00PG by PhoenixAbility to turn specific CPU functions off+L3 Cache, Core Multi-Processing, Hyper-Threading, Execute Disable Bit, Enhanced Halt State, Virtualization Technology, Power Management Mode (Native/SMM)
Memory timing settings+Auto, TCL, TRCD, TRP, TRAS, Command Per Clock, TRRD, TRC, TWR, TWTR, TREF
Memory clock rate selection+Auto, Linked (sets the multiplier relative to FSB frequency: 1:1, 2:3, 4:5) or Unlinked (desired memory clock rate is set manually in the range 400-1400 MHz in 1 MHz increments, but in reality the increment is significantly greater and may reach 100 MHz)
Ability to set frequencies of peripheral buses- 
Manual distribution of interrupts by slots- 
Adjusting FSB frequency+400-2500 MHz in 1 MHz increments (in reality the increment is a little greater), dynamic system overclocking functionality is provided (three profiles)
Adjusting CPU multiplier+ 
Adjusting CPU core voltage+StartUp, adding up to +0.787 V to the nominal in 0.0125 V increments
Adjusting memory voltage+1.95-2.65 V in 0.1 V increments
Adjusting chipset voltage+up to +6% in 2% increments
Adjusting FSB voltage+up to +6% in 2% increments

For testing we used BIOS 09/27/07 version, which was the latest available at the time. The aforementioned BIOS capabilities are available in the specified version of the BIOS. Non-standard settings were not tested for operability.

The motherboard supports accessing boot device selection menu by pressing a predefined key during POST procedure. This conveniently allows performing a one-time boot, for example using a CD drive, without having to change corresponding settings in BIOS Setup. The function of saving and loading BIOS profiles is convenient during overclocking experiments, because most of the settings can be quickly restored to certain values immediately after clearing the CMOS. The motherboard also provides ability to display system monitoring data on the screen during POST procedure (in similarity to EPoX boards, for example). However, the implementation is poor in this case - the information is presented not during the procedure itself but rather afterwards, which leaves no time to visually register it. In case of system overclocking when it is not possible to boot-up, the board automatically boots with default settings. The BIOS Setup values, in this case, remain conveniently unchanged, which allows them to be corrected.

The board's BIOS has two integrated utilities. The first one is often found in other manufacturer's products. It is a program for rewriting BIOS from a floppy disk. It provides only one advantage - not having to turn the disk into a system one. The second utility, on the other hand, is a nice present for overclocking fans: Memtest86+ v1.65. It can perform a thorough check of system stability and quality of the memory modules. This utility eliminates the need to load the OS in order to perform on-the-fly testing of the current overclocked configuration.

Windows-based Over Clock II utility allows adjusting voltage of the CPU, memory and chipset, and after that to gradually increase the FSB frequency. Theoretically, one can also control frequencies of the memory, PCI-E and PCI buses but in this case the function is disabled. We must note that the memory voltage setting in BIOS Setup has a high minimum value - 1.95 V (whereas the normal is 1.8 V). Therefore, the user has to choose between no overcklocking at all and significant heating of the memory modules. In the latter case it is recommended to buy modules with heatsinks located directly on the memory chips.

Performance

Testbed configuration:

  • Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo E6600 (2.4 GHz)
  • RAM: 2 x 1 GB Corsair CM2X1024-9136C5D modules (tested in DDR2-800 mode with timings of 4-4-4)
  • Graphics card: ATI Radeon X1900 XTX 512 MB
  • Hard drive: Seagate Barracuda 7200.7 (SATA, 7200 rpm)
  • PSU: HiPro W460GC31
  • OS: Windows XP SP2

The majority of modern chipsets (except the ones produced by Intel) allow setting an operational memory parameter called DRAM Command Rate. In our case the board worked only with its value set to 2T, which inevitably results in lower actual speed than the maximum possible. On the other hand, a single-channel chipset is not likely to ever become a leader in performance anyhow.

In this article we shall restrict ourselves to just the preliminary and partial speed characteristics of Biostar TF7150U-M7 and GeForce 7150. We shall only compare them to Intel G965. A more complete picture can be found in our review of NVIDIA GeForce 7000 chipset series.

Test Biostar TF7150U-M7 Gigabyte 965G-DS3 Biostar TF7150U-M7 (integrated graphics) Gigabyte 965G-DS3 (integrated graphics)
Data compression using 7-Zip, min:sec 4:20 4:10 4:31 4:12
MPEG4 (XviD) encoding, min:sec 3:39 3:37 3:42 3:38
Doom 3 (Low@640x480), fps 202 218 33 23
Doom 3 (Normal@800x600), fps 195 209 14 21
Doom 3 (Highest@1600x1200), fps 121 121 7  
FarCry (Low@640x480), fps 348 363 139 122
FarCry (Normal@800x600), fps 270 289 48 78
FarCry (Highest@1600x1200), fps 152 151 11  

The performance of integrated graphics in game tests deserves a separate discussion. Such analysis shall be presented in the article about the new NVIDIA chipset. Using motherboards based on these chipsets in the "household" applications we can expect Intel's last generation product to have an advantage of up to +7% due to the efficiency of its memory controller.

Conclusion

Biostar's motherboard that we have examined is not going to be a leader in its class judging by all of the parameters. This board is more appropriate for mid-lower level of household multimedia systems, although it is based on a high-end version of the chipset. However, there are a couple of factors that are possibly going to prevent products based on GeForce 7000 from becoming popular on the home media-center market. These are: the lack of video playback hardware acceleration, the limitation of transferring HDMI audio in stereo format only, despite the HDCP support, and the single-channel memory controller, which lowers system performance. In that case the disadvantages of the board being considered (the lack of FireWire and S/PDIF-Out, and the modest package) will become competitive advantages for Biostar TF7150U-M7, because they directly affect the price of the end-product. Unfortunately, we had no information on the market price of the board being considered at the time this article was written. Nevertheless, preliminary evaluations indicate that it will be significantly cheaper than analogues based on Intel's chipsets. In that case (and only in that case!) the subject of this article will become a good choice for a budget household computer. The board's flexibility in terms of video outputs will allow using just about any display, although it is not likely that it will turn out to be a big and expensive LCD panel.

This model on the manufacturer's web-site

The board was provided for tests by the manufacturer
We thank Corsair for the testbed memory modules


Sergey Pikalov (peek@ixbt.com)
November 16, 2007

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