We have already examined quite a few motherboards based on the high-end members of the 690-series of AMD chipsets, while the only one based on 690V chipset that has been tested in our lab is the MSI K9AGM2-F. Meanwhile, the fact that the clock rate, number of pipelines and other computational characteristics of its graphics core are equivalent to those of a high-end model make AMD 690V an interesting chipset to examine. This particular quality also gives it an advantage over the competitor-chipsets, which are positioned similarly on the market and inevitably have sometimes serious functionality cut-downs. There is one "but" though. Situation is not quite clear as far as HD-video decoding is concerned. The latest versions of drivers for the Radeon Xpress 1200 graphics core, which is the video adapter used in AMD 690V chipset, do not ensure support of all formats. Since the chipset, evidently, has no functional cut-downs in this regard, it is possible that this limitation is built into the software. We plan to continue investigating this issue, but for now recommend the owners of such motherboards to use Catalyst 7.2 or 7.4 versions. And to all those, who are really interested in fully fledged HTPC-functionality, we suggest to consider the high-end version of AMD 690G chipset first.
Since 690V doesn't support HDMI (and displaying onto two monitors), motherboards that are based on it have just a simple analog out-port and are geared towards makers of inexpensive "general purpose" computers. Gigabyte recommends this model exactly for such low-demand systems. For those, who want to get more than that, another very interesting model that we have analyzed earlier has been released - a full-sized MA69G-S3H.
Board's design is excellent and there is nothing to pick on at all. It is peculiar how instead of the PCIEx1 port, standard for such boards, a PCIEx4 is used as the second PCI Express port. However, in contrast to the aforementioned Gigabyte MA69G-S3H, it isn't possible to install a second standard PCI Express x16 video card in it. Even removing the jumper strap in the rear part (which often becomes a successful solution for those who want an "ultra-multimonitor" configuration) will not help, because the chipset heat sink will still be in the way.
Similarly to the high-end board, the heat sink has a convex aesthetic shape. Considering the thin-membrane fins, this heat sink probably costs more than the standard one, recommended by the chipset manufacturer and used on majority of motherboards. Cooling is effective and beyond reproach. We ran the full set of tests with the automatic CPU cooler control on, maintaining low rotation frequency and CPU temperature at 55-60 degrees C. Chipset northbridge that inevitably absorbs part of the heat from the CPU through the motherboard has barely heated up to 45 degrees C, which is far from the critical value.
In the "office" mode the heat sink stays barely warm.
The design of SATA-strap latches deserves a positive mark. Besides the metal latches, placement of the ports themselves is handy. Hence, even the users with not-so-nimble fingers will easily be able to detach the right connector without affecting the rest.
Three-channel impulse CPU voltage stabilizer uses 3 field transistors per channel, 5 nichicon capacitors of 3300 microfarad each and 3 Sanyo capacitors of 1500 microfarad each. Memory voltage stabilizer is enhanced by using high-quality chokes and equipped with Rubycon capacitors. This choice is more than good. It is excellent for such an inexpensive motherboard. Board's form factor is 245x245 mm (standard microATX). It is mounted using 8 screws, while two corners are left "hanging". However, one can secure them from flexure using jack screws and remaining holes.
System monitoring (ITE IT8716F-S, from BIOS Setup data)
Ports, connectors and sockets on board surface
Board's rear panel (left to right, blockwise)
click to view the board in 3/4 perspective from the rear-panel side
Overall rating: Very good. The high quality of integrated audio controller deserves praise.
Brand technologies and features
For testing we used BIOS F4 05/22/2007 version, which was the latest released and available on manufacturer's web-site. The aforementioned BIOS capabilities are available in the specified version of the BIOS. Nonstandard settings were not tested for operability.
As usual with Gigabyte, all of the settings are accessed by pressing Ctrl + F1 in the main BIOS menu. In contrast to the model based on AMD 690G chipset, overclocking options are limited. In particular, supply voltage settings are not available.
In order to evaluate the overclocking capabilities of the board and its BIOS, we overclock our testbed CPU to the highest frequency possible that also allows for stable operation. Applying this test procedure, we are able to effectively use all of the test board's supported abilities, including increasing processor core voltage, and if necessary, correcting multipliers and adjusting system and peripheral bus frequencies. However, if lowering Hyper-Transport frequency, for example, doesn't improve overclocking performance, the default multiplier is used instead. RAM is set (by using multiplier correction) to the standard frequency for the modules being used, unless the manufacturer specifies methods for improving memory overclocking, in which case their effectiveness is also explored. In order to evaluate the overclocked system's stability, we load Windows XP and run performance tests built into WinRAR (Tools menu - Benchmark and hardware test) for 10 minutes. It is important to realize that overclocking performance varies by motherboard and is, to some extent, an individual characteristic of each specific unit. For this reason, it is impossible for us, and any other review, to determine the overclocking potential of any board with megahertz precision. The practical goal of our test is to find out if the CPU's high overclocking potential is hindered by the board and to evaluate the board's behavior in non-standard BIOS modes. This test also assesses the board's ability to automatically revert to correct frequencies in the case of system hang-ups, excessive overclocking, etc.
The result is not bad at all, given that overclocking was performed without raising CPU core voltage.
It seems logical to use the previously mentioned Gigabyte MA69G-S3H motherboard based on AMD 690G chipset for comparison.
Motherboard based on the more expensive chipset demonstrates less of a performance drop in computational tests using integrated graphics core. Still, it is evident (based on game tests) that the cores themselves have, in fact, identical characteristics.
The motherboard meets the needs of its target audience and has all the functionality necessary for both office and inexpensive household computers. From the technical standpoint its quality is very good. Expensive components are used in power circuits. A gigabit network adapter, RAID support for 4 SATA-disks, and a chipset graphics core with decent performance and full support of DirectX 9.0 functionality make this motherboard a good choice that doesn't cost much.
Motherboard was provided for testing by the vendor.
Dmitriy Laptev (firstname.lastname@example.org)
August 27, 2007
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