The transition from DDR2 to DDR3 is rightfully one of the key events of the past year. And it was fast, too. Already in autumn, there was almost no sense in equipping a new PC you were building with DDR2 memory. Unless you needed to use some older parts you had. The reason was simple: the prices for similar modules became equal. And since DDR2 production volumes will only be reduced in the future, while those of DDR3 will grow, the transition is irreversible.
As you can easily see, the transition to the new memory coincided -- yet again -- with the rollout of AMD Athlon II series with relatively small cache which made is easier to move on to the newer memory. Besides, Socket AM3 motherboards became widely available as well.
Speaking of motherboards, an integrated microATX motherboard supporting DDR3 memory would seem unreal just a year ago. But today this is the very mainstream, an optimal choice for an inexpensive home or a decent office PC. Of course, the motherboard should be of decent quality as well. Let's see if the today's model is.
The design is very rational. Similar to the full-size ASRock M3A785GXH/128M, it has power connectors on the edge, so cables won't have to be laid above the board. This model is a bit narrower than a regular microATX motherboard, the IDE connector is still located in the most reasonable spot: behind the memory sockets. This can also be said about the SATA ports: the corresponding cables won't prevent you from installing a long, dual-slot graphics card. Another thing to appreciate is the eSATA port on the rear panel which doesn't require any cables, unlike that on the full-size counterpart.
But other than that, the layout is not perfect. For example, the motherboard could easily use two more USB ports. However, most of today's PC enclosures have a couple of those on the front panel. As for onboard connectors, this compact microATX solution has a plenty: not just the modern, but also the older COM and IrDA.
The cooling system is almost as efficient as that on the full-size motherboard, so feel free to overclock the graphics core (the motherboard's BIOS allows that as well). Of course, you'll have to stay within reasonable limits and provide additional cooling at that. But of course, in most cases, this board will be used in its normal mode, in a compact enclosure.
Those willing to build an HTPC will be glad to know this motherboard has a video buffer. According to our tests, such memory offloads the CPU best during video decoding. The video buffer (128MB DDR3-1333) is based on the Nanya NT5CB64M16AP-CG chip which, like those on many other motherboards, has no heatsink, because it doesn't get hot.
The CPU voltage stabilizer has 5 channels with 2 FETs per channel. The circuit has 5 x 820µF and 3 x 270µF solid capacitors. The Northbridge voltage stabilizer is the same (the leftmost phase on the photo). The board should support processors with up to 125W TDP inclusively.
The box is compact and stylish. The bundle is as humble as we have expected it to be: 2 x SATA and 1 x ATA/133 cables and two software CDs (one for Windows XP and one for Windows Vista). It also includes ASRock's OCTuner (has fewer features than provided by AMD OverDrive) and IES (for managing power-saving modes). The bundled third-party software is Norton Internet Security. Speaking of manuals, there's a thick multilanguage user's guide and two illustrated posters for setting up Instant Boot and IES.
The motherboard is based on the AMD 785G chipset (AMD 785G Northbridge and SB710 Southbridge). Since SB710, like SB750, supports Advanced Clock Calibration, the motherboard can be used to unlock the cores of Phenom II 500 and 700 series processors.
The list of compatible CPUs includes all Socket AM3 models with up to 125W TDP. The motherboard supports up to 16GB of DDR3-800/1066/1333/1600 memory and has 5 onboard SATA/300 ports (RAID 0, 1, 0+1), as well as the eSATA port on the rear panel. The motherboard also has the following additional controllers:
- Audio based on the 7.1-channel Realtek ALC888 HDA codec, optical S/PDIF Out on the rear panel.
- Gigabit Ethernet based on Realtek RTL8111DL, PCIe x1.
- System monitor based on Winbond W83627DHG. Supports automatic CPU fan rotation speed control. The BIOS has the option to set a temperature threshold to maintain (45-65°C), as well as a desired speed range in the form of numbers 1 to 9 (higher number means higher minimal fan rotation speed). The maximum rotation speed cannot be limited to avoid overheating, it depends on actual heat emission. Only 4-pin fans can be controlled.
We assessed the analog output quality of the integrated audio system in the 16-bit/44kHz mode using RightMark Audio Analyzer 6.2.3 and the ESI Juli@ sound card.
|Frequency response (40Hz to 15kHz), dB:
|Noise level, dB(A):
|Dynamic range, dB(A):
|THD + noise, dB(A):
|IMD + noise, %:
|Channel crosstalk, dB:
|IMD at 10 kHz, %:
Total score: Good.
Despite this motherboard has the same codec and similar circuitry as its full-size counterpart, the results are a bit worse, especially in terms of noise. However, subjectively, this difference is rather hard to hear. Besides, the motherboard has an optical S/PDIF output, not to mention the possibility to connect speakers via HDMI. Thus, nothing prevents you from building an inexpensive HTPC based on this motherboard.
Check this motherboard at Newegg, Amazon.
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