iXBT Labs - Computer Hardware in Detail






ASUS M3N78-EMH HDMI Motherboard on NVIDIA GeForce 8200 Chipset (Socket AM2+)

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Manufacturers do not support the GeForce 8200 chipset as much as its direct competitor - AMD 780G. The reason is its delayed rollout, longspun debugging of drivers, and lower test results: this difference is not critical in games, but it's quite big in HD decoding tasks. However, the market of inexpensive motherboards is actually very big. The GeForce 8200 chipset itself is not bad at all (if we compare it with integrated chipsets from Intel, it's even luxurious), and motherboards on this chipset will certainly find their users, if they have reasonable price tags.

ASUS was the first to offer a motherboard on this chipset in retail stores. Expectedly, it's a moderately rigged microATX board. However, this product can boast of the full set of video outs - DVI, HDMI, and VGA.

Engineers decided that the microATX format was too wide for a motherboard with few integrated controllers and the chipset consisting of a single chip. This board was narrowed down, and its layout is quite dense now. However, it's well thought-out. On-board connectors are installed along two edges. Power connectors are also placed in the optimal way. You will have access to jumpers even when all expansion slots are occupied with cards. Besides, no matter how large your graphics card is, you will be able to plug storage drives to all SATA and PATA ports.

The heat sink on the chipset is not quite usual for such a motherboard, it's rather high and looks like indirect cooling from the CPU fan is welcome here. But in fact, it grows noticeably hot only under lengthy 3D load. For example, it stays cool in the process of decoding HD video. Nevertheless, engineers did not spare aluminum - this cooling system is designed with a safety margin.

The 3-phase switching voltage regulator of a processor incorporates two field-effect transistors per channel, 4 x 821 µF, 2 x 270 µF, and 2 x 1500 µF capacitors. So this motherboard is apparently designed for inexpensive processors with TDP below 95 W. The list of supported processors is limited to such models. We are not impressed with the power circuit - it uses open coils, which generate distinctive high-frequency noise in some modes (it's practically inaudible in a closed PC case, so it's not irritating).

We can only compliment the board for using electrolytic capacitors from United Chemi-Con. However, it's not a big achievement, because electrolytic capacitors are getting much cheaper as the industry actively uses polymeric capacitors now.

There are no empty seats on the board, because it's the only microATX model from ASUS on this chipset. Motherboard dimensions - narrow microATX (244x237 mm), six-screw mount, the edge with SATA connectors is poised in the air. It's interesting to note that the official web site mentions two more products on this chipset: M3N78-EH (a full-size motherboard to be used with a graphics card, because video outputs of the chipset are not installed); and a well-rigged M3N WS (it's also a full-size motherboard, equipped with video outputs and PCI-X, that is it's designed to be used in a workstation.) They are both interesting motherboards, but they haven't appeared in stores yet.

System monitoring (ITE IT8712F-S, in BIOS Setup)

  • CPU voltage, +3.3 V, +5 V, and +12 V
  • RPM of two fans
  • CPU and board temperatures (by the corresponding embedded sensors)
  • Smart Q-Fan Function - automatic CPU fan speed control depending on CPU temperature. You can specify the start voltage (voltage won't drop below this value regardless of CPU temperature), the minimal value is 4 V. Besides, you can choose a temperature level, below which the CPU fan rotates at minimum speed, and a temperature threshold to accelerate the fan to maximum speed. Unfortunately, only 4-pin fans can be controlled, and they are not slowed down much (even if CPU temperature is below the minimum threshold). For example, the "box" fan from Ajigo (it comes with Athlon X2 processors with low TDP) slowed down from 2500 rpm only to 1800 rpm, although the CPU remained barely warm.

Onboard ports, sockets, and connectors

  • Processor socket (Socket AM2, Socket AM2+ compatible, officially supports Phenom, Athlon 64/X2, and Sempron processors for Socket AM2 and Socket AM2+, except for those with TDP over 95 W, the list of products, tested for compatibility, is published on the web site)
  • 4 x DDR2 SDRAM DIMM (up to 8 GB of DDR2-533/667/800/1066 memory, dual-channel mode, the list of compatible devices is published on the web site)
  • 1 x PCIEx16 2.0
  • 1 x PCIEx1 2.0
  • 2 x PCI
  • Power connectors: standard ATX 2.2 (24 pins) and 4-pin ATX12V to power a processor
  • 1 x FDD
  • IDE (Parallel ATA) for two ATA133 devices - chipset-based
  • 6 x SATA-II (Serial ATA II), connected disks can form RAID 0, 1, 0+1, and 5
  • 4 connectors for rear panel brackets with 8 x USB
  • Connector for a bracket with a COM port
  • Connector for a bracket with an LPT port
  • S/PDIF-Out connector
  • 1 x CD/DVD audio connector
  • Connectors for analog audio ins and outs on the front panel
  • Two fan headers with rpm control. One of them is a 4-pin header for a CPU fan, which allows to adjust fan speed.

Back panel (left to right, blockwise)

Click for the rear view

  • PS/2 mouse and keyboard
  • HDMI
  • VGA, DVI-D
  • 2 x USB
  • 2 x USB, 1 x RJ-45 (Gigabit Ethernet)
  • 6 x Analog Audio (Center/Sub, Side-Out, Rear-Out, Line-In, Front-Out, Mic-In).

Package Contents

  • Package: a small box in a green palette, which becomes motherboards on NVIDIA chipsets for the AMD platform, considering brand colors of both companies
  • Documentation: User Manual in English and an abridged guide in European languages
  • 2 x Serial ATA cables and a power splitter for two devices
  • 1 x ATA66, 1 x FDD
  • Rear I/O shield
  • CD with drivers and ASUS utilities

The bundle of proprietary utilities includes: ASUS Update (to flash BIOS in Windows, to search and download the latest version from the official web site), PC Probe II (to monitor system parameters), Norton Internet Security 2006.

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