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ECS A740GM-A Motherboard on AMD 740G Chipset (Socket AM2+)

What an entry-level intergrated board should be?

July 8, 2008

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It looks like a logical decision to upgrade the AMD 690G chipset to the 55nm fabrication process, equip it with a new Southbridge, and launch the resulting chipset (AMD 740G) for $50-60 motherboards. A finer fabrication process reduces manufacturing costs, which is critical for entry-level chipsets, and makes the chipset more attractive in terms of its functionality. Motherboards on this chipset will share the shelves in retail stores with AMD 690G products for some time. So users will enjoy a rich choice of inexpensive motherboards. System integrators will most likely prefer motherboards on the new chipset, which have lower prime costs, so they'll have more attractive bulk prices.

In the meantime, there is a certain difference between motherboards on the new chipset (initially designed for the low-end segment) and motherboards on higher-class chipsets, which were pushed down to the same segment by newer products. It's easy to guess that the older chipsets will be bundled better, because they were designed for relatively fastidious users.

You should choose a motherboard using comparisons of certain motherboards and proceeding from your own preferences. If you "want it all" (rich bundle and technical innovations) and even more (performance gains in games and HD Video decoding), AMD offers models based on the 780G chipset. They are more expensive, of course, but they justify their price. Everything is logical.

However, from the point of view of a reviewer, it's wrong to evaluate a motherboard proceeding from preferences of want-it-all users or always-on-the-edge users, and especially to suggest expanding the budget to enjoy all blessings of civilization. We should proceed from general requirements for entry-level motherboards with integrated graphics (it's a so-called office level). These requirements are usually modest, but they exist.

The primary task of integrated graphics on such a motherboard is just to output data to a display, it will be LCD in most cases. That's why it's desirable to have a digital output (DVI) not to depend on analog video output quality, which may suffer from interferences in cheap products (if the screen resolution exceeds 1024x768). Not all cheap motherboards meet this first requirement (however, the list of products that meet this requirement is long enough to ignore other choices).

But you can also keep your old monitor (many of them were not equipped with DVI) or even buy a cheap monitor for a secondary display. Most motherboards with digital video outputs also have analog outputs, and they allow to plug two monitors. It's a very useful feature practically for any work. Even a small 15" LED monitor will be a nice addon, because it will allow to display reference data or unclutter the main display. You won't see interferences here, even in high resolutions, because you won't scrutinize your secondary monitor. So, let's include the support for two monitors into our list of requirements, as it's already available in the cheapest of modern chipsets.

The choice of peripheral ports may also play a certain role, although the minimal (or even excessive) set of SATA II and USB 2.0 ports is provided by almost every modern motherboard. But everything else, including outdated, but still required by some users, COM and LPT, is optional. A couple of memory slots, a graphics port, and several PCI and PCI-E slots complete the typical portrait.

What you cannot expect from such a motherboard is overclocking features, raising voltages, as well as support for top processors (with TDP above 100 W).

But these are general requirements. Let's see how they agree with what ECS engineers have in mind. They are quite experienced in designing low-end motherboards.

There is only one paradigmatic drawback in this design: a long graphics card will block latches of memory slots, a bulky card may also block several SATA ports. However, such graphics cards are not recommended for these motherboards anyway. In other respects, everything is usual and convenient. The microATX format does not give much freedom to engineers, especially if a motherboard is narrower than usual.

Frankly speaking, we have an impression that the smaller the board size, the higher the chance to witness a nearly perfect layout of peripheral ports. This product is not an exception. We have nothing to grumble about, only the IrDA connector is installed in the center of the board. But if you need this port, you will be happy to have it in any place, as it's rarely available on motherboards. What concerns COM and LPT ports, it's a typical situation - a relatively small COM port is installed on the rear panel, and a parallel port is pushed out of there by video outputs. Users can install it on a standard bracket. But you will need a long cable, because the corresponding connector is placed in the far corner.

The AMD 690G chipset was not very "hot tempered" and it often came with compact heat sinks. They were only a tad larger than the one installed on this motherboard. So we wondered whether the 55nm chipset would heat this assembly to at least 40°C. In fact it can, but only if the CPU cooler does not stir the air in this area at all. If it does, temperature of the heat sink does not rise above the environment temperature even during stress tests.

There are no empty seats on the board, because it's the only model from ECS on this chipset. The 3-phase switching voltage regulator incorporates two field-effect transistors per channel, 6 x 680 uF and 3 x 330 uF solid-state capacitors from little known manufacturers.

The manufacturer apparently tried to save on this circuit, but it looks good owing to polymeric capacitors and packaged coils. The motherboard generated no extraneous noise during our tests. The motherboard cannot boast of good overclocking potential. The list of supported processors includes only products with TDP up to 95 W, so this power circuit is more than sufficient for stable operation. Motherboard dimensions - 244x210 mm (narrow microATX), six-screw mount, the right edge of the motherboard is loose.

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Article navigation:

Page 1: Introduction, design

Page 2: Monitoring, interfaces, box, BIOS

Page 3: O/c, performance, conclusions

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