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ECS A780GM-A Ultra Motherboard

The SB750 Southbridge and a powerful stabilizer.

January 28, 2009



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Features



The motherboard is based on the AMD 780G chipset (AMD 780G Northbridge and SB750 Southbridge). Chipset functionality is implemented completely. Additional controllers include:

  • Integrated audio (8+2-channel HDA codec Realtek ALC888), optical S/PDIF Out on the rear panel.
  • Gigabit Ethernet (Realtek RTL8111C, PCIEx1) 10/100/1000 Mbps.
  • SATA 2 (JMicron JMB361, PCIEx1) supporting eSATA, an extra IDE channel supported by this controller is not implemented here.
  • System monitoring (ITE IT8726F-S). BIOS provides automatic fan speed control for CPU and system fans. You can specify a temperature threshold, when the system starts adjusting fan speed, and Start PWM Value (minimum fan speed until the temperature threshold is crossed). Fan speed grows according to the Fan Slope value (how much fan speed grows per each degree). Only 4-pin fans can be controlled.

We assessed the analog output quality of the integrated audio system in the 16 bit 44 kHz mode using RightMark Audio Analyzer 6.0.5 and the ESI Juli@ sound card.


Frequency response (from 40 Hz to 15 kHz), dB +0.00, -0.01 Excellent
Noise level, dB (A) -88.9 Good
Dynamic range, dB (A) 88.9 Good
THD, % 0.0065 Very good
Harmonic distortion + noise, dB(A) -82.3 Good
Intermodulation distortion + Noise, % 0.012 Very good
Channel crosstalk, dB -92.7 Excellent
IMD at 10 kHz, % 0.012 Very good

General performance: very good.

Fortunately, engineers did not install poor-quality IDT codecs here, which had been often used by ECS. Also note the S/PDIF Out jack on the rear panel.

Overclocking

Testbeds:

  • CPU: AMD Phenom X4 9550
  • RAM: 2 x Corsair CM2X1024-6400C4 (2GB, DDR2-800, 5-5-5-15-2T)
  • HDD: Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 (SATA, 7200rpm)
  • Graphics card: ATI Radeon HD3870, 512 MB GDDR4
  • PSU: AcBel ATX-550CA-AB8FB
  • OS: Windows XP SP2 32-bit, Catalyst 8.5, latest chipset drivers

Benchmarks:

  • WinRAR 3.70
  • XviD 1.0.2 (29.08.2004)
  • Doom 3 (v1.0.1282)
  • FarCry (v1.1.3.1337)
  • Unreal Tournament 2004 (v3339)

To assess performance we measure time required to archive a 297MB set of 277 files of various types and convert a 636MB MPEG2 video using XviD; we also measure frames per second in game demos run at 640x480, 800x600, 1024x768 and 1600x1200 (DOOM3 - built-in demo, FarCry - Regulator second run, Unreal Tournament 2004 - ONS_dria). Note that if a motherboard has no integrated graphics, performance tests are only used to check for serious layout or BIOS flaws and can be reduced to minimum. Vice versa, performance tests are indicative for motherboards with integrated graphics. And if a certain motherboard review lacks certain details, we might add respective test results to make up for it.

To assess capabilities of a motherboard and its BIOS, we overclock test CPUs (which ones depends on board's market segment) to a stable maximum with the help of Zalman CNPS9700 cooler. At that we use all motherboard features, like CPU core voltage adjustments and, if needed, bus multiplier and clock adjustments. At that, if changing a certain option (e.g. reducing Hyper-Transport clock) doesn't improve overclocking, the multiplier is left default. For RAM we select a clock rate typical for this class of modules by adjusting its multiplier. The stability of an overclocked machine is assessed in Windows XP with the help of AMD OverDrive stability test (all tests are run for 5 minutes). Note that since overclocking potential somewhat varies from one board to another, we are not focused on finding board's exact overclocking potential accurate to 1MHz. We just try to find out if a board hampers in CPU overclocking (due to insufficient voltage stabilizer power, etc.) and see how it performs in atypical modes, including automatic BIOS recovery in cases of overclocking issues (not requiring CMOS reset) and such.


BIOS overclocking settings Availability Notes (adjustment range)
Memory timings +  
Memory frequency +  
HT bus frequency (multiplier) +  
CPU reference frequency + 200-355 MHz
CPU multiplier - Available in AMD OverDrive
CPU voltage + +20-300 mV
Memory voltage + +20-300 mV
Chipset voltage + +5-315 mV (for Northbridge)
1.20-1.35 V (for Southbridge)
Integrated graphics core frequency + 150-2000 MHz (500 MHz by default)

Adjustment range of CPU voltage and other parameters in BIOS depend on a given processor. We publish results for our Phenom X4 9550. We used BIOS 08/11/14 dated 19/11/2008.

All necessary settings for moderate overclocking are present, although the reference frequency range may look small compared to impressive ranges in most other motherboards, even in budget ones. However, we all know that it's not this parameter that usually limits the overclocking potential, especially in inexpensive motherboards. Still, this range should have been expanded for a motherboard with such a powerful voltage regulator, at least symbolically.


  CPU Clock, MHz Reference clock (multiplier), MHz Core voltage (according to BIOS), V HT bus frequency (multiplier), MHz Notes
Phenom X4 9550 (2.2 GHz) 2695 245 (x11) 1.28 1960 (x8) Increased reference clock
Phenom X4 9850 Black Edition (2.5 GHz) 2875 230 (x12.5) 1.40 2070 (x9) Increased reference clock
2900 200 (x14.5) 1.50 2000 (x10) Increased multiplier (ACC OFF)
3100 200 (x15.5) 1.52 2030 (x10) Increased multiplier (ACC +2%)

Not bad. This motherboard failed to become an overclocking leader among motherboards for Socket AM2+, of course. But you can see that ACC support places this motherboard in the middle of 790GX-based motherboards. This motherboard is apparently better than the A790GXM-A model with the same chipset. That's a nice surprise, which apparently has to do with the voltage regulator, more powerful than in all older motherboards from ECS.

Performance and power saving

It's logical to stick to our comparison with the A790GXM-A.


Test Int. graphics Discrete graphics
ECS A790GXM-A ECS A780GM-A Ultra ECS A790GXM-A ECS A780GM-A Ultra
Archiving with WinRAR, min:sec 1:38 1:40 1:37 1:38
MPEG4 (XviD) encoding, min:sec 4:44 4:47 4:42 4:43
Unreal Tournament 2004 (High@1024x768), fps 48.6 43.2 59.0 59.3
FarCry (High@1024x768), fps 72.6 57.4 135.1 133.8
FarCry (Highest@1600x1200), fps 33.2 25.9 134.5 133.4
DOOM III (High@1024x768), fps 47.8 38.7 162.3 163.7
DOOM III (Highest@1600x1200), fps 22.8 18.4 155.8 157.1

Our contenders perform on a par in tests that do not depend on the GPU speed. What concerns games, performance differences are dictated by different speed of GPUs in these chipsets. We've already seen it in previous tests. So results of this test do not come as a surprise. It's good, because all deviations from the familiar profile typical of this CPU+memory combo may indicate only some mistakes in BIOS.

Power consumption (entire system unit)

Now what about power efficiency? More powerful voltage regulators are often less efficient under low load. They let you save some power only under high load.


Phenom X4 9550 (Cool'n'Quiet OFF) integrated graphics discrete graphics
ECS A790GXM-A ECS A780GM-A Ultra ECS A790GXM-A ECS A780GM-A Ultra
Text editing, W 45 40 72 71
Playing FarCry, W 77-98 81-93 108-137 100-129

Power efficiency apparently hasn't change even under low load. And it's even grown a little in the game with a graphics card installed.

Conclusions

ECS engineers really managed to improve the previous modification of the motherboard with AMD 780G. As there are just a few combinations of this Northbridge with SB750, this design is indeed very interesting. Note support for powerful processors, decent overclocking results (even compared to the model with 790GX from ECS), and a number of other useful features. But popularity of this motherboard will depend on its price, because 790GX-based models usually look more promising for active users, especially for overclockers (models from Foxconn, Gigabyte, and MSI).


The motherboard provided by the manufacturer, ATI Radeon HD 3870 graphics card provided by PowerColor.

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