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ECS A790GXM-A Motherboard

Full ATX, SidePort, CrossFire and dual LAN.

October 23, 2008



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Settings


Jumpers and switches Clear CMOS jumper  
Two buttons to power on/off and reset  
AMI BIOS 2.62 Allows to disable specific CPU functions + Virtualization
Cool'n'Quiet
Enhanced Halt (C1E)
Memory timings + Ganged/Unganged Mode, CAS Latency, RAS to CAS Delay, Row Precharge Time, Min RAS Active Time, Row Cycle Time, and a wide range of additional timings
Memory frequency selection + Auto, 200, 266, 333, 400, 533 MHz (the effective frequency is twice as high, you actually specify a multiplier to the FSB frequency)
HT bus setup + Auto, 200, 400, 600, 800, 1000, 1800 MHz (you actually specify a multiplier to the FSB frequency)
PCI IRQ manual assignment -  
FSB frequency setup + 200-350 MHz at 5 MHz steps
Integrated GPU frequency control + 150-2000 MHz at 1 MHz steps
SidePort video memory frequency control + 400, 533, 667, and 800 MHz
CPU multiplier -  
CPU voltage control + +20-+300 mV at 20 mV steps
Memory voltage control + +10-+150 mV at 10 mV steps
Chipset voltage control + +5-+315 mV at 5 mV steps (Northbridge)
1.2-1.35 V at 0.05 V steps (Southbridge)
Video memory voltage control + 1.8-2.1 V at 0.1 V steps

Adjustment ranges of CPU multiplier and voltage, as well as HT bus, depend on a given processor. Ours are for the Phenom 9550 CPU.

We used BIOS 1.0 dated 27.08.2008, the latest release version. The mentioned BIOS parameters are available in this version, but the viability of non-standard settings hasn't been tested.

Pay attention to a relatively modest adjustment range of FSB frequency -- just 350 MHz versus 600 MHz in most motherboards. On the other hand, you extremely rarely need FSB frequencies above 300 MHz in practice. And most importantly, absolute majority of motherboards fail to reach the theoretical maximum in overclocked mode. We were not happy to see no intermediate values of the HT bus multiplier. To be more exact, multipliers to HT 1.0 frequencies below 1000 MHz are fully present, but the only HT 2.0 multiplier supported corresponds to the installed CPU.

Overclocking

In order to evaluate motherboard and its BIOS, we overclock our testbed processor to a maximum stable level. We use all features of the motherboard in this test, including raising CPU voltage and adjusting multipliers and frequencies of system and peripheral buses, if necessary (but if, for example, reducing Hyper-Transport frequency does not improve overclocking, we leave the default multiplier). Memory is set to the standard frequency for a given memory module (multiplier correction), if a manufacturer does not publish any ways to improve memory overclocking. Otherwise, we analyze their efficiency as well. In order to evaluate stability of the overclocked system, we load Windows XP and run WinRAR performance test for 10 minutes (Tools -- Benchmark and hardware test). As overclocking potential is an individual property of a given motherboard sample to some degree, we don't set the task to determine overclocking potential to within a single MHz. In practice, we are to find out whether CPU overclocking will be limited by a motherboard as well as to evaluate its behavior in non-standard modes, including automatic restoration of a correct frequency after a failed overclocking attempt, etc.


CPU Clock, MHz FSB Clock, MHz Core voltage (from BIOS), V HT bus frequency (multiplier), MHz
Phenom X4 9550 (2.2 GHz) 2695 245 1.256 2205 (x9)
Athlon X2 4850e (2.5 GHz) 3062 245 1.38 1225 (x5)

These results suggest a conclusion about good overclocking potential. It would have been true but for one "but": when FSB clock is raised above 240 MHz, the screen would suffer from periodic ripples (as if the GPU were overclocked too much). ECS engineers apparently made a mistake somewhere. So we decided to put off our detailed overclocking tests with Advanced Clock Calibration, which appeared in the new SB750 Southbridge, until we get hold of motherboards better suited for overclocking. We registered no artifacts with a discrete graphics card installed, of course. But we stick to the rule in our tests to overclock motherboards with integrated graphics core, when a monitor is plugged to on-board outputs of the motherboard.

The graphics core itself can be overclocked to 900 MHz with the voltage raised by +0.135 V, and image artifacts appear only after long 3D tests. We also managed to increase memory frequency up to 800 MHz by raising voltage by 0.2 V, and this procedure had no noticeable effect on the appearance of artifacts. That's another proof of a simple fact that the motherboard is not designed to break overclocking records.

Performance

Testbed configuration:

  • CPU: AMD Phenom X4 9550
  • Memory: 2 x Corsair CM2X1024-6400C4 (2 GB, DDR2-800, 5-5-5-15-2T)
  • HDD: Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 (SATA, 7200 rpm)
  • Graphics card: ATI Radeon HD3870, 512 MB GDDR4
  • Power supply unit: AcBel ATX-550CA-AB8FB
  • OS: Windows XP SP2.

For our performance comparison tests we've chosen a reference motherboard on AMD 780G from TUL as well as Biostar TA790GX A2+ on 790GX, similar to our motherboard under review in its characteristics and positioning (we'll publish a review of this motherboard soon, there is an interesting difference in this model -- it comes with a minimal video memory configuration, just 64 MB of DDR2-400).


Test Int. graphics Discrete graphics
TUL TRS-780M1 Biostar TA790GX A2+ ECS A790GXM-A TUL TRS-780M1 Biostar TA790GX A2+ ECS A790GXM-A
Archiving with WinRAR, min:sec 1:42 1:35 1:38 1:40 1:33 1:38
MPEG4 (XviD) encoding, min:sec 4:49 4:40 4:44 4:45 4:39 4:44
Unreal Tournament 2004 (Medium@800x600), fps 52.0 53.8 54.2 58.9 60.1 59.3
Unreal Tournament 2004 (High@1024x768), fps 43.1 48.4 48.6 59.0 60.0 58.6
Unreal Tournament 2004 (Highest@1600x1200), fps 22.0 28.2 28.5 58.9 59.3 59.0
FarCry (Medium@800x600), fps 82.9 100.3 102.4 135.2 138.9 136.1
FarCry (High@1024x768), fps 56.7 72.0 72.6 134.6 138.7 125.8
FarCry (Highest@1600x1200), fps 25.4 32.9 33.2 135.2 138.5 125.8
DOOM III (Medium@800x600), fps 53.0 65.4 66.9 159.0 163.7 161.7
DOOM III (High@1024x768), fps 37.8 46.8 47.8 161.2 161.7 159.9
DOOM III (Highest@1600x1200), fps 17.8 22.4 22.8 157.6 157.1 158.3

Well, AMD 790GX chipset convincingly outperforms 780G. But additional 50 MHz of the graphics core and faster memory of higher capacity installed on the ECS motherboard are of little effect.

Power consumption (entire system unit)


Phenom X4 9550 (Cool'n'Quiet OFF) Int. graphics Discrete graphics
TUL TRS-780M1 Biostar TA790GX A2+ ECS A790GXM-A TUL TRS-780M1 Biostar TA790GX A2+ ECS A790GXM-A
Text editing, W 49 44 45 64 68 72
Playing FarCry, W 78-95 73-95 77-98 93-117 104-121 108-137

Reduced power consumption of AMD 790GX in idle mode is not just a marketing trick. Even though both 790GX-based motherboards are full-size products in this case, they consume less than microATX boards on 780G in idle mode. With a graphics card and under load, motherboards with more powerful voltage regulators (with more phases) generally consume more power. This rule is confirmed in this case as well.

Curiously enough, after we overclocked the CPU, power consumption in office mode grew only from 45 W to 56 W (for the entire system unit! Cool'n'Quiet was disabled). So we should note that the talk about high power consumption of Phenom processors is bloated to say the least. Perhaps these processors consume more than Intel processors in some artificial stress tests (by the way, such programs may heat processors with different architectures differently, so they won't detect real differences in real programs). But the main idea is crystal clear: the whole system (including other components, which power consumption may compare with CPU or be even higher) consumes no more than a desktop lamp. So should we really focus on this parameter, if any user can save much more power (with much lower expenses) by replacing several lamps in the apartment to modern power saving models than by replacing any component in a system unit?

Conclusions

This motherboard would have been almost a perfect choice in its class but for the tainted impression from its overclocking. However, modern processors, as well as other parts, are not expensive, so fewer and fewer people are interested in overclocking Mid-End configurations. It's just easier to buy a CPU with the required clock rate. Overclocking is for people willing to squeeze out maximum performance that cannot be bought in stores yet.

It would be great to see eSATA on the rear panel and have the COM port replaced with DVI. What concerns the AMD 790GX chipset itself, we'll continue testing it in other motherboards. But our first impressions are very good so far: we managed to raise performance to a noticeably higher level, and its power consumption is even lower. That is, we've got what we were promised.


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

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Page 1: Introduction, design

Page 2: Interfaces, package, controllers

Page 3: BIOS, performance, power consumption



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