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Gigabyte MA78GM-S2H Motherboard

Perhaps, the most feature-rich integrated microATX solution.

May 16, 2008



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The most remarkable Gigabyte motherboards launched on integrated chipsets for the last years are full-sized Gigabyte M55plus-S3G and Gigabyte MA69G-S3. So, considering attractiveness of the AMD 780G chipset not only for office computers and media centers, but also for generic PCs, we could assume that Gigabyte would offer something similar this time. However, the first motherboard from Gigabyte on this chipset is designed in microATX format. Full sized products were offered by ASUS with its M3A78-EH and M3A-H/HDMI, as well as ECS with its A780GM-A. However, Gigabyte also intends to surprise its users with this product. Despite the dimensions, its set of peripheral interfaces is exhaustive, it even contains FireWire and eSATA. Besides, BIOS offers a wide range of overclocking settings, including the option to raise GPU frequency. The range of possible values is impressive - from 150 MHz to 1100 MHz, while the standard frequency is 500 MHz. And now let's proceed to examination of this motherboard.




It has a rational design. A long graphics card will not block SATA connectors (only the largest cards may "abridge rights" of the last connector, but we cannot imagine why use such a card with this motherboard), power connectors and frequently used peripheral connectors are placed along PCB edges. If you plug all optional brackets with additional interfaces, the motherboard will be entangled in wires. However, it's always the case with functional compact motherboards. Two PCI slots are good news. However, there already start to appear PCI Express x1 cards, and the only such port on this motherboard can accommodate only a short card, because Northbridge heat sink is very close to the slot and a tad higher.



On the surface of it, the heat sink should have been made even higher (if it's not low enough to allow an expansion card above). But the high heat sink might have interfered with a graphics card equipped with a heat sink on the back side. As we already mentioned, the chipset consumes little power and this heat sink is sufficient at the nominal frequencies (it gets quite hot, but you shouldn't worry about it - the bigger the temperature difference, the higher the heat loss). A massive heat sink would have come in handy for overclocking, but microATX designs always have limited budget. As this motherboard was intended to offer rich functionality, utilizing all chipset features and adding a FireWire controller, there should have been other issues selected to save on.

An obvious component to save on is a CPU voltage regulator. MicroATX boards rarely use 5-phase voltage regulators (more phases are out of the question, because such systems are very expensive and require much room on a PCB). Fortunately, inexpensive processors with TDP up to 95 W work well with just four phases. Several years ago, three phases were considered to be a sufficient solution. Engineers paid less attention to voltage regulators. In particular, we could hardly think of polymeric capacitors on mainstream motherboards, and now it's a standard.

Unlike Intel, AMD does not limit installation of any processors on motherboards with appropriate sockets (chipsets, FSB clock rates, and other things do not limit CPU support), so it's up to motherboard manufacturers to decide what processors to support. And it goes without saying that manufacturers are tempted to offer the widest support range for all motherboards, including the cheapest products.

It would have been naive to think that engineers of an inexpensive motherboard would ensure a triple safety margin and add foolproof measures for those who decide to install a top processor and use a small PC case. There exist products that can work in such conditions, of course. They are equipped with voltage regulators containing excessive phases, cooling systems with heat pipes for the chipset and field effect transistors, and other known properties. But they come with corresponding price tags (and they may offer even fewer functions - FireWire or eSATA support).

Nevertheless, in our opinion it's not enough to rely on reasonable actions of common users. Speaking about support for processors with TDP=125 W, the manual should have included the following lines: how to organize cooling for the motherboard and voltage regulator, in order to ensure its stable operation and long life. Users will hardly install top processors on this motherboard, but CPU heat release grows in overclocked mode. So an overclocked inexpensive processor (with increased voltage) can dissipate more heat under load than a top processor on the same core operating at the same clock rate as a nominal mode. Running a few steps forward, we can say that it's a good motherboard for overclocking. And we'll get back to its cooling a tad later.



Let's have a look at formal characteristics of the voltage regulator. It has four phases and incorporates three field-effect transistors per channel, 8 x 820 uF and 3 x 470 uF solid-state capacitors. The board uses only closed-design coils, so we heard no unwanted noises during our tests. This is currently the only product on AMD 780G from Gigabyte, so there are no empty seats on the PCB. Motherboard dimensions - 244x244 mm (microATX), eight-screw mount, one edge of the board with SATA connectors is poised in the air.


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