Asus M2A-VM HDMI: AM2 mATX motherboard

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TEST METHODOLOGY

Test Setup:

Measurement and Analysis Tools

Our test procedure is designed to determine the overall system power consumption at various states (measured using a Seasonic Power Angel), and to test the integrated graphics' proficiency at playing back high definition videos. Standard HD-DVD and Blu Ray discs can be encoded in three different codecs by design: MPEG-2, H.264/AVC and VC-1. MPEG-2 has been around for a number of years and is not demanding on modern system resources. H.264 and VC-1 encoded videos on the other hand, due to the amount of complexity in their compression schemes, are extremely stressful and will not play smoothly (or at all) on slower PCs, especially with antiquated video subsystems.

Since we did not have a HD-DVD or Blu Ray drive at our disposal, we instead used a variety of H.264 and VC-1 video clips encoded for playback on the PC for testing. The clips were played with Windows Media Player 11 and a CPU usage graph was created by the Windows Task Manger for analysis to determine the approximate mean and average CPU use. High CPU usage is indicative of poor video decoding ability on the part of the integrated graphics subsystem. If CPU usage reached extremely high levels and the video skipped or froze, we concluded the board (in conjunction with the processor) failed to adequately decompress the clip.

Video Test Suite

720p H.264: BBC's HD in Full Bloom is encoded with H.264. It features time-lapsed photography, mainly of various flowers blooming with vibrant colors and high contrast. 1280x720 | 24fps | ~6.1mbps

1080p H.264: Rush Hour 3 Trailer 1 is encoded with H.264. It has a good mixture of light and dark scenes, interspersed with fast-motion action and cutaways. 1920x816 | 24fps | ~9.9mbps

WMV3 VC-1: Coral Reef Adventure trailer is encoded in VC-1 using the WMV3 codec (commonly recognized by the moniker, "HD WMV"). It features multiple outdoor landscape and dark underwater scenes. 1440x1080 | 24fps | ~7.5mbps

WVC1 VC-1: Microsoft Flight Simulator X trailer is encoded in VC-1. It's a compilation of in-game action from a third person point of view. While the source image quality is poor compared to the other videos in our test suite, it was one of the few decent length clips we could procure encoded using the Windows Media Video 9 Advanced Profile (aka WVC1) codec, a more demanding implementation of VC-1. 1280x720 | 60fps | ~11.9mbps

Cool 'n' Quiet was enabled and Aero Glass was disabled during all the tests.

TEST RESULTS

CPU Usage & Power Consumption
Test/State
Mean CPU Usage
System Power
(AC)
Core 0
Core 1
Average
Off
N/A
N/A
N/A
2W
Sleep (S3)
N/A
N/A
N/A
3W
Idle (UC/UV)
0%
0%
0.0%
33W
Idle
0%
0%
0.0%
35W
720p H.264
16%
13%
14.5%
~52W
1080p H.264
43%
12%
27.5%
~57W
WMV3 VC-1
44%
37%
40.5%
~58W
WVC1 VC-1
67%
61%
64.0%
~65W
CPUBurn
100%
100%
100.0%
84W
CPUBurn + ATITool
100%
100%
100.0%
87W
UC/UV: Underclocked to 5 x 200Mhz (1.0Ghz), undervolted to 0.950V

Overall power consumption was excellent on our test platform. Idle power was only 35W — the energy efficient 80 Plus approved power supply and processor used certainly had a hand in this, but both are widely available in the marketplace. The lowest stable underclock/undervolt we could achieve with our BE-2400 processor was 1.0Ghz using 0.950V (approximately 0.10V lower than using Cool 'n' Quiet). This resulted in only a 2W decrease at idle. Both load tests came it at under 90W and power consumption during video playback was nominal at 52~65W.

The Radeon X1250 integrated graphics chip powered through the video playback section of our test effortlessly until the WVC1 encoded test clip. Though the average CPU usage was only 64% during this test, CPU usage peaked at about 85% on both cores during the most stressful portion of the video. Still, playback was smooth, without visual hiccups.

Decreasing the amount of video memory (from the default 128MB) to 64MB resulted in a small increase in CPU usage during playback of our WVC1 test clip. Using 32MB, it exhibited some stuttering and CPU usage peaked at 100% frequently. At the opposite end of the spectrum, increasing the video memory to 256MB did not result in any measurable improvement, so it would seem that, at least for video playback, 128MB is the sweet spot.

The northbridge heatsink was mildy warm to the touch after a few hours of testing, but the southbridge heatsink was noticeably hotter. We would have felt more comfortable with a larger heatsink design for the southbridge. That being said, we encountered no instability or anomalies during testing, heat-related or otherwise.

FINAL THOUGHTS

It was obvious the moment we started to examine the M2A-VM HDMI that Asus was looking to create an all-in-one solution. It looks like they succeeded. The number of features and connectivity options are vast. High definition video playback is good, and power consumption low. There are just enough adjustments available in the BIOS to satisfy the majority of users.

Our only major complaint is that the HDMI module requires the use of the PCI-E 16x slot. While SurroundView allows you to use the integrated graphics for extra displays, Asus' implementation of the video outputs severely limits the options of those who plan on using a dedicated graphics card if you also want HDMI. Very few video cards have HDMI output, and those that do have a price premium attached. We'd happily trade the parallel port for a built-in HDMI port.

The rest of our concerns can be considered nitpicks by some: the tiny southbridge heatsink could use an upgrade and there are some minor BIOS restrictions, e.g. lack of memory timing adjustments.

Overall, the Asus M2A-VM HDMI is a great choice for all kinds of applications. With such a low price tag, you won't feel cheated even if you don't use all its functionality — but it's nice to know the options are there if the need ever arises.

PROS

* Impressive set of features
* Variety of video and audio outputs
* Good high definition playback
* Low power consumption
* Can undervolt to 0.800V
* Low price tag
CONS

* HDMI card requires use of the PCI-E 16x slot
* Small southbridge heatsink
* Some minor BIOS restrictions

Our thanks to ASUSTeK for this motherboard sample.

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