AMD 780G: Best Ever Integrated Mainstream Chipset?

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HYBRID GRAPHICS: 3D PERFORMANCE

Normally we don't get into the realm of game benchmarking, but we wanted to see whether AMD's impressive claims of increased performance using Hybrid Graphics was valid. According to AMD, a 780G board running in Hybrid mode with a HD3450 results in an 80% increase in 3DMark06, and a 50% increase in 3DMark05.


AMD's 3DMark claims. Note: These numbers were arrived at using an AMD Phenom and Intel Q6600 quad core processor.


Futuremark Comparison: HD3200 IGP vs. HD3450 vs. Hybrid
Test
HD3200 IGP
HD3450
Hybrid
3DMark05
2293
3705
3679
3DMark06
1116
1716
2055
2GB of system RAM and 256MB of VRAM were used during testing

Our tests showed only a 20% improvement in 3DMark06 and none in 3DMark05. We benchmarked twice and averaged the result, using 2GB of system memory and 256MB of video memory (if applicable). While we used a dual core rather than a quad core CPU, it shouldn't have made that much difference. 3DMark weights very heavily on the GPU.

EDITOR'S NOTE - March 7, 2007 - by Mike Chin

Apparently, our assumption about the performance of dual core versus quad core in 3DMark was incorrect. Adam Kozak of AMD emailed to say...

"The real answer is that HT3 in a quad core CPU is 1.8Ghz (vs 1.0ghz on an Athlon) and provides much more bandwidth for IGP type systems. The result is an increase of over 300 pts for integrated in 3DMark06 and this directly translates into better scaling for hybrid mode (~2720)."

Thank you for the clarification, Mr. Kozak. My comment on this is simple: Does the smart casual gamer choose a >$200 quad-core 95W TDP Phenom and $50 for an ATI HD3450 for this <$100 IGP motherboard, or a <$100 45W A64 X2 with a $150 PCIe 16x graphics card?


CATALYST CONUNDRUMS

The lackluster results in our 3DMark testing and the puzzling playback numbers could easily be a result of immature drivers. We had a tough time with both the latest offical Catalyst 8.2 and beta 8.452 IGP drivers. Here is a list of issues we encountered:

1. Both sets of drivers failed to install something called the "Northbridge Filter Driver."

2. Our LCD monitor's native resolution was occasionally not detected properly after a fresh driver install, resulting in the system only offering 4:3 or 5:4 resolutions up to 1600x1200 instead. Sometimes rebooting or changing the amount of video memory in the BIOS fixed this.

3. The 8.2 version of Catalyst scored higher in the Vista Experience Index test than the beta 8.452 version we were instructed to use (3.4 vs 2.6). For this reason, we used the 8.2 drivers for the non-Hybrid portion of testing.

4. Using Hybrid graphics, PowerDVD, Windows Media Player, and 3DMark06 would sometimes crash before initially loading.

5. Sporadic problems with Vista's CPU power management settings. Occasionally after playing a clip with Windows Media Player, or our Terminator 2 Blu Ray disc with PowerDVD, the minimal processor state would be set to 100% instead of the default 5%, effectively disabling Cool-N-Quiet.



FINAL THOUGHTS

So what can we say about the 780G chipset? It's pretty solid as far as 3D performance goes, but at the cost of higher power consumption. HD playback was very impressive and we managed to bring the CPU speed down to 1.5Ghz without compromising playback ability. The Hybrid Graphics feature left us underwhelmed and unsatisfied, especially having read AMD's claims. How much impact does an extra 200 points in 3DMark06 give a system? Not a whole lot in the grand scheme of things. It's a novel idea, but in reality it doesn't live up to its hype... at least not with the current drivers and our sample board

As far as the actual motherboard goes, on paper, the MA78GM has no equal — it's so feature-laden that it presesnts an unprecidented value. In real life, it's an excellent overclocker and the CPU fan control is well implemented. Unfortunately it's also somewhat buggy and the driver issues we experienced cast a shadow over our experience; it could have been the best IGP motherboard we've ever tested. Once these problems are hammered out, we expect 780G chipset boards will become the defacto choice for AM2 users for HTPCs, media extenders, and simply for a small, full-featured jack-of-all-trades system. This Gigabyte is perhaps a driver or BIOS update away from true glory.

PROS

* Ridiculous feature-set
* Amazing hi-def playback
* Good CPU fan control
* Overclocks well
* Well-priced
* Good 3D Performance
CONS

* Driver issues and other bugs
* Hybrid Graphics claims fall short
* Higher power consumption compared to 690G chipset

Our thanks to AMD, Corsair, and Gigabyte for the product samples.

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Intel DG33TL G33 Express chipset mATX motherboard
Asus M2A-VM HDMI: AM2 mATX motherboard
Albatron KI690-AM2: A Mini-ITX Powerhouse

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