Gigabyte GA-MA74GM-S2: AMD 690G, Take 2

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FINAL THOUGHTS

At idle, the Gigabyte GA-MA74GM-S2 proved to be the most energy efficient mATX motherboard we've ever tested. It is an excellent choice for a low-power system (such as a server or media extender), and when paired with one of AMD's 45W dual core processors, it doesn't sacrifice much in terms of performance. Intel's desktop processors may offer more speed, but they also come with higher idle power consumption. Before today, the lead was about 10W idle, but with the release of the 740G chipset, the lead is more like 20W.

The Gigabyte board's fan control is very flexible. Smart Fan control results in a smooth ramp up of the CPU fan speed, and it can be adjusted to your own preferences using Gigabyte's EasyTune utility. For those looking for even more control, both fan headers can be controlled via SpeedFan, whether they be standard 3-pin DC or 4-pin PWM fans. The cooling on the board is adequate for the actual chipsets, but we found the MOSFETs near the CPU socket got incredibly hot during load. An extra heatsink for these components would not be amiss, but it seems the added expense can only be justified on high-end boards. The voltage regulators may not be able to handle the highest TDP processor — the newest 140W Phenoms are absent from the board's CPU support list.

High definition video playback has not improved compared to its predecessor, the 690G chipset, but honestly it was plenty good to begin with and still perfectly suitable for H.264 or VC-1 playback. Its 3D performance takes a step back from the superior performance of nVidia's Geforce 8300 and AMD's HD 3200 IGPs, which is of interest to casual gamers. A more "serious" gamer will surely want the performance of a discrete graphics card. The board also lacks HDMI output, though it's probably too much to ask for it on a $60 board.

As 740G is meant to replace 690G in AMD's chipset line-up, it is priced very attractively. While it is, for all intents and purposes, the same chip manufactured on a smaller fabrication process, the resulting decrease in power consumption is significant enough to make it more than a worthwhile successor. It's just about ideal for an inexpensive, capable and power efficient home server.

PROS

* Outstanding idle/light load power consumption
* Low price
* Good HD video playback
* Flexible fan control
CONS

* Limited 3D performance
* VRMs get very hot

Our thanks to Gigabyte for the GA-MA74GM-S2 sample.

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