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MSI KA760GM: 780G Minus the HD

MSI KA760GM: AMD 760G Chipset?

Mar. 23, 2009 by Lawrence Lee

Product MSI KA760GM

AMD AM2+ Motherboard
Manufacturer MSI
Street Price US$70?

In January AMD announced a new integrated motherboard chipset you've probably
never heard of: 760G. With all the excitement around Phenom
II
and AM3, it's little wonder that a new entry-level integrated chipset
failed to generate any fanfare, essentially falling through the cracks. 760G
is a budget version of the venerable 780G
chipset
— does it offer anything new or is it simply 780G with
a few cut corners?

AMD's chipset
specification page
lists a variety of features that are not new: DirectX
10, HyperTransport 3.0, PCI Express 2.0, ATI Hybrid Graphics, SurroundView,
and Cool n' Quiet 2.0. The only item listed that we've never seen before is
a "next generation" southbridge, SB710. Excited yet? Don't be —
it is simply SB700 with support for Advanced Clock Calibration" which is
suppose to enhance CPU overclocking when using AMD's Overdrive application.
We found only one other noteworthy piece of text in their literature:

ATI Avivo is the advanced image and video processing
and display technology found in ATI Radeon™ graphics that enables:

  • brilliant colors, sharp images and smooth playback of DVD content
  • performance that rivals high-end DVD players

It features ATI Avivo, not Avivo HD or UVD, plain old Avivo, ATI's first generation
GPU video decoding/encoding/post-processing technology. Not only that, but they
specifically single out DVD playback rather than Blu-ray and do not mention
the H.264 or VC-1 codecs. It appears 760G lacks the ability to offload HD video
decoding to its HD 3000 GPU.



'V' stands for 'value' perhaps.

760G will be represented today by MSI's KA760GM, a simple, mATX motherboard.



The model number is not yet listed on MSI's site, but the basic features
are listed on the box.

PHYSICAL DETAILS & LAYOUT

A board's layout is important in several regards. The positioning of components
can dictate compatibility with other products (third party heatsinks mainly)
and also ease of installation. Poorly placed power connectors can also disrupt
airflow and make the system more thermally challenging.



The first thing we noticed was that the model number was printed on a
small piece of paper glued to the board. Peeling it off revealed that
the PCB was actually that of a KA780VM.





As the layouts of the two boards are quite similar, we presume this was
simply done for convenience in order to make a pre-production sample.
The KA780VM has a HDMI port which is absent on the KA760GM.
The layout is pretty standard with power connectors
on the edges of the board, as well as IDE and SATA ports. The only real
flaw is the awkward location of the floppy connector.





The board is limited in regards to memory expansion with only two DDR2
DIMM slots, however there are 6 SATA ports — an unusual combination,
perhaps suited for file servers. The northbridge heatsink is decidedly
lacking in girth while the southbridge cooler is downright minuscule.
If the cooling is adequate than 760G and SB710 must be fairly power efficient,
or simply have high thermal tolerances.





As a budget board, there are no heatsinks on any of the MOSFETs or chokes
near the CPU socket, though most of the capacitors in that area are solid-state.





The back panel is basic with VGA and DVI-D the only options for video
out. There are no advanced features like S/PDIF or FireWire and USB ports
are lacking as well.

BIOS

For enthusiasts, the options available within the BIOS can make
a good board, a great one. The ability to manipulate frequencies, voltages,
and fan control settings vary depending on the hardware and the amount of
trust placed in the user's hands by the manufacturer.



MSI's "Cell Menu" with maximum values entered.

MSI's Cell Menu had options for NB, SB, and DRAM voltage, but
CPU voltage could not be changed. It was very disappointing that no overvolting
or undervolting was possible, at least with the BIOS with which the board
shipped. CPU frequency and the DRAM ratio were adjustable.



MSI's "Cell Menu" with maximum frequencies entered.

Fan control options were also rather disappointing. Only the
settings for one fan could be adjusted in the BIOS.

BIOS Summary
Setting
Options
CPU Frequency 200 to 600MHz
CPU Voltage N/A
Memory Frequency 1:1, 1:1.33, 1:1.66, 1:2 (depends on
CPU)
Memory Timing Control Basic
Memory Voltage 1.80V to 2.40V in 0.05V increments (default
1.90V)
Northbridge Voltage 1.1021V (default) to 1.379V in varying
increments
Southbridge Voltage 1.201V (default) to 1.441V in 0.024V
increments
Integrated Graphics
VGA Core Clock N/A
Frame Buffer 32MB, 64MB, 128MB, 256MB, 512MB
Fan Control
CPU Smart Fan Target 40°C, 45°C, 50°C, 55°C,
60°C
CPU Min. Fan Speed 0% to 87.5% in 12.5% increments

Overall the options were very limited — we've seen mini-ITX
boards with more liberal BIOSs.

TEST METHODOLOGY

Test Setup:

Measurement and Analysis Tools

  • CPU-Z
    to monitor CPU frequency and voltage.
  • CPUBurn
    K7

    processor stress software.
  • Prime95
    processor stress software.
  • ATITool
    artifact scanner to stress the integrated GPU.
  • FurMark
    stability test to stress the integrated GPU.
  • QuickTime
    Alternative
    to decode Quicktime.
  • Cyberlink
    PowerDVD
    to play H.264/VC-1/Blu-ray video.
  • SpeedFan
    to monitor temperature and fan speeds.
  • 3DMark05
    as a 3D benchmark.
  • 3DMark06
    as a 3D benchmark.
  • Seasonic
    Power Angel
    AC power meter, used to measure the power consumption
    of the system.
  • Custom-built, four-channel variable DC power supply, used to regulate
    the CPU fan speed.

Our main test procedure is designed to determine the overall system power
consumption at various states (measured using a Seasonic Power Angel). To stress
Intel Pentium E/Core 2 CPUs we use Prime95 (large FFTs setting) to maximize
heat and power consumption. For AMD X2 CPUs we use CPUBurn K7 as it seems to
tax AMD processors more. To stress the IGP, we use ATITool artifact scanner,
ATITool 3DView, or FurMark, whichever application is found to be more power
hungry.

We also test platform's proficiency at playing back high definition videos.
Standard Blu-ray movies 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.

Our main video test suite features a variety of 1080p H.264/VC-1 encoded clips.
The clips are played with PowerDVD and a CPU usage graph is created by the Windows
Task Manger for analysis to determine the approximate mean CPU usage. High CPU
usage is indicative of poor video decoding ability on the part of the integrated
graphics subsystem. If the video (and/or audio) skips or freezes, we conclude
the board's IGP (in conjunction with the processor) is adequate to decompress
the clip properly.

Cool'n'Quiet was enabled (unless otherwise noted). The following features/services
were disabled during testing to prevent spikes in CPU/HDD usage that are typical
of fresh Vista installations:

  • Windows Sidebar
  • Indexing
  • Superfetch

Video Test Suite



1080p | 24fps | ~10mbps
H.264:
Rush Hour 3 Trailer 1
is a H.264 encoded clip inside an Apple
Quicktime container.





1080p | 24fps | ~8mbps
WMV-HD:
Coral Reef Adventure Trailer
is encoded in VC-1 using the
WMV3 codec commonly recognized by the "WMV-HD" moniker.




1080p | 24fps | ~19mbps
VC-1: Drag Race is a recording of a scene from
network television re-encoded with TMPGEnc using the WVC1 codec, a
more demanding VC-1 codec.




1080p | 24fps | ~33mbps
Blu-ray: Disturbia is a short section of the
Blu-ray version of Disturbia, the motion picture, played directly
off the Blu-ray disc. It is encoded with H.264/AVC.

TEST RESULTS

Our test system is fairly basic, featuring a X2 4850e, a mid-level dual core
processor with a low 45W TDP cooled by a stock AMD heatpipe cooler connected
to a variable DC fan controller so the fan's power draw does not come into play.
The rest of the system consists of a single stick of Corsair memory, an Asus
Blu-ray drive, a 5400RPM notebook hard drive and an OEM Seasonic 400W power
supply. The operating system used is Vista Home Premium SP1 (32-bit).

Test Results: X2 4850e @ 2.5GHz (C&Q)
Test State
Mean

CPU
Peak

CPU
System Power
Off
N/A
1W
Sleep (S3)
N/A
2W
Idle
N/A
33W
Rush Hour

(H.264)
58%
80%
63W
Coral Reef

(WMV-HD)
42%
50%
61W
Drag Race

(VC-1)
75%
82%
70W
Disturbia*

(Blu-ray H.264)
97%
100%
79W
CPU Load
N/A
91W
CPU + GPU

Load
N/A
101W
*2GB of system memory required for Blu-ray playback.

Grey boxes indicate test failure.

Video playback on the KA760GM was disappointing due to what may be a complete
lack of hardware decoding/acceleration. CPU usage and power consumption were
a lot higher than we are used to seeing. The Drag Race clip failed to render
properly, exhibiting audio clipping and dropped frames. We did manage to get
Blu-ray playback functioning, but only when an additional 1GB of system memory
was added. Our test movie, the H.264 encoded Disturbia, played surprisingly
smooth despite very high CPU utilization. It appears that the CPU alone is enough
for H.264, but we suspect playback would have been problematic if we used a
VC-1 encoded Blu-ray disc.

Comparison: MSI (760G) vs. Gigabyte (740G)
Test State
KA760GM
GA-MA74GM-S2
Mean

CPU
System Power
Mean

CPU
System Power
Idle
N/A
33W
N/A
31W
Rush Hour

(H.264)
58%
63W
42%
58W
Coral Reef

(WMV-HD)
42%
61W
37%
58W
Drag Race

(VC-1)
75%
70W
69%
66W
CPU Load
N/A
91W
N/A
92W
Grey boxes indicate test failure.

Despite AMD's claims that the 760G chipset features ATI Avivo, the KA760GM
performed noticeably poorer compared to Gigabyte's 740G board (which also features
Avivo). The GA-MA74GM-S2
managed to render the Drag Race VC-1 clip which the KA760GM failed to play properly,
and also posted better CPU usage and power consumption figures.

Phenom II Power Consumption

Performance with a 45W chip is only half the story. To get the other side,
we upgraded the test system with a 125W Phenom II, 2GB of RAM, and a ZEROtherm
Zen
CPU cooler.

Power Consumption: Phenom II X4 940
Test State
790GP-DS4H
KA760GM
Idle
57W
79W
VC-1
79W
105W
CPU Load

(2 cores)
122W
126W
CPU Load

(4 cores)
166W
173W
CPU + GPU

Load
176W
190W
Systems configured with 2GB of RAM and 256MB IGP
memory.

When paired with a Phenom II X4 940, the KA760GM was very inefficient compared
to a premium board like the 790GX-powered Gigabyte
GA-MA790GP-DS4H
. We suspect that its power regulation was designed to
be optimal for cheaper, low TDP chips as 760G is meant for entry-level systems.
Phenom II does work out of the box, but it's not an ideal combination if power
consumption is an issue.

BIOS Fan Control

We tested the board's fan control by connecting the CPU cooler's fan to a variable
DC fan controller, so we could lower it as necessary, and proceeded to stress
the processor using Prime95 and monitored the fan speeds using SpeedFan. A Xigmatek
92mm PWM fan was connected to the CPU fan header while a Scythe Kama Flow 80mm
3-pin fan was connected to the secondary fan header.

Fan Speed Behavior
Criteria
CPU Fan
SYS Fan
Trigger Temp.
51°C
N/A
Temp. Range
54°C
N/A
Fan Speed

Range
1330 RPM to 2900 RPM
1570 RPM
Target temperature set to 50C and CPU Min. Fan Speed
to 0% in the BIOS.

MSI's fan control was very primitive. The CPU fan's minimum speed was 1330
RPM despite the fact it was set to 0% in the BIOS — its PWM controller apparently
does not allow anything lower. The selected target temperature of 50°C was
almost dead-on — the fan speed increased rapidly once the CPU temperature
reached 51°C. It topped out at 2900 RPM when the temperature increased by
3°C. This short range resulted in an unpleasant rapid climb in fan speed.
A full 12V was delivered to the secondary fan — the SYS fan header was not
controlled.

SpeedFan Support

For Windows users, SpeedFan is our application of choice for fan control. It
can be configured to raise or lower multiple fan speeds to designated limits
when any specified temperature threshold is breached.



SpeedFan correlations.

SpeedFan reported both fan speeds and allowed for partial control of the CPU_FAN1
header (it is restricted in the same way as BIOS fan control). Only PWM fans
can be controlled. To enable fan control find chip "F71882F"in the
Advanced tab of the Configuration menu and set PWM 1 modes to "Manual Set
PWM."

Temp1 correlated to the CPU temperature, matching Core temperature very closely.
Temp2 and Temp3 were related to the northbridge — when a fan was placed
over the northbridge cooler, both of these sensors reported a decrease in temperature.
Temp2 however reported temperatures in the range of 100°C to 120°C and
its reading jumped up and down erratically. Temp3 ranged between 20°C and
35°C and was much more stable.

Cooling

Lower cost boards ship with simple heatsinks on the northbridge and southbridge
while those targeted at enthusiasts typically have large heatpipe coolers and
heatsinks on the voltage regulation modules near the CPU socket. A well-cooled
motherboard can deliver better power efficiency and stability.

Heatsink Temperatures
Measuring Point
X2 4850e
Phenom II

X4 940
SB Heatsink
55°C
56°C
NB Heatsink
68°C
67°C
VRMs
60-70°C
90-130°C
Measured with a spot thermometer after 15 minutes
of full CPU + GPU load. CPU fan reduced to 6V.

Despite the rather diminutive heatsinks deployed on the KA760GM, the northbridge
and southbridge heatsinks did not overheat during stress testing, staying below
70°C when a X2 4850e processor was used. With a Phenom II chip, the temperatures
of the VRMs skyrocketed, with several measuring well over 100°C. The system
did remain stable, but it is certainly within the realm of possibility that
such stress over a long period of time could be detrimental to the health and
stability of the board. A VRM heatsink would have been a welcome addition.

3D Performance

To get a rough estimate of how well each board's integrated graphics plays
games, we ran 3DMark05/06. As synthetic benchmarks they have limited value,
but they give a rough idea of how well an IGP performs.

3D Performance: Futuremark Comparison
Motherboard
Graphics
3DMark05
3DMark06
Gigabyte MA74GM-S2
X2100
1124
305
Zotac GeForce 8200-ITX
GF8200
1623
869
Asus M3N78 Pro
GF8300
1669
902
MSI KA760GM
HD 3000
2289
1049
Gigabyte MA78GM-2SH
HD 3200
2293
1116
Gigabyte MA790GP-DS4H (Sideport)
HD 3300 (Sideport)
3377
1668
Gigabyte MA78GM-2SH
HD 3450

(Discrete)
3405
1716
All results with 2GB of system RAM and 256MB of
VRAM assigned for IGP's (128MB Sideport + 128MB UMA for boards with Sideport
memory).

The HD 3000 IGP scored very closely to HD 3200 in 3DMark, suggesting that
HD 3000 is simply HD 3200 minus the video decoding capabilities.

FINAL THOUGHTS

MSI's implementation of 760G is fairly power efficient when paired with a 45W
processor, nearly matching the record idle power consumption of Gigabyte's
740G board
. When used with a Phenom II however, the KA760GM is not as
graceful, drawing much more power than Gigabyte's
790GX board
and heating up the VRMs to unsettling levels. From a silent
computing angle, it is lacking in other areas as well. The BIOS the board shipped
does not allow for CPU voltage control, meaning no undervolting. In addition,
its fan control system is jarringly reactive and can only control one PWM fan.

AMD's 760G chipset is a bit of an odd duck. It is essentially based on 780G
but stripped of HD playback capability. We never expected to run into a new
chipset that lacked this ability — we had come to believe that it would
be standard from now on. The absence of UVD/Avivo HD will be a deal breaker
for many users. The only demographic that suits 760G is composed of casual gamers
with no interest in HD video who would be satisfied with the level of 3D performance
provided by the IGP. Once a discrete graphics card is introduced, the only discernible
advantage 760G has over 740G is the ability to do Hybrid Crossfire.

Price is also an issue 760G has to overcome — early 760G boards are showing
up in North America with price tags of between $60 and $70 USD. The cheaper
ECS/Foxconn 780G models retail for $70 and Gigabyte's 740G board can be found
for as low as $55, putting the KA760GM and its brethren in a very tight spot.

MSI KA760GM
PROS



* Low power consumption when paired with a 45W CPU

* 3D performance on par with 780G


CONS



* High Phenom II power consumption and temperatures

* Lacks H.264/VC-1 acceleration

* Restrictive BIOS — no undervolting

* Poor fan control capabilities

Our thanks to MSI
for the motherboard sample.

* * *

Articles of Related Interest

790GX Showdown: Gigabyte vs. MSI

Zotac GeForce 8200-ITX WiFi: A Compact
AM2 Solution


Asus P5N7A-VM: Geforce 9300
IGP


Asus P5Q-EM G45 mATX motherboard

Asus M3A78-T: AMD's IGP Gets Another
Boost


Intel DG45FC: Loaded LGA775
Mini-ITX Board

* * *

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