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AMD 780G: Best Ever Integrated Mainstream Chipset?

March 6, 2008 by Lawrence
Lee

Product Gigabyte GA-MA78GM-S2H AM2/AM2+ motherboard
Manufacturer Gigabyte
Street Price US$95

When AMD purchased ATI, it was a controversial move that led many nay-sayers
to proclaim their demise. Others applauded the decision, predicting
that it would pave the way for an integrated CPU/GPU which would allow AMD to
remain competitive. While this positive outcome has yet to come to pass, the acquisition has
been paying other dividends. AMD's 690G chipset was a resounding success, and
after a full year, it's time for a refresh. The 780G chipset supports DirectX
10 and Shader Model 4.0, bringing it in line with Intel's G35 chipset. It also
promises better 3D performance, superior high definition playback, and lower
power consumption.

The 690G chipset introduced SurroundView, which allows users to use leave the
X1250 IGP enabled for extra displays when a discrete graphics card is installed.
The 780G chipset supports SurroundView as well, and a new feature which takes
it in a whole different direction. "Hybrid Graphics" enables its integrated
HD3200 graphics processor to work in tandem with a separate video card in a
pseudo-CrossFire mode to increase 3D performance. So whether you want extra
displays or better performance, the onboard video will never go to waste.



Our 780G bundle came with the processor and memory pre-installed.

To help us investigate this feature and the chipset as a whole, AMD graciously
provided us with one of their new energy efficient processors, the X2 4850e,
some Corsair memory, and the star of the show, a 780G motherboard, the Gigabyte
GA-MA78GM-S2H.

Gigabyte GA-MA78GM-S2H: Specifications (from
the
product web page
)
CPU 1. Support for Socket AM2+/
AM2 processors: AMD Phenom™FX processor/ AMD Phenom™ processor/
AMD Athlon™ 64 FX processor/AMD Athlon™ 64 X2 Dual-Core processor/AMD
Athlon™ 64 processor/AMD Sempron™ processor
Hyper Transport Bus
1. 5200/2000 MT/s
Chipset 1. North Bridge: AMD 780G

2. South Bridge: AMD SB700
Memory



1. 4 x 1.8V DDR2 DIMM sockets
supporting up to 16 GB of system memory (Note 1)

2. Dual channel memory architecture

3. Support for DDR2 1066 (Note 2)/800/667 MHz memory modules
Audio 1. Realtek ALC889A codec

2. High Definition Audio

3. 2/4/5.1/7.1-channel

4. Support for DTS (dts NEO:PC)

5. Support for S/PDIF In/Out

6. Support for CD In
LAN 1. Realtek 8111C chip (10/100/1000
Mbit)
Expansion Slots 1. 1 x PCI Express x16 slot
(The PCI Express x16 slot conforms to PCI Express 2.0 standard.)

2. 1 x PCI Express x1 slot

3. 2 x PCI slots
Storage Interface South Bridge:

1. 1 x IDE connector supporting ATA-133/100/66/33 and up
to 2 IDE devices

2. 5 x SATA 3Gb/s connectors (SATAII0, SATAII1, SATAII2, SATAII3, SATAII4)
supporting up to 5 SATA 3Gb/s devices

3. 1 x eSATA 3Gb/s port on the back panel supporting up to 1 SATA 3Gb/s
device

4. Support for SATA RAID 0, RAID 1 and RAID 10
iTE



IT8718 chip:

South Bridge:

1. 1 x IDE connector supporting ATA-133/100/66/33 and up to 2 IDE devices

2. 5 x SATA 3Gb/s connectors (SATAII0, SATAII1, SATAII2, SATAII3, SATAII4)
supporting up to 5 SATA 3Gb/s devices

3. 1 x eSATA 3Gb/s port on the back panel supporting up to 1 SATA 3Gb/s
device

4. Support for SATA RAID 0, RAID 1 and RAID 10



iTE IT8718 chip:

1. 1 x floppy disk drive connector supporting up to 1 floppy disk drive
1 x floppy disk drive connector supporting up to 1 floppy disk drive

IEEE 1394

T.I. TSB43AB23 chip




1. Up to 2 IEEE 1394a ports (1 on the back panel, 1 via the IEEE 1394a
bracket connected to the internal IEEE 1394a header)

USB

Integrated in the South Bridge




1. Up to 12 USB 2.0/1.1 ports (4 on the back panel, 8 via the USB brackets
connected to the internal USB headers)

Internal I/O Connectors

 

1. 1 x 24-pin ATX main power connector

2. 1 x 4-pin ATX 12V power connector

3. 1 x floppy disk drive connector

4. 1 x IDE connector

5. 5 x SATA 3Gb/s connectors

6. 1 x CPU fan header

7. 1 x system fan header

8. 1 x front panel header

9. 1 x front panel audio header

10. 1 x CD In connector

11. 1 x S/PDIF In/Out header

12. 1 x IEEE 1394a header

13. 4 x USB 2.0/1.1 headers

14. 1 x parallel port header

15. 1 x Trusted Platform Module (TPM) header

16. 1 x serial port header

17. 1 x chassis intrusion header

18. 1 x power LED header

Back Panel Connectors

1. 1 x PS/2 keyboard port

2. 1 x PS/2 mouse port

3. 1 x D-Sub port

4. 1 x DVI-D port (Note 3)

5. 1 x HDMI port

6. 1 x optical S/PDIF Out connector

7. 1 x eSATA 3Gb/s port

8. 1 x IEEE 1394a port

9. 4 x USB 2.0/1.1 ports

10. 1 x RJ-45 port

11. 6 x audio jacks (Center/Subwoofer Speaker Out/Rear Speaker Out/Side
Speaker Out/Line In/Line Out/Microphone)
I/O Controller 1. ITE IT8718 chip
H/W Monitoring System voltage detection



1. CPU/System temperature detection

2. CPU/System fan speed detection

3. CPU overheating warning

4. CPU/System fan fail warning

5. CPU/System fan speed control (Note 4)
BIOS 1. 1 x 8 Mbit flash

2. Use of licensed AWARD BIOS

3. PnP 1.0a, DMI 2.0, SM BIOS 2.4, ACPI 1.0b
Unique Features 1. Support for @BIOS

2. Support for Download Center

3. Support for Q-Flash

4. Support for EasyTune (Note 5)

5. Support for Xpress Install

6. Support for Xpress Recovery2

7. Support for Virtual Dual BIOS
Bundle Software 1. Norton Internet Security
(OEM version)
Operating System 1. Support for Microsoft
Windows Vista/ XP
Form Factor 1. Micro ATX Form Factor;
24.4cm x 24.4cm
Remark 1. Due to different Linux
support condition provided by chipset vendors, please download Linux driver
from chipset vendors' website or 3rd party website.

2. Due to most hardware/software vendors no longer offer support for Win9X/ME.
If some vendors still has Win9X/ME drivers available, we will publish on
website.
Note

(Note 1) Due to Windows
XP 32-bit operating system limitation, when more than 4 GB of physical memory
is installed, the actual memory size displayed will be less than 4 GB.

(Note 2) Whether 1066 MHz memory speed is supported depends on the CPU being
used.

(Note 3) The DVI-D port does not support D-Sub connection by adapter.

(Note 4) Whether the CPU/system fan speed control function is supported
will depend on the CPU/ system cooler you install.

(Note 5) Available functions in Easytune may differ by motherboard model.

The MA78GM has a long list of features. A few things caught our eye:

1. 5 SATA ports, eSATA, FireWire, HDMI - this board must cost a fortune!
Actually the MA78GM's projected street price is only $95US. The feature-set
exceeds that of the much more expensive Asus
P5E-VM HDMI
we reviewed a few months prior.

2. Though the DVI port on the back panel appears to be DVI-I (both digital
and analog), it's in essence a DVI-D port as Gigabyte warns that it can't
be used to convert to an analog signal.

3. The SB700 southbridge chip only supports RAID 0, 1 and 10 (as did the
SB600 before it). If you require RAID 5 support look for a board with the
SB750 southbridge..



LAYOUT & ACCESSORIES

A cursory observation of the layout reveals no critical flaws. The IDE port
is in a somewhat unusual spot — we're used to seeing it flush with the board
edge. There is ample clearance around the socket and the power connectors are
out of the way.



Bird's eye view.

VGA, DVI (digital only), HDMI, eSATA, Firewire, optical out are available on
the back panel.



Connectivity.

Both the northbridge and southbridge chips are cooled with low profile heatsinks
to avoid interfering with any PCI express expansion cards. To make use of the
space they do occupy, the fins are thin and numerous.



Closer look at the chipset heatsinks.




The bundled accessories. Pretty bare.

BIOS

The MA78GM's advanced BIOS tweaks are housed in the poorly named
"MB Intelligent Tweaker" menu. It's a bit spartan, but that's how
we like it. It offers everything one needs to get the most of out of their
system without getting extravagant. A few boards we've looked at in the past
had a maze of settings with strange terminology undecipherable by all but
the most accomplished enthusiasts.



"MB Intelligent Tweaker" — maximum voltage and frequencies
displayed.

CPU frequency and voltage are given free reign with their extremes
values likely never to be used. The maximum memory voltage of +0.3V (2.1V)
is very low when you consider that a good number of high speed DDR2 memory
kits require 2.2V to run at their specified speeds/timings. Fortunately we
later found that the memory is slightly overvolted.

Notable Available BIOS Adjustments
Setting
Options
CPU/HT/FSB Speed 200Mhz to 500Mhz in 1Mhz increments
Memory Speed DDR 400/533/667/800 (depends on the processor
used)
Memory Timings Numerous, various
CPU Voltage 0.8000V to 1.5500V in 0.025 increments,

1.5500V to 1.9000V in 0.05 increments
Memory Voltage Normal (1.8V), +0.1V, +0.2V, +0.3V
Northbridge Voltage Normal (1.1V), +0.1V, +0.2V, +0.3V
Video Memory Size AUTO, 128MB, 256MB, 512MB

The "PC Health" menu is also fairly straight forward. CPU and System
fan control can be enabled or disabled — no target temperatures or ramp up
thresholds and can be designated here.



"PC Health" menu.


FAN CONTROL

The Smart Fan feature supports both 4-pin and 3-pin fans, so we connected one
of each to the two available fan headers — the X2 4850e heatsink stock fan
(650 to 3200RPM) and a Scythe
Kaze-Jyu
100mm case fan (SY1025SL12H, 700 to 2100RPM). We then stressed
the system with CPUBurn
K7
and monitored the relationship between Core temperature and fan speed
via SpeedFan.

Core Temp.
Fan Speed (RPM)
CPU_FAN
SYS_FAN
25°C
850
1400
30°C
1100
35°C
1350
40°C
1700
45°C
1950
50°C
2250

The Scythe fan connected to the SYS_FAN header remained at a steady 1400RPM
through out. The fan connected to the CPU_FAN header on the otherhand had an
almost linear relation to the Core temperature, following it very closely, increasing
gradually in a nice, steady, gentle curve. We found its behavior to be pleasant
— there were no sudden, jarring ramp ups in speed. We assume that beyond
50°C, the fan speed continues to increase in the same manner until it hits
whatever the maximum threshold temperature is.



EasyTune's Smart Fan configuration screen.

For those looking to fine tune Smart Fan's behavior, Gigabyte's EasyTune utility
offers some additional control, in that you can set minimum and maximum CPU
fan speeds as well as threshold temperatures. The downside is that the EasyTune
GUI is horrific looking. While we believe the intention was to make it look
like the controls of a commercial airliner we can't help but notice its resemblance
to an uterus.



Fan header correlations in SpeedFan.

If you choose to bypass Gigabyte's Smart Fan control, SpeedFan would be an
excellent choice as it provides full customizable control over both fan headers.
Change PWM mode 1 and 2 to "Software Controlled" in the Advanced menu
and you're ready to go.

OVERCLOCKING



EasyTune overclocking.

The bundled overclocking utility in Gigabyte's EasyTune worked properly, allowing
us to overclock the board from the Vista desktop without rebooting. Our past
experience with such programs have usually ended in disappointment so this was
a nice surprise. Unfortunately, the CPU frequency can only be increased in 1Mhz
increments — you can't enter in values manually. It took a lot of mouse clicks
to bring it up from 200 to 300Mhz.



The MA78GM topped out at 330Mhz.

Using EasyTune we increased the CPU frequency by 5Mhz until we encounted instability.
ATITool's artifact scanner was run briefly to verify there was no corruption
of the integrated graphics. The maximum CPU frequency the board was stable at
was 330Mhz, which is very impressive for an AM2+ mATX board. Note that we decreased
the CPU multiplier to 5x and the HT Link frequency to 600Mhz as we were trying
to max out the bus speed, not the processor itself. The maximum clock speed
the processor is capable of is irrelevant.

At 335Mhz, we began to see yellow artifacts in ATITool's artifact scanner,
and at 340Mhz the system crashed (or wouldn't boot up when overclocking via
the BIOS). Disabling the onboard video and using a discrete graphics card did
not help this result, nor did any additional chipset cooling. During testing,
the northbridge heatsink reached a balmy 68°C as measured by an infrared
thermometer.

HDMI OUTPUT

Connecting the board's HDMI output to our BenQ FP94VW LCD monitor was a relative
success. It allowed for resolutions of 800x600, 1152x648, 1280x720 and 192x01080,
but not the native resolution of 1440x900. 1152x648 was the closest without
the desktop going off the edge of the screen. The audio output worked properly
without any issues — a first for us.

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.

We use a variety of H.264/VC-1 clips encoded for playback on the PC as well
as one actual Blu Ray title. The clips are played with PowerDVD 7 and a CPU
usage graph is created by the Windows Task Manger for analysis to determine
the approximate mean and peak CPU usage. High CPU usage is indicative of poor
video decoding ability on the part of the integrated graphics subsystem. If
the video skips or freezes, we conclude the board's IGP (in conjunction with
the processor) is adequate to decompress the clip.

Cool'n'Quiet was enabled and Aero Glass, the Vista Sidebar, and the Superfetch
service were disabled during testing.

Video Test Suite




1080p | 24fps | ~10mbps
H.264:
Rush Hour 3 Trailer 1
is encoded in H.264 with Apple Quicktime.




1080p | 24fps | ~7.5mbps
WMV3:
Coral Reef Adventure trailer
is encoded in VC-1 using the
WMV3 codec (commonly recognized by the moniker, "HD WMV").




720p | 60fps | ~12mbps
WVC1: 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. It is encoded using the Windows Media Video
9 Advanced Profile (aka WVC1) codec — a much more demanding implementation
of VC-1.





1080p | 24fps | ~20mbps
Blu Ray: Terminator 2: Judgement Day is a minute
and thirty second clip from the Blu Ray version of the film.

TEST RESULTS

First, a quick comparison between the Gigabyte MA78GM-S2H and
the Asus M2A-VM HDMI
to see how the chipsets compare. In our M2A-VM review we used a X2 BE-2400,
so the X2 4850e was underclocked to the same clock speed (2.3Ghz) to make a
more fair comparison. They are both 65nm processors with a thermal design power
of 45W. We also used Windows Media Player for playback (we've since acquired
a Blu Ray drive and are now using PowerDVD to take properly take advantage of
ATI's UVD/AVIVO and nVidia PureVideo technology) — the last time we will do
so, just for comparison purposes. The rest of the hardware was the same, with
1GB of RAM and 128MB assigned to video memory.

Comparison: 780G vs. 690G Chipset

(Gigabyte MA78GM-S2H vs. Asus M2A-VM HDMI)
Test State
MA78GM
M2A-VM
Mean CPU Use
System Power
Mean CPU Use
System Power
Off
N/A
8W
N/A
2W
Sleep (S3)
N/A
9W
N/A
3W
Idle (C&Q)
1%
36W*
1%
35W
H.264
22%
~61W
25%
~57W
WMV3
36%
~64W
29%
~58W
WVC1
52%
~71W
52%
~65W
CPUBurn
100%
94W
100%
84W
CPUBurn + ATITool
100%
102W
100%
87W
1GB of system RAM and 128MB of VRAM were used during
testing.



Blu Ray drive not installed and both CPUs clocked at 2.3Ghz



* Arrived at by manually underclocking and undervolting. Underclocking
disables C&Q by default.

As far as power consumption goes, we weren't impressed. The 780G chipset seemed
to use between 5W and 15W more than 690G at various loads. The difference was
even evident when the system was powered down or in standby. Stressing the the
HD3200 GPU drew an extra 8W compared to 3W for the X1250, indicating the newer
IGP has a lot more horsepower.

Test Results: Gigabyte MA78GM-S2H
Test State
X2 4850e @ 2.5Ghz
Mean CPU Use
Peak CPU Use
System Power
Idle
1%
2%
38W
H.264
2%
8%
~53W
WMV3
28%
39%
~65W
WVC1
47%
68%
~69W
Blu Ray
23%
31%
~70W
CPUBurn
100%
101W
CPUBurn + ATITool
100 %
109W

In our main test, using PowerDVD, we found that the HD3200 IGP and X2 4850e
was more than up to the challenge of playing back our test clips. Surprisingly,
the WVC1 clip was more demanding than an actual Blu Ray disc, presumably because
it was encoded with a monsterous 60 frames per second. PowerDVD may also be
more optimized for playing back Blu Ray titles rather than VC-1 clips encoded
by some smuck. Though the CPU usage is lower, the Blu Ray drive's motor and
laser made the power draw slightly higher.

MORE TEST RESULTS

Comparison: CPU Scaling
Test State
CPU @ 2.5Ghz
CPU @ 1.5Ghz
Mean CPU Use
Peak CPU Use
System Power
Mean CPU Use
Peak CPU Use
System Power
Idle (C&Q)
1%
2%
38W
1%
2%
38W*
H.264
2%
8%
~53W
5%
12%
~42W
WMV3
28%
39%
~65W
38%
52%
~48W
WVC1
47%
68%
~69W
70%
96%
~53W
Blu Ray
23%
31%
~70W
32%
44%
~56W
CPUBurn
100%
101W
100%
58W
CPUBurn + ATITool
100%
109W
100%
65W
1GB of system RAM and 128MB of VRAM were used during
testing



* Arrived at by manually underclocking and undervolting. Underclocking
disables C&Q by default.

Just how slow of a processor can one use? Gradually underclocking the CPU,
we found that the Blu Ray disc began to stutter at about 1.1Ghz, while audio
glitches were detected in the WVC1 clip at 1.4Ghz. 1.5Ghz was the lowest clock
speed that would smoothly play back all our clips. This was a fantastic result
as the lowest clocked X2 on the market is 2.0Ghz. We also undervolted the CPU
to 1.0V (the same voltage as Cool-N-Quiet) resulting in Blu Ray playback only
requiring 56W from the wall — we wonder how much juice a commercial Blu Ray
player uses.

Comparison: Assigned Video Memory
Test State
128MB VRAM
256MB VRAM
Mean CPU Use
Peak CPU Use
System Power
Mean CPU Use
Peak CPU Use
System Power
Idle
1%
2%
38W
1%
2%
38W
H.264
2%
8%
~53W
2%
8%
~53W
WMV3
28%
39%
~65W
28%
41%
~66W
WVC1
47%
68%
~69W
43%
73%
~70W
Blu Ray
23%
31%
~70W
17%
28%
~70W
CPUBurn
100%
101W
100%
101W
CPUBurn + ATITool
100%
109W
100%
109W
1GB of system RAM was used during testing

AMD recommended that we use the 256MB of video memory, 2GB of system memory,
and to disable Cool-N-Quiet to get optimal Blu Ray playback. Increasing the
amount of video memory garnered some slight improvement during Blu Ray playback,
but it wasn't really necessary. Alos, despite Cool-N-Quiet being enabled, even
when CPU usage was low as during the H.264 clip, we noticed that the CPU throttled
up regardless.

Comparison: System Memory
Test State
1GB RAM
2GB RAM
Mean CPU Use
Peak CPU Use
System Power
Mean CPU Use
Peak CPU Use
System Power
Idle
1%
2%
38W
1%
2%
41W
H.264
2%
8%
~53W
2%
8%
~54W
WMV3
28%
41%
~66W
24%
39%
~68W
WVC1
43%
73%
~70W
43%
61%
~72W
Blu Ray
17%
28%
~70W
17%
21%
~73W
CPUBurn
100%
101W
100%
103W
CPUBurn + ATITool
100%
109W
100%
115W
256MB of VRAM was used during testing

Increasing the amount of system memory also did very little. We saw some minor
improvement in Blu Ray and WVC1 playback but at the cost of higher overall power
consumption due to the extra stick of DDR2. Even with Vista being an infamous
memory hog, using 1GB of RAM with 256MB assigned to the IGP didn't cause us
any issues.

RADEON HD3450 & HYBRID GRAPHICS

To test the Hybrid Graphics feature, we used a low-profile Radeon HD3450 256MB — something you'd see in a multimedia center. It's an ideal candidate as it
is a low-end part so any increase in performance provided by the IGP would be
more dramatic.



A low profile Radeon HD3450.


Comparison: HD3200 IGP (256MB) vs. Radeon HD3450
256MB
Load
HD3200 IGP
HD3450
Mean CPU Use
Peak CPU Use
System Power
Mean CPU Use
Peak CPU Use
System Power
Idle
1%
2%
41W
1%
2%
53W
H.264
2%
8%
~54W
6%
11%
~57W
WMV3
24%
39%
~68W
31%
41%
~69W
WVC1
43%
61%
~72W
47%
64%
~77W
Blu Ray
17%
21%
~73W
31%
47%
~76W
CPUBurn
100%
101W
100%
116W
CPUBurn + ATITool
100%
109W
100%
129W
2GB of system RAM was used during testing

We never could have predicted these results... the HD3200 IGP was actually
superior to the HD3450 for video playback. Higher CPU usage, higher power consumption,
and more heat (the card's heatsink reached 67°C according to our infrared
thermometer) — unless you require more than two displays or want to play video
games, adding a discrete card seems folly.



Catalyst Control Center

We used a set of beta drivers (Catalyst 8.47) provided by AMD to test the Hybrid
Graphics. Once installed, it was fairly simple to get started — we
had to enable the SurroundView option in the BIOS and enable CrossFire mode in
the Catalyst Control Center. Note, Hybrid Graphics is a Vista-only feature.
XP users lament.

Comparison: HD3200 IGP vs. Radeon HD3450 vs. Hybrid
Graphics (HD3200+HD3450)
Test State
HD3200 IGP
HD3450
Hybrid Gfx.
Mean CPU
Peak CPU
System Power
Mean CPU
Peak CPU
System Power
Mean CPU
Peak CPU
System Power
Idle
1%
2%
41W
1%
2%
53W
1%
2%
53W
H.264
2%
8%
~54W
6%
11%
~57W
5%
13%
~56W
WMV3
24%
39%
~68W
31%
41%
~69W
33%
46%
~68W
WVC1
43%
61%
~72W
47%
64%
~77W
51%
65%
~77W
Blu Ray
17%
21%
~73W
31%
47%
~76W
48%
63%
~75W
CPUBurn
100%
101W
100%
116W
100%
116W
CPUBurn + ATITool
100%
109W
100%
129W
100%
130W
2GB of system RAM and 256MB of VRAM were used during
testing

Using Hybrid Graphics mode, it appears playback actually became even worse.
We'll chalk this up to drivers that aren't quite ready.

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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