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Asus M3N78 Pro: Geforce 8300 & HybridPower Explored

Asus M3N78 Pro: Geforce 8300 & HybridPower Explored

July 13, 2008 by Lawrence Lee

Product Asus M3N78 Pro

AM2/AM2+ Motherboard
Manufacturer ASUSTeK
Street Price US$105

The release of AMD's 780G
chipset
was a big step for integrated graphics. It proved to be the
best gaming IGP released to date, showed great proficiency in playing high definition
video, provided a multitude of output options, and delivered it all with high
energy efficiency and a low price-tag. The new Hybrid Crossfire feature also
assured that the IGP would continue to make a contribution even if a discrete
ATI graphics card was installed. With 780G, AMD became the platform of choice
for those on a budget, but demanding good value.

As far as we know, none of Intel's IGPs come even close at this ttime. nVidia
has also been slow to react, with the majority of their mATX motherboards still
based on the aging Geforce 6100 chipset. On the AMD side, they seemed to have
skipped the Geforce 7 series altogether. The Asus M3N78 Pro under scrutiny here
is one of a new series, powered by the new Geforce 8300 chipset. Its IGP is
based on the Geforce 8400GS and supports all the latest standards including
HyperTransport 3.0, PCI Express 2.0, and video features like DirectX 10 and
Shader Model 4.0. Its PureVideo HD decoding technology can fully decode H.264
and VC-1 (Blu-ray) content, leaving the CPU more free to perform other duties.

Last but not least, the 8300 chipset supports Hybrid SLI — nVidia's answer
to ATI Hybrid Crossfire. When combined with an entry-level nVidia graphics card,
it can work in tandem with the IGP to boost performance. When partnered with
a high-end nVidia graphics card, the card can be shut off completely when its
services are not required, or so they claim. The M3N78 Pro is perfectly suited
for the later feature, as it is a full-sized ATX board — the defacto choice
for high-powered PCs.



The M3N78 Pro box has a semi-reflective coating. It's not humongous.




The accessories.

The M3N78 Pro comes with IDE and floppy cables, two SATA data cables and two
SATA power adapters. DVI is available via a HDMI to DVI dongle and VGA through
a PCI bracket with a cable that patches into a connector on the board. A manual,
support disc, I/O shield and Q-Connector kit round out the accessories.

Asus M3N78 Pro: Specifications (from the
product web page
)
CPU



AMD Socket AM2+ / AM2 Phenom FX/Phenom/Athlon
/Sempron Processors

AMD Cool 'n' Quiet™ Technology

AMD Live!™ Ready

Support CPU up to 140W
Chipset NVIDIA GeForce 8300
System Bus Up to 5200/MT/s HyperTransport™
3.0 interface for AM2+ CPU

2000/1600 MT/s for AM2 CPU
Memory 4 x DIMM, Max. 8 GB, DDR2 1066/800/667
ECC,Non-ECC,Un-buffered Memory

Dual Channel memory architecture

*Due to AMD CPU limitation, DDR2 1066 is supported by AM2+ CPU for one DIMM
per channel only.

**Refer to www.asus.com or user manual for Memory QVL (Qualify Vendor List)

***When installing total memory of 4GB capacity or more, Windows® 32-bit
operation system may only recognize less than 3GB. Hence, a total installed
memory of less than 3GB is recommended.
Expansion Slots 1 x PCIe x16 (Support PCIe 2.0 / 1.0
Architecture )

2 x PCIe x1

3 x PCI 2.2


VGA
Integrated NVIDIA GeForce® 8 Series
GPU

Hybrid SLI™ Support (supports Windows Vista only)

Supports HDMI™ Technology with max. resolution up to 1920 x 1200

Supports DVI with max. resolution up to 1920 × 1200 @ 60 Hz

Supports D-Sub with max. resolution up to 1920 × 1440 @ 75 Hz

HDMI/DVI/RGB Support

Supports Microsoft® DirectX 10, OpenGL 2.0, Pixel Shader 4.0

Support PCIe 2.0 / 1.0 Architecture

Maximum shared memory of 512MB
Storage NVIDIA® GeForce 8300

1 xUltraDMA 133/100/66/33

6 xSATA 3 Gb/s ports (Use SATA1-4 for IDE mode.)

NVIDIA® MediaShield™ RAID Support RAID 0,1,0+1,5,JBOD
LAN NVIDIA Gigabit MAC

Realtek® 8211CL Gigabit PHY featuring AI NET2


Audio
Realtek® ALC1200 8 -Channel High
Definition Audio CODEC

Coaxial S/PDIF out ports at back I/O

Support Jack Detection and Multi-streaming
IEEE 1394 LSI® FW322 controller supports 2
x 1394a ports
USB 12 USB 2.0 ports (6 ports at mid-board,
6 ports at back panel)
ASUS AI Lifestyle Features ASUS Express Gate

- Web browser, file downloading and uploading*

- Further free features upgradable

* File downloading and uploading through USB devices only

ASUS Quiet Thermal Solution

- ASUS AI Gear 2

- ASUS AI Nap

- ASUS Q-Fan 2

- 4+1 Phases ASUS Power Design

ASUS Crystal Sound

- ASUS Noise Filter

ASUS EZ DIY

- ASUS Q-Connector

- ASUS Q-Shield

- ASUS EZ Flash 2
Overclocking Features Intelligent overclocking tools

- AI Overclocking (intelligent CPU frequency tuner)

- ASUS AI Booster Utility

Precision Tweaker

- vDIMM: 8 -step DRAM voltage control

- vCore: Adjustable CPU voltage at 0.0125V increment

- vChipset 4-step Chipset voltage control

SFS (Stepless Frequency Selection)

- FSB tuning from 200MHz to 600MHz at 1MHz increment

- Memory tuning from 533MHz up to 1066MHz

- PCI Express frequency tuning from 100MHz up to 200MHz at 1MHz increment

Overclocking Protection

- ASUS C.P.R.(CPU Parameter Recall)
Special Features ASUS MyLogo 2

Uses 100% All High-quality Conductive Polymer Capacitors!


Back Panel I/O Ports



1 x PS/2 Keyboard

1 x S/PDIF Out

1 x IEEE 1394a

1 x LAN(RJ45) port

6 x USB 2.0/1.1

8 -Channel Audio I/O

1 x HDMI
Internal I/O Connectors 3 x USB connectors support additional
6 USB ports

1 x Floppy disk drive connector

1 x IDE connector

1 x COM connector

1 x VGA connector

6 x SATA connectors

1 x CPU Fan connector

1 x Chassis Fan connector

1 x Power Fan connector

Front panel audio connector

1 x S/PDIF Out Header

1 x IEEE1394a connector

Chassis Intrusion connector

CD audio in

24-pin ATX Power connector

4-pin ATX 12V Power connector

System Panel
BIOS 8 Mb Flash ROM

DMI 2.0

PnP

WfM 2.0

SM BIOS 2.5

Award BIOS

ACPI 2.0

ASUS EZ Flash 2
O/S Compatibility Windows Vista

Windows XP
Accessories UltraDMA 133/100/66 cable

FDD cable

SATA cables

SATA power cables

D-Sub module

HDMI to DVI connector

Q-Shield

User's manual

3 in 1 Q-connector
Support Disc Drivers

Express Gate Lite

ASUS PC Probe II

ASUS Update

ASUS AI Suite

Anti-virus software (OEM version)
Form Factor ATX Form Factor

12 inch x 9.6 inch ( 30.5 cm x 24.4 cm )

PHYSICAL DETAILS & LAYOUT

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



The board.

Overall clearance around the socket is excellent, but the retention frame
is positioned in such a way that the fans on many tower heatsinks will point
upwards toward the power supply. This is not uncommon for AM2 boards. A row
of capacitors sit right next to the CPU socket but they are of the solid-state
variety, and they are short and unintrusive. The IDE and SATA ports are well-situated
near the edge of the board. The IDE port lays on its side, helping the cumbersome
IDE cable be just a little bit less obtrusive.



Bird's eye view.

The most glaring problem is the 24-pin ATX power connector sitting next to
the back panel — very poor positioning. The cable connected to it would
have to be positioned under the heatsink, or behind it, blocking airflow in
either scenario. The floppy connector is at the far bottom left, making it difficult
to access. In the age where a $5 USB key holds as much data as hundreds of floppy
discs, we wouldn't mind if they got rid of floppy support altogether. Across
the CPU socket, Asus has placed a giant sticker touting 140W CPU support —
does AMD even have any 140W processors in production?



As with most motherboards, the front panel connectors are at the very bottom,
making them difficult to access. This is mitigated by the Q-Connector kit that
Asus now ships with all their motherboards — it makes inserting leads into
those tiny pins less painful.



Chipset heatsink.

In the center of the board sits a large chipset heatsink held down by plastic
spring-loaded push-pins. Its fins are thick and broad, making heat dissipation
less than optimal. nVidia has a reputation for producing hot running desktop
chipsets, so this is a bit worrisome. The cooler is approximately 32mm tall.



Back panel connectors.

The back panel connectors are almost legacy-free with only one PS/2 connector
(keyboard). The main video output is HDMI, with an adapter for DVI. VGA output
can be enabled using a separate internal header and peripheral panel connector

BIOS

BIOS options on mATX boards are typically very spartan. The
presence of an IGP and the more limited cooling associated with an mATX platform
makes manufacturers nervous about allowing users the ability to customize
their clock/voltage settings. ATX boards are usually more tweaker-friendly
and the M3N78 Pro follows the norms, to an extent.



Advanced options.

There are few customizable settings in the Advanced BIOS menu.
However, the available options are are fairly flexible. CPU frequency can
be increased up to 600Mhz, PCI-E frequency can be locked, and both CPU and
memory voltages can be tweaked to high limits.

Notable BIOS Adjustments
Setting
Options
CPU Frequency 200Mhz to 600Mhz in 1Mhz increments
PCI-E Frequency 100Mhz to 200Mhz in 1Mhz increments
Memory Frequency 533/667/800Mhz (may depend on CPU)
Memory Timings None
CPU Voltage 0.8000V to 1.6750V in 0.0125V increments
Memory Voltage 1.978V to 2.490V in varying increments
(0.750-0.102V)
Northbridge Voltage 1.213V, 1.313V, 1.409V
1.2V HT 1.309V, 1.425V, 1.525V
Video Memory Size 64MB, 128MB, 256MB, 512MB

Northbridge and "1.2V HT" (which we assume is southbridge)
voltages are limited to only three settings and memory timing options are
non-existent — they aren't even displayed. We also weren't able to find
a HT multiplier setting; it usually needs to be lowered when overclocking.



Hardware Monitor.

The Hardware Monitor section is simple, yet offers plenty of
functionality. Fan speeds are reported from all three fan headers on the board,
and the 4-pin CPU and Chassis fan headers can be controlled via the Q-Fan
feature. The same three fan control profiles can be found on all Asus motherboards:
Performance, Optimal, and Silent. The CPU fan header can be set to either
PWM or DC voltage control, but there is no automatic setting. Be aware of
this if you plan to use a 3-pin fan in conjunction with this header.

EXPRESS GATE



Express Gate menu.


Asus Express Gate is a recently added feature that allows users almost instant
access to a web browser, photo viewer, chat client (Pidgin) and VOIP (Skype).
It is powered by Splashtop, an instant-on Linux desktop developed by DeviceVM.
Instead of waiting for up to a minute for the main operating system to boot-up,
Express Gate is available as soon as the system POSTs. It offers limited functionality,
but if you're in a hurry, it works well in a pinch. It can also be upgraded
with software updates.



YouTube anyone?

If the majority of your PC time is spent on the internet, you
should feel right at home with Express Gate. You can get a lot done on the web
— programs that live strictly online are becoming rapidly popular. Some
believe that the internet is the next great operating system — that as
long as you can get online, the choice between Windows, Mac OS X and Linux will
be moot. Either way, Express Gate is the fastest way on a desktop computer to
watch a movie trailer or a deranged Scotsman interview a young Hollywood starlet.

TEST METHODOLOGY

Test Setup:

Measurement and Analysis Tools

Our main 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. 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 (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 the following Vista features/services were disabled
during testing:

  • User Access Control
  • Microsoft Defender
  • Windows Sidebar
  • Indexing
  • ReadyBoost
  • Superfetch
  • Windows Search
  • Security Center
  • Aero interface

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 is encoded using the Windows Media Video 9
Advanced Profile (aka WVC1) codec — a much more demanding implementation
of VC-1.




1920x1080 | 24fps | ~19mbps
WVC1: Drag Race is a recording of a scene from
network television re-encoded with TMPGEnc using the WVC1 codec. It
is the most demanding clip in our test suite.

TEST RESULTS

Our test system is fairly basic, featuring an OEM 80Plus power supply, notebook
hard drive and Blu-ray drive. The CPU is a X2 4850e, a mid-level dual core 45W
processor. It is cooled by a stock AMD heatpipe cooler with PWM fan.



Test platform.


Test Results: Asus M3N78 Pro
Test State
X2 4850e @ 2.5Ghz
X2 4850e @ 1.5Ghz
Mean CPU Use
Peak CPU Use
System Power
Mean CPU Use
Peak CPU Use
System Power
Off
N/A
2W
N/A
2W
Sleep (S3)
N/A
4W
N/A
4W
Idle
1%
2%
37W
1%
2%
43W
Rush Hour
7%
10%
~44W
9%
12%
~47W
Coral Reef
32%
44%
~53W
41%
50%
~47W
Flight Sim.
48%
62%
~67W
73%
92%
~50W
Drag Race
58%
72%
~65W
78%
88%
~50W
CPUBurn
100%
93W
100%
54W
CPUBurn + ATITool
100%
102W
100%
62W
X2 4850e @ 1.5Ghz undervolted to 1.100V, Cool-N-Quiet
disabled

The M3N78 Pro has excellent power consumption. The system drew a very low 37W
AC at idle. Playback was smooth throughout without any video or audio glitches.
When the IGP was stressed, power consumption went up just 9W. The system also
performed well when we underclocked the CPU to 1.5Ghz. Though lowering the clock
speed resulted in higher CPU usage during video playback, the overall power
draw was much lower. As a pure playback device, the CPU is overkill at 2.5Ghz
— an undervolted, underclocked CPU can do the same job while drawing less
power. The IGP is very capable for video playback, carrying the load if the
CPU is relatively slow.

Asus M3N78 Pro vs. Gigabyte GA-MA78GM-2SH @ 2.5Ghz
Test State
Asus M3N78 Pro
Gigabyte MA78GM-S2H
Mean CPU Use
System Power
Mean CPU Use
System Power
Off
N/A
2W
N/A
8W
Sleep (S3)
N/A
4W
N/A
9W
Idle
1%
37W
1%
38W
Rush Hour
7%
~44W
2%
~53W
Coral Reef
32%
~53W
28%
~65W
Flight Sim.
48%
~67W
47%
~69W
CPUBurn
100%
93W
100%
101W
CPUBurn + ATITool
100%
102W
100%
109W

Compared to the Gigabyte GA-MA78GM-S2H with the ATI 780G chipset, the Asus
M3N78 Pro used less power across the board in every test state. With a couple
of exceptions, nVidia's hardware consumed between 7-12W less — very significant
for a low power system. We were impressed with the 780G's low power draw, so
we were surprised and delighted to see this nVidia chipset board top it.

HYBRID SLI

Hybrid SLI is composed of two different technologies: Geforce Boost and Hybrid
Power. Geforce Boost is nVidia's answer to Hybrid Crossfire, which allows an
integrated GPU combine forces with a discrete GPU to enhance overall performance.
Only two cards are supported so far: the Geforce 8400GS and 8500GT — both
entry-level products.

To us, HybridPower is much more compelling. It allows the user to completely
turn off the discrete video card in situations where its heavy duty processing
power is not required (e.g. idle, watching movies, etc.) which can significantly
reduce the power consumption of the system. If implemented correctly, it would
deliver the best of both worlds: High performance gaming, and low energy draw.
Hybrid Power is supported by the Geforce 9800 and GTX series only.

Asus sent over an ENGTX 260, based on one of the fastest discrete GPPUs produced
by nVidia, for us to test the HybridPower feature. nVidia recommended we have
at least 2GB of system memory, set the IGP to use at least 256MB of memory,
and to connect the video output to the IGP for HybridPower to function properly.
These requirements were followed.



HybridPower controls.

Once Hybrid SLI is set up in the BIOS and the latest chipset and graphics drivers
are installed, an icon shows up in the system tray, allowing you to switch between
Save Power and Performance mode. This had to be done manually, but we expect
it will be automated in the future. A third option allows one to use up to four
displays — two from the motherboard video and two from the discrete card,
but this option doesn't offer any performance or energy saving benefits.



GPU power management, courtesy of Vista.

In Vista the GPU can be automatically set to Save Power mode after the system
has been idle for 4 minutes, in case you forget to do so after exiting out of
a game.

Test Results - HybridPower

HybridPower Comparison
Test State
System Power Consumption (AC)
Geforce 8300 IGP
Geforce

GTX 260
HybridPower (Save Power)
HybridPower (Performance)
Idle
38W
80W
75W
82W
Rush Hour
47W
97W
86W
98W
Coral Reef
55W
109W
97W
112W
Flight Sim.
62W
123W
108W
126W
Drag Race
66W
124W
107W
126W
CPUBurn
95W
137W
134W
140W
CPUBurn + ATITool
110W
206W
149W
194W
Results were obtained with 2GB of RAM and 256MB assigned
to IGP (when applicable). GTX 260 was installed with Forceware 177.41.

First off, it should be noted that the Geforce GTX 260 is very power hungry.
Installing it in our test system resulted in the power consumption more than
doubling in almost every test state. It's not a surprise that nVidia would target
video card power consumption now that some of their cards can use more energy
than all the other system components put together. If a powerful, discrete card
could be turned off, the power savings would be massive.

Unfortunately, HybridPower doesn't come even close to shutting down the card's
power demand entirely. In the Save Power mode, power consumption decreased the
most during video playback, 11-17W, but only 5W idle, and only 3W when the CPU
was put on load. We did notice the card's cooling fan turning off when Save
Power mode was activated, but the card remained fairly warm. It's evident that
the card was still drawing a fair amount of power, but not so much that the
card would overheat without the fan spinning.

In Performance mode, the IGP being active resulted in a 1-3W increase across
the board — fairly insignificant. Strangely when we loaded up CPUBurn and
ATITool at the same time, power consumption was lower than just with the discrete
card in use. Perhaps HybridPower confused ATITool and it pushed some of the
load on the IGP instead — the problem is likely to be with ATITool, which
pushes a constant heavy load, rather than the more dynamic up/down load of a
typical video game, .

RESULTS WITH PHENOM

We recently received one of AMD's new 65W Phenom 9350E chips recently. This
is the lowest power quad-core CPU available; Intel's current lowest has a 95W
TDP. For those considering it as a low-cost, low-power quad-core alternative,
we tested it out briefly to see if was as energy efficient as claimed.

X2 4850e vs. Phenom 9350E
Test State
X2 4850e @ 2.5Ghz
Phenom 9350e @ 2.0Ghz
Mean CPU Use
Peak CPU Use
System Power
Mean CPU Use
Peak CPU Use
System Power
Idle
1%
2%
37W
1%
2%
50W
Rush Hour
7%
10%
~44W
7%
9%
~64W
Coral Reef
32%
44%
~53W
18%
25%
~72W
Flight Sim.
48%
62%
~67W
30%
39%
~77W
Drag Race
58%
72%
~65W
31%
40%
~79W
CPUBurn x2
100%
93W
50%
91W
CPUBurn x4
NA
N/A
100%
124W
CPUBurn + ATITool
100%
102W
100%
130W

The X2 4850e has a TDP of 45W, so the Phenom 9350e measured as specified. Power
consumption during idle and video playback was 10-14W higher, and almost the
same with two instances of CPUBurn stressing the CPU. At maximum load with all
four cores pushed hard as well as the IGP, the difference was 28W in total system
AC power or about 22W DC if you assume 80% PSU efficiency.

FAN CONTROL

For customizable fan control, SpeedFan is our application of choice. If properly
supported, it can be configured to raise/lower multiple fan speeds to designated
limits when any specified temperature threshold is breached.



EasyTune's Smart Fan configuration screen.

The screenshot above shows the correlation between SpeedFan's readings and
the temperature and fan speed sensors. Most of the readings in SpeedFan were
corroborated by Asus' PC Probe utility. Please note that though there is a "MB"
sensor, it did not seem to correlate to the chipset temperature. The MB temperature
changed very little during testing, even when we placed it on full load or put
a 80mm fan blowing over the chipset heatsink.

We found that SpeedFan could be configured to fully control both the CPU and
Chassis fan. Setting the PWM modes 1-3 in the Advanced menu from "SmartGuardian"
to "Software Controlled" enabled the speed controls. Both headers
were controllable from 0 to 100%, except in the case of a PWM fan hooked up
to the CPU fan header. A Xigmatek PWM 120mm fan connected to it could only be
controlled from between 790 to 1460 RPM approximately.

CPU Fan Speed (RPM)
CPU Temp.
Fan Profile
Silent
Optimal
Perf.
30-42°C
820
830
1220
44°C
820
860
1270
46°C
820
900
1310
48°C
820
980
1340
50°C
840
1070
1430
52°C
870
1180
1430
54°C
950
1240
1430
56°C
1020
1300
1430
58°C
1070
1380
1430
60°C
1120
1420
1430

To test how well the automatic fan profiles worked, we connected the fan on
the CPU cooler to a variable DC fan controller set to a relatively low 6V and
proceeded to stress the processor using CPUBurn. A Xigmatek PWM 120mm fan was
connected to the CPU_FAN header and its speed was monitored and graphed using
SpeedFan. Throughout testing, the fan speed increased gradually depending on
the CPU temperature.

The range and starting and end speed was basically what differentiated the
settings. "Silent" was the most conservative with the fan speed only
having a range of 300 RPM and a high threshold temperature near 50°C. "Performance"
had a range of only 200 RPM, a high starting speed and a low threshold temperature.
"Optimal" used the fan's entire range as the CPU heat up. The Chassis
fan header produced very similar graphs — it exhibited the same basic behavior
as outlined above.

OVERCLOCKING

With very effective third party heatsinks on the market, and many low power
CPUs available, overclocking, to an extent, can improve performance without
compromising the noise level of a silent PC. A simple overclocking investigation
was conducted with the CPU multiplier set to 5x and RAM at 533Mhz/2.155V. The
CPU frequency was increased in increments of 5Mhz until the system failed
a 5 minute of Prime95 and 3DView running simultaneously or failed to boot or
showed other signs of instability.



The maximum FSB overclock with our X2 4850e.

We found that the M3N78 Pro could boost our X2 4850e up 265Mhz. At +270Mhz,
it would boot into Vista but blue-screen shortly thereafter. No graphical anamolies
presented in ATIToo,l suggesting the overclock did not compromise the video
subsystem. With ample voltage applied to our X2 4850e processor, we managed
to get it partially stable at 3.17Ghz using a 12x multiplier. All in all, these
are fairly good results.

3D PERFORMANCE

Normally we don't get into the realm of game benchmarking, but we wanted to
see whether Geforce 8300 is any better than AMD's HD 3200 (780G). For this we
used 3DMark05 and 3DMark06 — not the best or most accurate of benchmarks,
but it's simple to use, requires very little work on our part, and looks pretty
on the screen when it's running.

Futuremark Comparison
Test
Geforce 8300 IGP
780G
(HD 3200 IGP)
780G

(HD 3450)
3DMark05
1669
2293
3705
3DMark06
902
1116
1716
All results with 2GB of system RAM and 256MB of VRAM
assigned (when applicable).

Unfortunately, nVidia falls well behind AMD in terms of 3D IGP performance
with 3DMark. However it should be noted that neither IGP can match even an entry-level
graphics card like the HD3450, which can be found for $30~$40. If you're going
to attempt to do any modern PC gaming with an IGP-based system, you'll have
varying degrees of horrific with any IGP. For older games or perhaps web-based
games, the 780G chipset appear superior, but the edge is not huge.

HDMI OUTPUT

When we connected the board's HDMI output to our BenQ FP94VW monitor, it allowed
us to select a large variety of resolutions including the native resolution
of 1440x900. The resulting image was zoomed in slightly, however. Not a big
deal for watching movies, but for desktop use, it's probably unacceptable. The
audio portion of the singal worked flawlessly.

COOLING

The board's chipset heatsink did a decent job — its surface reached 60°C
while overclocked and at full load, according to an IR thermometer. The power
efficiency of the chipset has a lot to do with the relatively cool temperature.
The VRMs are noticeably naked; that is, bare of any heatsinks. It may be advisable
to use additional cooling for the exposed MOSFETs if overclocking and/or using
a tower heatsink. That being said, we did not observe any instability brought
on by overheating components or otherwise.

FINAL THOUGHTS

After extensive testing, we can conclude that the Asus M3N78 Pro and its Geforce
8300 chipset is a success. Compared directly to Gigabyte's GA-MA78GM-S2H and
its AMD 780G chipset, the nVidia chipset board has the power efficiency edge
in all areas, saving up to 11W depending on the load. For a low power system,
11W is a sizable amount. High definition playback was comparable, but again
more energy efficient. Only in 3D performance did the M3N78 Pro fall a bit short.

The HybridPower feature, while not able to completely shut down the Geforce
GTX 260 we tested, still reduced power consumption by as much as 17W. It's a
fraction of the card's overall power consumption, but it's better than nothing.
When the power saving mode was activated, it also stopped the GTX 260's fan
— this is possibly a boon for silent PCs. During game play, a video card's
fan noise is mitigated by the sound/volume pumping out of the speakers —
in many cases, its when a gaming card is idle that the sound level of its fan
is most annoying.

Asus did a pretty good job on other details. The fan control is good, with
smooth automatic control, and fully customizable control via SpeedFan if you're
so inclined. The board also overclocks well, even though current AMD CPUs are
not known for their overclockability. Express Gate is a nifty addition to Asus
boards — the fast boot-up time coupled with its ease of use truly illustrates
the advantage of Linux's low system requirements. It is a kind of subversive
attempt to promote Linux, rather than a shot at Microsoft as the orignal Asus
EEE sub-notebook.

The M3N78 Pro is a polished piece of hardware — rarely do we encounter
a motherboard that does not present serious bugs or quirks, let alone one that
impresses in almost every criteria. If you're in the market for an AM2+ motherboard,
there is little reason not to choose this one. It's a complete, well-balanced
package.

PROS



* Excellent, efficient high definition playback

* Low power consumption

* HybridPower reduces power draw modestly

* Overclocks well

* Good fan control

* Express Gate convenient for simple tasks
CONS



* 3D performance lacking

* HybridPower savings much less than expected









Our thanks to Asus
and AMD for the product samples.

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