Post Cards from the Edge - AMD 780G, NVIDIA 790i, Gigabyte 680iby Gary Key on April 5, 2008 12:00 PM EST
- Posted in
Pop goes the MOSFET
Our top performance board in the roundup - thanks to its SidePort memory and optimum layout - is the JW-RS780UVD-AM2+ from J&W. They have a note at the bottom of the product page stating this board does not support 125W TDP processors, and again in the specifications section. We consider this acceptable and for the record, their board failed on power-up with the 9850E. J&W informed us that they will be producing a new five-phase PWM board in an ATX form factor for the performance oriented crowd in May. In the meantime, they have shipped us a new board to complete testing. For a “new” player in the market, we have to admit their customer service and support has been impressive.
The next board up is our all-around feature favorite product from Gigabyte, featuring a four-phase PWM design. The GA-MA78GM-S2H product page does not mention support issues with the 125W TDP processors. It actually states that the board supports the Phenom FX/Phenom processors, leading one to believe all is well. The specification page does not mention any support problems with the 125W TDP Phenoms. It is not until you get to the CPU Support List page that you find out the 9850E has not been qualified on this board, and the same goes for the other quad-core B3 stepping processors. This leaves the user in a quandary as to actual support for the new Phenoms, and hopefully Gigabyte will update the product pages quickly. The board actually runs the B3 stepping fine with the F3E BIOS or higher. However, this board failed after a short overclocking session with the 9900/9850BE processors. It lasted the longest of the boards we tested with either processor and will still power on, but it will no longer POST. Interestingly enough, Gigabyte has qualified the 125W TDP 6400/6000+ X2 processors on this board. We had a new board arrive today and will complete testing on it over the weekend before we subject it to any further overclocking tests with these processors.
We moved to the ASUS M3A78-EMH HDMI board that features a three-phase PWM design. The product page states that the board supports the latest AMD Phenom quad-core processors. Well, guess what: it lasted a mere two seconds with the latest and greatest Phenom processor and about 10 minutes with the 6400+ X2. The specification page is blank so we moved on to the QVL page and found it only contained qualified memory modules. We thought to ourselves, "What would Nancy Drew do?" Low and behold, we went to the download page for the board and off to the left was a box that featured links to CPU Support, Specifications, Product Comparisons, FAQ, and Forum. Sure enough, we clicked on the CPU Support link and found the information we were searching for earlier. Turns out that the Phenom 9100e, 9500, and 9600 are the only qualified Phenom models, and the 125W TDP 6400+ X2 is missing in action as well. This is a long way from the marketing slogan proclaiming support for the latest Phenom quad-core processors.
Next up is the ECS A780GM series of boards that feature ATX and uATX form factors with a three-phase power design. The product and specification pages list AMD Phenom support. Clicking on the CPU support link off to the left brings up one of the more detailed CPU support pages we discovered. However, the 9850BE and 6400+ X2 are both missing. You can guess the outcome by now; while our board is not completely dead, it is on life support and pretty much circling the drain. We were able to shut it down before a complete black out, but the board is no longer stable at any setting.
We stopped testing the 125W TDP processors at this point, although we could have continued with the boards from ASRock, Jetway, and Biostar. Based on their PWM designs, we are sure that each board had a high probability of failure with the 125W TDP processors. In each case, the product pages list support for the full Phenom or X2 processor series and it is not until you go to the CPU support pages that you realize 125W TDP processors are not supported.
AMD also has a very useful tool that provides information about Phenom compatibility across a wide range of motherboards that AMD has tested. None of our test subjects has been formally approved by AMD for use with the 125W TDP processors in the X2 or Phenom product families. We found this interesting as Gigabyte qualified the board for use with the 6400+ X2 but the Athlon X2 compatibility tool does not agree. So who is right? We will find out shortly.
What did we learn? Do not trust the product information and specification pages in the vast majority of cases. The CPU support pages tell the real story - some better than others, but in all cases the 125W TDP processors are not officially supported by current 780G motherboards (4/25/08 update - Finishing 100 hour test results with the 9850BE and three vendor qualified boards have passed to date with proper cooling of the PWM area). It just takes some effort to find that information (except for J&W) and this is something we do not think the user should have to do. In our opinion, the product pages lead the user down one path while the CPU support pages (which are sometimes difficult to find) tell another story. At this point, it pays to read the fine print or hope your favorite review site is able to provide this information.
Personally, I was very disappointed in the type of information available on the websites and in the product manuals. Sure, a manufacturer can hide behind the CPU support lists, but the information provided on the product description and specification pages would lead the majority of users to think using any Phenom or X2 processor is perfectly acceptable when it is not. One would think the manufacturers would be especially sensitive to this problem unless they just enjoy the RMA process and pissed off customers. This especially holds true when purchasing the board from an e-tailor or local shop. Unless the user does some research, the current information available in a product ad or on the box does not tell the rest of the story.
Our stand at this time with the manufacturers is they need to ensure the CPU support page is clearly identified, readily available on the product information page, and it needs to be updated on a regular basis. We also request the CPU support page be linked from the processor support information described in the overview section. If this is not possible then the processor information should be asterisked with a note to check the CPU support page or state what processors are not supported in the short term. Trying to address the channel and retail markets is another can of worms that we will look at later.
We are hoping the short-term fixes occur quickly over the next thirty days; if they do not, well, the product will not be eligible for an Editors' Choice award and you can be certain we will mention processor support in the review. In fact, if a processor is missing from the list we will assume it is not supported and will report it as such from this point forward.