Test Setup

The Biostar TA690G AM2 was selected as our AMD 690G platform representative today. This choice does not indicate any perceivable performance differences that we have noticed when comparing it against the MSI K9AGM2 or ASUS M2A-VM boards; rather it was chosen after blindly pulling its name tag out of the lab hat. All three boards will be fully reviewed in our mATX roundup next week. At this time, each one offers basically the same base performance with features and pricing differentiating the boards from each other. The MSI feature list is very streamlined but still offers on-board HDMI output along with a price tag that should be south of $80. The ASUS and Biostar offerings are feature rich with price tags that will be around $85 and up. Performance and more importantly stability is excellent in all three boards.

Biostar TA690G AM2 / ASUS M2NPV-VM Testbed
Processor: AMD Athlon 64 X2 5200+ Windsor
Dual Core, 2.6GHz, 2 x 1MB L2 Cache, 13x Multiplier
CPU Voltage: 1.350V
Cooling: Zalman 9500 Air Cooling
Power Supply: Corsair CMPSU-620HX 620W
Memory: OCZ Flex XLC PC2-6400 (2x1GB) (ProMOS Memory Chips)
Memory Settings: 3-4-4-9, 1.90V
Video Cards: On-Board X1250, GeForce 6150
Video Drivers: AMD 8.345, NVIDIA 15.00
Hard Drive: Western Digital 74GB 10,000RPM SATA 16MB Buffer
Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 500GB SATA 16MB Buffer
Optical Drives: Plextor PX-760A, PX-B900A
Case: Cooler Master CM Stacker 830
Operating System: Windows Vista Home Premium 32-bit
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MSI G965MDH Testbed
Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo E6300
Dual Core, 1.86GHz, 2MB Unified Cache
1066FSB, 7x Multiplier
CPU Voltage: 1.3250V
Cooling: Zalman 9500 Air Cooling
Power Supply: Corsair CMPSU-620HX 620W
Memory: OCZ Flex XLC PC2-6400 (2x1GB) (ProMOS Memory Chips)
Memory Settings: 4-4-4-12 1.85V
Video Cards: On-board X3000
Video Drivers: Intel 15.1
Hard Drive: Western Digital 74GB 10,000RPM SATA 16MB Buffer
Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 500GB SATA 16MB Buffer
Optical Drives: Plextor PX-760A, PX-B900A
Case: Cooler Master CM Stacker 830
Operating System: Windows Vista Home Premium 32-bit
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Our first decision was to decide what chipsets to test against. The natural comparison is the NVIDIA GeForce 6150 chipset that has ruled the AMD IGP market for well over a year now. We selected one of the better overall 6150 boards from a feature viewpoint, which is the ASUS M2NPV-VM. There was not enough time to compare the AMD 690G chipset to the current VIA and SIS AM2 offerings as these new products just arrived and we will look at them in the near future.

Our next decision and one that we typically do not do in our normal motherboard reviews was to test the board against a similar board offering but utilizing a different CPU manufacturer. AMD has been adamant that the combination of the 690G/690V chipset and AM2 processor is meant to provide an overall superior platform experience when compared against the Intel G965/Q965 with a Core 2 Duo processor. Of course, they also mean this when comparing their chipset against the NVIDIA products but at least with every NVIDIA AM2 chipset sold, there is a corresponding AMD processor requirement. In the end we chose the MSI G965MDH for our Intel G965 platform offering.

We selected the AMD Athlon 64 5200+ X2 and the Intel E6300 Core 2 Duo processors as our processor choices as both represent great bargains when comparing price against performance in their respective categories. We also switched to Microsoft Vista Home Premium 32-bit as our operating system of choice for this category. After speaking with several of the larger OEMs who are using this chipset and similar ones, we found out this OS choice will be the one most widely offered to consumers. It was a natural then that we would test on Vista Home Premium and a 2GB memory configuration as we suggest this amount as a minimum for Vista.

Our memory and hard drive choices are a little out of the norm for this category but since we are testing the chipset capabilities we were determined not to have a bottleneck in either area. We will test additional budget DDR2-800 memory from G.Skill and Wintec in our roundup along with comparison testing using an external video card. All other components in our test configurations are identical with the boards being set up in their default configurations except for memory settings being optimized to ensure maximum throughput on each board.

Overclocking, network, audio, and memory performance on individual boards will be covered in our mATX roundup. We will say that overclocking on the 690G platforms is in its infancy at this time as the initial BIOS releases concentrated on compatibility and base performance, not overclocking. We have received a performance oriented BIOS for the Biostar and ASUS boards that should allow overclocking now.

Our choice of software applications to test was based on programs that enjoy widespread use and produce repeatable and consistent results during testing. Microsoft Vista has thrown a monkey wrench into testing as the aggressive nature of the operating system to constantly optimize application loading and retrieval from memory or the storage system presented some interesting obstacles. This along with the lack of driver maturity will continue to present problems in the near future with benchmark selections. Our normal process was to change our power settings to performance, delete the contents of the Prefetch folder, and then reboot after each benchmark run. A lengthy process to be sure but one that resulted in consistency over the course of benchmark testing. All applications were run with administrator privileges.

Chipset Overview General Performance
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  • 3 CUBED - Friday, March 9, 2007 - link

    I have to mention power also. Considering that a HTPC is properly going to be on quiet a bit, I would like to se some info on the power draw, from these mobo's. The same goes in the roundup!! Also considering that the energy prices is headed only UP, even a little lower performance might be worth that in the long run!!

    Thanks Kasper.
    Reply
  • MrNeutrino - Thursday, March 8, 2007 - link

    Guys,

    First, the feedback:

    Frankly I'm quite frustrated from waiting for a site like AT for the past half a year or more to come out with more mATX reviews (until this review, which is a start).

    I realize there are a lot of gamers OCers out there - very many AT readers. However, there are many (just as many?) non-gamer enthusiasts hoping to run stock-speed,SILENT, SFF systems out there - myself for one.

    While lesser known sites have reviewed many of these products, I (and others like me I know of) have been waiting for AT to publish SOMETHING in the mATX / C2D (current and long-standing performance champ depending on the system config.) category for months on end! I realize you have dedicated folks working for each review category. However, AT - a site as a whole - still seems to have enough bandwidth to publish back-to-back LCD and heatsink reviews in a matter of day or two each. Yet you seem to have held off on prioritizing mATX system reviews for some inexplicable milestone until yesterday. I recall reading a vague comment in one of your reviews around the end of the year regarding an 'upcoming' mATX review, if I remember correctly. In my opinion it was already too delayed a review. Little did I know I'd be waiting another two months for such a review.

    Geez! Publish the review in parts if you must, but don't make your readers hold off for this long and think all is well! What's the point of releasing this type of review, months after products became widely available and just a few months before the next round of technology updates?!

    -----------------------

    Second is a set of requests for the (personally) much anticipated upcoming mATX review next week 'as well as' for future reviews:

    Requests for the upcoming mATX review:

    * Please try to include Asus P5B-VM. One of the currently best featured G965 MBs.

    * Please include at least one C2D ATX MB for comparison! My vote is for Asus P5B-E. I can't stress this enough! I have yet to receive any 'quantitative' (read: benchmark backed) response in forums http://forums.anandtech.com/messageview.aspx?catid...">here) and http://forums.anandtech.com/messageview.aspx?catid...">here, on the following topics (quoting from my earlier posts):

    - how do mATX boards compare to ATX boards "for non-gaming tasks such as video / audio editing, general productivity, multi-tasking etc.?"

    - "How much of a performance hit does a G965 type mATX motherboard with integrated graphics incur as a result of sharing memory bus bandwidth with the CPU, for NON-GAMING benchmarks, compared to regular C2D ATX boards?" (Assuming of course, the user chooses to use integrated graphics vs. discrete solution and has that enabled in BIOS.)

    Please BE SURE to adderss these and other such real-world topics and help make the review more meaningful for folks like me.


    Requests for future reviews:

    * Consider investing more time and effort in SFF / mATX / silent PC config based reviews! Yes, there is an audience out there...

    * For a site this major and popular - both with readers and vendors - you need to seriously evaluate your time-to-publishing lags for some of these reviews - C2D mATX roundup review for one. I realize there are a million things you can review and only 24 hours in a day. Delayed reviews (compared to when the products came out) don't help your readers as much - think luxury car depreciation over time... :)

    Thanks.
    Reply
  • Gary Key - Thursday, March 8, 2007 - link

    Hi,

    Your suggestions and comments are appreciated. I did reply in the forums this morning.

    :)
    Reply
  • MrNeutrino - Friday, March 9, 2007 - link

    Thanks Gary.

    I appreciate you reviewing the feedback and requests in detail. Hopefully we'll see some follow-up action based on this as and where appropriate.

    Also, thanks for replying to some of the key questions I've had around mATX vs. ATX boards. Lack of major performance delta is very good to hear about, at least for pre-Vista Windows OSes. Interesting.

    Based on your comments in the forum posting re: Vista + IGP + memory latency, I am intrigued. If you are going to cover this in the upcoming review, feel free to say so and defer this question. Else I am curious what performance difference we are talking about between XP vs. Vista using IGP solutions? Any pointers to help with this comparison would be helpful in helping decide whether or not a Vista purchase is worthwhile from a performance standpoint in such categories / applications.

    Also, have you transitioned to exclusively testing using Vista?
    Reply
  • blawck - Wednesday, March 7, 2007 - link

    I'm buying a small-form-factor PC with an Intel 965G motherboard (it was the only option), and I'm plugging in an NVIDIA 8800GTX video card. So, I was wondering how these IGP motherboards (specifically this Intel one) perform in general with a vidcard plugged in. Is performance on par with (or at least somewhere close to) that of full-size motherboards? Or am I getting screwed? Reply
  • Gary Key - Wednesday, March 7, 2007 - link

    It depends on the board that you buy. The Gigabyte GA-965G-DS3 allows for a decent level of overclocking (330FSB) and memory options (CAS 3 operation), the overall performance difference will not be noticeable in day to day activities when compared to a more enthusiast level board. A base G965 board will not offer the same overclocking options and a couple of the boards only allow CAS 5 operation at DDR2-800, but once again, the performance delta overall will be less than 5% in most cases, nothing to be concerned about especially given your choice of video cards. Reply
  • blawck - Wednesday, March 7, 2007 - link

    Great, thanks for the quick reply! This is a high-quality site =). The manufacturer is Maingear, and the board they're using for my system is simply identified generically as "Intel 965G Express," but based on your response, I have faith that I am, indeed, not getting screwed =). I've built all my previous machines, but I'm getting old and fat and lazy, so I figured I'd spend a few hundred extra and have someone do it for me. Not too worried about SLI or overclocking at this point...I'll accept whatever resolution I can run Oblivion in, as long as I can run it. Thanx again. Reply
  • chucky2 - Wednesday, March 7, 2007 - link

    For the mATX review, you should include results for the Abit Fatal1ty F-I90HD.

    It's basically the 690G version for Intel CPU's...and that'd allow a direct comparison between Conroe and AM2 CPU's as the chipset would be the same.

    Just a thought...

    Chuck

    P.S. Plus, I'm sure there's a good amount of people that'd like to run Conroe on a cheap but good mATX, and the Abit Fatal1ty F-I90HD looks to be about the best option out right now for that (albiet in limited quantities so far...), just too bad it doesn't have onboard Firewire (at least I don't think it does, didn't list it on the spec page), because then it'd have like everything one could want...
    Reply
  • Gary Key - Wednesday, March 7, 2007 - link

    We should receive that board next week. I will do my best to include in it the roundup. Reply
  • chucky2 - Wednesday, March 7, 2007 - link

    Awesome if you can Gary, Cool if you can't...

    ...March looks like the month of motherboard reviews... :)

    Chuck
    Reply

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