ASUS M2A-VM is a socket AM2 motherboard with on-board video based on the new AMD 690G chipset, also known by its codename RS690. This is the first chipset coming from the collaboration between AMD and ATI, after AMD bought ATI. We were very curious to compare its performance to the previous on-board video solution from ATI, Radeon Xpress 1100, to its competitor, GeForce 6100 from NVIDIA, and also to cheap add-in video cards, like GeForce 6200. Let’s see how ASUS M2A-VM performs.
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Figure 1: ASUS M2A-VM motherboard.
Two chipsets were released based on the RS690 core, AMD 690G and AMD 690V. The first is based on Radeon X1250 graphics engine supporting HDMI, while the second is based on Radeon X1200 graphics engine with no HDMI support. Even though the name of these engines are in the ”1000“ range, they are still Shader 2.0 engines (DirectX 9.0), not Shader 3.0 (DirectX 9.0c).
AMD 690G graphics core runs at 400 MHz and has four pixel shader processors and four vertex shader processors. Competing products from NVIDIA (i.e., GeForce 6100 family) has only two pixel shader processors and two vertex shader processors, but they run at a higher clock rate (425 MHz on GeForce 6100 and 475 MHz on GeForce 6150). The previous integrated graphics solution from ATI, Radeon X1100, runs at 300 MHz.
Even though AMD 690G brings HDMI support (HDMI is a new digital audio and video connection type used by HDTV sets, click here to learn more about it), on ASUS M2A-VM you need to have an add-on card installed on the x16 PCI Express slot to have the HDMI connector available, plus S-Video, Component Video, RGB and Composite video outputs and also SPDIF coaxial connectors. This card is only available on another motherboard model, called M2A-VM HDMI.
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Figure 2: Add-on card necessary to have HDMI, Component Video, S-Video, RGB and Composite video outputs and coaxial SPDIF connectors.
The drawback of using this add-on card is obvious: you cannot have an add-on video card and a HDMI display at the same time. Since the aim of this motherboard is digital home PCs, this should not be really a problem.
On the other hand, AMD 690G has two independent video controllers inside, providing two video outputs on-board. ASUS M2A-VM comes with two video outputs: one standard VGA output and one DVI output, allowing you to connect two video monitors to your computer at the same time without needing to install an add-on video card. This is simply great.
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Figure 3: Rear panel connectors, notice the two video outputs.
Also, AMD 690G is the first chipset with on-board video from AMD/ATI to support Avivo, which is the name given by ATI to their set of 2D-enhancement technologies, like de-interlacing. Click here for a detailed explanation about Avivo.
As you can see on Figures 1 and 2, this motherboard provides one x16 PCI Express slot for you to install a ”real“ video card in the future. It also has one x1 PCI Express slot and two regular PCI slots.
This motherboard has four SATA-300 ports and one ATA-133 port, all controlled by the chipset. The SATA ports support RAID0, RAID1 and RAID10.
It has 10 USB 2.0 ports (four soldered on the motherboard) and two FireWire ports (one soldered on the motherboard), controlled by VIA VT6308 chip.
It also has Gigabit Ethernet, controlled by the chipset together with a Realtek RTL8111B chip, which is in charge of making the interface with the Physical layer.
On the audio section, this motherboard has eight channels provided by the chipset together with a Realtek ALC883 codec. While this codec provides a good output quality (95 dB signal-to-noise ratio and 192 kHz sampling rate), it does not provide a good input quality for today’s standards (85 dB signal-to-noise ratio and 96 kHz sampling rate). Thus this motherboard isn’t recommended for professionally capturing analog audio. For this kind of application look for a motherboard with at least 95 dB SNR on its input.
Another drawback of the on-board audio from this motherboard is that this board provides only three analog connectors, as you can see in Figure 3. Thus if you have analog speakers you can only setup a 5.1 audio system. You won’t be able to assemble a 7.1 audio system with this motherboard, because it does not provide the two extra analog outputs and also does not have an on-board SPDIF output – SPDIF output is available only on the add-on card that comes with M2A-VM HDMI model. On this motherboard you would need a SPDIF bracket, which doesn’t come with the board. Also, since this motherboard does not have separated connectors for the rear and center/subwoofer channels, you will need to manually plug and unplug connectors if you have an analog 5.1 speaker system and need to use the line in and/or the mic in inputs.
This motherboard has four DDR2-DIMM sockets, accepting up to 8 GB of DDR2-400/667/800 memory. Two sockets are yellow and the other two are black. To use dual channel feature you need to install the memory modules on modules with the same color.
All capacitors on this motherboard are Japanese from Chemi-con. This ensures that you won’t face any capacitor leakage in the future.
Before going to our performance tests, let’s recap the main features of the reviewed board.