ASUS M2A-VM Motherboard Review
By Gabriel Torres on March 26, 2007


Introduction

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.

ASUS M2A-VM (AMD 690G - RS690)
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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.

ASUS M2A-VM (AMD 690G - RS690)
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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.

ASUS M2A-VM (AMD 690G - RS690)
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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.

Main Specifications

ASUS M2A-VM main features are:

* Researched at Shopping.com on the day we published this review.

How We Tested

During our benchmarking sessions, we used the configuration listed below. Between our benchmarking sessions the only variable was the motherboard being tested.
 
Hardware Configuration

Software Configuration

Driver Versions

Used Software

We adopted a 3% error margin; thus, differences below 3% cannot be considered relevant. In other words, products with a performance difference below 3% should be considered as having similar performance.

Overall Performance

We measured the overall performance of this motherboard using SYSmark2004, which is a software that simulates the use of real-world applications. Thus, we consider this the best software to measure, in practical terms, the system performance.

The benchmarks are divided into two groups:

The software delivers specific results for each batch and also an overall performance result, all in a specific SYSmark2004 unit.

We ran this software in two scenarios. First using the motherboard on-board video, comparing its performance to ECS GeForce6100SM-M, which is based on GeForce 6100-405, and to ECS RS485M-M, which is based on ATI Radeon Xpress X1100.

Then we disabled the board on-board video and installed a GeForce 7800 GTX from XFX to compare it with an ASUS M2N32-SLI De Luxe, which is a high-end socket AM2 motherboard based on NVIDIA nForce MCP 590 SLI chipset. Our idea was to see if this motherboard would achieve the same performance level of a high-end motherboard when we installed a high-end video card on it.

ASUS M2A-VM (AMD 690G - RS690)

With its on-board video enabled, ASUS M2A-VM achieved the same performance level of the other two motherboards with on-board video that we included in our comparison, ECS GeForce 6100SM-M and ECS RS485M-M (Radeon Xpress X1100). It also achieved the same performance level of an ASUS M2N32-SLI De Luxe with a GeForce 7800 GTX installed, which is great.

When we installed our GeForce 7800 GTX on the reviewed board we saw no performance increase on SYSmark2004.

Processing Performance

Using the same methodology of the previous test, we measured processing performance using PCMark05 Professional program. This program gives the results in a specific unit and since it includes video performance on its score, the motherboard with the best video will achieve the best results.

ASUS M2A-VM (AMD 690G - RS690)

On PCMark05 ASUS M2A-VM was 4.82% faster than ECS RS485M-M, which is based on Radeon Xpress 1100, but was 7.50% slower than ECS GeForce6100SM-M.

When we installed a GeForce 7800 GTX on ASUS M2A-VM achieved the same performance level of ASUS M2N32-SLI De Luxe with the same video card installed, meaning that you will achieve the same performance of a high-end motherboard by installing a real video card on this motherboard.

3D Performance: 3DMark2001 SE

To evaluate AMD 690G 3D performance we installed two low-end video cards on ASUS M2A-VM: GeForce 6200 TurboCache with 64 MB and 64-bit interface (from XFX) and GeForce 6200 with 128 MB and 128-bit interface (from Leadtek).

We also installed a high-end video card, GeForce 7800 GTX, on it and compared its performance to a high-end motherboard with the same video card installed, ASUS M2N32-SLI De Luxe.

We ran several programs, as you will see in the next pages. The amount of RAM memory the chipset “steals” from the main RAM memory to be used as video memory was left on its default value, which is 64 MB. On this motherboard you have the following configurations: 32 MB, 64 MB, 128 MB and 256 MB.

The first one, 3DMark2001 SE, measures 3D performance by making DirectX 8.1 simulations, and the results you can see below (we ran it using its default configuration). All the listed video cards were installed on ASUS M2A-VM.

ASUS M2A-VM (AMD 690G - RS690)

On 3DMark2001 SE AMD 690G was 4.89% faster than GeForce 6100-405, however it was 8.75% slower than Radeon X1100, which is not a good thing. It was also beaten by the two low-end PCI Express video cards we installed: GeForce 6200 TC (64 MB, 64-bit) was 74.50% faster and GeForce 6200 (128 MB, 128-bit) was 152.38% faster than the on-board video of the reviewed motherboard.

When we installed a GeForce 7800 GTX on the reviewed card, a surprise: it was 8.90% faster than ASUS M2N32-SLI De Luxe with the same video card installed.

3D Performance: 3DMark03

We followed the same methodology described in the previous page, but now running 3DMark03. 3DMark03 simulates DirectX 9.0 (i.e., Shader 2.0) games, which is fully supported by all three chipsets with integrated graphics we added to our comparison: Radeon Xpress 1100, GeForce 6100-405 and AMD 690G.

You can check the results of our benchmarking below. All the listed video cards were installed on ASUS M2A-VM.

ASUS M2A-VM (AMD 690G - RS690)

On 3DMark03 AMD 690G was 4.73% faster than Radeon Xpress 1100 and 23.66% faster than GeForce 6100-405. It was also beaten by the two low-end PCI Express video cards we installed: GeForce 6200 TC (64 MB, 64-bit) was 61.54% faster and GeForce 6200 (128 MB, 128-bit) was 153.83% faster than the on-board video of the reviewed motherboard.

When we installed a GeForce 7800 GTX on the reviewed card it achieved the same performance of our ASUS M2N32-SLI De Luxe with the same video card installed.

3D Performance: 3DMark05

We again followed the same methodology described previously, but now running 3DMark05. This program measures 3D performance by simulating DirectX 9.0c games, i.e., using Shader 3.0. This programming model is used by the latest games and supported by GeForce 6100-405, but it isn’t supported by Radeon Xpress 1100 nor by AMD 690G.

It isn’t fair to use this program to evaluate 3D performance of motherboards with on-board video, as they achieve a very low score on this program. We ran it anyway, basically to see the performance achieved by ASUS M2A-VM using a real video card installed and also to compare it to ECS RS485M-M and ECS GeForce6100SM-M.

You can check the results of our benchmarking below. All the listed video cards were installed on ASUS M2A-VM.

ASUS M2A-VM (AMD 690G - RS690)

This time the results were very favorable to AMD690G, as its on-board video was 43.70% faster than the one provided by GeForce 6100-405 and 55.95% faster than the one provided by Radeon Xpress 1100.

But it was still beaten by the two most low-end PCI Express video cards available on the market: GeForce 6200 TC (64 MB, 64-bit) was 29.90% faster and GeForce 6200 (128 MB, 128-bit) was 57.42% faster than the on-board video of the reviewed motherboard.

When we installed a GeForce 7800 GTX on the reviewed card, it achieved the same performance level of an ASUS M2N32-SLI De Luxe with the same video card installed.

3D Performance: Quake III

We used the demo four available on version 1.32 of Quake III to make our benchmarking with this game. We ran this demo three times at 1024x768x32 resolution and all image quality settings on their default configuration and we picked the middle value for our comparisons, i.e., we discarded the highest and the lowest values.

You can check the results of our benchmarking below. All the listed video cards were installed on ASUS M2A-VM.

ASUS M2A-VM (AMD 690G - RS690)

Here AMD 690G achieved a performance worse than GeForce 6100-405 (which was 17.82% faster) and Radeon Xpress 1100 (which was 16.85% faster).

As expected, the 3D performance of the reviewed board was again beaten by the two low-end PCI Express video cards we installed: GeForce 6200 TC (64 MB, 64-bit) was 145.70% faster and GeForce 6200 (128 MB, 128-bit) was 244.73% faster than the on-board video of the reviewed motherboard.

This time when we installed a GeForce 7800 GTX on the reviewed card it didn’t achieve the same performance level of an ASUS M2N32-SLI De Luxe with the same video card installed: the motherboard from ASUS was 21.65% faster.

3D Performance: Quake 4

Quake 4 is very heavy game that uses the same engine of Doom 3. We used the id_demo001 available on version 1.2 of Quake 4 to make our benchmarking with this game. We run this demo four times at 1024x768x32 resolution and image quality settings on “low”. The results shown on the chart is an arithmetic average of the collected data. The results are in frames per second. For more information on how to use Quake 4 to benchmark a PC, read our tutorial on this subject.

ASUS M2A-VM (AMD 690G - RS690)

On Quake 4 the on-board video provided by AMD 690G was faster than the one provided by Radeon Xpress 1100 (10.20%) and than the one provided by GeForce 6100-405 (29.69%). But this really means nothing, as you won’t be able to play Quake 4 (or Doom 3) with the on-board video provided by this motherboard: even with image quality set to low we could only reach 8.5 frames per second.

AMD 690G was one more time beaten by the two low-end PCI Express video cards we installed: GeForce 6200 TC (64 MB, 64-bit) was 109.61% faster and GeForce 6200 (128 MB, 128-bit) was 319.22% faster than the on-board video of the reviewed motherboard.

When we installed a GeForce 7800 GTX on the reviewed card it didn’t achieve the same performance level of an ASUS M2N32-SLI De Luxe with the same video card installed: the motherboard from ASUS was 6.52% faster.

Overclocking

ASUS M2A-VM provides some overclocking options, but no memory timings settings. Here are the options you will find on ASUS M2A-VM (0201 BIOS):

ASUS M2A-VM (AMD 690G - RS690)
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Figure 4: ASUS M2A-VM overclocking options.

On this motherboard we could increase the CPU base clock from 200 MHz to 214 MHz, making our Athlon 64 X2 5000+ to run at 2,782 MHz, a 7% increase over its original clock of 2.6 GHz. With this overclocking Quake 3 performance increased 4.7%. With ECS GeForce6100SM-M we could configure the CPU base clock at 216 MHz and with ECS RS485M-M we could set it to 218 MHz.

We didn’t play with the voltage configurations, so with time and patience you may achieve a better overclocking with this motherboard.

Conclusions

It is always important to have in mind the audience a given product is targeted to. ASUS M2A-VM and AMD690G are clearly targeted to digital home PCs, where gaming isn’t the most important factor. For this PC class, video quality, connectivity options and size are more relevant.

This motherboard has on its side the support for two video monitors, which is great. On motherboards with on-board video based on other chipsets you need to buy an add-on video card if you’d like to have more than one video display. If you want to build a cheap system with support for two video monitors, ASUS M2A-VM is your best option.

On the other hand, we expected more from this motherboard, especially on the connectivity side. Even though it has two FireWire ports – a must for folks that want to connect their digital camcorder to their PCs – this motherboard has some serious flaws for a motherboard targeted to be a digital audio and video editing workstation.

First, the audio input quality isn’t good enough for today’s standards. This board provides only 85 dB on its audio input and you need at least 95 dB there. For this reason, avoid this motherboard if you want to build a system to capture and edit analog audio (e.g., converting VHS tapes, cassette tapes, LPs, etc to digital format).

Secondly, even though this motherboard provides eight-channel audio, this motherboard has only three analog audio connectors soldered on it. SPDIF (digital audio interface) is only available together with a bracket that doesn’t come with the board. It should either have SPDIF connectors soldered on the motherboard or come with this bracket.

And third, HDMI support, one of the most spoken new features provided by AMD 690G, is only available through an add-on card, which doesn’t come with this motherboard. You need to buy M2A-VM HDMI to get this board (which also brings coaxial SPDIF input and output).

As for its performance, as we expected it reached a good overall performance, on the same level of high-end motherboards. This was obvious to us, as since AMD64 CPUs have their memory controller embedded inside the CPU, motherboards don’t play an important role on performance.

From our benchmarking we can assume that AMD 690G is optimized to DirectX 9.0, being a better option to GeForce6100-405 and Radeon Xpress 1100 if you play this class of games or will run Windows Vista (Home Premium and up) and want a better performance on the Windows Aero graphical interface than the one provided by other motherboards with on-board video. The problem is that we achieved better results with these other two chipset on DirectX 8.1 simulations.

Also, don’t expect a good 3D performance from any motherboard with on-board video: even the most low-end video card available on the market, like GeForce 6200 TurboCache with 64-bit memory interface, is faster.

Costing around USD 80 in the USA, we recommend this motherboard only if you want to build a cheap system with support for two video monitors and/or if you want a better performance on Windows Aero (the new graphical interface found from Windows Vista Home Premium up) than other motherboards with on-board video. If this isn’t your case, there are cheaper motherboards on the market that will provide you the same features – for example, ECS GeForce 6100SM-M costs only USD 60.

Originally at http://www.hardwaresecrets.com/article/ASUS-M2A-VM-Motherboard-Review/432


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