ECS A785GM-M Motherboard Review
By Gabriel Torres on September 17, 2009


Introduction

ECS A785GM-M is a microATX socket AM3 motherboard with on-board video based on the new AMD 785G chipset, which uses a new DirectX 10.1 graphics engine (Radeon HD 4200, codenamed RV620). Being part of ECS “Black Series,” this board is loaded with extra features and using only solid capacitors. In this review we will compare the performance of AMD 785G to AMD 790GX and AMD 780G and we will also analyze Hybrid CrossFire performance. Check it out.

The new AMD 785G chipset can be used on socket AM2+ or on socket AM3 motherboards. On the first case, the system will use DDR2 memories, while on the second it will use DDR3 models. Socket AM3 CPUs can be used on any of the two platforms, depending on what kind of memory you want to use, however socket AM2+ CPUs cannot be installed on AM3 motherboards. In fact AMD alerts that if you try you will fry your processor and they won’t replace it because the warranty does not cover this situation.

This chipset, like AMD 790GX and 780G, has as an option to have some local memory on the motherboard in order to increase performance, feature not available on the reviewed motherboard.

In the table below we provide a comparison between AMD 785G, AMD 790GX and AMD 780G. As you can see AMD 785G specs are very similar to AMD 780G, with both having 40 processors running at 500 MHz. The two main differences between the two is the support for DirectX 10.1 on AMD 785G and the inclusion of more stages on the chipset integrated video decoder (called UVD, Unified Video Decoder by AMD), which helps increasing performance when playing movies on your PC, since tasks that are traditionally performed by the CPU are now performed by the chipset. Another smaller difference is the support for HDMI version 1.3 on AMD 785G, while AMD780G supports HDMI 1.2.

Chipset

AMD 780G

AMD 790GX

AMD 785G

GPU Clock

500 MHz

700 MHz

500 MHz

Graphics Processors

40

40

40

ROPs

4

4

4

Engine

HD 3200

HD 3300

HD 4200

DirectX

10

10

10.1

PCI Express

2.0

2.0

2.0

South Bridge Chip

SB700

SB750

SB710

USB 2.0 Ports

12

12

12

SATA-300 Ports

6

6

6

RAID

0, 1, 10

0, 1, 5, 10

0, 1, 10

ATA-133 Ports

1 (2 devices)

1 (2 devices)

1 (2 devices)

CrossFire (Hybrid Graphics)

Yes

Yes

Yes

ROPs stand for “Raster Operation Units” and are also known as “Rendering Back-End Units.” They are the final stage on rendering a 3D image.

Other chipsets with on-board video from AMD include AMD 690V, AMD 690G, AMD 740G and AMD 780V. AMD 690V, AMD 690G and AMD 740G are based on a DirectX 9 graphics engine, while AMD 780V is based on a DirectX 10 one. AMD 780V is based on Radeon HD 3100 engine, which runs at 400 MHz – clock is the main difference between HD 3100, HD 3200 and HD 3300 engines. AMD 780V also doesn’t support Hybrid CrossFire configuration.

SB750 south bridge chip, besides bringing RAID 5 support, has an overclocking feature called “Advanced Clock Calibration” or simply ACC. How exactly this new feature works is completely obscure, as AMD does not explain how it works in details. All we know is that SB750 provides a feedback loop to Phenom processors using some unused CPU pins. This feature is only available on Phenom processors and allows you to unlock hidden features from the CPU: depending on the CPU model you can unlock extra memory cache and even one extra CPU core, in the case of triple-core CPUs. You can read more about this feature here and here.

Hybrid CrossFire technology allows the on-board video to work in parallel to a discrete video card under CrossFire mode, increasing gaming performance (usually when you install a “real” video card the on-board video is disabled). The video card must support this technology and in fact only a few support this. Read our tutorial SLI vs. CrossFire for further information.

In this review we will analyze the Hybrid CrossFire feature by installing a Radeon HD 3450 on the reviewed board, first with the on-board video disabled and then with it enabled and CrossFire mode activated.

In our benchmarking we will compare ECS A785GM-M to Biostar TA785GE 128 M, which is based on the same chipset but being a socket AM2+ model with the 128 MB optional on-board video memory, to ECS A790GXM-A (AMD 790GX) and to Sapphire PI-AM2RS780G (AMD 780G).

Before going to our tests, let’s take an in-depth look at ECS A785GM-M.

The Motherboard

In Figure 1 you can have a good look at ECS A785GM-M. It is a socket AM3 motherboard, meaning that it supports only socket AM3 processors and DDR3 memories.

ECS A785GM-M motherboard
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Figure 1: ECS A785GM-M motherboard.

The reviewed motherboard has only one PCI Express 2.0 x16 slot, two PCI Express x1 slots and one standard PCI slots. At least this allows you to install a “real” video card on it whenever you get tired of its on-board video performance. When installing a video card you may want to install a model that is compatible with Hybrid Graphics technology, this way instead of simply disabling the on-board video you can but it to work in parallel with the video card under CrossFire mode in order to increase performance (read our SLI vs. CrossFire tutorial for a complete list of compatible cards).

ECS A785GM-M motherboard
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Figure 2: Motherboard slots.

This motherboard has four DDR3 memory sockets. Usually low-end motherboards have only two memory sockets, so having four of them on this board is a blessing, as it will help you adding more memory in the future without needing to replace your current memory modules. Since this motherboard has only DDR3 sockets you cannot install DDR2 memories. For enabling dual-channel feature you must install the modules on sockets with the same color, if you are installing two modules.

ECS A785GM-M motherboard
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Figure 3: Memory sockets.

The Motherboard (Contíd)

As you could see on the first page, the chipset supports six SATA-300 ports and all are present on the reviewed board, supporting RAID levels 0, 1 and 10. These ports are placed facing the motherboard edge, as you can see in Figure 4. This is a terrific solution, because on motherboards where the ports are facing up the video cards usually block the access to them of even completely prevent you from installing SATA cables on them.

ECS A785GM-M motherboard
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Figure 4: SATA ports.

ECS A785HM-M also has two eSATA-300 ports, controlled by a JMicron JMB362 chip, but they don’t support RAID. SB710 south bridge supports one ATA-133 port, which is present on the motherboard.

The chipset supports 12 USB 2.0 ports and the motherboard provides all of them, six soldered on the rear panel and six through headers. Unfortunately this motherboard doesn’t come with any I/O bracket for you to use these extra USB ports. ECS A785GM-M also features two FireWire ports, one soldered on the real panel and one available through a header and the product doesn’t come with a bracket for you to use it, so you probably better get a case with a FireWire port to use this second port.

Audio is generated by the chipset using a Realtek ALC888S codec, which is a good component for a mainstream motherboard, providing 7.1 audio with 24-bit resolution, 97 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the outputs, 90 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the analog inputs, 192 kHz sampling rate for the outputs and 96 kHz sampling rate for the inputs. This motherboard comes with an on-board optical SPDIF output, which is great. As you can see in Figure 5, this motherboard has analog outputs only for 5.1 audio, so 7.1 audio is only supported through the optical SPDIF output.

This motherboard also features one Gigabit Ethernet port, controlled by a Realtek RTL8111DL chip. This controller is connected to the south bridge chip through individual PCI Express x1 lanes, which is perfect, as this configuration won’t limit the performance of your Gigabit Ethernet ports (controllers connected to the system using the regular PCI bus can face a bottleneck – i.e., may not be able to achieve the maximum Gigabit Ethernet performance).

In Figure 5, you can see the rear panel of the motherboard. There you will find VGA output, DVI output, HDMI output, FireWire port, six USB 2.0 ports, two eSATA-300 ports, Gigabit Ethernet port, 5.1 channel independent analog audio outputs and optical SPDIF output.

ECS A785GM-M motherboard
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Figure 5: Rear connectors.

As you can see this motherboard doesn’t have mouse or keyboard connectors, so you are required to use USB mouse and keyboard with this motherboard.

On the other hand it features HDMI and optical SPDIF output, making this motherboard a great option to build a home theater PC (HTPC).

ECS A785GM-M offers some additional features, like a POST diagnostics display, which helps you to diagnose why the computer isn’t turning on through a two-digit number, reset and power buttons soldered on the motherboard, which helps a lot when you are building a PC outside a case or are debugging your PC, and also a clear CMOS button, which is certainly more convenient than using a jumper.

ECS A785GM-M motherboard
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Figure 6: POST display and clear CMOS, reset and power buttons.

Like other new motherboard from ECS, A785GM-M features a function called eJiffy, which is basically a Linux-based operating system with Internet browser, instant messaging and other features stored inside the motherboard ROM chip, so you don’t need to load the operating system or even have a hard drive installed to enter the Internet and do basic stuff like browsing, e-mail, instant messaging, etc. ASUS has a similar feature on their motherboards, called Express Gate.

In Figure 7, you can see all accessories that come with this motherboard.

ECS A785GM-M motherboard
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Figure 7: Accessories.

Before going to our benchmarking, let’s recap the main features from this motherboard.

Main Specifications

ECS A785GM-M main features are:

* Researched at Newegg.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 and the addition or removal of a “real” video card (Sapphire Radeon HD 3450, 64-bit memory interface).

Hardware Configuration

Operating System Configuration

Driver Versions

Software Used

Some Information About our Methodology

All motherboards included in our comparison were configured with 256 MB shared memory, with Biostar TA785GE 128M and ECS A790GXM-A (AMD 790GX) having 128 MB dedicated video memory, for a total of 384 MB.

Since we were reviewing a motherboard with on-board video, we were very interested in comparing its 3D video performance with the performance achieved by other motherboards with on-board video and also with a very low-end video card, so we could have an idea of how slower on-board video is compared to a very inexpensive video card. We chose Sapphire Radeon HD 3450 with 256 MB and 64-bit memory interface because this is one of the cheapest video cards available today.

We chose an entry-level CPU to go with the motherboard, an Athlon II X2 245, because it is a socket AM3 CPU and thus compatible with both socket AM2+ and socket AM3 motherboards.

ECS A785GM-M (AMD 785G) is a socket AM3 board and thus with this particular motherboard we had to install DDR3 memories. We picked DDR3-1066 memories since with socket AM2+ motherboards we were using DDR2-1066 parts. In both cases we doubled checked to see that the memories were really being accessed at 1066 MHz.

Error Margin

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.

PCMark Vantage

PCMark Vantage simulates the use of real-world applications and gives scores for the following categories:

For a detailed description of each one of these tests, please download and read the PCMark Vantage Reviewer’s Guide.

You can see the results for each category below. We are not going to compare the results for the Memories and HDD suites.

This benchmarking was done using the motherboard on-board video. Usually the motherboard with the fastest graphics engine achieves the highest score on this program. The result for “Radeon HD 3450” refers to the results achieved by the reviewed motherboard with this video card installed and its on-board video disabled.

ECS A785GM-M motherboard

ECS A785GM-M achieved a PCMark score on the same level as Biostar TA785GE 128M (AMD 785G with 128 MB) and ECS A790GXM-A (AMD 790GX with 128 MB), with Sapphire PI-AM2RS780G (AMD 780G) achieving a score 3.02% higher.

On the TV and Movies benchmark, Biostar TA785GE 128M achieved a performance 3.45% higher, ECS A790GXM-A (AMD 790GX with 128 MB) achieved a performance 8.34% higher and Sapphire PI-AM2RS780G (AMD 780G) achieved a performance 8.64% higher than the reviewed motherboard.

On the Gaming benchmark ECS A785GM-M achieved the same performance level as Biostar TA785GE 128M (AMD 785G with 128 MB) and Sapphire PI-AM2RS780G (AMD 780G), with ECS A790GXM-A (AMD 790GX with 128 MB) being 3.98% faster.

On the Music benchmark all three motherboards achieved the same performance level.

On the Communications benchmark ECS A785GM-M achieved a score similar to Biostar TA785GE 128M (AMD 785G with 128 MB) and to Sapphire PI-AM2RS780G, being 5.38% higher than the one achieved by ECS A790GXM-A (AMD 790GX).

And finally on the Productivity benchmark all three motherboards achieved the same performance level.

As you can on PCMark the performance difference between the reviewed motherboard was practically negligible.

Installing a Radeon HD3450 increased the overall score by 9.00%, the TV and Movies score by 16.76%, Gaming score by 5.32%, Music score by 5.10% and Communications score by 3.33%. On the Productivity batch the score actually decreased 6.41%.

3DMark06 Professional

3DMark06 measures Shader 3.0 (i.e., DirectX 9.0c) performance. We ran this software under its default configuration. For this test we included the result achieved by a 64-bit Sapphire HD 3450 card installed in the motherboard PCI Express x16 slot while disabling the motherboard’s on-board video, so we can have an idea of the performance of a very low-end video card compared to the on-board video of the reviewed motherboard. We also enabled Hybrid Graphics, i.e., configured our Radeon HD 3450 to work in parallel with the on-board video in CrossFire mode, to see the performance gain. The results you can see below.

ECS A785GM-M motherboard

Here the on-board video from ECS A785GM-M achieved the same performance as the on-board video from Sapphire PI-AM2RS780G (AMD 780G), with Biostar TA785GE 128M (AMD 785G with 128 MB) being 7.76% faster and ECS A790GXM-A (AMD 790GX with 128 MB) being 24.97% faster than the reviewed motherboard.

A Radeon HD 3450 with 64-bit memory interface was 10.00% faster than the on-board video from ECS A785GM-M.

Enabling Radeon HD 3450 to work together with AMD 785G under CrossFire mode increased gaming performance by 80.99%. This is fantastic, because this 80% performance boost is gained absolutely for free.

3DMark Vantage

3DMark Vantage measures Shader 4.0 (i.e., DirectX 10) performance. We ran this program under its “Entry” profile, which basically disables all image quality enhancements and set resolution to 1024x768.

ECS A785GM-M motherboard

On this program the on-board video from ECS A785GM-M achieved the same performance as the on-board video from Sapphire PI-AM2RS780G (AMD 780G). Here Biostar TA785GE 128M (AMD 785G with 128 MB) was 3.73% faster and ECS A790GXM-A (AMD 790GX with 128 MB) was 27.52% faster than the reviewed motherboard.

A Radeon HD 3450 with 64-bit interface achieved a performance 13.60% higher than the on-board video from ECS A785GM-M.

Enabling Radeon HD 3450 to work together with AMD 785G under CrossFire mode increased gaming performance by 75.61% compared to the on-board video alone and 54.59% compared to the video card alone. This is fantastic, because this performance boost is gained absolutely for free.

Unigine Tropics

We ran this benchmarking tool at 1024x768 setting all image quality settings to their lowest values. Although this program supports DirectX 10 rendering, for some reason this option didn’t work with us, so we used this program to benchmark DirectX 9.0c performance. The results below are in frames per second (FPS).

ECS A785GM-M motherboard

On this program the on-board video from ECS A785GM-M achieved the same performance as the on-board video from Sapphire PI-AM2RS780G (AMD 780G). Here Biostar TA785GE 128M (AMD 785G with 128 MB) was 5.04% faster and ECS A790GXM-A (AMD 790GX with 128 MB) was 28.57% faster than the reviewed motherboard.

A Radeon HD 3450 with 64-bit interface achieved a performance 15.13% higher than the on-board video from ECS A785GM-M and enabling Hybrid CrossFire mode improved performance by 96.64% compared to the on-board video alone and by 70.80% compared to the Radeon HD 3450 alone.

However Tropics is a “heavy” simulation. As you can see the frame rates achieved by all motherboards were way below 30 FPS, meaning that playing a game based on an engine like this one using on-board video is close to impossible.

Half-Life 2: Episode Two

Half-Life 2 is a popular franchise and we benchmarked the video cards using Episode Two with the aid of HOC Half-Life 2 Episode Two benchmarking utility using the “HOC Demo 1” provided by this program. We ran the game under 1024x768 with no anti-aliasing and bilinear filtering, i.e., using the lowest image quality possible. The results, given in frames per second, you see below. This game was included to see how the on-board video from the selected motherboards would perform with an older game being run. 

ECS A785GM-M motherboard

Once again ECS A785GM-M (AMD 785G) and Sapphire PI-AM2RS780G (AMD 780G) achieved the same performance level, with Biostar TA785GE 128M (AMD 785G with 128 MB) being 3.27% faster and ECS A790GXM-A (AMD 790GX with 128 MB) being 30.23% faster.

A 64-bit Radeon HD 3450 was 16.62% faster than the on-board video from the reviewed motherboard. When this video card was configured to run under CrossFire mode with the on-board video, performance increased 73.30% compared to the on-board video alone and 48.60% compared to the Radeon HD 3450 alone.

Fallout 3

Fallout 3 is based on the same engine used by The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, and it is a DirectX 9.0c (Shader 3.0) game. We configured the game with “low” image quality settings at 1024x768. To measure performance, we used the FRAPS utility running an outdoor scene at God mode, running through enemy fire, triggering post processing effects, and ending with a big explosion in front of Dupont Circle. The results below are in frames per second (FPS).

ECS A785GM-M motherboard
 

Here Sapphire PI-AM2RS780G (AMD 780G) was 38.37% faster, Biostar TA785GE 128M (AMD 785G with 128 MB) was 47.53% faster and ECS A790GXM-A (AMD 790GX with 128 MB) was 71.52% faster than ECS A785GM-M.

A 64-bit Radeon HD 3450 was 58.82% faster than the on-board video from the reviewed motherboard. When this video card was configured to run under CrossFire mode with the on-board video, performance increased 156.75% compared to the on-board video alone and 61.66% compared to the Radeon HD 3450 alone.

However on a newer game like Fallout 3 the frame rates achieved by all motherboards were way below 30 FPS, meaning that playing a new game using on-board video is close to impossible.

Overclocking

ECS A785GM-M provides some overclocking options, including:

We could increase the CPU base clock to 249 MHz with stability, a 24.5% increase (which translated into a 9.5% performance increase in 3DMark06) and a better level than we’ve achieved with Biostar TA785GE 128M (219 MHz). We didn’t play with voltages or any advanced configuration, so you with more time and patience may be able to achieve better results.

Conclusions

ECS A785GM-M is a fully-loaded microATX motherboard targeted to users that don’t want a bigger ATX motherboard and/or probably won’t be running games all the time – don’t even try to run newer games because the on-board video from AMD 785G isn’t powerful enough for that: the game will load, but at a frame rate way below 30 frames per second even at a low resolution and with all image quality enhancements disabled, the game will run ultra slow. Older titles will run at a playable, but not great, performance.

With the presence of an HDMI output, an optical SPDIF output and eSATA ports, this board is an option for users building a home theater PC. Audio specs are not that bad but they are not professional-grade, so if you want to work professionally editing and mixing audio an add-on card or a motherboard with a coded with a signal-to-noise (SNR) of at least 100 dB is advised.

What kills this motherboard is its price: it is being sold today for USD 100 at Newegg.com, a price way above users would expect for a microATX motherboard with on-board video (if you live in the USA you get an USD 18.00 mail-in rebate, making this board to be more affordable at USD 82.00). Of course it has several extra features not present on cheaper models.

If you have this kind of money to spend on a motherboard you may consider paying USD 10 more and getting A790GXM-AD3 also from ECS, which is based on the higher-performing AMD 790GX chipset and gives you a second PCI Express x16 slot. This other motherboard, however, lacks DVI and FireWire ports and comes with only one eSATA port, plus uses the standard ATX size, so it may not fit your plans if you idea if building a small HTPC.

Another problem we faced with this motherboard is that it would stop turning on out of the blue. We’d try turning on, the POST display would lit “FF” for a fraction of a second and then the power supply would shut down. We requested a second sample from the manufacturer, which suffered from the same problem.

Originally at http://www.hardwaresecrets.com/article/ECS-A785GM-M-Motherboard-Review/812


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