ECS AMD690GM-M2 Motherboard Review
By Gabriel Torres on July 12, 2007


Introduction

ECS AMD690GM-M2 is a socket AM2 motherboard with on-board video based on the latest chipset from AMD/ATI, AMD 690G, 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 main competitors, GeForce 6100 and GeForce 7025 from NVIDIA, and also to cheap add-in video cards, like GeForce 6200. Let’s take a look at the performance and features of ECS AMD690GM-M2.

As you can see in Figure 1, ECS AMD690GM-M2 uses a layout almost identical to the one used by ECS RS484M-M, which is based on the Radeon Xpress 1100. It seems that ECS used the same project only replacing the chipset and making minor adjustments.

ECS AMD690GM-M2
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Figure 1: ECS AMD690GM-M2 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 and GeForce 7025/7050 families) have only two shader processors and two vertex shader processors, but they run at a higher clock rate (425 MHz on GeForce 6100, 7025 and 7050 and 475 MHz on GeForce 6150 – except LE and SE models) and are Shader 3.0 (DirectX 9.0c). The previous integrated graphics solution from ATI, Radeon X1100, runs at 300 MHz.

Even though in theory 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), 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 does not come with the motherboard and it seems that ECS does not manufacture it.

On the other hand, this motherboard has a TV Out header (S-Video output), but the adapter needed does not come with the product.

The good thing about AMD 690G is that it has two independent video controllers inside, providing two video outputs on-board. ECS AMD690GM-M2 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, especially if you think that the primary target of this motherboard is digital home PCs.

Of Figure 2 you can see the connectors present on the motherboard rear panel: PS/2 mouse, PS/2 keyboard, VGA, DVI, four USB 2.0 ports, Gigabit Ethernet port and analog audio inputs and outputs. There is no parallel port on this motherboard, not even through an I/O bracket. On the other hand a serial port is available through an I/O bracket, which comes with the board.

ECS AMD690GM-M2
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Figure 2: 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. The equivalent technology on NVIDIA world, PureVideo, is available on all current NVIDIA chipsets with integrated graphics but on GeForce 7025.

As you can see in Figure 1, 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 RAID 0, 1 and 10.

It has 10 USB 2.0 ports (four soldered on the motherboard) but no FireWire ports.

It also has Gigabit Ethernet, controlled by a Realtek RTL8110SC chip. This chip is a complete controller, so this motherboard does not use the chipset south bridge chip to control its network interface. This chip is connected to the PCI bus (and not to PCI Express) and since it has a maximum transfer rate of 132 MB/s – which translates to 1 Gbps – achieving 1 Gbps on the Gigabit Ethernet port of this motherboard is very unlikely, as it would be working at the PCI maximum transfer rate.

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 and editing analog audio. For this kind of application look for a motherboard with at least 95 dB SNR on its input. This is really a pitty, since this motherboard is targeted to digital home PCs, where the user may want to capture and edit his (or her) own audio and video files.

On the other hand, this motherboard provides full 7.1 analog audio jacks on the rear panel, feature not found on all AMD 690G motherboards around. So you can easily hook an analog 5.1 or 7.1 set of speakers to this motherboard. But this motherboard does not have any on-board SPDIF connector, which is also a shame. As it is targeted to digital home PCs, it should have at least one coaxial SPDIF out to enable users to connect the motherboard directly to a home theater receiver using digital connection. The motherboard has a SPDIF out header, but the board doesn’t come with any SPDIF bracket to use it.

This motherboard has two DDR2-DIMM sockets, accepting up to 4 GB of DDR2-400/667/800 memory. This is probably the major problem with this motherboard. First, in order to achieve the maximum performance possible you need to install two memory modules. Secondly, if in the future you need to add more memory, you will need to remove your old modules and install new ones, as adding more memory keeping the old modules isn’t possible.

The electrolytic capacitors used on this motherboard are Taiwanese. In the voltage regulator circuit ECS used six capacitors from Toshin Kogyo (TK, a Japanese vendor that uses rebranded Taiwanese capacitors, from OST), and the capacitors on the rest of the motherboard are from OST and G-Luxon, including three on the voltage regulator that are from OST.

In Figure 3, you can see everything that comes with the motherboard.

ECS AMD690GM-M2
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Figure 3: Motherboard accessories.

Before going to our performance tests, let’s recap the main features of the reviewed board.

Main Specifications

ECS AMD690GM-M2 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 other motherboards with on-board video we had available: MSI K9AGM2 (AMD 690G), Foxconn A690GM2MA (AMD 690G), ECS RS485M-M (Radeon Xpress X1100), ECS GeForce6100SM (GeForce 6100-405) and Abit AN-M2 (GeForce 7025-630a).

Then we disabled the board on-board video and installed a GeForce 8800 GTS from MSI 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.

ECS AMD690GM-M2

With its on-board video enabled ECS AMD690GM-M2 achieved the same performance level of all other motherboards with on-board video that we included in our comparison. The only significant difference was under Office Productivity batch, where the reviewed board was 3.74% faster than Abit AN-M2, which is based on GeForce 7025-630a.

When we installed our overclocked GeForce 8800 GTS on the reviewed board we saw no performance increase on SYSmark2004.

These results means that at least with regular programs this motherboard will achieve the same performance level of high-end motherboards even using its on-board video.

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.

ECS AMD690GM-M2

On PCMark05 ECS AMD690GM-M2 achieved the same performance level of MSI K9AGM2 and Abit AN-M2 (GeForce 7025), being 4.58% faster than Foxconn A690GM2MA (AMD 690G) and 13.29% faster than ECS RS485M-M (Radeon Xpress 1100) – which is particularly impressive. The reviewed board lost only to ECS GeForce6100SM-M, which was 4.23% faster.

When we installed our overclocked GeForce 8800 GTS the reviewed motherboard achieved the same performance level of ASUS M2N32-SLI De Luxe, meaning that by installing an add-on video card this motherboard will achieve the same performance level of a high-end motherboard.

3D Performance: 3DMark2001 SE

To evaluate AMD 690G 3D performance we installed two low-end video cards on ECS AMD690GM-M2: 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, an overclocked GeForce 8800 GTS from MSI, on it and compared its performance to a high-end motherboard with the same video card installed, ASUS M2N32-SLI De Luxe. The goal here was to see if by installing a high-end video card the reviewed board achieved the same performance level of a high-end motherboard.

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 the motherboard default value, which was “auto” for the reviewed motherboard.

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 ECS AMD690GM-M2.

ECS AMD690GM-M2

On 3DMark2001 SE ECS AMD690GM-M2 achieved the same performance level of ECS RS485M-M (ATI Radeon Xpress 1100), MSI K9AGM2 (AMD 690G) and Abit AN-M2 (GeForce 7025), being 7.29% faster than Foxconn A690GM2MA (AMD 690G) and 11.57% faster than ECS GeForce6100SM-M.

The problem is that even the “worst” PCI Express video card is a lot faster than on-board video solutions: GeForce 6200 with 64-bit memory interface and TurboCache technology was 65% faster than ECS AMD690GM-M2. This is a huge difference. GeForce 6200 with 128-bit memory interface was 140% faster.

When we installed our overclocked GeForce 8800 GTS on the reviewed board it achieved the same performance level of ASUS M2N32-SLI De Luxe, what is great.

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 four chipsets with integrated graphics we added to our comparison: Radeon Xpress 1100, AMD 690G, GeForce 6100-405 and GeForce 7025-630a.

You can check the results of our benchmarking below. All the listed video cards were installed on ECS AMD690GM-M2.

ECS AMD690GM-M2

On 3DMark03 ECS AMD690GM-M2 achieved the same performance level of MSI K9AGM2 (AMD 690G), being 7.32% faster than Abit AN-M2 (GeForce 7025), 17.29% faster than Foxconn A690GM2MA, 20.93% faster than ECS RS485M-M (ATI Radeon Xpress 1100) and 33.13% faster than ECS GeForce6100SM-M

The problem is that even the “worst” PCI Express video card is a lot faster than on-board video solutions: GeForce 6200 with 64-bit memory interface and TurboCache technology was 50% faster than ECS AMD690GM-M2. This is a huge difference. GeForce 6200 with 128-bit memory interface was 135% faster.

When we installed our overclocked GeForce 8800 GTS on the reviewed board it achieved the same performance level of ASUS M2N32-SLI De Luxe, what is great.

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 and GeForce 7025-630a, 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 ECS AMD690GM-M2 using a real video card installed and also to compare it to other motherboards with on-board video.

You can check the results of our benchmarking below. All the listed video cards were installed on ECS AMD690GM-M2.

ECS AMD690GM-M2

Here ECS AMD690GM-M2 achieved the same performance level of MSI K9AGM2 (AMD 690G), being 30.20% faster than Foxconn A690GM2MA (AMD 690G), 38.49% faster than Abit AN-M2 (GeForce 7025), 58.48% faster than ECS GeForce6100SM-M and 110.47% faster than ECS RS485M-M (ATI Radeon Xpress 1100).

On this program our GeForce 6200 with 64-bit memory interface and TurboCache technology was only 18% faster than ECS AMD690GM-M2. This is impressive. GeForce 6200 with 128-bit memory interface was 43% faster, though.

When we installed our overclocked GeForce 8800 GTS on the reviewed board it achieved the same performance level of ASUS M2N32-SLI De Luxe, what is great.

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.

We didn’t use Quake 4 because with its latest patch installed (1.4.2 when this review was published) it complained that it couldn’t be run with the hardware we had – i.e., it couldn’t be run on AMD 690G.

You can check the results of our benchmarking below. All the listed video cards were installed on ECS AMD690GM-M2.

ECS AMD690GM-M2

Here ECS AMD690GM-M2 was 8.26% faster than Foxconn A690GM2MA (AMD 690G) but other motherboards with on-board video were faster: MSI K9AGM2 (AMD 690G) was 5.24% faster, ECS RS485M-M (ATI Radeon Xpress 1100) was 6.26% faster, ECS GeForce6100SM-M was 10.59% faster and Abit AN-M2 (GeForce 7025) was amazingly 33.83% faster.

The problem is that even the “worst” PCI Express video card is a lot faster than on-board video solutions: GeForce 6200 with 64-bit memory interface and TurboCache technology was 131% faster than ECS AMD690GM-M2. This is a brutal difference. GeForce 6200 with 128-bit memory interface was 224% faster.

ASUS M2N32-SLI De Luxe was 6.86% faster than the reviewed motherboard when we installed our overclocked GeForce 8800 GTS.

Overclocking

ECS AMD690GM-M2 provides some overclocking options, but no memory timings settings. Here are the options you will find on ECS AMD690GM-M2 (May 11th, 2007 BIOS):

As you can see this motherboard does not have an option to lock the PCI Express clock, so when you increase the CPU base clock you will automatically increase the PCI Express clock as well. So your overclock may be limited by the overclocking limit of the devices connected to the PCI Express bus.

On the other hand, this motherboard has a unique option found under Advanced Chipset Features menu that allows you to change the graphics engine clock rate, allowing you to overclock its on-board video. As mentioned before AMD 690G graphics engine runs at 400 MHz. We increase this option up to 500 MHz however we saw no performance increase on the programs we used to measure video performance. A pity.

On this motherboard we could increase the CPU base clock from 200 MHz to 215 MHz, making our Athlon 64 X2 5000+ to run at 2,795 MHz, a 7.5% increase over its original clock of 2.6 GHz.

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. ECS AMD690GM-M2 and AMD 690G 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.

Compared to other AMD 690G-based motherboards its main advantage is its full support to 7.1 analog speakers, providing six independent audio jacks on its rear panel. Some motherboards around (like ASUS M2A-VM) have only three jacks, making it impossible for you to hook up a 7.1 analog speaker system and also killing your mic in and line in inputs when using a 5.1 analog system.

Another strong side of this motherboard is its 3D performance – compared to other motherboards with on-board video, of course. AMD 690G is clearly optimized to DirectX 9.0 (Shader 2.0) and this motherboard achieved a performance far higher than motherboards based on Radeon X1100, on GeForce 6100 and on GeForce 7025 on our DirectX 9 simulations. Of course don’t expect much from on-board video: even the “worst” video card available on the market is far faster than AMD 690G.

This motherboard has some flaws, though. The main flaw is the presence of only two memory sockets. So if you want to upgrade your memory in the future you need to remove your old modules and install new ones, not allowing you to keep your old memories.

Secondly, the audio input quality isn’t good enough for today’s standards. This board provides only 85 dB signal-to-noise ratio 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).

In third place, this motherboard does not have on-board SPDIF connectors and even though the board provides a header for SPDIF, it doesn’t come with an SPDIF bracket, making it hard for users willing to connect their PCs to their home theater receivers. It should either have SPDIF connectors soldered on the motherboard or come with this bracket.

In fourth place, this motherboard provides a S-Video output, however you will need a bracket that does not come with the board to use it.

And finally this motherboard does not have FireWire ports, a feature present on several other AMD 690G-based products.

The good news is that this motherboard will perform almost like a high-end motherboard if you disable its on-board video and install a “real” video card on it, making a good product for users thinking of installing an add-on video card later. Since this motherboard has two video outputs, you can even let its on-board video enabled in order to connect your PC to four independent displays, two connected on the motherboard and two on the add-on video card.

If the flaws listed above aren’t a problem for you, this motherboard is surely a good option if you are looking for a socket AM2 motherboard with on-board video.

Originally at http://www.hardwaresecrets.com/article/ECS-AMD690GM-M2-Motherboard-Review/467


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