MSI K9AGM2-FIH Motherboard Review
By Gabriel Torres on July 13, 2007


Introduction

Hardware Secrets Golden Award

MSI K9AGM2-FIH also known as MS-7327, is a socket AM2 motherboard with on-board video based on the latest chipset from AMD/ATI, AMD 690G. What is different on this motherboard compared to other AMD 690G-based boards is that it brings an on-board HDMI connector, being a great option for those willing to build a cheap digital home PC with HDMI support. Let’s take a look at the performance and features of MSI K9AGM2-FIH.

MSI K9AGM2-FIH
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Figure 1: MSI K9AGM2-FIH 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).

MSI has four motherboard models based on AMD 690G and two based on AMD 690V, all with names starting with “K9AG”, so be careful. There is another K9AGM2 model available, called K9AGM2-F/L, which is based on AMD 690V and not on AMD 690G. From here on we will call K9AGM2-FIH simply as K9AGM2 in the name of simplicity, but be aware that there is another model with a similar name.

The differences between these six models are the following:

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.

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), but the vast majority of motherboards based on AMD 690G chipset don’t come with an HDMI connector, needing an add-on card to be plugged on the PCI Express x16 slot to provide HDMI. What is great about K9AGM2-FIH is that it comes with an on-board HDMI connector, which is great if you are looking for a motherboard for building a digital home PC that can be connected to a HDTV set or videoprojector with the best digital connection available today.

S-Video and component video are available through an I/O bracket that doesn’t 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. This means that the HDMI connector of MSI K9AGM2-FIH works independently from its VGA connector, allowing you to have one image on your video monitor and a different image on the display connected to the motherboard HDMI connector. This motherboard also provides digital audio on its HDMI connector, what 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, HDMI, VGA, parallel port, four USB 2.0 ports, FireWire port, Gigabit Ethernet port and analog audio inputs and outputs. There is no serial port on this motherboard, not even through an I/O bracket.

MSI K9AGM2-FIH
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Figure 2: Rear panel connectors, notice the HDMI connector.

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) and two FireWire ports, one available at the motherboard rear panel (see Figure 2) and another through an I/O bracket, which doesn’t come with the board.
 
It also has Gigabit Ethernet, controlled by a Realtek RTL8111B 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 Express bus, what is great, because a PCI Express x1 connection can provide a maximum theoretical transfer rate of 1.5 Gbps, 50% more bandwidth than necessary. On some motherboards based on AMD 690G we've seen lately, like ECS AMD690GM-M2 and Foxconn A690GM2MA, the Gigabit Ethernet port was controlled by a PCI (and not PCI Express) chip. Since PCI has a maximum transfer rate of 132 MB/s – which translates to 1 Gbps – achieving 1 Gbps on the Gigabit Ethernet port on motherboards using this architecture 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 ALC888 codec. After the on-board HDMI connector this is the best advantage of this motherboard over competing products also based on AMD 690G. All other motherboards based on AMD 690G we've seen to date – ASUS M2A-VM, ECS AMD690GM-M2 and Foxconn A690GM2MA – are based on a low-end codec, Realtek ALC883, which provides a lousy 85 dB signal-to-noise ratio for its inputs. ALC888, on the other hand, provides fair specs for the average user, with a 90 dB signal-to-noise ratio for its inputs and a 97 dB signal-to-noise ratio for its outputs. The maximum sampling rate of its inputs is of 96 kHz, while its outputs supports up to 192 kHz. While these specs are enough for the average user someone thinking of working professionally with analog audio editing and capturing should look for a motherboard with at least 95 dB SNR and 192 kHz sampling rate for its inputs.

This motherboard also 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 may or may not be a problem. Since this motherboard has a HDMI connector, which provides both digital video and digital audio, users into high-def video may get the digital audio through HDMI, thus not needing a SPDIF connection. On the other hand, some users may find SPDIF quite handy to connect the motherboard directly to a home theater receiver, especially if they don't have a HDMI display or receiver with HDMI input yet.

This motherboard has two DDR2-DIMM sockets, accepting up to 4 GB of DDR2-400/667/800 memory. This is probably the only flaw 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. MSI has another model, called K9AGM3, which is identical to K9AGM2 but has four memory sockets instead of two. This other model may be a better pick if you are thinking of adding more memory modules to your computer at a later date.

The majority of electrolytic capacitors used on this motherboard are from a Japanese vendor, Chemi-Con. Some other capacitors are also from Japanese manufacturers, like Sanyo and Rubycon. The capacitors used on the audio section are, however, from a Taiwanese company, G-Luxon, and there is a single capacitor from OST on the voltage regulator circuit. Another good thing about this motherboard is that MSI is using ferrite coils instead of iron coils on the voltage regulator circuit, which have 25% lower power loss compared to iron coils.

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

MSI K9AGM2-FIH
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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

MSI K9AGM2-FIH 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: ECS AMD690GM-M2 (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.

MSI K9AGM2-FIH

With its on-board video enabled MSI K9AGM2-FIH 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 3.21% 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.

MSI K9AGM2-FIH

On PCMark05 MSI K9AGM2-FIH achieved the same performance level of Foxconn A690GM2MA (AMD 690G) and ECS AMD690GM-M2 (AMD 690G), being 11.27% faster than ECS RS485M-M (Radeon Xpress 1100) – which is particularly impressive. ECS GeForce6100SM-M was 6.15% faster and Abit AN-M2 (GeForce 7025) was 3.26% faster than the reviewed motherboard.

ASUS M2N32-SLI De Luxe was 4.11% faster than MSI K9AGM2-FIH when we installed our overclocked GeForce 8800 GTS.

3D Performance: 3DMark2001 SE

To evaluate AMD 690G 3D performance we installed two low-end video cards on MSI K9AGM2-FIH: 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 MSI K9AGM2-FIH.

MSI K9AGM2-FIH

On 3DMark2001 SE MSI K9AGM2-FIH achieved the same performance level of ECS RS485M-M (ATI Radeon Xpress 1100), ECS AMD690GM-M2 (AMD 690G) and Abit AN-M2 (GeForce 7025), being 6.78% faster than Foxconn A690GM2MA (AMD 690G) and 11.05% 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 66% faster than MSI K9AGM2-FIH. This is a huge difference. GeForce 6200 with 128-bit memory interface was 138% 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 MSI K9AGM2-FIH.

MSI K9AGM2-FIH

On 3DMark03 MSI K9AGM2-FIH achieved the same performance level of ECS AMD690GM-M2 (AMD 690G), being 8.94% faster than Abit AN-M2 (GeForce 7025), 19.07% faster than Foxconn A690GM2MA, 22.76% faster than ECS RS485M-M (ATI Radeon Xpress 1100) and 35.14% 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 48% faster than MSI K9AGM2-FIH. This is a huge difference. GeForce 6200 with 128-bit memory interface was 133% 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 MSI K9AGM2-FIH 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 MSI K9AGM2-FIH.

MSI K9AGM2-FIH

Here MSI K9AGM2-FIH achieved the same performance level of ECS AMD690GM-M2 (AMD 690G), being 30.07% faster than Foxconn A690GM2MA (AMD 690G), 38.36% faster than Abit AN-M2 (GeForce 7025), 58.33% faster than ECS GeForce6100SM-M and 110.28% 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 19% faster than MSI K9AGM2-FIH. 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 MSI K9AGM2-FIH.

MSI K9AGM2-FIH

Here MSI K9AGM2-FIH achieved the same performance level of ECS RS485M-M (ATI Radeon Xpress 1100), being 5.24% faster than ECS AMD690GM-M2 (AMD 690G) and 13.93% faster than Foxconn A690GM2MA (AMD 690G). ECS GeForce6100SM-M was 5.09% faster and Abit AN-M2 (GeForce 7025) was amazingly 27.16% 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 120% faster than MSI K9AGM2-FIH. This is a brutal difference. GeForce 6200 with 128-bit memory interface was 209% faster.

ASUS M2N32-SLI De Luxe was 6.62% faster than the reviewed motherboard when we installed our overclocked GeForce 8800 GTS.

Overclocking

MSI K9AGM2-FIH does not provide any overclocking option, which is the second major flaw with this board (the first one being the presence of only two memory sockets). On the other hand it provides memory timings adjustments, as you can see in Figure 4. Frankly, what is the use of memory timings if you can't overclock the motherboard anyway?

MSI K9AGM2-FIH
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Figure 4: Memory timings adjustments.

Conclusions

It is always important to have in mind the audience a given product is targeted to. MSI K9AGM2-FIH 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.

For the user willing to build a digital home PC using an AMD 690G-based motherboard, MSI K9AGM2-FIH is a far better option than competing products such as ASUS M2A-VM, ECS AMD690GM-M2 and Foxconn A690GM2MA. Let's see why.

First it has an on-board HDMI connector with digital audio support. This is a must-have for all users willing to build a top notch digital home PC. As AMD 690G provides internally two independent video controllers you can have one image at the VGA output and a completely different image on the HDMI output.

Secondly, the on-board audio from this motherboard has a better quality than the one provided by competing motherboards, because it is based on Realtek ALC888 codec and not on ALC883 as other motherboards we've seen around. Translation: you can use this motherboard to capture and edit your analog audio with a low noise level (90 dB signal-to-noise ratio). Of course users thinking of working professionally with analog audio capturing and editing should look for a sound card with at least 95 dB SNR on its inputs.

Another advantage of its on-board audio 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.

The overall construction quality of this motherboard is also worth mentioning, as it uses ferrite coils instead of iron coils on its voltage regulator circuit, providing 25% less power loss, and good electrolytic capacitors from Japanese vendors (but on the audio section, where Taiwanese caps from G-Luxon are used).

We could only find one major flaw with this motherboard: the presence of only two memory sockets. So if you want to upgrade your memory in the future you will need to remove your old modules and install new ones, as this motherboard won't allow you to keep your old memories. MSI has another motherboard called K9AGM3 with the same specs of K9AGM2-FIH but with four memory sockets instead of two. If flexible memory upgrade capability is something you are looking for maybe this other model may be a better pick for you.

Another flaw could be the absence of overclocking. On a second though, this isn't in fact a real flaw, as users building a digital home PC won't probably overclock their systems anyway.

The absence of SPDIF connectors could also be considered another flaw, but since this motherboard provides digital audio through its HDMI connector users using HDMI probably won't miss SPDIF. However, it could be interesting to have an on-board SPDIF connector for users that want to have a motherboard with HDMI output today but don't have all the necessary equipment to use all capabilities provided by HDMI right now – i.e., don't have a HDTV set, videoprojector or home theather receiver with HDMI support yet.

If the flaws listed above aren’t a problem for you, this motherboard is surely the best option if you are looking for a motherboard to build a multimedia center based on a socket AM2 CPU.

Originally at http://www.hardwaresecrets.com/article/MSI-K9AGM2-FIH-Motherboard-Review/468


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