Sapphire PI-AM2RS780G Motherboard Review
By Gabriel Torres on July 10, 2008


Introduction

Hardware Secrets Golden Award

PI-AM2RS780G is an entry-level socket AM2+ motherboard with on-board video from Sapphire based on AMD 780G (RS780) chipset, featuring two on-board video outputs (one VGA and one DVI) and targeted to users willing to build an entry-level PC based on an AMD CPU like Athlon X2. In this review we will compare the performance of AMD 780G to its main competitor, GeForce 8200, and we will also analyze if Hybrid CrossFire technology really improves gaming performance. Check it out.

AMD currently has five chipsets with integrated video for the AMD platform: AMD 690V, AMD 690G, AMD 740G, AMD 780V and AMD 780G. AMD 690V, AMD 690G and AMD 740G are based on a DirectX 9 graphics engine, while AMD 780V and AMD 780G are based on a DirectX 10 one. AMD 780V is based on Radeon HD 3100 engine, which runs at a lower clock rate compared to Radeon HD 3200 engine (400 MHz vs. 500 MHz), which is used by AMD 780G. AMD 780V also doesn’t support Hybrid CrossFire configuration (more about this feature in just one second).

The main competitor of the reviewed motherboard are boards based on the GeForce 8200 chipset – which also features a DirectX 10 engine, has similar specs and can be found on the same price range. While AMD 780G uses two chips (RS780 north bridge chip and SB700 south bridge chip), GeForce 8200 (codename MCP78M-A) is a single-chip solution. In the table below you can see a comparison between the main specs of these two chipsets.

Chipset

GeForce 8200

AMD 780G

GPU Clock

500 MHz

500 MHz

Graphics Processors

16

40

Graphics Processors Clock

1,200 MHz

500 MHz

ROPs

4

4

DirectX

10

10

PCI Express

2.0

2.0

USB 2.0 Ports

12

12

SATA-300 Ports

6

6

RAID

0, 1, 0+1, 5

0, 1, 10

ATA-133 Ports

1 (2 devices)

1 (2 devices)

Hybrid SLI/CrossFire

GeForce Boost

Hybrid Graphics

 

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.

As you can see, these two chipsets have very similar specs. AMD 780G has more graphics processors (40 against 16) but the graphics processor on GeForce 8200 run at a higher clock rate. Both chipsets have RAID capability but supporting different RAID levels.

Both chipsets support Hybrid SLI or Hybrid CrossFire technologies. These technologies allow the on-board video to work in parallel to a discrete video card under SLI or CrossFire modes, 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 Sapphire PI-AM2RS780G to ECS GF8200A Black Series, which is based on GeForce 8200 and competes directly with the reviewed motherboard.

Before going to our testings, let’s take an in-depth look at Sapphire PI-AM2RS780G.

The Motherboard

In Figure 1 you can have a good look at PI-AM2RS780G. It is a socket AM2+ motherboard, meaning that it supports the new HyperTransport 3.0 and the “split plane” technologies used by AMD CPUs based on K10 architecture (i.e., Phenom CPUs). For more information read our Inside AMD K10 Architecture tutorial.

 Sapphire PI-AM2RS780G Motherboard
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Figure 1: Sapphire PI-AM2RS780G motherboard.

As you can see this motherboard has one PCI Express x16 2.0 slot, allowing you to install a “real” video card in the future if you want to play games on your PC. As mentioned, the chipset supports Hybrid CrossFire technology, where the on-board graphics engine can work in parallel with the video card installed under CrossFire mode in order to increase performance. But in order for this technology to work, you must install a compatible video card (Radeon HD 2400 Pro, HD 2400 XT, HD 3450 or HD 3470, for example). You can install any video card you want, but you won’t have Hybrid CrossFire with non-compatible models. We will test this feature with a Radeon HD 3450.

This motherboard also has two standard PCI slots but no PCI Express x1 slots.

Sapphire PI-AM2RS780G Motherboard
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Figure 2: Slots.

Another highlight from this motherboard is the presence of four 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.

It is always good to remember that with AMD processors the memory controller is embedded inside the CPU, so the amount and types of memory the system supports depend on the CPU, not on the motherboard. Socket AM2 and AM2+ processors support only DDR2 memories, with AM2 processors (i.e., Athlon X2) supporting up to DDR2-800 and with AM2+ processors (i.e., Phenom) supporting up to DDR2-1066.

All socket AM2/AM2+ CPUs support dual-channel feature so for the best performance you must install two or four memory modules (do not install just one memory module). For enabling dual-channel feature you must install the modules on sockets with the same color, if you are installing two modules.

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Figure 3: Four memory sockets.

The Motherboard (Cont’d)

As you could see on the first page, the chipset supports six SATA-300 ports and all are present on the reviewed board.

This motherboard has an eight-channel on-board audio with individual analog jacks for each output, so the mic in and line in jacks aren’t shared with other functions, not requiring you to reinstall plugs when wanting to use a mike. The only thing we really missed on this motherboard was at least one on-board coaxial SPDIF output, which would allow you to build a media center PC with this motherboard: this motherboard has one DVI output you can easily connect it to an HDTV set through an DVI-to-HDMI cable.

The audio codec used is Realtek ALC883, which features a 95 dB output signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) and an 85 dB input signal-to-noise ratio, with 24-bit resolution and up to 192 kHz sampling rate for its outputs and up to 96 kHz sampling rate for its inputs. While the output quality is good enough for the mainstream user, the input quality is too low and you will find too much noise when converting audio from an analog source (tape decks, VHS tapes, LPs).

This motherboard also features a Gigabit Ethernet port controlled by a Marvell 88E8056 chip.

In Figure 4, you can see the rear panel of the motherboard. There you will find one mouse PS/2 connector, one keyboard PS/2 connector, VGA output, DVI output, four USB 2.0 ports, one Gigabit Ethernet port and complete independent 7.1 channel analog audio outputs. As you can see there are no serial or parallel ports on the rear of the motherboard. One serial port is available through an I/O bracket that doesn’t come with the board. It is also important to notice that while the chipset supports 12 USB 2.0 ports, only 10 USB 2.0 ports are available on this product.

Sapphire PI-AM2RS780G Motherboard
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Figure 4: Rear connectors.

This motherboard also provides other smaller yet important features. The voltage regulator circuit uses ferrite chokes (which present a lower power loss compared to the iron chokes traditionally used on this circuit) and solid aluminum capacitors (which prevent the infamous capacitor leakage problem), plus it has passive heatsinks on top of the MOSFET transistors from this section. Unfortunately the capacitors used on the rest of the motherboard are traditional electrolytic caps, but they are all Japanese from Panasonic (Matsushita).

Sapphire PI-AM2RS780G Motherboard
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Figure 5: Voltage regulator circuit featuring ferrite chokes, solid capacitors and passive heatsink.

As you can see in Figure 5 this motherboard uses an EPS12V connector, but you can use a regular ATX12V plug on this connector. EPS12V is only required if you install a very high-end CPU on your motherboard. It would be better if this connector came with a sticker covering half of it, so you’d know that it accepts ATX12V power plugs.

It also accepts 20-pin power supplies, as it comes with a sticker covering four pins from the 24-pin main motherboard power connector.

Other great feature found on this motherboard is a POST diagnostics display, which allows you to know through a two-digit code what is wrong if your computer doesn’t turn on. This feature is usually found only on high-end motherboards. What is terrific about this display on this Sapphire motherboard is that it can be used to monitor the CPU temperature. So instead of getting the code “FF” after the computer starts loading the operating system, you get the CPU temperature. This is great because the POST display is useless when the computer is working fine, and through this feature Sapphire found a better usage for this display. This function is perfect if you have a case with a transparent side window. This feature, however, is only available upgrading the BIOS to its latest version.

Sapphire PI-AM2RS780G Motherboard
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Figure 6: POST diagnostics display and the six SATA-300 ports.

In Figure 7, you can see the display showing the CPU temperature (33° C in this example; this was just after we turned the system for the first time. After some time CPU temperature increased to 43° C).

Sapphire PI-AM2RS780G Motherboard
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Figure 7: Display showing the CPU temperature.

 

By the way, this motherboard and the video card we used to compare the on-board video performance to (Sapphire HD 3450) came together in a package called "Got Sapphire Sampler" that is sent to Sapphire partners. If you are a system integrator or distributor located in North America you can get more information about the Sapphire partner program by writing to Nympha Lee (nymphalee [at] sapphiretech.com).

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

Main Specifications

Sapphire PI-AM2RS780G 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).

Hardware Configuration

Software Configuration

Driver Versions Software Used

Some Information About our Methodology

Both motherboards included in our comparison were configured with 256 MB shared memory.

Since we were reviewing a low-end motherboard with on-board video, we were very interested in comparing its 3D video performance with the performance achieved by its main competitor 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.

Also because we are talking about an entry-level system, we chose an entry-level CPU to go with the motherboard, an Athlon X2 4600+. This CPU doesn't suffer from the problem some AMD CPUs have of not being able to access memories at their full speed.

Even though we had DDR2-1066 memories, we configured them as DDR2-800 units, for two reasons. First, entry-level PCs won’t use DDR2-1066 memories and, second, Athlon X2 can only access memories up to 800 MHz.

We tried to use 3DMark Vantage but this program couldn’t run even on its lowest configuration.

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.

Overall Performance: PCMark Vantage

The new PCMark Vantage program 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. See the results below.

Sapphire PI-AM2RS780G Motherboard

The only test where the two motherboards achieved a similar performance was on the Communications batch, and the only test where ECS GF8200A was faster than Sapphire PI-AM2RS780G was on the Productivity batch, where ECS GF8200A Black Series achieved a score 3.84% higher than the reviewed board.

On all other batches Sapphire PI-AM2RS780G was faster than ECS GF8200A, maybe showing us that AMD 780G chipset is faster than NVIDIA GeForce 8200 (we will need to see the results from the other tests to confirm this). Sapphire PI-AM2RS780G achieved a PCMark score 11.57% higher, a TV and Movies score 7.92% higher, a Gaming score 18.90% higher and a Music score 6.05% higher than ECS GF8200A.

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 also included the result achieved by a 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. The results you can see below.

Sapphire PI-AM2RS780G Motherboard

On 3DMark06 the reviewed motherboard from Sapphire achieved a performance 92.62% higher than GeForce 8200.

A very low-end Radeon HD 3450 video card was 46.04% faster than the on-board video provided by AMD 780G.

Enabling Hybrid CrossFire technology – which makes Radeon HD 3450 to work in parallel with the on-board video to increase performance – performance increased 20.86% compared to the Radeon HD 3450 alone with the on-board video disabled. This isn’t bad at all.

Call of Duty 4

Call of Duty 4 is a very heavy DirectX 9 game that implements high-dynamic range (HDR). We ran this game under 1024x768 resolution configuring all image qualities set to either “low,” “no” or “off” and filtering to “bilinear” (i.e., configuring the game to run on its lowest quality possible). We used the game internal benchmarking feature, running a demo provided by NVIDIA called “wetwork.” We are putting this demo for downloading here if you want to run your own benchmarks. The game was updated to version 1.6. The results you can see below, given in frames per second (FPS).

Sapphire PI-AM2RS780G Motherboard

On this game GeForce 8200 and AMD 780G achieved similar performance, with a low-end Radeon HD 3450 video card being 46. 11% faster than the on-board video provided by AMD 780G.

Enabling Hybrid CrossFire technology performance increased 23.76% compared to the Radeon HD 3450 alone with the on-board video disabled.

Half-Life 2: Episode Two

Half-Life 2 is a popular franchise and we benchmark 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.

Sapphire PI-AM2RS780G Motherboard

Here AMD 780G was 73.68% faster than GeForce 8200. A very low-end Radeon HD 3450 was 39.39% faster than the on-board video produced by AMD 780G.

Enabling Hybrid CrossFire technology performance increased 15% compared to the Radeon HD 3450 alone with the on-board video disabled.

Unreal Tournament 3

Unreal Tournament 3 is the latest installment from this famous first person shooter franchise, supporting DirectX 10 graphics when installed on Windows Vista with a DX10 compatible card (which was our case). We upgraded Unreal Tournament 3 to version 1.2 and benchmarked it with the help of HOC UT3 benchmarking utility using the “Containment” demo, disabling anisotropic filtering and running the game at 1024x768. The results are below, in frames per second (FPS). 

Sapphire PI-AM2RS780G Motherboard

On this game AMD780G was 38.46% faster than GeForce 8200. A low-end Radeon HD 3450 was 38.89% faster than the on-board video produced by AMD 780G.

Enabling Hybrid CrossFire technology performance increased 20% compared to the Radeon HD 3450 alone with the on-board video disabled.

Quake 4

We upgraded Quake 4 to version 1.4.2 and ran its multiplayer demo id_perftest with SMP option enabled (which allows Quake 4 to recognize and use more than one CPU), under 1024x768 with image quality settings configured at “low.” You can check the results below, given in frames per second.

Sapphire PI-AM2RS780G Motherboard

 

On Quake 4 AMD780G was 199% faster than GeForce 8200 and our low-end Radeon HD 3450 was 120.75% faster than the on-board video produced by AMD 780G.

Enabling Hybrid CrossFire technology performance increased 16.25% compared to the Radeon HD 3450 alone with the on-board video disabled.

Overclocking

Sapphire PI-AM2RS780G provides several overclocking options, including:

Sapphire PI-AM2RS780G Motherboard
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Figure 8: Overclocking options.

Sapphire PI-AM2RS780G Motherboard
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Figure 9: Memory timings adjustments.

Sapphire PI-AM2RS780G Motherboard
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Figure 10: HyperTransport adjustments.

With this motherboard we could increase the base clock from our Athlon X2 4600+ from 200 MHz to 212 MHz with the CPU running stable. Under this overclocking our CPU was running internally at 2,544 MHz, a 6% increase from its default clock rate of 2.400 MHz. We could set our CPU running at higher clock rates, but the system was unstable. We could achieve a far better overclocking with ECS GF8200A Black Series (230 MHz, 2,760 MHz). But since we didn’t play with all extra overclocking options provided by this motherboard you may achieve better results than we did.

Sapphire PI-AM2RS780G Motherboard
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Figure 11: Maximum overclocking we could set with this motherboard.

Conclusions

AMD 780G currently is the best chipset with on-board video for the AMD platform. If you are willing to buy an entry-level PC based on an AMD CPU with integrated graphics, AMD 780G is your best option and Sapphire PI-AM2RS780G is a great option and that is why we are recommending this motherboard.

But don’t expect miracles. With on-board video you can’t play the latest games; you will be only able to play older titles with image quality at their lowest settings.

But since this motherboard provides a PCI Express x16 2.0 slot, you can build an entry-level PC today and then add a real video card to your system in the future.

Or you can buy this motherboard to build an entry-level PC with an entry-level VGA: if you add a video card compatible with Hybrid CrossFire (like Radeon HD 3450) you will get a performance increase between 15% and 20% compared to the same video card installed on a system with a chipset that doesn’t feature Hybrid CrossFire. In order words, you will have a system 15%-20% faster than a system with a motherboard without on-board video and the same add-on video card installed. This is amazing, as you are getting this extra performance for free.

Another highlight of this motherboard is the presence of four memory sockets. Usually low-end motherboards provide only two memory sockets. Four sockets allow you to add more memory in the future keeping your current memory modules. Another great feature found on this motherboard is the presence of six SATA-300 port. This is more than enough even for the exigent user. Usually entry-level motherboards come with far less SATA ports.

We were a little bit frustrated with this motherboard overclocking capability. We could increase the CPU base clock only up to 212 MHz while on ECS GF8200A Black Series we could increase it to 230 MHz. But since we didn’t play with the several overclocking options this motherboard provides you may achieve a better overclocking than we did.

We think this board should come with at least one coaxial SPDIF output, what would make it a great pick for a media center PC.

We really liked the fact that you can configure the POST display to show the CPU temperature.

Originally at http://www.hardwaresecrets.com/article/Sapphire-PI-AM2RS780G-Motherboard-Review/581


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