ECS A785GM-AD3 motherboard review

Author: Carl Poirier
Editor: Howard Ha
Publish Date: Monday, March 1st, 2010
Originally Published on Neoseeker (http://www.neoseeker.com)
Article Link: http://www.neoseeker.com/Articles/Hardware/s/a785gm-ad3/
Copyright Neo Era Media, Inc. - please do not redistribute or use for commercial purposes.

I sometimes feel that the AMD platforms do not get as much attention from the manufacturers than does Intel, but lately this seems to be the case.  A bit before Christmas, Gigabyte had announed the first AMD motherboards featuring USB 3.0 and SATA 3.0, which hit the market not long after these technologies were implemented on the Intel platform. Then, at the Consumer Electronics Show, ECS was displaying some motherboards featuring 15µ gold connectors. Most models were all about the Nehalem architecture in all its forms, but I was pleased to see that the AMD fans were not left in the dust; ECS launched a few motherboards for them, from the low to high-end. In this article, we will get to try out the new A785GM-AD3, an ATX motherboard based on the 785G chipset - and featuring the 15µ gold connectors.

How will it affect stability and overclocking? One sure thing is that such a plating on the connectors will increase their lifespan, since corrosion is less likely to occur. Unfortunately, one cannot test that over the length of a review.

 

Specifications

CPU
·         Socket AM3 socket for AMD Phenom™ II processors
·         High-performance HyperTransport 3.0 CPU Interface
·         Support transfer rate up to 5200 mega-transfers per second
·         Note: This board supports CPU up to 95W TDP only; you can refer to AMD website to check your CPU.
CHIPSET
·         North Bridge: AMD® 785G
·         South Bridge: AMD® SB710
GRAPHICS
·         Integrated DirectX10.1 graphics processor
MEMORY
·         Dual-channel DDR3 memory architecture
·         4 x 240-pin DDR3 DIMM socket support up to 16GB
·         Support DDR3 OC1600/1333/1066/800 DDR3 SDRAM
·         *(Due to the DRAM maximum size is 2GB at present, the memory maximum size we have tested is 4GB)
·         *(Due to AMD CPU spec limitation, please refer to Memory QVL for more information)
EXPANSION SLOT
·         1 x PCI Express x16 slot
·         2 x PCI Express x1 slots
·         3 x PCI slots
STORAGE
·         2 x Ultra DMA133/100/66 devices
·         5 x Serial ATA 3.0Gb/s devices
·         1 x eSATA
·         RAID0, RAID1, RAID10 configuration
AUDIO
·         Realtek ALC 888S supports 8-channel HD audio
·         Realtek ALC662 6-channel HD Audio codec(optional)
·         Compliant with HD audio specification
LAN
·         RealTek 8111DL Gigabit Fast Ethernet NIC
REAR PANEL I/O
·         1 x PS/2 keyboard & PS/2 mouse connectors
·         1 x D-sub(VGA)
·         1 x DVI connector
·         1 x RJ45 LAN connector
·         1 x Audio port (1x Line in, 4x Line out, 1x Optical SPDIF Out)
·         1 x External SATA port
·         6 x USB ports
INTERNAL I/O CONNECTORS & HEADERS
·         1 x 24-pin ATX Power Supply connector
·         1 x 4pin CPU_FAN connectors
·         1 x 3-pin NB_FAN connector
·         1 x 3-pin SYS_FAN connector
·         1 x Power on button
·         1 x Reset button
·         1 x IDE connector
·         1 x Speaker header
·         1 x Front panel switch/LED header
·         1 x Front panel audio header
·         1 x SPDIF out header
·         1 x Clear CMOS button
·         1x CD in header
·         5 x Serial ATA connectors
·         3 x USB 2.0 headers support additional 6 USB ports
·         1 x 4-pin 12V Connector
·         1 x Chassis intrusion header
·         1X Power on LED (Green light)
·         1X Stand by LED (Red Light)
SYSTEM BIOS
·         AMI BIOS with 8Mb SPI Flash ROM
·         Supports Plug and Play, STR (S3) / STD (S4) , Hardware monitor, Multi Boot
·         Supports ACPI & DMI
·         Supports CPU FSB adjustment, increase of 1MHz
·         Supports PCI interrupt selection
·         Audio, LAN, can be disabled in BIOS
·         F11 hot key for boot up devices option
·         Support over-clocking
·         Support Page Up clear CMOS Hotkey
·         Support ECS M.I.B II Utility
·         CPU voltage adjustable
·         Memory voltage adjustable
·         NB Chipset Voltage Adjustable
·         SB Chipset Voltage Adjustable
·         External Clock Adjustable
·         Multiple Frequency Adjustable
FORM FACTOR
·         ATX Size, 305mm*220mm

Specifications table is courtesy of ECS.

Let's open this black box and see what ECS has put together.

The A785GM-AD3 has a black PCB - which makes sense since it's part of the Black Series. There are two stickers showing that the 15µ gold plating is present in the CPU socket, the memory slots and the PCI-E x16 slot.

There is nothing special about the back of the motherboard. It uses a plastic backplate like many other boards on the market.

Beginning by the bottom right corner, this motherboard has five internal SATA ports, which are not angled. With a dual-slot graphics card like the ATI HD5770, two of them are blocked, leaving only three. There are also three internal USB 2.0 headers, accompanied by some jumpers labeled as "USBPWR". These will allow the computer to wake up on a signal coming from a USB device. Normally, this function is controlled via the BIOS. Besides the usual front panel connection, ECS has also included the power and reset buttons, which might be useful for overclockers running open-air setups.

Higher is an IDE connector for the ones still working with old technology. The whole board is powered through a 24-pin ATX power connector, placed right beside the DDR3 slots.

As for the processor, it will only take 4-pin power connectors. The voltage regulation circuitry has absolutely no heatsink, so I can imagine why processors with a TDP higher than 95W are not supported officially. The CPU fan speed can be controlled automatically  since the AD3 is equipped of a 4-pin connector for it.

Beside the northbridge heatsink are another two fan headers, but 3-pins this time. There are also two PCI-E x1 slots and the PCI-E x16 slot.

The expansion capabilities are completed by three legacy PCI ones. Lower is the fron panel audio header, the CD in and the serial port, but still no trace of Firewire capabilities.There is also a CMOS reset button, just in case an overclock goes wrong.

The I/O panel is composed of two legacy PS/2 ports, six USB ports, an eSATA port which is the last SATA connection provided by the SB710, and a LAN connection. For your multimedia needs, the A785GM-AD3 is equipped of five audio jacks, an optical output, and the VGA & DVI outputs coming from the integrated HD4200. Although a DVI to HDMI adapter can be used, it would have been nice to have an HDMI connector directly on the motherboard. There is no Firewire connector here either, so that means the only possibility to get Firewire connectivity is to buy a separate expansion card that will plug in a PCI-E x1 or legacy PCI slot. That's stupid.

Lastly, let's have a look at the bundle provided with this ECS board. Unfortunately, that DVI to HDMI adapter I was talking a few lines above is not present, so if one wants to use the IGP and output to a TV for example, the only solution is to buy one. There are however four SATA cables, which is more than the average provided. The IDE cable is also present as well as the usual user's, manual, driver CD and I/O shield.

Let's now put the A785GM-AD3 to the test and see how it fares!

Test Setup

Benchmarks

This program includes benchmarks for most hardware. The CPU arithmetic and multi-core efficiency benchmark will be run as well as memory bandwidth and latency.

The A785GM-AD3 got second in both the GIPs and GFlops rating. As for multi-core efficiency and memory bandwidth, it seemed to have a little defficiency. The memory latency was on par with the other boards, at 77ns.

HandBrake is an application that converts sound and video files to other formats. Compared to TMPG we used in previous reviews, this one is multi-threaded so it can use the processor to its full potential.

POV-Ray, for Persistence of Vision Raytracer, is a 3D rendering software that has impressive photo-realistic capabilities.

In our video encoding test, the ECS board in the ATX form factor finished last, by only one second. POV-Ray put it pretty much equal to its mATX counterpart, but a bit behind the Gigabyte motherboard which overclocks the processor a bit at optimized defaults, compared to the ECS boards with have a tendency to underclock instead.

Everyone knows WinRAR, so no need to explain what it is. I will compress our custom 100MB, 500MB and 1000MB files using the greatest compression setting, in the ZIP format.

Cinebench 10 is another rendering program. I will run both the single-threaded benchmark as well as the multi-threaded.

WinRAR put all three 785G boards on par and the 790FX one leading by one second. In Cinebench, the A785GM-AD3 managed to beat its little brother, but both were beaten by the Gigabyte and ASUS boards.

In case PCMark is unknown to you, it is pretty much the same as the 3DMark suite from FutureMark except the fact that it includes many other tests like hard drive speed, memory and processor power, so we consider it as a system benchmark and not just a gaming benchmark.

HDTune is a benchmarking program for hard drives. Their speed also depends on the chipset so this is why I run such a benchmark.

PCMark Vantage put the A785GM-AD3 right behind the high-end MA790FXT-UD5P, with a good lead compared to the other two boards As for storage performance, our subject finished second, right behind the mATX board.

Crysis Warhead is a standalone expansion pack of the original Crysis. It uses an enhanced version of the same engine.

Bioshock is a creepy first person shooter. It is the oldest of the games in our benchmarking suite, hence the high FPS.

Crysis Warhead has put the A785GM-AD3 on par with the other 785G boards, whereas Bioshock has put it in second place after the M4A785TD-V EVO.

Far Cry 2 is another first person shooter that has been developed by Ubisoft. The story takes place in Africa, where the ultimate goal is to assassinate an arms dealer.

Left 4 Dead is a first-person shooter developed by Valve. It uses the Source Engine. Four survivors must fight against infected people in order to reach a safe area.

This time, our subject matched the ASUS and Gigabyte boards in Far Cry 2, but got a tiny FPS less than them in Left 4 Dead.

The demo of these two gaming benchmarks can be downloaded for free. Call of Juarez is made by Ubisoft whereas the World in Conflict game is developed by Massive Entertainment. They will be run at the lowest settings possible so the score is not GPU-bound, so that implies a resolution of 1024x768 for Call of Juarez and 800x600 for World in Conflict. This way, the true processor power will be exhibited.

The ECS boards lost the fight against the ASUS offering in both two tests. That was obvious it would end that way since they do not feature a DDR3 sideport memory, which the M4A785TD-V EVO has.

Overclocking

Since the A785GM-AD3 does not support processors with a TDP of more than 95W, I am not going to push the Phenom II X4 965 further since the it could put a load upwards of 150W easily on the poor motherboard. I am therefore overclocking the Phenom II X2 555 Black Edition, which has a TDP of 80W. Even if I could get it fully stable at 4076Mhz, which is just 24MHz short of what I achieved on the high-end MA790FXT-UD5P, I was somewhat disappointed by the ECS board. First of all, the integrated memory controller overvoltage option is missing, which greatly limited its overclock. Also, it does not allow an HT link multiplier higher than x10. Normally it is supposed to be unlocked when using a Black Edition processor. It is also worth mentioning that the HT reference clock may have a wide error margin depending on its setting; At 208MHz in the BIOS, I observed a 5MHz drop, bringing it to 203MHz. At 214MHz, the error margin was minimal, though. Finally, the latter could not go over 240MHz, which in my opinion is pretty low when some other low-end motherboards hit 300MHz easily.

In all the available settings, here are the adjustments I did:

 

Power Consumption

The A785GM-AD3 has a very reasonable power consumption. According to our power meter, the test setup idled at 100W and loaded at 368W. That is with the Phenom II X4 965 and the GTX260. As a means of comparison, the Gigabyte MA790FXT-UD5P idled at 98W and loaded at 363W. The idle numbers were achieved by enabling Cool'n'Quiet, whereas the load comes from the OCCT Perestroïka 3.1.0 power supply test.

 

Conclusion

I will not hide my disappointment about the A785GM-AD3. It is mainly due to the many features it lacks that the vast majority of boards based on the 785G chipset have. Most importantly, it does not have an onboard HDMI output. Although it supports DVI to HDMI conversion, the adapter to do so is not included in the bundle. Moreover, there is no Firewire connectivity at all, which means the only option if one has a device using this interface is buying an expansion card. I can understand not having one directly on the I/O panel, but not including an internal header either is a bit drastic.

The A785GM-AD3 also has a few features I like, though. This includes the power, reset and CMOS clear onboard buttons, which are rarely seen on other 785G boards. I also like the fact that the PCI-E x16 is not located completely at the top of the expansion slots; this leaves more room for airflow between the graphics card and the processor heatsink, which might contribute to lower temperatures. It also performed in the average and showed a reasonable power consumption.

Then there is the 95W TDP CPU limit. I cannot say I am happy with that, obviously. Some will tell me that anyway there are only the two top high-end Phenom IIs that feature a 125W TDP; I will answer by saying that an overclocked Propus die(Athlon II X4 die) is well beyond 95W, which is in fact their TDP at stock. What bothers me is that the Athlon IIs are in the same budget range than 785G motherboards. I will cede though that Phenom II X4 BE processors paired with such motherboards are more rare. In other words, that means I am not quite sure if overclocking an Athlon II X4 on the A785GM-AD3 is a good idea. When I ran the 80W TDP X2 555 Black Edition overclocked, the MOSFETs got uncomfortably hot, at the point that I had to install a Tornado 92mm fan blowing fresh air over them.

Overall, I was not really satisfied with the A785GM-AD3 from ECS. Its little brother the A785GM-M is much better since it does not lack all the nice features, and most importantly it supports 140W CPUs. Furthermore it has an extra SATA controller and is built onto mATX form factor. As of now, both of these motherboards sell for $85, so I can't really recommend the A785GM-AD3. There are also some great offerings from other manufacturers which in my opinion are better for the price point. If the A785GM-AD3 was tagged around 65$, along the cheapest 785G boards, it would not have been the same game though. However in the 85$ price range, it definitely does not compete.

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