ECS A790GXM-AD3 Review

d3bruts1d ajmatson - 2009-03-17 16:10:05 in Motherboards
Category: Motherboards
Reviewed by: d3bruts1d   ajmatson   
Reviewed on: May 10, 2009
Price: $TBD

Introduction:

With the latest CPU socket from AMD supporting DDR3 memory we are seeing boards that support them. We recently reviewed a 790GX based offering from MSI and today we are going to take a look at another board based on the same chipset, with DDR3 support. The ECS A790GGM-AD3 is the next of kin to the ECS A790GXM-A that we reviewed here at the end of last year. The main difference between the two is the move from DDR2 memory to DDR3 memory and the newer CPU socket which is not backwards compatible between AM2+ and AM3, like the A790GXM-A was. This newer board supports memory speeds up to 1333MHz and runs off the 790GX Northbridge and the SB750 Southbridge. This motherboard is part of ECS's "Black Series" line of mainboards aimed at gamers and enthusiasts wanting high end hardware at a nice price. We have seen some promise in the "Black Series", so I am eager to see what the A790GXM-AD3 has in store with the new memory refresh.

 

Closer Look:

The ECS A790GXM-AD3, like its DDR2 kin, comes packaged in the standard "Black Series" black and green packaging. On the front of the box is the dragon mascot with the model number surrounded by tribal designs. There are some logos for the features that the motherboard supports. Flipping the box over there is a small picture of the board so you can get an idea of the layout prior to purchasing it. There are also some highlights on the main features the A790GXM-AD3 has, as well as logos for supported hardware.

 

 

 

 

Opening the packaging lead you to the board and the accessories included with the ECS A790GXM-AD3. Included with the mainboard is the user manual, quick install guide, driver CD, IDE cable, six SATA cables, and an I/O shield.

 

 

Now that we have the hardware out of the box we, can look closer at the board itself.

Closer Look:

The ECS A790GXM-AD3 uses the same color scheme as other "Black Series" motherboards. The biggest difference I noticed about this board was the massive amount of copper used to aid in cooling, which we will take a better look at below. The board is a brown color, however, I would have liked to have seen a black PCB to go along with the series of the board. With the amount of cases with windows these days, appearance is everything when showing off your rig. There is a lot of real estate on the board but I am concerned about how tight everything is at the top of the board. The ECS 790GXM-AD3 is based off of the 790GX/SB750 chipset and supports both CrossFire and Hybrid CrossFireX with the integrated HD 3300 graphics and onboard video memory buffer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The back panel offers a whole lot of connections to get you up and running with minimal fuss. Starting from the top there is a PS/2 mouse and keyboard port, a clear CMOS button, a VGA port, an HDMI port, six USB 2.0 ports, an eSATA port, one LAN port, and the audio ports which supports 8 channel HD audio and SPDIF. A few things of note is the inclusion of an eSATA port is almost necessary with external storage having high capacities these days, so it is nice to see ECS keeping up with current and future technology. Also I was very impressed to see the clear CMOS button on the back of the computer, as it really annoys me having to open up my case or keep it open during testing just to clear the CMOS on a failed overclock. It was so much easier just to reach up and press the button. Kudos ECS.

 

 

With the fierceness of games these days a minimum of two graphics cards slots are a necessity. The ECS A790GXM-AD3 has two PCI Express x16 slots which support both CrossFire and Hybrid CrossFireX with the onboard ATI HD 3300 graphics. There are also two PCI Express X1 slots and two legacy PCI slots for additional expansion card such as networking, audio, and more.

 

The CPU area is quite crammed full of hardware. There are the heatsinks for the Northbridge and VRM, as well as the CPU retention bracket and memory slots, all pushed up together. What is nice about the A790GXM-AD3 however, is for two sticks in dual channel you use the outer slots, the yellow ones, so you have more room if you have a large heatsink. I did not have any problems with my RAM in the first slot and the AMD stock heatsink. Speaking of memory, this board supports up to 32GB of DDR3 1333MHz in the four DIMM slots. Since this is an AM3 motherboard, it supports only Socket AM3 processors, which are currently the Phenom II AM3 line with up to 140w TDP. The system uses HyperTransport 3.0 for increased bandwidth up to 5200 mega-transfers a second.

 

The headers, just like the back panel, are plenty. Starting from the left there is the front audio, an SPDIF header, three USB 2.0 headers, and IDE port, the front panel headers, a speaker header, and six SATA ports. Next to the SATA ports there is also a power and reset button, which makes working inside your case a lot easier. I was surprised not to see at least a firewire header on this board so if you have devices that require it, you will need an expansion card should you go with this model.

 

 

To keep the A790GXM-AD3 cool while operating, ECS has placed a large amount of copper in their heatsinks. The weight of the board is mostly because of the heatsinks. There is one over the voltage regulators, one over the Northbridge to cool the NB and the Sideport memory, and one over the Southbridge.

 

 

Now we have seen the board in all of its glory, let's move on to the software side of it.

Configuration:

To get started, you need to pop in the software CD that is included in the box. Once the Autorun box pops up, click on Run and the setup will begin. Setup for the ECS A780GM-AD3 is very simple. The Auto Setup Wizard launches and all you have to do is click on the Setup button. You also have the option to browse the CD and manually install drivers and programs one at a time if you wish.

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

The auto setup installation begins when you click 'Next'. Then you can select what to install; the chipset selection installs the SATA, chipset, and raid and audio drivers, while the device selection installs the ATI integrated graphics drivers and software.

 

 

After a few seconds, the ATI Catalyst Install manager begins its install process automatically. When prompted, click the install button and you can choose to do an express install with default settings or a custom install to customize the settings and location.

 

 

Everything will install on its own. After processing, click the Finish button and a prompt will pop up and tell you that you need to restart to complete the installation. Click 'Yes' and let the computer reboot.

 

 

Now that the drivers are installed, we can look more closely at the BIOS.

Closer Look:

I can never stress enough on how important the BIOS of a motherboard is. I have seen some of the best boards brought down by a very weak BIOS. I am going to take you through the BIOS of the ECS A790GXM-AD3 motherboard in sections, so that you can get a better look at what is available for you in your tweaking and overclocking adventures. When you first boot into the BIOS, you are presented with a menu screen. This main screen allows you to easily navigate your way through the BIOS without having to waste time finding what you need. If you saw the review of the ECS A790GXM-A then this BIOS might look familiar to you. That is because it is the same exact BIOS (American Megatrends version 2.62) for both boards.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Standard CMOS:

The Standard CMOS section is where you can change the time and drive options for hard drives and floppy drives.

 

Advanced Chipset & Integrated Peripherals:

In the Advanced Chipset section there are options to enable CrossFire mode and change what display device is started, such as the onboard video or a PCI Express card. In the Integrated Peripherals section there are options for SATA mode for RAID or hot swap ability, LAN devices being enabled or not and the IRQ for the serial port.

 

 

 

Power Management & PCI/PnP Setup:

In these sections you can change the power states of the motherboard and how a motherboard reacts to being woken up by devices. You can also set the system to allocate an IRQ to the onboard video if needed.

 

 

 

PC Health Status:

This section of the BIOS allows you to monitor the health of the system such as the temperatures, speeds, and voltages of the devices on the board. You can also set Smart Fan functions which adjust the fan speeds based on the temperatures of the board and CPU.

 

 

Closer Look:

M.I.B (Motherboard Intelligent BIOS):

This is the section you will spend most of your time in. This section is in an essence a menu within a menu because it is setup to make everything easy on you. I will also break this down in sections for you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CPU Frequency Control:

In the CPU Function section a hidden section will appear. This section gives you specifications on the processor and gives you several options to change including the CPU frequence, the CPU voltage and the NB Frequency in increments.

 

 

 

Memory Configuration:

In the Memory Configuration section you have the ability to control the memory speeds again in preset increments and the timings from everything to the basic CAS latency to more fine tuning options for the best memory performance you can get. You can also view your settings in one glance for easy decision making.

 

 

 

Main Section:

Backing out to the main M.I.B. section we have the remainder of the overclocking options. First is Advanced Clock Calibration which allows you to change the clock speeds for either all cores together, or per core independently in percentages. You can also set the Spread Spectrum based on all clocks or the CPU clocks. Lastly, we have the Voltage Function which opens up the ability to change the voltage for the CPU, Memory, North and South Bridges, and the Sideport Memory. At the bottom of the M.I.B. there is another quick glance screen which allows you to see your options and make calculated changes.

 

 

 

 Now that the BIOS is all set up, we can move on to testing the board.

Specifications:

 

CPU Support
- 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 140W TDP only; you can refer to AMD website to check your CPU.
Chipset
- AMD® 790GX & AMD® SB750
- North Bridge: AMD® 790GX
- South Bridge: AMD® SB750
Graphics
- On Chip (AMD 790GX-based with ATI™ Radeon HD3300 graphics )
- Integrated DirectX 10 graphics processor
Memory
- Dual-channel DDR3 memory architecture
- 4 x 240-pin DDR3 DIMM socket support up to 32GB*
  *(Due to the DRAM maximum size is 2GB at present, the memory maximum size we have tested is 8GB)
- Support DDR3 up to 1333/1066 DDR3 SDRAM
  *(Due to AMD CPU spec limitation, please refer to Memory QVL for more information)

Expansion Slot
- 2 x PCI Express Gen 2.0 x16 slots
- 2 x PCI Express x1 slots
- 2 x PCI slots
Storage
- Support by AMD SB750
    2 x Ultra DMA 100/66/33 devices
    6 x Serial ATAII 3.0Gb/s devices
    RAID0, RAID1, RAID5, RAID 10 configuration
- Support by JMB 361
    1 x eSATA
Audio
- Realtek ALC888 8-channel audio CODEC
- Compliant with HD audio specification
LAN
- Realtek RTL 8111C Gigabit Fast Ethernet NIC
Rear Panel I/O
- 1 x PS/2 keyboard & PS/2 mouse connectors
- 1 x D-sub(VGA)
- 1 x HDMI Port
- 1 x RJ45 LAN connector
- 1 x optical S/PDIF Out connector
- 1 x Audio port (Line-in,4x Line-out, Mic_in)
- 1 x Clear_CMOS button
- 1 x eSATA
- 6 x USB ports
Internal I/O and Headers
- 1 x 24-pin ATX Power Supply connector
- 1 x 8-pin ATX 12V Power Connector
- 1 x 4-pin power connector for VGA card
- 1 x 4-pin CPU_FAN connector
- 1 x 3-pin SYS_FAN connector
- 1 x 3-pin PWR_FAN connector
- 1 x 3-pin NB_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
- 1X Power on LED (Green light)
- 6 x Serial ATA 3Gb/s connectors
- 3 x USB 2.0 headers support additional 6 USB ports
System BIOS
- AMI BIOS with 8Mb SPI Flash ROM
- Supports Plug and Play, STR/STD, Hardware monitor, Multi Boot, DMI
- Support ECS M.I.B II Utility
    CPU voltage adjustable
    Memory voltage adjustable
    NB Chipset Voltage Adjustable
    SB Chipset Voltage Adjustable
    HT Voltage Adjustable
    External Clock Adjustable
    Multiple Frequency Adjustable
Form Factor
- ATX Size, 305mm*244mm

 

Features:

 

 

 

 

All information courtesy of ECS@http://www.ecs.com.tw/ECSWebSite/Products/ProductsDetail.aspx?DetailID=957&CategoryID=1&DetailName=Feature&MenuID=145&LanID=0

 

 

Testing:

To test the performance of the ECS A790GXM-AD3 motherboard it will be placed through a series of benchmarks designed to stress the scientific and video aspects of the board and the system as a whole. To gauge where that performance stands, the A790GXM-AD3 will be compared to other boards using the same and similar chipsets. One will be and AM3 board and the other an AM2+ board using the same hardware with the exception of the RAM. All hardware will be run at their stock speeds, timings, and voltages to negate any variables from interfering with the scores.

 

Testing Setup AM2+ Motherboard:

 

Testing Setup AM3 Motherboard:

 

Comparison Motherboard:

 

Overclocking:

Overclocked settings:

Overclocking the ECS A790GXM-AD3 is quite easy, since you have the option to use the BIOS or the AMD overclocking utility. I tried both and obtained the same results on both times. However, I chose to finally use the BIOS since you can have total control over the voltages a bit better. I first started with the multiplier since this processor is unlocked. I was only able to push the Phenom II X3 720 to 17.5x on the ECS A790GXM-AD3 before the system became unstable. I was however, able to raise the bus speed by 5MHz, which gave me a total overclock of 787MHz or about 26%, which is a bit low for what I have gotten with this processor. With this board, I had to push the voltage all the way to 1.5v to keep it stable. So for the overclocked runs, it will be 3.587GHz at 1.55v.

 

 
 

 

 

 

Benchmarks:

  1. Apophysis
  2. WinRAR
  3. SpecviewPerf 10
  4. PCMark Vantage Professional
  5. Sandra XII
  6. ScienceMark 2.02
  7. Cinebench 10
  8. HD Tune 2.55
  1. Far Cry 2
  2. Crysis - Warhead
  3. Bioshock
  4. Call of Duty World At War
  5. Dead Space 
  6. Fallout 3 
  7. Left For Dead
  8. 3DMark 06 Professional
  9. 3DMark Vantage

Testing:

The first part of our testing will be the system specific benchmarks.

 

Let's get started with Apophysis. This program is used primarily to render and generate fractal flame images. We will run this benchmark with the following settings:

 

 

The measurement used is time to render, in minutes, to complete.

 

  

 

 

 

Lower is Better

 

WinRAR is a tool to archive and compress large files to a manageable size. We will use 10MB, 100MB and 500MB files and test the time needed to compress these files. Time will be measured in seconds.

 

ZIP:

 

 

 

RAR:

 

 

 

These two tests the scores were dead on each other.

Testing:

Specview 10 is a benchmark designed to test OpenGL performance. I will be using the multi-threaded tests to measure the performance when run in this mode. The tests used for comparison are listed below. The default multi-threaded tests were chosen to be able to compare across platforms. In these tests, higher scores equate to better performance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

    

Higher is Better

 

 

Higher is Better

 

PcMark Vantage is used to measure complete system performance. We will be running a series of tests to gauge performance of each individual board to see which board, if any, rises above the others.

 

The ECS board was a bit faster in Specview, though it fell a bit in PCMark Vantage.

Testing:

Sisoft Sandra is a diagnostic utility and synthetic benchmarking program. Sandra allows you to view your hardware at a higher level to be more helpful. For this benchmark, I will be running a broad spectrum of tests to gauge the performance of key areas of the motherboards.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Processor Arithmetic

 

Multi-Core Efficiency

 

Memory Bandwidth

 

Memory Latency

 

Cache and Memory

 

File System

 

Physical Disks

 

Power Management Efficiency

 

The scores were within margins of each other for the AM3 boards.

Testing:

Sciencemark tests real world performance instead of using synthetic benchmarks. For this test, we ran the benchmark suite and will use the overall score for comparison.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

Higher is Better!

 

Cinebench is useful for testing your system, CPU and OpenGL capabilities using the software program CINEMA 4D. We will be using the default tests for this benchmark.

 

Higher is Better

 

HD Tune measures disk performance to make comparisons between drives or disk controllers.

 

Higher is Better

 

 

Lower is Better

 

Again the scores were so close to each other for the AM3 boards.

Testing:

Far Cry 2:

Featuring a new game engine named Dunia, this game looks to be another one to stress your video card. Built specially for Far Cry 2, this engine allows for real time effects and damage. This next generation first person shooter comes to us from Ubisoft surprisingly - not from Crytek. The game is set in a war-torn region of Africa where there is a non-existent central government and the chaos that surrounds this type of social environment. If you have seen the movie Blood Diamond, you know the setting. Ubisoft puts the main storyline of the game into focus with these statements: "Caught between two rival factions in war-torn Africa, you are sent to take out "The Jackal," a mysterious character who has rekindled the conflict between the warlords, jeopardizing thousands of lives. In order to fulfill your mission you will have to play the factions against each other, identify and exploit their weaknesses, and neutralize their superior numbers and firepower with surprise, subversion, cunning and, of course, brute force." In this version of the game, you don't have the beautiful water, but instead the beauty and harshness of the African continent to contend with. Most games give you a set area that can be played through, while Ubisoft has given the gamer the equivalent of 50km squared of the vast African continent to explore while in pursuit of your goals. The settings used are just a few steps below the maximum in-game settings and offer a good blend of performance vs. visual quality.

 

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The AM3 chipsets were head to head and improved over the AM2+ board.

Testing:

Crysis Warhead is a standalone expansion pack situated in time with the story line of the original Crysis. As Sergeant "Psycho" Sykes, you have a secret mission to accomplish on the far side of the Island. Along the way there are EMP blasts and Aliens to contend with, as you hunt down the KPA chief. This game uses an enhanced version of the Cryengine 2.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Again, the scores were dead on for the AM3 boards.

Testing:

BioShock is one of the creepier games you can play. The building of a perfect Utopian society undersea gone horribly wrong. Its inhabitants driven mad with the introduction of tonics and genetic modifications. Now Rapture is just a shadow of its former glory with little girls looting the dead of what little they have left while being shadowed by guardians known as "Big Daddys". It is a demanding game that will make your hardware scream for mercy. This First Person Shooter allows for an infinite number of weapons and modifications to provide a unique experience each time it is played. The environment, as well as the story line, will wrap you up for hours on end.

 

Video Settings:

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The scores seem to be dead on here also.

Testing:

Activision's Call Of Duty World at War goes right back to the bread and butter of the franchise - WWII FPS action. In this rendition, you start off in the South Pacific and move through a series of missions that flip back and forth between the Russian front and the island hopping advance toward the Imperial Japanese homeland. Included is a mission on Peliliu Island, arguably one of the more difficult and costly battles in the Pacific theater. The gameplay in the single player mode is rather short, but the game makes up for this shortcoming in online gameplay. If you thought COD4 looked nice, this game is amazing with the graphics maxed out playing at a large resolution. This game just may be my reason to move to a 30 inch monitor. I will use Fraps to measure a section of gameplay in the Semper Fi map on Makin Island to compare performance of these video cards.

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Again too close for comfort beween the AM3 boards.

Testing:

In Dead Space, as part of the crew of the USG Kellion, you are headed on a repair mission to repair a ship in distress. Things go from bad to worse as starting with the crash landing and seemingly silent and "Dead" ship, the USG Ishimuru. Offering a non-traditional over the shoulder viewing angle, the game gets right into the action as soon as the ventilation systems are activated. From there things get worse with the appearance of the Necromorphs. Survival now becomes a primary concern for the primary character Isaac Clarke. Survive and you may find the loved one that was aboard the Ishimuru.

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The ECS board was a bit slower in Dead Space.

Testing:

Fallout 3 takes place after the nuclear holocaust that nearly wipes out civilization and leaves the world an irradiated mess. The vault, or fallout shelter, you are born in is Vault 101, situated in the Washington DC, Maryland and Virginia area. The premise of the game is that the Vault has been sealed for 200 years and now your father has opened the vault and escaped without a trace. The Overseer believes you are involved, so you must escape as well into the wasteland that was once our nation's capital. I find myself looking for landmarks, since I am familiar with the streets of Washington DC.

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As the resolution grew, the scores evened out between the two AM3 board.

Testing:

Left For Dead is a new release from Valve that leaves you as part of a group of survivors in a world where an infection has rapidly turned the populace into a zombie horde. You goal is to make it to a rescue point, all the while fighting what seems like overwhelming odds. Along the way there are safe houses where you can replenish your weapons and health. The movie 'I Am Legend' comes to mind to set the stage for this game. But unlike the movie, there are four characters and not just a lone gun and his faithful companion. The horde is not at all like the typical slow walking, foot shuffling zombie. These zombies are quick and work with the pack mentality. Your job: survival!

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The ECS board came beind the MSI board but still faster than the AM2+ board.

Testing:

3DMark06 is one of the benchmarks that always comes up when a bragging contest is started. 3DMark06 presents a severe test for many of today's hardware components. Let's see how this setup fares. The settings we will use are listed below.

 

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While not much, the ECS AM3 board was a bit slower in the scores for 3DMark 06.

Testing:

Featuring all-new game tests, this benchmark is for use with Vista based systems. "There are two all-new CPU tests that have been designed around a new 'Physics and Artificial Intelligence-related computation.' CPU test two offers support for physics related hardware." There are four preset levels that correspond to specific resolutions. 'Entry' is 1024x768 progressing to 'Extreme' at 1920x1200. Of course, each preset can be modified to arrange any number of user designed testing. For our testing, I will use the four presets at all default settings.

 Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Again in this 3DMark Suite, the ECS offering was a bit slower.

Conclusion:

The ECS A790GXM-AD3 brings new technology to those who are on a tight budget but do not want to be left in the dust when it comes to their hardware. Competitively priced however, there are some shortfalls that will not fully give you an edge. In the video benchmarks, the scores were close, but sometimes the ECS board was slower than the MSI board with the same chipset. The scientific benchmarks were almost dead on, however. While the price is still to be determined, ECS has always competitively priced their motherboards, just as they did with the AM2+ version of the 790GX chipset, so this motherboard should be really tempting to those needing to save some money. There were a couple of things I really liked about this board. First was the inclusion of an eSATA port, since I use several external storage devices with that type of connection, so it makes it easier not having to install a SATA to eSATA cable. Also, when it comes to overclocking, having a clear CMOS switch on the rear I/O panel makes life ten times easier. If I had a bad overclock, all I needed to do was reach up and press the button instead of having to remove the side panel of the case and reach in through hardware and wires to clear it. Little designs like this, is what will make the ECS A790GXM-AD3 a good choice when deciding on a board for your next system.
 

 

Pros:

  

Cons: