ECS A790GXM-A Review
Reviewed by: ajmatson
Reviewed on: November 16, 2008
With the wealth of motherboards that are available for your choice of processor where do you begin to start when deciding? Even if you narrow it down to a specific chipset you have not finished there because different manufactures add and take out options based on what they anticipate their consumers will use. Today we are going to be taking a look at the ECS A790GXM-A motherboard which is based off of the AMD 790GX chipset. This chipset consists of the AMD 790GX Northbridge and the AMD SB750 Southbridge and supports features like 140w processors, CrossFireX, and has integrated video onboard via the HD 3300 GPU with Sideport memory. So what does all of this offer to you? Well let's get inside the board and take a look at what she can do.
If you have seen the boxes that ECS has made for their Black Series line of motherboards then this will look very familiar to you. The front of the package has the Black Series logo and mascot and is surrounded by several product logos and specific features that are on the A790GXM-A board. The back has a picture of the board so you get a sense of the layout before purchase and has more specifications pointing out the highlights of the motherboard.
Once you get the box open you can get a look at the bundle included with the motherboard. In addition to the board itself there is the manual, Driver CD, quick install guide, I/O shield plate, IDE cable, and four SATA cables. ECS keeps the costs down by eliminating a lot of the bulk included with their motherboards that most people do not use anyway.
Now we have the board out of the box how about we take a closer look at it.
The ECS A790GXM-A follows the tradition of the Black Series board with its sleek black PC Board and vibrant colors for the slots and ports. This board is a full size ATX form factor and has a lot of space to work with. The Layout of the board gives you the best access to each part without any major obstructions. The back of the motherboard has a black retention bracket used to secure the heatsink bracket in place and to lessen any damage caused by the CPU heatsinks when they are attached.
The back panel has enough connections to get you set up with your system in no time. ECS has included on the A790GXM-A two legacy PS/2 ports, a VGA port, a COM port, an HDMI port, six USB 2.0 ports, two Gigabit LAN ports, a SPDIF out port, and the 8-Channel analog audio ports. There is no DVI port or even a DVI adapter included and I was shocked to see no eSATA port onboard since most ECS Black Series boards I have tested had one.
Moving on down to the expansion slots since this is a 790GX based board there are two PCI Express x16 slots available for a CrossFire setup. For a single GPU setup the top slot will run at x16 speeds however if two cards are placed in CrossFire each slot will only run at x8 speeds. The slots are PCI Express 2.0 however so with the bandwidth increase the difference is negligable. In addition there are two PCI Express x1 slots and two legacy PCI slots for older hardware. This board also supports Hybrid graphics via the onboard graphics and certian discrete cards such as an HD 3450 to increase performance.
The headers on the board allow you to expand the back panel by using expansion brackets or external connections. Starting from the left of the board there is a front panel audio header, a piezzo speaker header, three USB 2.0 headers, the front panel headers, six SATA 3.0Gbs ports, an IDE port, one floppy port, and the power and reset buttons which are colored red and yellow. I am at a loss as to why ECS has opted to not include the Firewire headers since there is space for them and the chipset supports it.
The CPU area is quite cramped but I had no problem installing both a stock heatsink as well as an OCZ Vendetta II and a Thermaltake DuOrb CPU cooler so you should be able to mount any one you desire. All of the capacators around the CPU and memory are solid for better stability and overclocking performance. The CPU socket accepts all AM2 and AM2+ processors including the latest 140w CPU's. There are four DIMM slots which can run up to 32GB of DDR2 1066MHz memory depending on the CPU used.
The cooling of the motherboard is up to the three heatsinks on the board. There is a black aluminum one that covers the voltage section, a big copper one covering the Northbridge, and a small black aluminum heatsink on the Southbridge. These heatsinks help keep the board stable by pulling away heat and expelling it into the air.
Now that we have seen the hardware let's install the board and get into the BIOS.
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 very weak BIOS's. I am going to take you through the BIOS of the ECS A790GXM-A 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.
Standard CMOS & Advanced Setup:
The Standard CMOS section is where you can change the time and drive options for hard drives and floppy drives. The Advance Setup is where you control CPU options like C1E, Cool and Quiet, and the HyperTransport Frequency. You can also change boot options like drive sequence and booting from other devices.
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.
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.
AMD CPU Function:
In the CPU Function section you have three options to change. The first is to enable or disable changing of the CPU frequency wich is actually the multiplier control which is changeable in .5x increments. The last option is the CPU voltage which also allows you to up the CPU VCore voltage in preset increments.
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.
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 setup we can move on to installing the drivers for the board.
Installation of the Drivers for the ECS A790GXM-A motherboard could not be any easier. Once you insert the CD into the drive you will be presented with the setup screen. There are three options to choose from. The first is to run the setup, the second is to browse the CD, and the last exits the installer. To install the drivers you will need to choose the Setup option.
Once you click setup another window comes up for the driver install clicking next allows you to choose what option you want installed such as the chipset drivers and the device drivers like the LAN, Audio and more.
Once you have chosen on what to install the next windows that comes up is the chipset drivers install which is basically the Catalyst Control Center you see with video cards but with the chipset drivers instead. Just follow the prompts and the installer will run through installing what you need. When done reboot your system and you are ready to go.
Now that the drivers are installed we can move on to the testing phase of the review.
- AMD Phenom™ processor (Socket AM2+) / AMD Athlon™ 64 FX / Athlon™ 64 X2 Dual Core/ Athlon™ 64 / Sempron processor
- High-performance HyperTransport 3.0 CPU Interface
- Support transfer rate up to 5200 mega-transfers per second
|- AMD® 790GX & AMD® SB750
- North Bridge: AMD® 790GX
- South Bridge: AMD® SB750
- On Chip (AMD 790GX-based with ATI™ Radeon HD3300 graphics )
- Integrated DirectX 10 graphics processor
- AMD SidePort Memory : DDR2-800 (64Mx16=128MB)
- Dual-channel DDR2 memory architecture
- 4 x 240-pin DDR2 DIMM socket support up to 32GB
- Support DDR2 1066/800/667/533/400 DDR2 SDRAM *
*Currently ,the memory maximum size we have tested is 8 GB(2 GB per dimm)
- 2 x PCI Express x16 slots
- 2 x PCI Express x1 slots
- 2 x PCI slots
|- Support by AMD SB750
- 6 x Serial ATAII 3.0Gb/s devices
- RAID0, RAID1, RAID5, RAID 10 configuration
|- Realtek ALC 888S supports 8-channel HD audio
- Compliant with HD specification
- 2 x Realtek RTL 8111C Gigabit Fast Ethernet NIC
Rear Panel I/O:
- 1 x PS/2 keyboard & PS/2 mouse connectors
- 6 x USB ports
- 2 x Gigabit Ethernet Port
- 1 x COM Port
- 1 x Audio port (1Line in, 4x Line out, 1 Optical SPDIF Out)
- 1 x VGA port
- 1 x HDMI Port
Internal I/O Connectors & Headers:
- 1 x 24-pin ATX Power Supply Connector & 8-pin 12V Connector
- 1 x 4-pin 12V Connector
- CPUFAN/PWRFAN/SYSFAN connectors
- 1 x FDD connector
- 1 x IDE connector
- 6 x Serial ATA connectors
- 1 x Speaker header
- 1 x Front panel switch/LED header
- 1 x Front panel audio header
- 1 x SPDIF out header
- 3 x USB 2.0 headers support additional 6 USB ports
- 1 x Power button/1 x Reset button
- AMI BIOS with 8Mb SPI Flash ROM
- Supports Plug and Play, STR/STD, Hardware monitor, Multi Boot, DMI,HDCP
- Supports ACPI revision 3.0 specification
- Support over-clocking
- ECS M.I.B. utility
|- ATX Size 305mm*244mm|
- AMD Phenom Being inherited from the excellent architecture of multitasking, AMD Phenom processors lead to a new milestone in the computing performance with its powerful multi-core as well as the support for HT 3.0 technology.
- AMD Phenom Quad-Core
Being inherited from the excellent architecture of multitasking, AMD Phenom processors lead to a new milestone in the computing performance with its powerful multi-core as well as the support for HT 3.0 technology.
- Windows Vista Ready
The latest generation Microsoft O.S., delivers better personal productivity and digital entertainment on your PC through its improved reliability, security, and performance.
The highly scalable Hyper Transport 3.0 is capable to provide incredible bandwidth of the system bus up to 20.8GB/s which would dramatically elevate the efficiency of computing performance.
- DDR2 1066
Expands memory bandwidth up to 8.5GB/s.
Motherboard Intelligent BIOS, integrated all the overclocking functions into one page. It provides the most intelligent and convenient way to adjust the clock/ voltage settings of CPU and memory. Users can easily get the extra performance with this innovative utility
- ATI CrossFire X
The technology not only combines multi-GPU and motherboard power that soars into a new dimension of graphics capability, but also delivers the highest image quality and screen resolutions, even with the most demanding 3D titles.
- ATI Hybrid Graphics Technology
To provide better gaming performance than a single graphics card, the innovative design of ATIª Hybrid Graphics Technology is capable to bring additional performance increase up to 1.75X by enabling the power of both integrated graphics core and the add-on graphics card simultaneously.
- Side Port Memory
Delivering performance increase up to 15%, Side Port Memory provides exceptional acceleration for the onboard graphics core. With the innovative technology, unprecedented graphics performance is now available.
Maximizes your system performance by selecting over clocking options
A specification developed by Intel Corporation to protect digital entertainment content across the DVI/HDMI interface. HDCP encrypts transmission of digital content between HDCP-compliant devices that it allows users to enjoy HD content through HDCP-compliant playback software.
The interface supports existing high-definition video formats(720p, 1080i, and even 1080p), plus multi-channel digital audio on a single cable. Combination with HDCP, provides a secure audio/video interface that meets the security requirements of content providers and systems operators.
- PCI EXPRESS 2.0
The exceptionally increased interconnect bit rate from 2.5GT/s up to 5.0GT/s would effectively eliminates the bottle neck of the system performance and brings the most terrific computing experience from the present to the future.
- RAID 0, 1, 5, 10
Supports RAID 0(Striped disk array), RAID 1(Mirroring disk array), RAID 5(Block Interleaved Distributed Parity), RAID 10 (A Stripe of Mirrors). Provides users the performance and protection.
- Gigabit LAN
Gigabit LAN supporting a high transfer rate up to 1 Gb/s.
- 8 Channel High Definition Audio
Integrated 8-channel HD Audio CODEC delivering advanced multi-channel audio and bringing you the experience of home theater-quality sound.
- SPDIF Out
A standard audio transfer file format(Sony/Philips Digital Interface Format); allow users to connect their PC to high-end audio devices to support the widest range of digital output formats.
- USB 2.0
Delivers transfer speeds up to 480Mb/s for easy connectivity and ultra-fast data transfers.
To put the ECS A790GXM-A to the test I will be running a series of scientific and video benchmarks which will push this motherboard to its limits. I will then compare the board against two other 790GX boards, the Foxconn A7DA-S and the MSI DKA 790GX Platinum to see how it stands up among boards from other manufactures based on the same chipset. To keep any variables from interfering with the scores and comparisons all of the boards will be run with the same hardware setup and everything will be set at their stock speeds, timings, and voltages unless noted in the overclocking section.
- Processor: AMD Phenom 9850 "Black Box" (200x12.5)
- Motherboard: ECS A790GXM-A
- Memory: Mushkin Redline XP2 8000 2 x 2 GB 5-5-5-12
- Video Card: PowerColor Radeon HD 4850 w/ Catalyst 8.8
- Power Supply: Mushkin 800w Modular Power Supply
- Hard Drive: Seagate 7200.11 1TB SATA
- Optical Drive: Lite-On 8x DVD+/-RW
- OS: Windows Vista Ultimate Edition
- Processor: AMD Phenom 9850 "Black Box" @ 200x16 = 3.200GHz
- Memory: Mushkin Redline XP2 8000 2 x 2 GB 5-5-5-15 @ 800MHz
Overclocking the ECS board is quite easy using the Motherboard Inteligent BIOS on the ECS A790GXM-A. All of the options you need to change are right there in front of you. The thing is that when overclocking this board you might have a problem with a processor that does not have an unlocked multiplier. No matter what I did and how much I pushed the boards voltages and tweaked the settings it would not boot and remain stable over 200MHz. Pushing the multiplier on the Phenom X4 9850 to 16x gave me a 700MHz overclock but that was it. I could not get anything else out of this one so that is where the overclocked tests will be run at 3.2GHz (200x16).
- Scientific & Data:
- SPECviewperf 10
- PCMark Vantage Professional
- SiSoft Sandra XII
- ScienceMark 2.02 Final
- CineBench 10
- HD Tune 2.55
- Knights of the Sea
- Call of Duty 4
- World in Conflict
- Call of Juarez
- Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts
- 3DMark 06 Professional
First up are the system specific benchmarks that will test overall scientific performance.
To get things started, I will begin with Apophysis. This program is used primarily to render and generate fractal flame images. We will run this benchmark with the following settings:
- Resolution: 2750x2048
- Quality: 500
- Limit Memory Use: 512MB
The measurement used is time to render, in minutes, to complete.
WinRAR is a tool to archive and compress large files to a manageable size. We will use 10MB, 100MB, and 500MB files, as well as test the time needed to compress these files. Time will be measured in seconds.
The ECS board was slower in Apophysis and WinRAR than the other boards.
SPECviewperf 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.
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.
In these two benchmarks again the ECS board was slightly behind the rest.
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.
Cache and Memory
Power Management Efficiency
Compared to the other 790GX chipsets the ECS A790GXM-A came in last.
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.
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.
HD Tune measures disk performance to make comparisons between drives or disk controllers.
In ScienceMark the ECS was knocking on the competitions door. For the Cinebench multi Cores it pulled ahead and tied for the HD Tune tests.
Crysis has been out for quite some time now. In that time, there has yet to be a single or multi-GPU setup that can fully showcase the graphics performance of the game. The Crysis single player demo includes both CPU and GPU benchmarks to test the performance of your processor and video card.
- Anti-Aliasing: x2
- Advanced settings to high
All of the boards were just about dead on each other.
PT Boats: Knights of the Sea is a new DX10 title that features its own proprietary graphics engine currently in development. The game is a combination of Real Time Strategy and Simulation. You have the ability to control the entire crew or just a single member. Play as the German, Russian or Allied navies, and prove your mettle on the open seas.
- Anti-Aliasing: x0
- Image Quality: High
- DirectX Version: 10
- All resolutions: 60Hz
All boards were close but the ECS board fell slightly at the end.
BioShock is one of the creepier games out on the market, chronicling 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 Daddies." 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.
- All settings to maximum
- V-Sync: Off
The ECS board was dead on with the MSI board and slightly faster than the Foxconn one.
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare is the successor to the Call of Duty crown. This iteration of the game is fought in many of the world's hot spots with modern armaments and firepower. You can play as either a US Marine or British SAS trooper. Since this game does not feature an in-game test, I will run through a section of the game and measure average FPS using Fraps 2.9.3.
- Anti-Aliasing: x4
- Anisotropic Filtering: Max
- Texture Quality: Extra
- All settings max
The tests were close again but the ECS was trailing by a margin.
World in Conflict is a DX10, Real Time Strategy game that simulates the all-out war the world hopes never comes. The difference in this RTS game is that it is not the typical "generate wealth and build" type of game. Instead, you advance by conquering your foe.
- Anti-Aliasing: x4
- Anisotropic Filtering: x16
- Graphic Detail: Very High
Again the ECS board tied some and was a frame or two behind in the other resolutions.
Call of Juarez is a DX10, First Person Shooter set in the Wild West of the late 1800's. The game is inspired, in part, by the movies of the Wild West genre of the seventies and eighties. The game can be played as both single player and multiplayer. The game focuses on realistic graphics and gameplay designed to take advantage of the latest video cards on the market.
- Details: High
- Shadowmap Size: 2048x2048
- Shadow Quality: Normal
- Anti-Aliasing: MSAA 4X
The race was close with the ECS tying the Foxconn board but behind the MSI one.
Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts is the latest chapter in the Company of Heroes series. The scene is WWII. The mission is Operation Market Garden, the first Allied attempt to break into the Third Reich. Play as the British or Germans. This Real Time Strategy game is brought to us by Relic Entertainment.
- Anti-Aliasing: x8
- All other settings to maximum
As the resolutions grew so did the scores of the ECS board.
3DMark06 is one of the benchmarks that always comes up when a bragging contest is begun. 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.
- SM2.0 Graphics Tests: GT1- Return to Proxycon, GT2- Firefly Forest
- CPU Tests: Cpu1- Red Valley, CPU2- Red Valley
- HDR/SM3.0 Graphics Tests: HDR1- Canyon Flight, HDR2- Deep Freeze
The scores for each board were very close with the ECS board coming out on top at the higher resolutions.
Although the scores were close when compared to the other 790GX boards the ECS was still for the most part in the tail end. Most users will not notice the difference however if you are a bench marker or a true enthusiast this minor difference will make all of the world in your decisions. Overclocking this board was fairly simple by raising the VCore and the multiplier however no matter what adjustments I made I could not get the CPU speed over 200MHz not even by 1MHz. This board also got the hottest of all of the 790GX boards that I tested with the same settings to the point I had to place a fan over the Northbridge heatsink to cool it down. Overclocked ,the board ran marginal but still not as high as other 790GX boards tested. I was left scratching my head why ECS did not put the Firewire headers on the board since there were places reserved for them and the chipset supports it. With more and more digital devices like video recorders using Firewire this causes an inconvenience to install an external card. There were also no eSATA ports on the back panel which have been on the majority of other ECS Black Series boards.
The presence of a memory chip for the integrated video makes this an excellent board for a media server which is becoming more and more popular these days or even a workstation where a dedicated graphics card is not needed. The ECS A790GXM-A also supports CrossFireX with its two PCI Express X16 slots and Hybrid CrossFireX with the IGP and certain discrete cards such as an HD 3450 video card. If you are looking for an inexpensive board for a budget build then I would take a look at the ECS A790GXM-A but if you are building a hardcore rig another option might be better suited for you.
- Sideport memory for increased performance
- CrossFireX and Hybrid CrossFireX options with dual PCI Express x16 slots
- Runs hot
- No headroom for CPU BUS overclocking
- Firewire headers omitted on the board
- No eSATA (personal preference)