Abit AN-M2HD High Definition Motherboard

Admin - 2007-07-26 17:42:21 in Motherboards
Category: Motherboards
Reviewed by: Admin   
Reviewed on: August 7, 2007
Abit
Abit
Price: $88.75

Introduction:

I want my HTPC! Many of us have been saying this lately; with the prices of computer components dropping and just becoming frustrated with all the wires that need to be ran from all the separate components when you build a normal home theater, it just might be easier to have everything come from one source. How many of you have tons of movies lying around collecting dust in, on or hidden in shelves, racks or closets? It always seems the day that you want to pull out that copy of Animal House or Van Wilder, you spend more time searching for the disk than the time it would actually take to watch the movie.

Building an HTPC could help you get rid of all that clutter and allow you to store all those movies in your attic, giving you room to showcase all your bowling trophies again. Depending on the size of the hard drive you choose, it’s possible to store hundreds of your favorite movies in one location and access them with the click of a button. Some of you might be saying, but what about music? Yup, that too and considering the size of an MP3 in relation to a movie, storage can be in the thousands! So now you can have movies, games and music, as well as the Internet at your fingertips without having to get off the couch to look for a CD case or to change the input on your receiver.

“Abit has had many success stories over the past 15+ years that they have been manufacturing computing components. Looking forward, the company is looking to what they call “Bulletproof Technology”. How does this benefit the end user you might ask? It means that you can expect a product that is designed with quality, stability, reliability and superior engineering to last longer and be more reliable for the end user.”

 

Closer Look:

Lately, Abit has been sliding away from the usual dull motherboard box packaging and is becoming more creative with different images and fonts that seem to catch the eye. The AN-M2HD is built to be a High Definition motherboard for an HTPC and the packaging portrays this.

 

 

The inside of the box had two separated panels, one which contains the bundled accessories and the other the motherboard itself.

 

Closer Look:

The AN-M2HD is a Micro-ATX format motherboard which has on-board video, sound and HDMI. It is made to support an AMD AM2 processor, which is 940 pins. The motherboard also supports up to 16 GB of DDR2 RAM, has one IDE input as well as one floppy drive connector.

 

 

 

 

Up to four SATA drives can be connected, and with the use of your case's front USB header and the supplied USB bracket, up to four more can be added. A PCI-E x16 expansion slot allows you to add an extra video card, and there are also 2 PCI and 1 PCI-E x1 expansion slots available.

 

 

The North and Southbridge chipsets are covered with aluminum heatsinks.

 

 

A metal mounting plate secures the heatsink bracket, while the external I/O panel has both HDMI and a D-Sub connection for video.

 

 

The bundled accessories include a rear I/O panel, a rear USB bracket (shown in installation), SATA cables, IDE and floppy cables, users manual, driver software and a 4' HDMI-DVI-D cable.

 

 

Installation:

Installation of the motherboard is no different than any other motherboard. The case that I chose to use for this project is the Apevia X-QPack 2. It is a micro case that accommodates the micro-ATX board very well. Since the X-QPack has a removable motherboard tray, all that was needed to do was screw on the motherboard, plug in the processor, add the RAM and attach the heatsink. I had chosen to use the Arctic Cooling Freezer 64 Pro, but after attaching it, there was not enough room under the stabilization rail in the case for it to fit. For visual purposes, the picture shown is with the AC Freezer 64 Pro, but the CPU cooler was changed back to stock, which had no clearance issues with the case. Hey it even works with the heatsink fan facing the I/O panel. Hmmm.

 

 

 

Closer Look:

The BIOS:

The Abit AN-M2HD utilizes the Phoenix-Award BIOS. Most features are standard as on many other motherboards, but Abit has an overclocking utility called "Soft Menu" so there are a few differences. As we look at the BIOS screens, I will comment on a few items that I felt stood out from the others.

 

Logo Screen, Standard and Advanced CMOS Functions:

The bootup logo screen (not shown) is black and has the Abit logo in the center; it is nothing too fancy, so I chose not to show it. The standard CMOS and advanced BIOS features are a mirror image of all modern motherboard's BIOS features. One particular difference is the order in which the options are laid out, you will notice that the "Soft Menu" feature is above the Standard and Advanced option. I will feature the Soft Menu last.

 

 

 

Advanced Chipset Features:

Advanced chipset features offer some options for changing your RAM, Northbridge HT, speed and width and IGPU configuration (memory utilization for onboard video). The options to setting your RAM timings are as what I have come accustomed to. The board does allow you to change the memory clock  for CAS, tRAS, etc.

 

 

Closer Look:

Integrated Peripherals:

The integrated peripherals setting gives you options to set your onboard devices. As with other motherboards, these will be USB support,  audio, SATA, etc. You will notice that there is an option to turn on/off the onboard HDMI sound.

 

 

 

Power Management Setup and Pnp/PCI Configuration:

There is nothing special about these two features, they seem to be the norm as with every Phoenix BIOS.

 

 

 

PC Health Status:

PC Health Status has options to enable or disable smart fan functions, as well as allowing you to set options for shutdown and warning temperatures.

 

 

Soft Menu:

Abit's "Soft Menu" function is a lite version of their "uGuru" overclocking function which has become very common with Abit's higher end boards. "Soft Menu," when set to user define, will allow you to change your frontside bus on the processor, the multiplier, PCI-E MHz, CPU and RAM voltages. (For overclocking see extras later in this review)

 

Configuration:

The Abit AN-M2HD Motherboard utilizes the nVidia 630a chipset and drivers. It has an onboard 7 series graphics card.

 

 

 

 

You can either use the main menu to auto install the drivers for the motherboard, or click on browse CD which will give you the options to manually install the drivers. I suggest if you are going to choose a manual install that you install the chipset drivers first. The chipset drivers include Display, Ethernet, IDE and SMbus.

 

 

Next, install the sound drivers; the AN-M2HD has a Realtek HD chipset for onboard sound.

 

 

The AMD CPU driver should be installed even if you choose not to utilize the Cool and Quiet settings on the motherboard. It is essential for Windows to run correctly and if it is not installed it will decrease the performance of a dual core processor.

 

 

Abit also includes its own utilities, those being the Abit EQ, which wiill help with overclocking in Windows, and it will also give you options to adjust fan speeds. The other utility included is a flash utility; this will allow you to download and install an updated BIOS from Abit while in a Windows atmosphere.

 

Specifications:

CPU

- Designed for AMD® Socket AM2 Processors with 2000M T/s system bus using Hyper Transport Technology
- AMD® Cool 'n' Quiet Technology

Chipset

- NVIDIA® GeForce®7050PV/nForce 630a
- Dual Head Display Controller Full NVIDIA nView multi-display technology capability, with independent display controllers for one digital HDTV and one analog monitor

Memory

- 4 X 240-pin DIMM sockets support max. memory capacity 8GB
- Supports Dual Channel DDR2 800 un-buffered ECC / Non-ECC memory

HDMI
- Integrated TMDS interface with HDCP key
Graphics

- Integrated GeForce7 Series Shader model 3.0 DirectX9 graphics
- Programmable PureVideo HD Video Processor

LAN
- Gigabit Ethernet (Marvell 88E1116)
Audio

- On board 7.1 CH HD Audio CODEC (Realtek ALC888)
- Auto Jack Sensing and optical S/P DIF Out

IEEE 1394

- Supports 2 Ports IEEE 1394 at 400Mb/s transfer rate (Texas Instruments Chip)

Serial ATA

- 4 x SATA (RAID) 3 Gb/s
- Supports SATA RAID 0/1/0+1/5 and JBOD

Internal I/O

- 1 x Floppy Port supports up to 2.88M B
- 1 x Ultra DMA 133/100/66/33 IDE Connector
- 4 x USB 2.0 header (support 8 ports)
- 4 x SATA 3Gb/s connector
- 1 x IEEE1394 header
- 1 x S/P DIF Out header

Expansion Slots

- 1 x PCI-E X16
- 1 x PCI-E X1
- 2 x PCI

Back Panel I/O

- 1 x PS/2 Keyboard, 1 x PS/2 Mouse
- 7.1 CH HD Audio connector (Front, Line-in, MIC-in, Center/Subwoofer, Surround, Rear Surround)
- 4 x USB2.0, 1 x RJ-45 LAN Connector, 1 x 1394
- 1 x HDMI, 1 x D-Sub, 1 x S/P DIF Out

Form Factor

- mATX form factor 244 x 244 mm
- PCB Color: Blue

RoHS
- 100% lead-free process and RoHS compliant
Windows Vista
- Microsoft Vista Premium visual interface support

 

Features:

Testing:

I will use the Overclockersclub.com benchmarking suite to test the Abit AN-M2HD High Definition Motherboard, as well as the other two motherboards chosen to perform for comparison. Our suite contains many of the benchmarks you have seen in our video card reviews, plus other benchmarks that will determine CPU, chipset, HDD, rendering and file transfers, to name but a few. Settings on all boards will be default, except for memory, which will be set to 667 instead of auto. This will eliminate any variables and allow us to see how well these boards perform right out of the box. Again, I will reiterate that this system is for the purposes of building an inexpensive extra PC or an HTPC.

 

Testing Setup:

Comparison System:

 

 

The system tests we will be using are listed below:

 

We will start 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.

 

 

 

 

The Abit An-M2HD comes in second when rendering in Apopysis, but when compressing files, since all three boards are within a margin, I feel it is too close to call.

Testing:

Specview is a benchmark designed to test OpenGL performance. The tests used for comparison are listed below. The default tests were chosen to be able to compare across platforms. In these tests, higher scores equate to better performance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With OpenGL type of benchmarks, the nVidia boards perform much better than ATI, as proven in the Specwiew benchmark, but ATI fans shouldn't fret. When it comes to Direct 3D, ATI has the upper hand.

Testing:

PcMark05 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Higher is Better

 

 

Higher is Better

 

 

Higher is Better

 

 

Higher is Better

 

Higher is Better

 

Overall, the Abit AN-M2HD is equal to its competitors, but in the individual graphics score, it does get beaten by a fair margin.

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

 

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

Testing:

 

 

The game tests that we use are as follows:

 

First up we have Far Cry. This game makes extensive use of pixel shaders and features Polybump normal mapping technology to increase character details.

 

We will be using the Hardware OC Benchmarking Utility version 1.8 with the following settings.

 

 

Testing:

F.E.A.R. is a newer game that includes its own benchmarking utility. We will be using this test to benchmark the game. This game introduces a new AI model that emulates real squad behavior. It has the ability to counteract the moves you make rather than having a predictable routine.

 

The settings we will use are below:

 

 

Testing:

Call of Duty 2 is a WWII first-person shooter game that is dated, but still maintains a tremendous online following. This test will consist of a timed run on the Stalingrad multi-player map, measured by Average FPS (frames per second).

 

The settings used are listed below:

 

 

 

Testing:

Quake 4 is next up for testing. We will be using the Hardware OC Quake 4 Benchmark Utility version 1.5 to complete the testing with this game. You will need to update to the most current version for the latest time demo and bug fixes. Average FPS (frames per second) will be the measure used.

 

The settings we will use are listed below:

 

 

 

 

I tried many different combinations of drivers and settings to get Quake 4 to run with the onboard ATI graphics boards and all I received were errors of incompatibility. The Abit board containing the nVidia graphics drivers was the only board in all tests that ran Quake 4 with the newest patches.

Testing:

Need For Speed: Most Wanted. For this test, we will time each race and record the average FPS (Frames Per Second) achieved.

 

The settings we will use are listed below.

 

 

 

 

Although the AN-M2HD comes in second, as the resolutions increased, it did lose less frames per second than the other two cards in two of three resolutions.

Extras:

The Abit AN-M2HD is the last of the three AMD integrated motherboards and is the most expensive at a price of $109.99, which will increase the total of your HTPC/second computer by $45.00 dollars above the lowest price motherboard we reviewed. Giving a total estimated cost of $339.99. (Please see extras in these two reviews to read our ongoing article.) Extras 1 and Extras 2

When building a low cost second computer or HTPC, there are some things that we can do with or do without, and the AN-M2HD has a lot of extras that some of us can’t do without. When you build an HTPC, you are probably going to want some type of expandability and it always seems that USB ports run out before you have connected your mouse. With four external ports and 4 internal USB headers, along with the supplied USB/IEEE bracket, this motherboard has more than enough. The 4’ HDMI/DVI-D cable is a plus. When was the last time someone actually supplied their own HDMI cable that you didn’t have to use an attachment for? Best Buy, Circuit City and even Wal-Mart charge up to $60 for a dual cable of this size.

As an enthusiast, another extra could be the board's ability to overclock. Of the three boards tested, the highest clock speed was obtained with the AN-M2HD; 230 FSB with a multiplier of 15, which yielded a total of 3450 MHz and a RAM speed of approximately 765 MHz. (CPU voltage 1.475v and RAM voltage 2.10v) After testing the motherboard, I decided to make this a second computer for my girlfriend, which freed up my 5400+ processor. So I decided to see how well the 5400+ overclocked as well. The system booted stable at a FSB of 225, but anything higher and I could not get into Windows.

My two main concerns with all three boards are RAM threshold and PSU. These could be contributing factors to not being able to achieve higher overclocks with the boards. Prior to benchmarking the Gigabyte board, I was never able to achieve higher than 730 MHz on the RAM I was using. The other concern, at least for the Abit and ECS boards, was the power supply. The Apevia case comes with a 450W PSU, and after checking the rails, they did droop when I overclocked the system, which did cause some of the bottleneck. The PSU was not a concern with the Gigabyte board. I’m also sure that if I chose to put a divider on the RAM I would have been able to increase the FSB more on the Abit and Gigabyte boards.

So is it possible to build a second computer or HTPC for less than $350.00? Yes! You also have some great options when choosing the motherboard you might prefer, whether it be Micro-ATX or ATX, nVidia or AMD chipsets, HDMI or DVI. The onboard video that comes on the boards is an alternative to purchasing an entry level video card that will cost approximately $50 to $75 dollars and yield about the same results. It is also a plus to be able to use multiple monitors and receive the benefits of HDTV while also being able to type a research paper.

 

If you would like to see a choice of an integrated motherboard that is built for an Intel chip please see our review on the ECS GT33-M2 Motherboard.

Conclusion:

Out of the three motherboards we reviewed for this series, I feel that the Abit AN-M2HD High Definition Motherboard is the best value. Yes, the other two motherboards had their strengths, weaknesses, lack of features and different features, but all around, the AN-M2HD combines many of the things that an enthusiast or everyday Joe would be more than happy with.

The presence of onboard HDMI and having Abit supply a full size cable is a great plus. The AN-M2HD performed well against its competitors in many benchmarks within a margin of error, some all around and others beaten by both. Many of the scientific benchmarks were too close to call, and in the video benchmarks the AN-M2HD was beaten in most. But out of the three, it did lose less frames per second as resolutions increased, and being able to run Quake 4 while the other two could not speaks for itself. Even though Quake 4 is an older game, it still is a favorite of many, and when playing online you will need to have all the patches up to date in order to run it.

As an enthusiast, it was able to beat the 225 FSB wall and hopefully with different RAM and PSU, it will be able to go higher. I also liked the “Soft Menu” option, even though it is as I would consider it the “Light” version of regular beer, it still had more options than the other two boards.

It looks like I killed two birds with one stone here. I built that second PC and my girlfriend is happy since she has a fairly fast computer, and she also likes the fact that she now has an office HTPC (She's also really happy with the pink case I put it in). Mission accomplished!

 

Pros:

 

Cons: