ASUS M3N-HT 780a SLi Review

ajmatson - 2008-04-13 08:28:00 in Motherboards
Category: Motherboards
Reviewed by: ajmatson   
Reviewed on: May 6, 2008
Price: $TBD


With the rise of processors from Intel taking the market share because of the performance divide, most of the high end gaming boards have been built to support Socket 775 and not AM2 as much. Well, it looks like the tides are starting to change. The release of updated Phenom X4 processors, the anticipation of AMD's X3 processor and with the TLB bug being fixed, the AMD CPU is starting to make a comeback. With that comeback there is more support popping up from motherboard manufacturers to push the limits of the new processors. AMD released the 790FX chipset not too far back, creating the springboard for the "Spider Platform" to compete with Intel's X48 chipset, but the downfall of the early Phenoms left computer builders scratching their heads and started to migrate from AMD to Intel based systems. With the success of the 790FX platform from AMD/ATI and the new AMD processors, nVidia has designed a new chipset built to harness the power of the X4, X3, and other AM2 processors and adding SLi support to make a powerful gaming system that will challenge Intel based X48 systems.

ASUS has jumped on the new platform, which is based on the nVidia 780a chipset, in the ASUS M3N-HT motherboard. The new chipset on the M3N-HT is comprised of the nVidia 780a GMCP (Graphics Media and Communications Processor) Northbridge and an nForce 200 Southbridge. The 780a is interfaced with the CPU using HyperTransport 3.0, allowing Phenom users to get the full benefits from it. One thing you may have noticed is that the Northbridge is a GMCP and not just an MCP, which means that there is a GPU integrated on the chip, allowing the M3N-HT to use onboard video, a discrete card, or nVidia's new Hybrid SLi technology. Another outstanding feature you will notice on the ASUS M3N-HT is that there are three PCI Express slots on the board. That will allow a user to run triple nVidia based graphics cards for the best gaming experience ever.


Closer Look:

I must admit, I was so eager to dive in after seeing the box and what the ASUS M3N-HT has to offer. The front of the box has logos for some of the features ASUS offers on the M3N-HT, which is a great idea because this keeps a potential buyer from having to search all over the box looking for the information. One of the first things that caught my eye was the ESA logo on the bottom. ESA, which stands for Enthusiast System Architecture, allows a user who has an ESA certified motherboard to monitor and control other components that are ESA certified, including power supplies, processors, video cards and cooling products. The back of the box expands on the main features and specifications that the board offers, as well as a picture of what it looks like.



Sliding out the main part of the packaging from the cover gets you to the goodies. Flip the cover over and underneath are the two layers, the top being the accessories and the bottom being the motherboard itself.


Closer Look:

One thing about the ASUS M3N-HT is that it is chock full of accessories to get you up and running with your new board without having to buy anything else. When I opened the box, the accessories were falling all over the place since there were so many. Included with the M3N-HT are six SATA cables, one two-port SATA power adapter, one floppy cable, one IDE cable, a two-port USB/one-port Firewire expansion bracket, an HDMI to DVI connector, the ASUS Q Connection system for easy front panel header connecting, a heatsink fan module, one Dual SLi bridge, one Tri SLi bridge, a backplate, the manual, the driver/software CD, the Mempipe heatpipe, and an ASUS case badge.








The Mempipe is a copper heatpipe that extends from the Northbridge to the memory modules to add another layer of passive cooling to the memory. ASUS claims a 10C drop in temperature for the memory with the Mempipe installed. The Mempipe is only designed to cool two memory sticks in Bank 1 and 2, so if you have more than two sticks, the other two will not be able to take advantage of this coolng setup. There is thermal tape on the inside of the cooler to help with the transfer of heat from the memory modules to the heatpipe. The final shot shows how the Mempipe sits on the memory modules and then screws into the Northbridge heatsink to create one big cooling heatpipe.




To aid in the cooling of the massive heatpipe setup, ASUS has included a small fan that attaches to the fins over the voltage regulators, actively cooling them and keeping the temperatures down. The unit is a blower type fan which pulls air from the case's natural cooling and pushes it over the fins, keeping them cooler when being used for overclocking or when a water cooling setup is on the CPU and there is no airflow from the lack of the CPU fan.




If you are an avid system builder like myself, who changes components constantly, then you will love two unique features that ASUS has included on the M3N-HT. The first one is the Q Connector. The Q Connectors take the front panel connections from the case, like the ones for the power headers, USB headers, etc. and gives you a bridge to connect them to with easy to read specifications. This alows you to quickly and correctly place the wires on the right headers. The second is the way the backplate is designed. I have cut my fingers a countless number of times installing it and then to look on the back and barely read what they say. The backplate included with the M3N-HT has easy to read labeling and a padded, heat reflective buffer to keep from damaging the components and help protect them and you.




The last of the goodies with the ASUS M3H-NT are the SLi bridges. There are two SLi bridges included, one for a dual card setup and one for the new triple card setup. The only downfall is that Tri-SLi is limited to only certain high end cards.





Now let's move on and take a look at the motherboard itself.

Closer Look:

The ASUS M3N-HT is a full ATX form motherboard and uses the Stack Cool 2 design which layers the black colored PC board and effectively transfers heat from critical components to the other side of the specially designed board. The back of the board has the massive backplate which holds the CPU heatsink in place without damaging the board and critical components..









The back panel connectors offer an even balance for any user. ASUS has done away with the PS/2 mouse connection but left the PS/2 keyboard connection. There are also four USB 2.0 ports, optical and coaxial S/PDIF connectors, one LAN port, an e-SATA port, the audio in/out ports, and video connections. You can see that ASUS has the VGA D-Sub connector and an HDMI port. You can also use DVI via the included HDMI to DVI connector included with the accessories.



The ASUS M3N-HT has a wide array of options for expansion. There are two PCI slots for audio, PhysX or other cards, one PCI Express x1 slot, and three PCI Express x16 2.0 slots. The x16 slots support Triple SLi configurations for high end gaming cards with Tri-SLi support. For a dual card setup they run at x16 and x16, and for a triple card setup they will run at x16, x8 and x8. Another great feature that the ASUS M3N-HT offers is nVidia's new Hybrid SLi support. Hybrid SLi integrates the onboard graphics with a discrete card to offer a performance boost when needed, but also will throttle down the discrete card when not needed and uses the onboard only, saving power, resources and heat output.


The bottom of the board is where the headers are for add-ons galore. ASUS has included enough for any user, including legacy devices. There is an AAFP header for front panel audio, a floppy port, a COM port header, two Firewire headers, three USB 2.0 headers, and the front panel headers. On the side of the motherboard ASUS has six SATA 3.0Gb/s ports lined up at 90 degree angles to aid in better cable management and one IDE port for up to two drives.



The upper area of the motherboard has the CPU socket, which supports AM2 and AM2+ processors, including the Quad Core Phenom, Athlon X2s and Semprons. Surrounding the socket are the voltage regulators and capacitors. The M3N-HT uses an 8+2 Phase Power design. This uses an 8 Phase design for the CPU and a 2 Phase design dedicated to the Memory Controller and HT bus. There are four memory slots which support up to 8GB of DDR2 memory with speeds up to 1066MHz. The M3N-HT also supports ECC as well as Non-ECC, unbuffered memory.



The ASUS M3N-HT uses a unique copper cooling system which connects the Southbridge, Northbridge, and voltage regulators together with heatpipes for maximum heat transfer. The heat is then dissipated by the fins over the voltage regulators either by natural case airflow or by the help of the heatpipe fan.



One neat difference I want to point out on the M3N-HT is that if you look between the first PCI slot and the black PCI Express slot, you will notice a small daughterboard mounted there. This is the Express Gate module that is soldered to the board. The writing around the board shows that is where a USB header should be, so essentially this looks like an external flash drive in essence, which has the Express Gate program stored on it.

Closer Look:

To run the system correctly, not only do you need the hardware but you also need the right software. ASUS includes an abundance of drivers and utilities to help maximize your computing experience. To start off, you need to insert the CD that came in the bundle with the M3N-HT. Once the CD is placed in the tray and closed, the autorun should pick up and present you with the ASUS installation program. The installer is a GUI which makes installing the drivers and software as easy as possible.


Under the drivers tab there are several options. You can ASUS InstALL all of the drivers at once, or you can choose to install each one separately. Here you have the option to install the NVIDIA Chipset Drivers and the SoundMAX ADI Audio Driver.







ASUS includes a wealth of software with its motherboard to help the user get the most use out of his/her system. You can install the programs one by one or all at one time with the InstALL option again. Some of the programs included with the M3N-HT are the ASUS utilities, Symantec Anti-Virus, and Ulead Photo Impact.




As I mentioned above, ASUS includes several utilities to help tweak and tune your system to your likings. Some of these utilities include a BIOS updating GUI, ASUS PC Probe which lets you monitor system temperatures, voltages and fan speeds, ASUS Cool and Quiet which displays the C&Q speeds and voltages, and ASUS AI Suite.




The AI suite lets you manage power throttling to save on power consumption when the computer is idle or not needing a lot of juice, Q Fan to monitor and adjust the fans attached to the motherboard for maximum cooling, and AI Booster for overclocking. The overclocking feature is welcome to an enthusiast like myself because here you can overclock on the fly without having to go into the BIOS every time. You can overclock based on percentages to gain the best performance.



The last few sections of the installer are the drivers for RAID setups, the electronic manual, and the contact information for ASUS.


Closer Look:

The BIOS is one of the most overlooked gold mines of a computer system. This little program controls how a system performs and interacts with all of the hardware. Here is where you can control speeds, voltages, fans, IRQs, and more. There are several manufacturers of BIOSes, however Award and Phoenix, or better known merged Phoenix-Award, is the most prevalent lately. The BIOS has the ability to be altered by the motherboard manufacturer to suit the needs of the system. Today, we are going to take a look at the M3N-HT's BIOS, which is a Phoenix-Award BIOS.



The Main section allows the user to view system settings such as date and time and change drive settings for the HDD, Floppy, and CD/DVD drives.






The Power section lets you control the ACPI suspend type from S1 to S3, change Advanced Power Management features such as wake by LAN and other devices, and monitor the system information such as fan speeds, temperatures, and voltage.




The Boot section is where you can alter the order that the devices start during the boot sequence and other basic boot settings.




The Tools section is a neat little section that lets people such as enthusiasts have some extra control over their system. I am always making changes to the BIOS and ASUS makes it easy to save and load profiles so you do not have to remember each setting for different setups. In the Tools section there is also the ability to enter ASUS EZ Flash 2, which is an easy BIOS saver/updater that lets you load and save the BIOS files from removable drives such as a floppy or even a USB thumb drive. This is also where you enable or disable the Express Gate feature to have quick access to internet accessible programs.



Closer Look:


The Advanced section is what all of you tweakers will love. This is where all of the settings for overclocking will take place. The first part of the Advanced section is the Jumper Free section. The Jumper Free section is where you can overclock changing the voltages for the CPU, memory and chipset. You can also alter the CPU and HyperTransport multiplier, as well as the CPU and PCI Express clockspeeds. The CPU multiplier goes up to 25x if you have an unlocked chip to play with.











The next part of the Advanced section is for the ASUS AI Net2, which checks the status of the LAN connections during boot up.


Moving on down is the CPU configuration section. The CPU section shows you the CPU information, as well as lets you enable and disable CPU features like Cool and Quiet, AMD Live and the TLB patch. Another part is the DRAM configuration, which controls the memory frequency and timings.





The chipset section is where the onboard video gets the settings changed. You can set the options to auto or manual depending on your preferences. The onboard video's frame buffer (memory amount) can be set to 64MB, 128MB, 256MB, or 512MB, but remember, the higher the setting the more system memory it takes away. This is also where you can configure the Hybrid SLi options and onboard video settings for different graphics setups.





Lastly, we have the PCIPnP and the Onboard Device sections. This is where you set Plug and Play options and SATA/IDE options. You can set the SATA ports to act like IDE devices, RAID drives or ACHI drives, which enables the SATA hotswaping options.




1. AMD Socket AM2+ Phenom FX / Phenom / Athlon / Sempron
2. AMD Socket AM2 Athlon 64 X2 / Athlon 64 FX / Athlon 64 / Sempron
3. AMD64 architecture enables simultaneous 32-bit and 64-bit computing
1. NVIDIA nForce 780a SLi
System Bus
1. Up to 5200MT/s; HyperTransport 3.0 interface for AM2+ CPU
2. 2000 / 1600 MT/s for AM2 CPU
1. Dual Channel memory architecture
2. 4x DIMM, max 8GB, DDR2 1066 / 800 / 667 / 533, ECC and non-ECC, un-buffered memory (DDR2 1066 supported by AM2+ CPU only.)
1. Maximum shared memory of 512MB
2. Supports HDMI Technology with max. resolution of 1920 x 1200
3. Supports DVI with max/ resolution of 1920 x 1440 @ 60 Hz
4. Supports D-Sub with max. resolution of 1920 x 1440 @ 75 Hz
5. Support PCI Express 2.0 / 1.0 Architecture
6. Supports Microsoft DirectX 10, OpenGL 2.0, and Pixel Shader 4.0
Expansion Slots
1. 3 x PCIe x16 supports NVIDIA 3-way SLi Technology @ dual x16 or x16,x8,x8
2. 1 x PCIe x1 slot
3. 2 x PCI 2.2 slots
   1. 1 x Ultra DMA 133 / 100 / 66 / 33
   2. 6 x SATA 3GB/s ports (Use SATA 1-4 for IDE mode.)
   3. NVIDIA MediaShield RAID supports RAID 0, 1, 0+1, 5, and JBOD

Marvell 6111 SATA Controller:
   1. 1 x External SATA 3GB/s port (SATA On the Go)
IEEE 1394
LSI FW322 controller supports 2x IEEE 1394a ports
ADI ADAD1988B BH 8-channel High Definition Audio CODEC
   1. Coaxial, Optical S/PDIF out ports on the back I/O
Gigabit LAN featuring AI NET 2
Form Factor
ATX Form Factor, 12" x 9.6" (30.5cm x 24.4cm)







To test the ASUS M3N-HT motherboard, I am going to run a series of scientific and video game benchmarks. These benchmarks are designed to stress and test the performance of the motherboard and other components to gauge their performance and the connections between them. To see the overall performance of the ASUS M3N-HT, I will be running the tests once with the onboard video only, once with just an 8800GT running, and once with two 8800GTs in a Dual SLi configuration. Then I am then going to compare the ASUS M3N-HT to two other motherboards that use the AMD processor. One will be another well known board from ASUS, the AMD 790FX version of the Mempipe designed motherboard, the ASUS M3A32-MVP, and the other is the Gigabyte GA-MA78GM-SH2, which is comprised of the latest AMD 780G chipset. To keep any variables to a minimum, all other components will be run at stock speeds, voltages and timings. This will keep any outside variances from affecting the scores. I just want to mention that to use HybridPower features you have to pair the motherboard with a 9800GTX or 9800GX2 and for the GeForce boost with an 8400GS or 8500GT. Due to these cards not being available to us at the time of this review we will be releasing a separate review on the Hybrid power and Hybrid SLI capabilities in the near future.


Testing Setup:


Comparison Motherboard:





Overclocked settings:

Just like with the Gigabyte GA-MA78GM-SH2, the Quad Core Phenom does not like anything higher than 200MHz on the bus speed. So to overclock the CPU for this board, I had to increase the multiplier to 13.5x and increase the voltage to 1.4v to keep it stable. This was the maximum overclock that I could get while maintaining stability. AMD processors are not as overclockable as their Intel counterparts, which is a shame because I think that this board could go a lot further with a perfect chip.



  1. Apophysis
  2. WinRAR
  3. SpecviewPerf 10
  4. PCMark Vantage Professional
  5. Sandra XII
  6. ScienceMark 2.02 Final
  7. Cinebench 10
  8. HD Tune 2.54
  1. Crysis
  2. Knights of the Sea
  3. Bioshock
  4. Call of Duty 4
  5. World in Conflict
  6. Call of Juarez
  7. 3DMark 06 Professional



First up are the system specific benchmarks that will test overall scientific performance. For the science tests, only the scores when paired with the 8800GT discrete card are are shown to make the direct comparison to the other boards with the same setup.


To get things stated 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:


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.






For these tests, the M3N-HT is almost dead on with the 790FX board.


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.











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.


Here the ASUS M3N-HT came slightly behind the 790FX board but was ahead of the 780G board by a mile.


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



Again, the two ASUS boards were almost on the money but the 780G fell slightly behind the pack.


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.




We're starting to see a trend in the 780a and the 790FX boards being almost number for number in the tests.


Crysis is a new addition to the gaming benchmark suite used at This game is one of the most anticipated and system intensive games in the market right now. The Crysis single player demo includes a GPU benchmark to test the performance of the video card installed in the system. 

Video Settings:















Dual Card SLi nearly doubled the frame rates, while the Hybrid SLi did no better than the stock w/ 8800GT.


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.


Video Settings:















The ASUS M3N-HT did better than the competition, however the SLi performance was displeasing.


Bioshock is one of the newest games on the market. 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.


Video Settings:













Here the scores were dead on across the board against the other motherboards compared. Again, SLi was nothing to write home about.


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.


Video Settings:











The 780a board does it again, coming out on top of the scores, either being better than or tied to the competition.


World In Conflict is a newly released 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.


Video Settings:














A change in the tide? The M3A32 did better than the M3N-HT at higher resolutions for stock speeds, but the dual SLi came out on top.


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.


Video Settings:














Here we ran well until the 1920 x 1200 test where the M3N-HT just could not hold up.


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.


Video Settings:















In this new benchmark, the M3N-HT just could not cut it even coming behind the Gigabyte 780G board. When Dual SLi was used at the lowest resolution, it could not even keep up.


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.

















In what is known as the bragger's test, the scores matched what we have seen before. They were almost even across the board until the highest resolution.


For the extras section, I wanted to post the temperatures for the Mempipe. ASUS claims a decrease in memory temperatures up to 10C with the Mempipe installed. I ran the Sisoft Sandra XII memory tests for 30 minutes without the Mempipe on and took the temperature at the end of the 30 minutes. I then attached the Mempipe to the board and tightened it to the memory and again ran the Sandra tests for 30 minutes taking the temperatures at the end. The graphs show the Idle and load temperatures with and without the Mempipe installed. The idle temps were taken after one hour of no computer usage. The temperatures were taken using a Radio Shack Non-Contact Infrared Thermometer.










Express Gate:

Express Gate is a nifty little piece of hardware that lets you boot into a Linux based OS in a few seconds and be able to IM, surf the Net or make Skype calls without having to fully boot into the WIndows Operating system. This comes in handy if you are needing to download a driver to fix or install Windows and you have no other computer to download the files, or say you want to quickly check your email or IM someone and tell them you are running late. Why boot into Windows when you can just boot into Express Gate in a fraction of the time and away you go? The one downfall is that I could not get Express Gate to see my USB keyboards or mice, only the PS/2 ones. This could be a problem for some users that only have USB peripherals.



NVIDIA Hybrid SLi Technology:

NVIDIA has two new technologies that are aimed at conserving power and increasing performance. First is HybridPower. HybridPower allows the system to throttle back power buy using the Motherboard GPU (mGPU) when running everyday applications and when full graphics power is not needed, like when watching HD videos, but then be able to unleash the total performance of a Discrete GPU (dGPU) for those demanding games and applications. This allows the system to reduce power consumption when maximum GPU power is not needed instead of needlessly powering the discrete GPU. This feature is only available when the M3N-HT is paired with a Hybrid SLi ready 9800GTX or a 9800GX2 discrete graphics card.

The other new technology is GeForce Boost which takes the mGPU on the motherboard and combines it with a NVIDIA Hybrid SLi-enabled dGPU to increase performance. By combining the mGPU and the dGPU you can gain more video processing power to give you an edge in games and an increase in graphics performance without having to spend a lot of money on a more powerful video card. This feature is available only when used with a Hybrid SLi ready 8400GS or 8500GT.


So what do we say about the ASUS M3N-HT? It performs as well as, or sometimes better than, AMD's flagship chipset, the 790FX. The scores were marginally better for the newer 780a chipset. The option for AMD processor users to finally have a great choice of motherboard chipsets and designs is a plus. No longer are you stuck with certain options, like only being able to use Crossfire. Now you can run that NVIDIA SLi rig with your Phenom X4 and kick some serious butt. The ASUS M3N-HT has many upgradable options such as the ability to run triple SLi if you have the cards available, or Dual SLi if you do not want to spend that much on GPUs. The temperature test with the Mempipe was not the greatest drop in temperature, but when a user is overclocking, every degree is a help to get the maximum out of his system. The Express Gate feature is a noble idea with a wealth of uses, especially if you need to get online to get a driver when you cannot get Windows to operate. The fact that Express Gate does not recognize a USB keyboard or mouse is very disappointing since that is what most computer users have these days. Being a Linux guru, this is a simple fix with an update that I hope to see in the near future.

The integrated graphics works great for a user who is looking for a workstation or home computer where gaming is not an issue. Here, they would not have to spend the extra money for a discrete GPU because this one would work just fine. Even if they wanted to play games casually, the onboard GPU offers decent playability at lower resolutions and settings. Overall, this is a great board and will perform for any user from beginer to enthusiast. I would recommend the ASUS M3N-HT to beginner system builders and enthusiasts alike as you will find the features you need for any AMD build.

** Update: Due to the 9 Series cards not being available we are going to revisit the NVIDIA HybridPower and GeForce Boost features in a seperate review here on OCC.