ECS AMD690GM-M2 Motherboard

Admin - 2007-04-22 09:01:15 in Motherboards
Category: Motherboards
Reviewed by: Admin   
Reviewed on: July 30, 2007
Elite Group
Elite Group
Price: $64.99

Introduction:

Do you run more than one computer in your household? Unfortunately in today’s world most of us do. Whether it is because you’re an enthusiast or you have a big family, it seems that one computer is just not enough. As an enthusiast, I refuse to purchase an over the counter proprietary computer, as it just won’t cut it. However, I also don’t want to spend tons of money building an extra rig that is just going to be used to surf the net or play an occasional game. What I have done, is found an alternative to purchasing a pre-built, if you know where to find them. Components are not very expensive these days and even though it might not be a top of the line computer, you can usually get an additional rig up and running for less than five hundred dollars.

First we need to remember this is not our main rig, so to cut costs, you can either use some components you might have lying around the house, or just purchase the essentials, being the CPU, Motherboard, Video card, Memory, CD ROM Drive, Hard Drive, Case and Power Supply. CPUs can be had for around ninety dollars, while the other components might cost you anywhere from twenty five to seventy. To further cut costs, you can purchase a motherboard with on-board video and this is what we’ll be looking at today.

ECS (Elite Group) produces such a motherboard and it is named the AMD690GM-M2. This is a Socket AM2 micro ATX board, with graphics onboard by ATI (Radeon1250). Can this motherboard save you the cost of purchasing a separate video card and will it have the gusto to satisfy your needs of an all around rig?

“ECS, the Elitegroup Computer Systems (TSE: 2331), has been a pioneer in designing and manufacturing computer motherboards since 1987. It was the first motherboard maker in Taiwan to be listed on the Taiwan Stock Exchange in 1994. Today, the company also designs and manufactures barebone and complete systems, such as notebook computers and high-end servers, for distributors worldwide.”

 

Closer Look:

The Motherboard comes in an interesting box; I was reminded of the Rubix cube as soon as I looked at it. Hopefully setting up the BIOS won’t be as hard as the cube was. You’ll also notice that this is an AMD chipset and has ATI graphics on-board.

 

Closer Look:

When looking at the motherboard I immediately thought about possibly building a “Shuttle” type system.

 

 

 

 

Being an AM2 motherboard, you will need a 940 pin AMD AM2 CPU to insert into the socket. There are also two DIMM slots, which will support up to 16 GBs of DDR2 memory, one IDE port, a FDD port and it also supports 24 pin PSU’s.

 

 

You can also connect up to four 3.0GB/s SATA drives that are able to work in RAID as 0, 1, and 0+1. You will notice that the AMD chipset is covered by a heatsink which is not actively cooled. Three additional USB 2.0 connectors are available and the CMOS jumper is located right by the panel connectors. Another added feature is a connector for an additional serial port, which is something I haven’t seen in quite a while.

 

 

If you choose to use your own video card, the motherboard has one PCI-E x16 slot, one PCI-E x1 and two PCI expansion slots.

 

The I/O panel comes equipped with PS/2 hookups, a DVI and D-Sub output for the onboard Video, four USB 2.0 connectors, Gigabit Lan or 10/100 for networking and onboard 8-channel HD Audio.

 

Accessories included are one SATA cable, one IDE cable, one serial port, quick install manual, Driver CD and BIOS Guide.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Closer Look:

The BIOS:

The ECS 690GM utilizes Phoenix-Award BIOS. Most features are standard as on many other motherboards, but since this is an integrated motherboard, 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 boot up logo screen is green and has an image of the rubix cube in the lower right corner while showing that this is an AMD 690 chipset.
The standard CMOS and advanced BIOS features are a mirror image of all modern motherboards BIOS features. One particular difference is the order in which the options are layed out.

 

 

Advanced Chipset Features:

Advanced chipset features offer some options for changing your RAM, LDT/PCI and IGX configuration.
The options to setting your RAM timings are very basic. The board does allow you to change how the memory clock will be set, but you will not have the option to set timings for CAS, tRAS, etc.
The LDT/PCI function will allow you to set the bus controls to auto, 8 or 16 bit upstream and downstream and has the same option for setting your Hyper Transport. (HT)
Since the ECS 690G has integrated video and will support multiple displays, there are some options to help you determine how you would like the output to perform, by controlling the functions for displays, as well as what standard of video you will use.

 

 

 

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, HDD function, Audio, SATA etc. You will notice that there is a Surroundview function that is disabled. Surroundview when enabled, offers multi-adapter/multi-monitor support if you choose to use a PCI-E based graphics card in conjunction with the onboard graphics.

 

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.

 

 

 

Frequency/Voltage Control:

The Frequency/Voltage Control is where you will have options to change clock speeds and voltages. There are not many options to use and the max FSB offered is 233. It is nice that this is added, but I would suggest leaving these settings to auto. Remember the reason for purchasing an integrated motherboard is either to build that extra computer for the kids, or run an HTPC. For both of these options, are you really looking to overclock?

 

 

Once you have configured all your settings, save the BIOS to CMOS and reboot your computer.

Configuration:

The installation drivers for the motherboard are on an auto-play setup disk, which if you choose to use, will guide you through installing all the necessary chipset, video, lan, sound and utility drivers needed, in order to operate the motherboard. Below are some pictures of what is contained on the disk.

 

 

By going into view files on the disk, all the individual folders are listed in which the software drivers are found. In the install folder, you will find an icon that says boot. ECS has come up with a great little gadget. When installed, the icon is put in your startup folder. This program allows Windows to dump stored memory etc quicker, allowing the computer to shut down and reboot quicker. Total time from shut down to reboot on this system with programs installed including antivirus was 40 seconds. Amazing!

 

 

VGA drivers for the onboard video are also included. As a suggestion, it is usually better to go to the manufacturers site to download the latest drivers. With the time it takes to develop a new product, I have found that the drivers contained on an installation disk can be one to two versions old by time of release.

 

 

On occasion and depending on the version, some motherboards may have two different Lan connectors. Always be sure to install the correct one when choosing a manual install.

 

 

Since this is an AMD chipset, you will need to use the ATI SB600 RAID drivers.

 

 

Finally we've arrived at the sound drivers. Again, make sure to check which soundboard is installed. On this particular motherboard, there is a Realtek HD 8.1 channel sound board.

 

Specifications:

 

 

 

 

CPU

 

Socket AM2 for AMD Athlon 64 X2 Dual Core/ Athlon 64 FX/Athlon 64 processor

 

 

High-performance Hyper Transport CPU interface.
 

 

Support transfer rate of 2000/1600/1200/800/400 mega-transfers per second.

CHIPSET

 

AMD® 690G & AMD® SB600
 

 

North Bridge: AMD® 690G

 

 

South Bridge: AMD® SB600

MEMORY

 

Dual-channel DDR memory architecture
 

 

2 x 240-pin DDR2 DIMM socket support up to 16 GB
 

 

Support DDR2 800/533/400 DDR2 SDRAM
EXPANSION SLOT

 

1 x PCI Express x16 slot
 

 

1 x PCI Express x1 slot
 

 

2 x PCI slots
STORAGE

 

Supported by SB600
 

  

2 x Ultra DMA133/100/66 devices
AUDIO
Realtek ALC883 support Intel 8-ch HD Audio
LAN
Realtek RTL8110SC Giga LAN Controller
REAR PANEL I/O

 

1 x PS/2 keyboard & PS/2 mouse connectors
 

 

1 x VGA port
 

 

1 x RJ45 LAN connector
 

 

1 x DVI connector
 

 

4 x USB ports
 

 

1 x Audio port (Line-in,4x Line-out, Mic_in)
INTERNAL I/O CONNECTORS & HEADERS

 

1 x 24-pin ATX Power Supply connector
 

 

1 x 4-pin ATX 12V connector
 

 

1 x FDD connector
 

 

1 x IDE connector
 

 

4 x Serial ATA connectors
 

 

1 x SPDIF out header
 

 

3 x USB 2.0 headers support additional 6 USB ports
 

 

1 x Front panel switch/LED header
 

 

1 x Front panel audio header
 

 

CD in header
 

 

1 x TV out header
 

 

1 x COM1 header
 

 

CPUFAN/SYSFAN connectors
SYSTEM BIOS

 

Award BIOS with 4Mb Flash ROM
 

 

Supports Plug and Play 1.0A, APM 1.2, Multi Boot, DMI
 

 

Supports ACPI revision 1.0 specification
FORM FACTOR
Micro-ATX Size, 244mm*244mm

Testing:

I will use the Overclockersclub.coms benchmarking suite to test the ECS 69G motherboard, as well as the other two motherboards chosen to perform a 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 transfer 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.

 

 

 

 

After loading all the drivers and CCC while checking the specs in CCC, I noticed that the onboard graphics is an X1200 Xpress, which could be compared to a Pro for the stand alone video cards. With this in consideration, the rendering time for Apopysis being less than a minute from the Gigabyte board, which has a X1250, was impressive.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As expected, the onboard ATI graphics didn't fare well against the onboard nVidia Graphics of the Abit AN-M2HD. In my experience, ATI Graphics boards perform much better in Direct 3D atmospheres.

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

 

The score totals while running PCMARK for all cards, were within a margin of error with only hundredths of seconds seperating all three motherboards. It is clear that in the graphics test, the ATI based motherboards did quite a bit better than the nVidia.

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. If you choose to play Quake 4 with this board, you cannot install any patches past 1.3. The higher patches will cause an initialization error, which suggests that the graphics board or driver combination will not work with this setup. A driver update will possibly fix this matter.

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.

 

 

 

Extras:

Everyone would love to have an extra computer lying around the house, but to many, the cost of purchasing a new computer or even building a new computer can be quite hard on the pocket. In this series of reviews, we will be focusing on two factors: building a low cost efficient computer that can be functional for everyday use and also having the option of using it as a low cost HTPC.

Many of us have extra computer parts lying around the house, which either collect dust, or when a friend needs something, we give it away. Sometimes we complain that our children or wives are hogging up all the time on our computer and it just isn’t fair that we can’t get online to check to see if Juventus beat Manchester United in the European championship game. So why not take those extra components and build yourself that computer?

Of the three motherboards tested, the ECS AMD690GM-M2 happens to be the least expensive, while it includes onboard video and has the capabilities to manage multiple adapters. With its DVI output, digital signal is available and you also have the option to add another video card if you choose. So what do you lose when you are shopping for budget overclocking ability? The ECS 690G is not made to overclock and even though there are options in the BIOS to try some small performance boosts, I wouldn’t recommend pushing it. I was able to achieve a 15MHZ boost on my front side bus, without having to increase voltages and the board does limit you to only 33 mhz. So if you absolutely, positively, have to overclock, at least you’ll be able to say you did.

Without losing site of why we are building this computer, let's go over cost. The board costs approximately $64.99 with onboard video, so you don’t need to purchase an extra video card to run it. So right there, this is saving you money already. If you don’t have an extra AM2 processor, you’ll be able to find a new one for about $60.00 and a 200 GB hard drive is about $55.00. RAM can be had for as cheap as $30 for a gigabyte and if you don’t have an extra CD/DVD ROM lying around, that would only cost $25.00. Most of us have an extra case and power supply lying around, but if needs be, you can buy a micro case that has a PSU for about $60.00. This brings you to a total cost of $294.99.

Again, this is assuming you have no extra parts lying around.

So what’s the perk? You can’t even buy a cheap Dell for $300.00 and now you have a computer that will allow you to surf the internet, play games if you wish and even be powerful enough to run Photoshop.

 

Now, the other option to all this is an HTPC. Let's face it - most people who build an HTPC build it with spare parts. What are the benefits of running an HTPC? Storage, High Definition TV and decreasing the amount of home theater components in your living room. With an HTPC, you’ll be able to watch your favorite DVD’s in HD, while not having to go and find the case that you misplaced two months ago. Depending on the size of the hard drive you choose, you could store hundreds of movies right on your system. There is also the ability to store all those mp3s in one spot, not to mention even surfing and playing games on the internet with a wireless or cabled connection.

My question is this what are you waiting for? Get out of your office and get back into the family. There are many options you have and an integrated motherboard is a start.

Conclusion:

When I first started running my benchmarks, I was not overly impressed with the performance of the ECS AMD690GM-M2, but after benchmarking the other two boards, I began to realize I was over-speculating. The ECS board is an entry level motherboard and stood up well with the two more expensive boards. It doesn’t have all the bells and whistles that the other two boards have either (HDMI OUT, Crossfire). Except for some of the video benchmarks, most of all the other benchmarks were in a margin of error and should not be considered as a factor.

Like most enthusiasts, I look for sheer performance out of a motherboard, processor, video card etc, but I often had to remind myself what I was testing and the reasons why I was testing the board. Those reasons would be to build an inexpensive second computer, or an HTPC system without draining my pocket. Although I was only able to achieve a 15 MHz overclock, I felt it was a plus since it did satisfy that need to overclock. The fact that the board has onboard graphics is both a plus and a minus. The plus is that there is no need to go out and buy a separate video card, with the minus being that you sacrifice memory, since the onboard graphics does require at minimum, 128 MB.

As I mentioned earlier, while going through the configuration, ECS has put a quick boot program in their drivers. This is shown as an icon in your startup. Honestly, I have never seen a computer shut down and reboot so quickly. Total time from shut down to reboot was 40 seconds. Amazing.

ECS has produced a good all around (entry level) motherboard. Being both inexpensive and having the ability to run multiple adapters, it should satisfy the need for a reliable second computer or HTPC, or maybe give it to the wife or kids - they won’t know the difference and you could claim your monster computer back again.

 

Pros:

 

Cons: