ECS A770M-A Review

Admin - 2007-11-23 18:36:57 in Motherboards
Category: Motherboards
Reviewed by: Admin   
Reviewed on: December 13, 2007
ECS
ECS
Price: $69.99

Introduction:

We have been hearing about AM2+ for a while now and there have been many vendors releasing specs on their version, but there aren't many options out there to actually purchase one. ECS released the A770M-A motherboard, which is a mainstream part of the AMD 7 series chipsets for the Spider platform. The wait is finally over and AM2+ is here. Was it worth the wait?

The ECS A770M-A is targeted at the entry level mainstream user with a price point to match. The AM2+ is AMD’s stopgap between AM2 with DDR2 support, and full blown AM3, which will move to DDR3 support sometime in 2008.

 

Closer Look:

The ECS A770M-A packaging proudly states the 20th anniversary of ECS, along with the features of the new AM2+ chipset on the front. Flipping it over to the back, you get the breakdown of the new technologies implemented with the chipset such as HT 3.0, PCI-E 2.0, and support for the Phenom line of processors.

 

 

 

Opening the box reveals the sparse accessory package along with the manuals and install CD. Getting the partition out of the way, you get the first look of AM2+ goodness wrapped in the anti-static bag.

 

 

Closer Look:

The A770M-A is an entry level AMD 7 series (770/790X/790FX) ATX size motherboard for the Spider platform (when paired with a Phenom CPU and ATI 3800 series graphics card). Upon first glance, the layout of the board looks promising. It has support for the Quad Core Phenom CPU as well as Dual and Single Core AM2 CPUs, so current AM2 users have an easy upgrade path to the Spider platform that should not break the bank all at once. The rear of the board is standard fare with no obstructions on the back.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We’ll start the tour of the A770M-A with the backplane connectors. There are PS/2 connectors for legacy keyboard and mouse, followed by a serial port (ECS keepin’ it old school). Next is an E-SATA port and six USB 2.0 ports. A Gigabit LAN port and 8.1 HD Audio round out the back. Moving to the expansion slots, there are two PCI-E x1 slots, one PCI-E x16 slot and three PCI slots. Tucked in at the lower left hand corner are the additional audio connections for the front panel, CD in, and S/PDIF.

vendetta foam  vendetta accesories

 

Moving to the lower right hand side, there are two additional USB 2.0 connectors, and next to those are the front panel power/reset/activity LED connections.

hadrware  manual

 

Starting up the right side, there are four SATA ports that sit next to the AMD SB600 Southbridge, which is under a passively cooled heatsink with the ECS logo. Above that are the CMOS battery, CLR CMOS jumper, AMI BIOS, and one ATA133 IDE connector.

 

 

Closer Look:

The upper most right side of the A770M-A houses the four DDR2 DIMM slots, and the 24-pin power supply connector. Next to the DIMM slots is the 940 Pin AM2+ socket that supports the new Phenom CPU, as well as Athlon FX, Athlon64, and Sempron processors. Located above the CPU socket is the 4-pin CPU fan header.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Below the CPU socket is where the AMD 770 Northbridge resides, also cooled by a passive aluminum heatsink. Rounding out the notable components is the 3-pin SYS fan header next to the northbridge.

 

 

I always like to get under the heatsinks to make sure that there is enough thermal interface material (TIM) applied to the chips to avoid future problems with any overheating of the chips. Especially since these are passive heatsinks, you want to make sure that there is good contact as there will be minimal airflow removing the heat generated. The heatsinks use plastic push clips that get compressed on the backside of the motherboard and pushed through to the front to release the heatsinks. Once removed, they reveal that the AMD 770 northbridge uses an adhesive TIM, and the AMD SB600 southbridge uses a more traditional TIM.

 

 

Once the TIM is wiped off, we can see the money shots of the chipsets. The new features in the AMD 770 Chipset are HyperTransport 3.0, which more than doubles the bandwidth to graphics as compared to HT1, PCI Express Gen 2.0 that doubles graphics bandwidth over earlier Gen 1.0, AMD OverDrive™ for Windows overclocking and AMD RAIDXpert™ for configuring RAID hard drives. Looking at the AMD SB500 Chipset, it brings up to ten USB 2.0 ports, high-definition audio and support for HD-DVD and Blu-Ray HD audio, and support for up to four SATA ports complying with SATA 2.0 specifications as well as RAID 0, 1, and 10. Fresh TIM is installed on the chips and the heatsinks remounted.

 

 

The accessories that come with the A770M-A are a bit sparse, but for the no-frills cost of the board, not much is expected. A SATA cable, 40-pin IDE cable and I/O plate make up the hardware. The owner's manual, quickstart guide and installation CD make up the software.

 

 

Installation:

Installing the A770M-A motherboard into a case (empty of course) starts with mounting the motherboard standoffs into the respective spots in the case to support the motherboard. Then the I/O plate goes in and you are ready to secure the motherboard to the case or motherboard tray, if so equipped. With the motherboard secured, install the memory in the slots and CPU in the socket. Apply the thermal paste of choice to the center of the CPU and spread a thin layer across the IHS. My tool of choice is an old credit card. Any rigid plastic with a good straight edge will suffice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The heatsink gets mounted, as well as the video card and any other PCI cards.

 

 

With hardware installed on the board, connect the hard drives and optical drives to the system. Then power and front panel cables are connected.

 

 

 

Closer Look:

The BIOS is where the tweaker lives. The ECS A770M-A uses an American Megatrends, Inc. (AMI) BIOS where you can adjust performance and tune settings for optimal performance whether running stock clocks or overclocked. The A770M-A BIOS has eight different BIOS screens you can navigate to adjust settings.

 

 

 

Standard CMOS Setup:

Starting with the Standard CMOS Setup screen, this is the place to adjust your system date and time and IDE channels. When your system powers on, this is where it gets the info for the system time and IDE channels that flash when booting.

 

 

Advanced Setup:

In the Advanced setup you get a chance to configure CPU virtualization (for running multiple simultaneous Virtual Machines in full isolation), Cool & Quiet, and your boot order.

 

 

Advanced Chipset Setup:

Advanced Chipset is where the HyperTransport and Memory configurations reside. Starting with HT you can set the CPU to NB Link, HT3 Power State, and spread spectrum. Moving into the Memory config shows where the memory timings are hiding. The ECS BIOS is very basic, but gives you control over the most useful timings.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Integrated Peripherals:

Integrated Peripherals allows you to configure the IDE/SATA/Audio/RAID/LAN and USB functions on the motherboard.

 

 

Closer Look:

 

 

 

Power Management Setup:

The power management screen is just that. Adjustments for the power and resume states of the system.

 

 

PCI/PnP Setup:

The PCI/PnP screen offers you the options on the initial display device and IRQ allocation.

 

 

PC Health Status:

The PC Health Status screen has the settings for Smart Fan Control where you can control the system fan by setting parameters based on temperature and voltage. Also in here are the shutdown temp and warning temp settings.

 

 

Frequency/Voltage Control:

Under Frequency/Voltage Control are the limited overclocking features of the board. Enable the overclocking function, and the bus speed is shown as an option. The voltage controls are achieved in levels of 5mV for CPU Voltage and 10mV for DIMM Voltage.

 

 

 

Configuration:

Once the hardware end is taken care of and the OS of choice is installed, it's time to load the drivers to enable the functionality of the motherboard. The install CD provided includes the drivers to get the motherboard up and running. It is a painless process with the auto setup program included.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One restart and the motherboard is ready to go.

Specifications:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CPU

 

AMD Phenom™ processor (Socket AM2+) AMD Athlon™ 64 FX / Athlon™ 64 X2 Dual Core/ Athlon™ 64 / Sempron processor

 

High-performance Hyper Transport 3.0 CPU interface.

 

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

CHIPSET

 

AMD® 770 & AMD® SB600

 

North Bridge: AMD® 770

 

South Bridge: AMD® SB600

MEMORY

 

Dual-channel DDR2 800 memory architecture

 

4 x 240-pin DDR2 DIMM socket support up to 32GB

 

Support DDR2 800/667/533/400 DDR2 SDRAM

EXPANSION SLOT

 

1 x PCI Express x16 slot

 

2 x PCI Express x1 slot

 

3 x PCI slots

STORAGE

 

Supported by SB600

2 x Ultra DMA133/100/66 devices

4 x Serial ATA2 devices

RAID0, RAID1, RAID10 configuration

Supported by JMicron® JMB361

 

1 x External SATA 3.0 Gb/s port

AUDIO

Realtek ALC883 support Intel 8-ch HD Audio

Compliant with HD specification

LAN

Realtek RTL8101E/8111B Gigabit Fast Ethernet NIC

REAR PANEL I/O

 

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

 

1 x External SATA port

 

1 x Ethernet Port

 

1 x Serial port (COM1)

 

6 x USB ports

 

1 x Audio port (Line-in, Line-out, Mic-in)

INTERNAL I/O CONNECTORS & HEADERS

 

1 x 24-pin ATX Power Supply connector

 

1 x 4-pin ATX 12V connector

 

CPUFAN/PWRFAN/SYSFAN connectors

 

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 Speaker header

 

2 x USB headers

 

SYSTEM BIOS

 

Award BIOS with 8Mb SPI ROM

 

Supports Plug and Play, STR/STD, Hardware monitor, Multi Boot, DMI

 

Supports ACPI revision 1.0 specification

FORM FACTOR

ATX Size, 305mm*210mm

Features:

 

Testing:

Testing will be accomplished by running a series of benchmarks to show real world performance as well as gaming performance. Being the first AM2+ board reviewed, we will be benching against comparable an AM2 system to see if there will be any advantages moving to an AM2+ motherboard with an AM2 CPU.

Testing Setup:

Comparison System:

 

The important question is how well does it overclock? Unfortunately, as shown in the BIOS screen shots earlier, the A770M-A is lacking in the amount of tweaking that can be done. There were stability issues running stock when placing a full load on the system where the Northbridge, being passivly cooled, idled at 48 celcius and the Southbridge at 41 celcius. As any overclocker would do, cooling was added in the form of a 70mm fan pointed at the northbridge and a 60mm fan at the southbridge. That cleared up the issues running stock settings, but overclocking proved futile. Max stable settings that would complete the round of benchmarks are shown below.

Overclocked settings are as follows:

 

Testing:

The system tests we will be using are listed below:

 

We'll 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 compression time for the 500MB file was impressive. The benchmark was ran numerous times (each time deleting the file, clearing temp folders and restarting the system) to ensure validity.

Testing:

Specview 10 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.

 

 

 

Higher is Better

 

Higher is Better

 

Higher is Better

 

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

 

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

 

 

From the above multi-core efficiency results, as well as the memory bandwidth/latency results, AMD has been hard at work on the 770 chipset squeezing out some performance.

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.Cinebench 10 has recently been added to our benchmark suite.

 

Higher is Better

 

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

 

Higher is Better

Higher is Better

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:

 

 

 

 

The comparison systems take a giant lead in the graphics portions of the benchmarks due to the 8800 GTS 320MB graphics card used.

Testing:

Benchmark: BioShock

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. BioShock is a new addition to our game benchmarking suite.

 

Settings:

 

 

 

Since Bioshock is a newer benchmark, the database we are using is still being built.

Testing:

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare is the successor to Call of Duty 2 for the PC. It brings the fight up to current events and is a first-person shooter that maintains a tremendous online following. This test will consist of a timed run on "The Bog" map, measured by Average FPS (frames per second).

 

The settings used are listed below:

 

 

 

Again, COD4 is a new benchmark and we are building up our database.

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:

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Testing:

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.

 

Settings:

  

 

 

 

 

 

Testing:

Crysis is a new addition to the gaming benchmark suite used at OverclockersClub.com. This game is one of the most anticipated and system intensive games to be released to 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.

 

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

Conclusion:

The ECS A770M-A is squarely targeted for the entry level, as indicated in the opening page. With first revision boards there are always some bugs to work out and the A770M-A is no different. The BIOS is void of any useful tweaking options, so overclocking was frustrating, to say the least. Hopefully, later revisions will include CPU multiplier settings, better voltage control and the ability to tweak the memory settings. ECS also needs to revisit the cooling solution on the chipset, either via heatpipes, or active cooling to achieve better stability. On the plus side, the AMD 770 does have some potential as the benchmarks have shown with the refinements to the chipset over the 6 series. When the board was running, it was a dream, save for the occasional shutdowns due to what seemed to be an overheating chipset.

The layout of the board is very user friendly with plenty of space available for aftermarket cooling, be it air or H2O. The components are placed well for maintenance, and even though we didn't touch on it in this review (be on the lookout for another guest appearance), the on-board HD Audio is very good.

The A770M-A almost reminds me of when the ABIT NF7-S was released back in the day. Tons of potential, but the first revisions needed some tweaking to get it to uber-status. The ECS has potential, with the right updates, to be a sleeper hit of 2008.

 

Pros:

 

Cons: