ECS A780GM-A Review
Reviewed by: ajmatson
Reviewed on: April 1, 2008
Lately there has been a boom in the processor and motherboard fields, with companies turning out more products tailored for different people's needs. More motherboard chipsets are being processed now than ever before. For the Phenom processor, there are several platforms that you can choose based on your needs. One of those platforms is the 780G chipset. The 780G chipset brings us a lot of refreshed and interesting technologies, including embedded DX10 graphics via the HD3200 chip and Hybrid CrossfireX Technology. Hybrid CrossfireX is a new technology, which works in Windows Vista only, that combines the embedded graphics of the motherboard and either an HD2400 or HD3400 graphics card in the PCI-e X16 slot in a CrossfireX mode, increasing your computing power for games and applications.
One board that has these features at an affordable price is the ECS A780GM-A "Black Series" motherboard. The A780GM-A takes all of the new technologies of today and makes them available in an inexpensive platform that caters to gamers and enthusiasts alike. The A780GM-A has a 780G Northbridge and a SB700 Southbridge and accepts the new Phenom Quad Core AMD processors for a powerful system. How powerful you ask? Well that is what I am here to find out. I will be taking a good look at this board and testing it to see if it stands up to its claim of being made for gamers. So without further ado, let's take a better look at the ECS A780GM-A "Black Series" Motherboard.
The ECS A780GM-A comes packaged in a standard ECS style box, but not in the standard white and green colors. Instead, to go along with the "Black Series" theme, the box is black with a dragon and tribal pattern. Across the bottom are highlights of the features available on the A780GM-A. Flipping over to the back reveals a picture of what the board looks like, as well as a more in depth list of specifications and features. The sides just have the logo and model number on them.
Opening the box gives you two layers; the top layer holds the accessories and manuals and the bottom layer has the board itself. Included with the ECS A780GM-A "Black Series" motherboard are two SATA cables, one IDE cable, an I/O shield plate, software CD, quick start guide, manual, and an ECS "Black Series" case badge.
Now that we have seen the accessories let's take a closer look at the motherboard itself.
Once you remove the ECS A780GM-A board from the packaging, you immediately notice that the "Black Series" theme continues. ECS opted to go for a black PC Board for the A780GM-A to give it that extraordinary look. You can also see that they went with a colorful scheme for the slots and CPU heatsink retention bracket so people with windows on their computer cases will have an aesthetically pleasing board to view. Lastly, you will notice the backplate that holds the cooling fan retention bracket in place.
Swinging around to the I/O panel, you'll see the abundance of connections. Starting from the left, there are PS/2 ports for keyboards and mice, a VGA D-Sub for the integrated ATI 3200 graphics, an HDMI-Out for high definition video output, six USB 2.0 ports, an eSATA port, one Gigabit Ethernet port, and the 8-channel audio connections. I was kind of disappointed to see that there was no DVI port available on the board.
Starting from the top left, there are the voltage regulators, capacitors, and the CPU socket and heatsink retention bracket. This is a socket AM2+ 940-pin socket supporting AM2 Semprons, Athlons 64's Athlon 64 Dual Cores, and Phenom processors. To the right of that are the four DDR2 DIMM slots that support Dual Channel RAM up to 1066MHz with a max capacity of 32GB. There is also the 24-pin main power connector as well as one IDE and one Floppy connection. One thing to note, in order to run two sticks of memory in Dual Channel mode, ECS advises you to place them in banks three and four, which are the two yellow slots.
Moving on down, there is the 780G Northbridge heatsink with a copper colored aluminum, and the SB700 Southbridge with the black aluminum heatsink. Also on the Northbridge chip is the ATI HD3200 integrated graphics that powers the onboard VGA and HDMI graphics. This is also where the Hybrid CrossfireX magic takes place.
Continuing on down the board are the expansion slots. This ECS A780GM-A starts off with two 1x PCI-Express slots for future upgrades as they become available, a full 16x PCI-Express 2.0 slot for the latest in graphics card technology, and finishes it off with three PCI slots for sound, extra networking, sound cards or any other PCI expansion card your heart desires.
Further on down from the left are some of the headers for add-on features. This board has audio out, SPDIF out, CD in, a COM port header, three USB 2.0 headers, and the front panel header. Also on the same side of the board are the five SATA ports, which support RAID modes 0,1,10. Also by the SATA ports is the AMIBIOS BIOS chip, which is unfortunately soldered to the board so it cannot be changed in the event of un-repairable disaster, the BIOS battery, and the BIOS reset header with the red jumper on it.
Now that we have taken a look at the hardware side of the ECS A780GM-A "Black Edition" motherboard, let's go see the software that makes it tick.
To get started, you need to pop in the software CD that is included in the box. Once the Autorun box pops up, click on Run and the setup will begin. Setup for the ECS A780GM-A is very simple. The Auto Setup Wizard launches and all you have to do is click on the Setup button.
The auto setup installation begins when you click Next. Then you can select what to install; the chipset selection installs the SATA, chipset, and raid and audio drivers, while the device selection installs the ATI integrated graphics drivers and software.
After a few seconds, the ATI Catalyst Install manager begins its install process automatically. When prompted, click the install button and you can choose to do an express install with default settings or a custom install to customize the settings and location.
Everything will install on its own. After processing, click the Finish button and a prompt will pop up and tell you that you need to restart to complete the installation. Click Yes and let the computer reboot.
After the computer comes back up you will be presented with the Audio Control Panel to setup your audio. There are four setup tabs. First is the general setting tab with recording and playback options, the second is the equalizer tab, the third is the speaker controls tab to assign outputs, and finally is the Control Panel settings tab.
After the software installation I always update to the latest BIOS version for compatibility with the latest hardware. ECS has this for a download at their site, which also includes a Windows based Flash Utility. Once you download the update, run the setup and a box will pop up for the Utility. Select the Open, choose the BIOS update file, and click Flash. Once completed the computer will restart automatically and you are all set to go.
Now that everything is set up and updated, let's go take a look at the heart of the motherboard; the BIOS.
The BIOS is one of the most important components of a computer. This small software program controls how the system handles the hardware. BIOS, which stands for Basic Input/Output System, is used to identify and initialize the hardware of a computer and set defaults for them like memory speed, CPU speed, and more. The BIOS on the ECS A780GM-A "Black Series" motherboard is a very basic one. It offers you the basics to get you going, but no hardcore overclocking will be done with this board.
Standard CMOS Setup:
Once you enter the BIOS by pressing the "Del" key at start up, you will be presented with the main screen. I will explain each one as we go on, but here is an overview for you so you get an idea of the layout. First up is the Standard CMOS Setup, which allows you to adjust the Date/Time and access drive information.
The Advanced Setup section lets you alter features such as the Hyper Threading Frequency, boot priorities, power on tests, and CPU throttling. You can change the Hyper Threading Frequency from 200MHz to 1.8GHz in 200MHz increments or set it to Auto and let the system configure it for you.
Advanced Chipset Setup:
In the Advanced Chipset Setup you have the ability to alter the Memory Frequency from 200MHz to 533MHz in standard preset increments only. You also have the ability to change the shared RAM size, which is the amount of RAM set for the onboard video graphics. You have the ability to select from 32MB to 1GB with six different preset amounts. Here is also where you can change the memory ganged status and disable the HDMI Audio. There is no manual way to disable the onboard video, however when a graphics card is placed in the PCI-e X16 slot, the onboard video will automatically disable itself, unless it is a CrossfireX compatible card.
Moving on down is the Integrated Peripherals section. This is where the user controls the onboard IDE and SATA controllers, Audio, LAN functions, and USB support. For SATA settings you can select IDE mode, RAID mode for multiple disks, or ACHI mode. ACHI, which stands for Advanced Host Controller Interface, is a newer interface specification that supports new technologies like Native Command Queuing and Hot Plug capabilities.
In the Power Management section the user has the ability to change the ACPI Suspend Type, actions for when the power button is pressed, and resume operation for different devices like the mouse and LAN connection.
PCI/PnP Setup / PC Health Status:
The PCI/PnP Setup section is where you can select which interface to boot first, either PCI or PCI-e. Next to that is the PC Health Status section, where you can monitor system temperatures and fan speeds. Also, you can set shutdown and warning temps to prevent a disaster should something fail.
Frequency & Voltage Control / AMD CPU Function / Smart Fan:
The last three sections are Frequency & Voltage Control, AMD CPU Function, and Smart Fan. With these you can alter the systems CPU clock speeds and CPU/Memory voltages to aid in overclocking stability and control the CPU's P-States. P-States is the same things as Cool & Quiet, which allows you to lower the voltage and speed when the computer is not in full use, to lower temps and energy consumption. The Smart Fan section allows you to change fan speeds based on target temperatures.
Now that we have had a look at the BIOS of the ECS A780GM-A, let's move on to setting up the system.
- AMD Phenom™ processor (Socket AM2+)
- AMD 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
- North Bridge: AMD® 780G
- South Bridge: AMD® SB700
- On Chip (AMD 780G-based with ATI™ Radeon HD3200 graphics)
- Integrated DirectX10 graphics processor
- Dual-channel DDR2 800 memory architecture
- 4 x 240-pin DDR2 DIMM socket support up to 32GB
- Support DDR2 1066/800/667/533/400 DDR2 SDRAM
* (Due to the DRAM, maximum size is 2GB at present. The memory maximum size ECS has tested is 8GB)
- 1 x PCI Express x16 slot
- 2 x PCI Express x1 slots
- 3 x PCI slots
- Support by AMD SB700
- 2 x Ultra DMA133/100/66 devices
- 5 x Serial ATA 3.0Gb/s devices
- RAID0, RAID1, RAID10 configuration
|- Compliant with HD specification
- IDT 92HD206 8-channel audio CODEC
|- ATHEROS L1 Gigabit Fast Ethernet NIC|
Rear Panel I/O
|- 1 x PS/2 keyboard & PS/2 mouse connectors
- 1 x External SATA port
- 6 x USB ports
- 1 x Gigabit Ethernet Port
- 1 x Audio port (Line-in, Line-out, Mic-in)
- 1 x VGA port
- 1X HDMI Port
Internal I/O and Headers
|- 1 x FDD connector
- 5 x Serial ATA connectors
- 1 x 24-pin ATX Power Supply connector
- 1 x 4-pin ATX 12V connector
- CPUFAN/PWRFAN/SYSFAN connectors
- 1 x IDE connector
- 1 x Speaker header
- 1 x Front panel switch/LED header
- 1 x Front panel audio header
- 1 x SPDIF out header
- CD in header
- 3 x USB 2.0 headers support additional 6 USB ports
- 1 x COM1 header
|- AMI BIOS with 8Mb SPI ROM
- Supports Plug and Play, STR/STD, Hardware monitor, Multi Boot, DMI,HDCP
- Supports ACPI revision 3.0 specification
|- ATX Size, 305mm*220mm|
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Dual-core is basically two separate processors on a single chip. Those two processors can outperform single-core processors on most multithreaded applications while running at lower clock speeds and consuming less power.
- Dual Channel DDR2 800
Doubles the bandwidth of your system memory up to 12.8GB/s and pumps up the system performance.
- 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.
- 8 Channel High Definition Audio
8 Channel High Definition Audio
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.
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.
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.
Maximizes your system performance by selecting overclocking options.
Now I am going to put the ECS A780GM-A "Black Edition" through a series of demanding benchmarks designed to stress and test every part of the system. The benchmarks that we use here at OverclockersClub.com are a series of system tests and gaming benchmarks designed to measure the performance of the motherboard. I am also going to compare the A780GM-A against the ASUS M3A32-MVP DeLuxe/WiFi-AP Motherboard, which is the next step up 790FX Chipset. All speeds and timings of the components will be left at stock speeds to eliminate any variables. The testing processes is going to be done once with the Integrated ATI 3200 Graphics, once with the ATI 3200 Graphics paired up with an ATI HD3450 card to test the Hybrid CrossfireX feature, once with an Asus 8800GT, and once with the Asus 8800GT, while the system is overclocked. This way we can get a broad view of the performance of the A780GM-A with varying options. Just a note, the integrated graphics will be run at the max memory available of 1024MB, while the Crossfire will be at 256MB for the integrated and 256MB on the HD3450.
- Processor: AMD Phenom 9600 "Black Box Edition" (200x11.5)
- Motherboard: ECS A780GM-A Version 1.0
- Memory: OCZ Platinum PC2-8000 5-5-5-18 2 x 2GB
- Video Card #1: Integrated ATI 3200 graphics w/ Catalyst 8.3
- Video Card #2: Integrated ATI 3200 and a Powercolor HD3450 in CrossfireX w/ Catalyst 8.3
- Video Card #3: ASUS 8800 GT w/ Forceware 169.25
- Power Supply: Ultra X2 750w Extreme Edition
- Hard Drive: 1 x Seagate 7200.11 750GB SATA w/32MB Cache
- Opticals: Lite-On 8x DVD+/-RW
- O/S: Windows Vista Ultimate Edition
- Comparison Motherboard 1: ASUS M3A32-MVP DeLuxe/WiFi-AP Motherboard
As I mentioned before, this board supports Hybrid CrossfireX when paired with a discrete card like an ATI HD3400 series card. Here is a shot of the ATI Control Panel and the Device Manager showing the two video devices enabled in Hybrid CrossfireX.
- Processor: AMD Phenom 9600 "Black Box" @ 2.70GHz (200x13.5)
- Sytem Memory: OCZ Reaper HPC PC2-8500 2x2GB @ 800MHz 5-4-4-12
Overclocking with the ECS A780GM-A was a challenge. I started off in the BIOS by lowering the Hyper Threading Frequency a bit and upping the the CPU speed to 210MHz, which would be an effective 2.415GHz (210x11.5) with a voltage increase to 1.4v. Even with just little bit, the computer would not boot without blue screening. I lowered the memory speed down and I was able to get into the OS, but only for a few seconds before the Blue Screen showed its ugly head again. Since the BIOS does not allow you to change the multiplier, I was at a loss. I then thought about AMD Overdrive. Even with AMD Overdrive, any addition to the CPU speed, no matter what I changed, the system would freeze and reboot. I finally was able to get the system stable by changing the multiplier in AMD Overdrive to 13.5x, dropping the Hyper Threading multiplier to 8x, and keeping the CPU speed at 200MHz for a 2.7GHz overclock @ 1.36v. The downfall is I had to decrease the memory clock speeds to 800MHz to keep the system stable, but I was able to tighten the timings to 5-4-4-12, which gave me a pretty good overclock in the Scientific Benchmarks.
- Scientific & Data:
- SpecviewPerf 10
- PCMark Vantage Professional
- Sandra XII
- ScienceMark 2.02 Final
- Cinebench 10
- HD Tune 2.54
- Knights of the Sea
- Call of Duty 4
- World in Conflict
- Call of Juarez
- 3DMark 06 Professional
First up are the system specific benchmarks that will test overall scientific performance.
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:
- 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.
Here the Asus M3A32 took charge, soundly beating the A780GM-A.
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.
Here, the A780GM-A came close with the 8800GT, and even the Crossfire combination was a worth adversary.
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 the key areas of the motherboards.
Cache and Memory
Power Management Efficiency
Speed seems average on the A780GM-A, however latencies are way behind.
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.
Here the A780GM-A followed closely in the Sciencemark and Cinebench tests, but came out on top in some of the HDTune marks.
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 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.
- 2x Anti-Aliasing
- Advanced settings to medium
With the 8800GT, the scores were real close, but as expected, the ATI cards were not that strong.
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.
The settings we will use are below:
- AA: x0
- Image Quality: High
- Direct X Version: 10
- All resolutions 60Hz
Again the A780GM-A held its own when paired with an 8800GT.
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.
- All settings to Maximum
- V-Sync off
Here the A780GM-A was slightly slower than the ASUS M3A32.
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.
The settings used are listed below:
- Anti-aliasing: x4
- Anistropic Filtering: Max
- Texture Quality: Extra
- All settings Max
Again the A780GM-A held on strong, but was over taken by a stronger board.
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.
The settings we will use are listed below:
- 0 X AA
- 16 X AF
- Graphic Detail: Very High
The A780GM-A performed better at higher resolutions, but ultimately was not a match in the World in Conflict benchmark against the Asus board.
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.
The settings we will use are listed below.
- Details: High
- Shadowmap Size: 2048x2048
- Shadow Quality: Normal
- Anti-Aliasing: MSAA 4X
Wow, the 8800GT overclocked on the A780GM-A was a tough cookie to beat. Even at 1680x1050, the Crossfire setup put on a strong fight.
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.
- 8x AA
- All other settings to maximum
Here the A780GM-A again seems to pull it tighter in higher resolutions.
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
As we have seen on the other tests, the A780GM-A is strong, but not enough to beat the newer chipset board.
So where do we stand with the ECS A780GM-A motherboard? It would be a wise investment for a workstation or a computer for everyday use. In the science benchmarks, even though it was not the best, the scores were not bad, especially in rendering. It is simple to use and has all the features that an average user would need, and best of all, it's fairly inexpensive.
For a gamer or enthusiast however, this board will leave you wanting more. It is slightly slower than similar boards, which in a battle situation could mean the difference between life and death. There is only one PCI-e slot, so using two dedicated graphics cards is not possible. In addition, the Hybrid Crossfire, while a great idea, will only pair with low end graphics cards, which defeats the purpose of paring cards for maximum gain. On the overclocking side, the options are very limited. I could not get the board to post by raising the clock speeds even by 5MHz and there is no option to change the multiplier in the BIOS. I had to use AMD Overdrive to get the overclocked speeds by upping the multiplier only to boot the machine. It would have been nice to have an option to overclock the IGP clock speeds for better performance.
So if you are in need of a decent board for a workstation or general home use at a great price, I would consider the ECS A780GM-A. But if you are a gamer or enthusiast like myself, I would look for something with better options that allow you to push further.
- CrossfireX capable, with nice gains using the Crossfire combination.
- Integrated graphics, so no need for PCI-e card for non-gaming related applications.
- DirectX 10.1 and Shader Model 4.1 with IGP.
- Plenty of ports and connections.
- No DVI port.
- Poor gaming performance with Integrated Graphics.
- One PCI-e X16 slot sticks you with Hybrid crossfire only.
- Not good for overclocking.
- BIOS limited.