ECS A785GM-AD3 Motherboard Reviewjlqrb - February 1, 2010
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The ECS A785GM-AD3 comes with a similar look and color scheme of other Black Series motherboards. This includes the use of red, yellow and black throughout the motherboard, as well a Northbridge heatsink that is labeled with the Black Series logo. The motherboard itself is ATX form factor and ECS lists the measurements at 305x220mm, which makes it the same length as most ATX boards, but a little less wide. The layout of the board is standard and should come with enough expansion slots for the average and multimedia user. On the CPU and memory areas, you see that ECS has added stickers explaining the "15μ Gold Contact" and its benefits. These stickers come off easily and must be removed prior to CPU and memory installation. Looking around the board you can see that ECS has used solid Japanese capacitors only around the CPU area and a more standard capacitor for the rest of the board. This is standard for a budget board, but it would have been nice to see all solid caps in addition to the extra gold plating. The CPU and memory areas are at the top with the 785G Northbridge directly below the CPU area and the expansion slots are directly below that. To the right of the expansion slots is the SB710 Southbridge and five SATA 2.0 ports that are facing outward. In all, it looks like a good design and you shouldn't run into any major issues, but the only thing that may be a concern is that the outward facing SATA ports could potentially be blocked by larger dual-slot graphics cards. Turning the board over, you see a nice looking black PCB and the CPU heatsink retention bracket, which reduces the strain on the motherboard when a heatsink is secured onto the processor.
The top part of the ECS A785GM-AD3 houses the CPU and memory areas, as well as the voltage regulating area, rear external I/O ports and power connectors. Taking a look at these from right to left, you first have an ATX 24-pin power connector, which supplies power thoughout the motherboard. Next to the power connector you will find the four colored DIMM slots, which is where your memory will go. These slots can use dual-channel memory architecture that supports speeds of up to DDR3 1600 OC memory with a maximum capacity of 16GB total. To run your memory in dual channel, you need to have two memory modules installed in the same channel, which are color coded per channel. Next to the memory is the CPU area. This area has the standard AM3 heatsink retention bracket and supports all 938 pin AM3 Sempron, Athlon II and Phenom II processors, with a max TDP rated at or below 95w. Even with the 95w limit, there are still plenty of Athlon II and Phenom II processors to choose from, going all the way up to the new revision of the Phenom II 945 Quad-Core processor. It does however, eliminate both the AMD Phenom II 955BE and 965BE Quad-Core processors, which both have a thermal design power rated higher than that supported by the motherboard. Next to the processor area you will find the MOSFETs VRM and phase units. This area controls the current going to the processor and ECS has used a 4-phase design here, with all solid-state capacitors. One thing I would have liked to see here, is the use of a heatsink for more efficient cooling, but as this is a mainstream board - it is not unusual to be lacking cooling here. Above the VRM and phase units, there is an ATX 4-pin 12V CPU power connector which supplies extra voltage to the processor. Finally, on the far left of the motherboard, you will find the rear I/O ports, which we will be taking a look at next.
The rear I/O expansion area on the ECS A785GM-AD3 comes with all of the standard ports that are usually found on a motherboard in this class. From left to right you have the PS/2 mouse and keyboard, VGA port, DVI port, six USB 2.0 ports, e-SATA port, LAN port, optical out and the audio ports. The DVI port on the expansion area supports both DVI and HDMI output, but it would have been nice to get an actual HDMI port or at least an included DVI to HDMI adaptor. Even without an HDMI port or adaptor, there are still plenty of options here and most users should not find the board to be lacking.
Moving down to the bottom portion of the board, you can see the A785GM-AD3 motherboard has a good amount of slots for expandability. From top to bottom there are two PCI-E x1 slots, One PCI-E x16 2.0 slot, and three PCI slots. PCI is the BUS standard for most expansion cards on the market, so with three slots on the board, there should be no shortage of options here. The PCI-E x16 slot is generation 2.0 which supports the latest ATI and Nvidia graphics cards. Below the expansion slots you will find the motherboard headers. From left to right you have the front audio header, CD-in, COM header, three USB headers and the front panel headers. Above the front panel headers ECS has included an on-board power and reset switch, which is extremely useful for users that want to test the board prior to installing the power header cables or are using the board in a test situation that does not have power header cables. To the right of the on-board power and reset button, there are five outward facing SATA II ports. These ports support data rates of up to 3.0Gb/s and are all controlled by the SB710 Southbridge and support RAID0, RAID1 and RAID10 configurations. One nice feature found on the board is the easily accessible clear CMOS button next to the COM header. This button will allow users to easily clear the BIOS, when overclocking has caused a potential instability or if a general reset is needed.
The last part of the board we are going to look at is the 785G/SB710 chipset combination. The 785G is the latest Northbridge release from AMD and includes integrated ATI Radeon HD4200 graphics that supports Microsoft DirectX 10.1 and ATI Hybrid CrossFire. This will enable for both discrete graphics and integrated graphics to render simultaneously, improving the graphics performance of your system. While the HD4200 is limited when not using ATI Hybrid Graphics, it still has very impressive performance for small integrated chip and should have no issues playing games at low resolutions. Other features that come with the AMD 785G are ATI Avivo™ HD, which allows for fast HD playback. ATI SurroundView™, this feature allows for up to four independent monitors to be in use when an add-on ATI Radeon graphics card is installed. Another nice feature of the chipset is the low power draw and with AMD PowerNow 3.0 there is very little power draw at when there is low usage. For cooling, ECS has put a large-finned heatsink on top of the 785G Northbridge and this should be more than enough to keep the temperatures in check. The SB710 Southbridge is located below the Northbridge and also has a finned heatsink to aid in cooling. The SB710 can support up to twelve USB 2.0 devices and up to six SATA II devices, including e-SATA.
Now that we've had a good look at the ECS 785GM-AD3, we can start the installation and see what is included to help in this process.