Gigabyte GA-M78SM-S2H Review

ajmatson - 2008-06-17 15:38:45 in Motherboards
Category: Motherboards
Reviewed by: ajmatson   
Reviewed on: July 10, 2008
Price: $74.99

Introduction:

Over the last few months we have seen a lot of motherboards being manufactured on some great new chipsets. Intel, AMD, and now NVIDIA have been putting out some killer chipset designs that bring new and interesting technologies to us consumers and at competitive prices. Lately, there has been a big drive by the chipset manufacturers to create greener PCs to cut down on wasted power while keeping the performance edge needed. NVIDIA has followed AMD with its Hybrid Series chipsets, though NVIDIA took it one step further and included its Hybrid Power feature. NVIDIA released a statement claiming that all of its future motherboards will have onboard mGPUs to facilitate the Hybrid Power feature which will cut back power consumption when the discrete Graphics Card (dGPU) is not needed by turning it off and running only on the Integrated Graphics (mPGU).

One of NVIDIA's latest chipsets supporting Hybrid SLI is the NVIDIA 8200 chipset. The 8200 chipset has an integrated mGPU that can be used by itself or in conjunction with a discrete card to provide better graphics performance or lower power consumption depending on the dGPU it is paired with. Gigabyte has just put together all of this great technology in a microATX form factor, perfect for that HTPC or casual gaming machine, with the GA-M78SM-S2H motherboard. The GA-MA78SM-S2H has the features of larger and more expensive motherboards, but in a less expansive, mini design which is marketed toward users looking to make the mysterious Home Theater Computer for their home entertainment system. Will this design pack a Trojan Horse style punch in it? Let's take a look and see.

 

Closer Look:

The Gigabyte GA-M78SM-S2H, referred to as the Gigabyte 8200 herein, came to me in a generic Gigabyte "S2" Series motherboard packaging since it was a manufacturing sample sent to us for review. The front of the box has the logos of some of the features included in the Gigabyte 8200 motherboard, including the "Support AMD processors" and the "3DMark06 1500 marks" sticker. The back lists the Smart and Safe features of the board, including Express Install, @BIOS, Dual BIOS, Xpress Recovery, and more.

 

 

Opening the packaging reveals the inner goodies. There are two layers inside the box that secure the items during transport. The top layer stores the accessories needed for the motherboard and the bottom layer has the board itself. The motherboard is wrapped in an anti-static bag and placed on top of a foam layer to protect it from damage. Included with the GA-M78SM-S2H are two SATA cables, a floppy cable, an IDE cable, the I/O shield, and a driver CD. Since the board is a manufacturing sample, the drivers and programs came included on a burned CD.

 

 

Now that everything is out of the package, let's take a look at the board itself.

 

Closer Look:

Gigabyte takes the NVIDIA GeForce 8200 chipset and packs in into a small micro ATX form factor, giving you the GA-M78SM-S2H motherboard. This board is small and lightweight, which makes it perfect for a small computer such as an HTPC, quiet casual gaming PC, or even for a carputer (yes, I mean a computer for your car). Gigabyte used its signature blue PC board for the GA-M78SM-S2H. The first thing you will notice about this board is that it is a microATX board, so it is tiny compared to most boards on the market today. The back of the board has a support brace to keep the strain from the heatsink even so that there is no damage to the board.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Since this is a microATX motherboard, the space on it is limited and needs to be populated wisely. Gigabyte has chosen to keep the back panel simple while providing the necessary ports needed to run the board efficiently. Gigabyte has removed the PS/2 mouse port, however they kept the keyboard port. There are also four USB 2.0 ports, an optical S/PDIF Out connector, a parallel port, an HDMI port, a VGA port, a DVI-D port, one Gigabit LAN port, and three audio jacks supporting line in, line out, and microphone.

 

 

The Gigabyte 8200 board supports AM2 and AM2+ processors, the Sempron, Athlon, and Phenom CPUs, including multi-cores and the FX series. The HyperTransport 3.0 bus supports up to 5200 MT/s depending on the CPU and socket type used. All of the capacitors for the CPU VRM (Voltage Regulation) are completely solid state to ensure stability and a longer life span under extreme conditions. There are only two slots for memory use, which support up to 8GB of Dual Channel Memory up to 1066MHz with supporting CPU.

 

 

Since this is a micro ATX motherboard, there is not much room in the way for expansion slots. There is one PCI Express x16 slot for a graphics card, one PCI Express x1 slot for an audio card or other x1 card, and there are two PCI slots for legacy cards. The x16 slot is right in front of and above the SATA ports, so I am concerned that they might be blocked by some dual slot card with big coolers. We will see during the testing phase if there is a concern here.

 

Moving on down to the bottom of the board is where all of the headers are at for expansion. Starting from the bottom left is the SPDIF I/O header, the COM header, a floppy port, four USB 2.0 headers, power LED header, and the front panel headers. Above and to the right are the IDE port, six SATA 3.0GBs ports, a fan header, and the Clear CMOS header. At first, I was asking myself where the front audio headers were since they were not with the group, but after a few seconds I spotted them. They were placed on this board behind the back panel audio ports right above the PCI Express x1 slot. That is an odd place to have them, dont you think?

 

 

 

Lastly on the board I want to show the heatsink used to cool this board's chipset. Gigabyte chose to go with a passive fin type heatsink to keep the temperatures low, and since this is a Hybrid SLI board which partly focuses on power efficiency, this should be more than enough to keep everything within safe operating temperatures.

 

Closer Look:

The BIOS of a computer is the brains of the system. This is where all of the fine tweaking is done to allow your system to operate as efficiently as possible. Some BIOSs are robust and fully featured and some offer just enough to make minor adjustments. The BIOS of the GA-M78SM-S2H has a few great options, but I was surprised on the limitations of these options. I am going to take you through each section explaining the key parts of the sections.

 

Main and Standard CMOS Features:

Here is a shot of the main BIOS screen. This is what you see when you first enter the BIOS and this is also where you can load defaults, and save the current changes for the next startup. The first menu choice is the Standard CMOS features. This is where you can set the date and time as well as configure the drives.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advanced BIOS Features:

The Advanced BIOS Features is where you change the settings for the system, including Boot Priority, Cool and Quiet, and the Integrated Video settings. Here you can turn on or off the IGP and even set up the Hybrid SLI support. The frame buffer can be changed from 128MB, 256MB, or 512MB of shared memory.

 

 

 

 

Integrated Peripherals & Power Management:

This is where you configure the Integrated Peripherals such as SATA support, USB, LAN functions, and Audio support. For Power Management, you can control system power states, wake on device features, and suspend types.

 

 

PnP/PCI Configuration & PC Health:

The PnP section allows you to set IRQ levels to the PCI slots and the PC Health menu allows you to monitor and adjust fan speeds and temperature warnings.

 

 

Closer Look:

Motherboard Intelligent Tweaker:

The Motherboard Intelligent Tweaker is where all of your overclocking will take place. Here you have control over the CPU speeds, Multipliers, PCI clock speed, and voltages for the CPU and the memory. Here you can also overclock the Integrated Video by percentages in one percent increments. I was kind of surprised on the limited settings that were available here. Even though I know this is a mini board meant for theater PCs and to run cool and quiet, I expected more total control from a Gigabyte board.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The DRAM configuration section I find to be just as important in a BIOS as the CPU settings, however here you are limited to five divider levels and only the CAs timing can be changed from 3T to 6T and you have no control over the others. This was a bad letdown since my Mushkin Redline's, which run at 1000MHz with 5-5-5-12 timings, were forced to run at 5-7-7-24 timings and I know this really hurt some of my performance scores.

 

 

 

Q-Flash Utility:

The Q-Flash Utility allows you to update your BOIS simply and quickly. Just enter the Q-Flash Utility by either the start up sequence or from the BIOS and you will be prompted to either save or update the BIOS. The BIOS files can be stored on any external media such as a floppy, CD, or thumb drive. Select the BOIS update and away you go.

 

 

Configuration:

Now that we have seen the hardware end of the Gigabyte 8200 motherboard, let's take a look at the software side of it. Gigabyte makes installing the drivers and software very easy using its Xpress Install program. Xpress Install scans your computer to see if there are any drivers that need to be updated or completely installed and then with the push of one button will install them all for you at once. There are several sections of the CD that have different uses. There is the Chipset Drivers section which has all of the drivers needed to get your motherboard up and running. Next is the Software section which has any additional software that is supplied with the board like @BIOS and more. The third section is the Driver Information tab which explains all of the drivers and software included on the CD, Then there is the Hardware Information Section which tells you about the hardware that is installed on your system. Lastly is the Contact Section which has all of Gigabyte's contact information should you need to get support.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some of the programs included on the CD aid in system functions. @BIOS is a Windows based BOIS updater that will search Gigabyte's servers and download and install the latest BIOS for you with ease. The Easy Tune 5 Pro program makes overclocking your system and even video card easy and brainless without having to reboot each time to change the BIOS settings. i-Cool is a neat little program that will slow the system fans based on temperature to keep your computer not only cool but quiet as well.

 

 

Now that we have the software installed, let's move on to the testing.

Specifications:

 

AMD CPU
Support for Socket AM2+/ AM2 processors: AMD Phenom™ FX processor/ AMD Phenom™ X4 processor/ AMD Phenom™ X3 processor/ AMD Athlon™ X2 processor/ AMD Athlon™ processor/ AMD Sempron™X2 processor / AMD Sempron™ processor
Chipset
North Bridge: NVIDIA GeForce 8200 chipset
System Bus
1. Up to 5200MT/s; HyperTransport 3.0 interface for AM2+ CPU
2. 2000 / 1600 MT/s for AM2 CPU
Memory
2 x 1.8V DDR2 DIMM sockets supporting up to 8 GB of system memory (Note 1)
Dual channel memory architecture
Support for DDR2 1066 (Note 2)/800/667 MHz memory modules

(Refer to "Memory Support List" website for the latest memory support list.)
Expansion Slots
1 x PCI Express x16 slot, supporting Hybrid SLI technology (Note 4)
      (The PCI Express x16 slot conforms to PCI Express 2.0 standard.)
1 x PCI Express x1 slot
2 x PCI slots 
Storage Interfaces
NVIDIA GeForce 8200 chipset:
1 x IDE connector supporting ATA-133/100/66/33 and up to 2 IDE devices
6 x SATA 3Gb/s connectors supporting up to 6 SATA 3Gb/s devices
Support for SATA RAID 0, RAID 1, RAID 5, RAID 0+1 and JBOD

iTE IT8718 chip:
1 x floppy disk drive connector supporting up to 1 floppy disk drive 
USB
Integrated in the NVIDIA GeForce 8200 chipse
Up to 12 USB 2.0/1.1 ports (4 on the back panel, 8 via the USB brackets connected to the internal USB headers)
Audio
Realtek ALC888 codec
High Definition Audio
2/4/5.1/7.1-channel (Note 3)
Support for S/PDIF Out
Support for CD In 
LAN
Realtek 8211B chip (10/100/1000 Mbit)
Form Factor
Micro ATX Form Factor; 24.4cm x 21cm
Unique Features
Support for @BIOS
Support for Download Center
Support for Q-Flash
Support for EasyTune (Note 7)
Support for Xpress Install
Support for Xpress Recovery2
Support for Virtual Dual BIOS 
Hardware Monitoring
System voltage detection
CPU/System temperature detection
CPU/System fan speed detection
CPU overheating warning
CPU/System fan fail warning
CPU/System fan speed control
Internal Connectors
1 x 24-pin ATX main power connector
1 x 4-pin ATX 12V power connector
1 x floppy disk drive connector
1 x IDE connector
6 x SATA 3Gb/s connectors (SATA2_4 & SATA2_5 only can run under AHCI or RAID mode due to NVIDIA chipset limitation)
1 x CPU fan header
1 x system fan header
1 x front panel header
1 x front panel audio header
1 x CD In connector
1 x S/PDIF Out header
4 x USB 2.0/1.1 headers
1 x serial port header
1 x power LED header
1 x chassis intrusion header 
Back Panel Connections
1 x PS/2 keyboard port
1 x Parallel port
1 x D-Sub port
1 x DVI-D port (Note 5)
1 x HDMI port
1 x optical S/PDIF Out connector
4 x USB 2.0/1.1 ports
1 x RJ-45 port
3 x audio jacks (Line In/Line Out/Microphone) 

 

 

Features:

Testing:

So will this little board pack a big enough pounch to catch up to the big brothers it pairs with? Does size matter? Well, there is only one way to see and that is to push it to the limits. I will be stressing the Gigabyte GA-M78SM-S2H using a variety of scientific and video benchmarks to see how well it scores at stock and overclocked speeds. Then I am going to put it up agaist several motherboards to see how it compares. All settings, voltages, timings, and latencies will be run at stock specifications to keep out any variables that may interfere with the scores and cause unwanted results.

 

Testing Setup:

 

Comparison Motherboard:

 

 

 

Overclocking:

Overclocked settings:

Man giving birth to an elephant must be easier than overclocking the GA-M78SM-S2H board. This thing didn't like anything I threw at it and kept spitting out BSODs one after another. I know I have been able to overclock the Phenom 9600 to 2.7GHz by just raising the multiplier, but this board didn't like anything over 12.5x even with the vCore pumped to 1.5v. Little by little, I started from stock and pushed it a little further. I ended up at 1.45v and sable at 203MHz with a 12.5x multi. This gave me an overclock of 239MHz for an end result of 2539MHz, which is what the overclock tests will be run at.

 

Benchmarks:

  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 2.55
  1. Crysis
  2. Knights of the Sea
  3. Bioshock
  4. Call of Duty 4
  5. World in Conflict
  6. Call of Juarez
  7. Company of Heros-Opposing Fronts
  8. 3DMark 06 Professional

Testing:

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.

ZIP:

 

RAR:

 

 

The Zip tests were close but the RAR tests were way too much for the Gigabyte 8200.

Testing:

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.

 

The GA-M78SM-S2H was running behind in the Specview tests but ran head to head in the PCMark Vantage benchmark.

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

 

 

Other than latency issues, the Gigabyte 8200 did well for itself.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

The other boards seem to have a small advantage over the Gigabyte board.

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 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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Gigabyte 8200 was slighty slower than the 780a boards.

Testing:

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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Again, the Gigabyte board is tapping on the heals of its bigger brothers.

Testing:

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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Gigabyte 8200 still holding strong, especially while overclocked.

Testing:

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:

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here the GA-M78SM-S2H did well for itself, catching even the 780a boards with the 9800GTX card.

Testing:

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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here, the Gigabyte board kept up with the Crosshair II at higher resolutions.

Testing:

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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Surprisingly, the Gigabyte GA-M78SM-S2H slammed the other boards at high resolutions.

Testing:

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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The scores across the board were really close.

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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As predictable from the other benchmarks, the Gigabyte 8200 was a little behind the rest of the pack, but held on with all of its might.

Conclusion:

I must say, I was quite amazed by the performance of the Gigabyte GA-M78SM-S2H motherboard. I mean, I know it is a mini board and not meant for hardcore applications and gaming, but it did very well for itself. In the majority of the tests, the Gigabyte 8200 board came close or the same as even the 780a full featured motherboards, but costs less than a third of some of them. This makes the GA-M78SM-S2H a great choice for a Home Theater PC or mid-end workstation, especially with the Integrated Graphics that support the Lumenex graphics engine and PureVideo Technology. It also supports DirectX 10 and Shader Model 4.0 for casual gaming, though you will not be breaking any records with the IGP in gaming.

There are a few drawbacks to the Gigabyte GA-M78SM-S2H however. First is that there are only two memory slots available on the board. Normally this should not be a problem, but if you use a large, wide heatsink for your CPU that blocks the first memory slot, you might be in trouble. Also, when the two RAM sticks are placed right next to each other there is less airflow in between them, which results in higher temperatures. Second, the overclocking performance was very poor on the Gigabyte 8200 board. I had more problems overclocking this board than any other I have reviewed or used. Other than that, this is a solid board and offers great stock performance for not a lot of money. The size of this motherboard makes it perfect for any small project you have in mind without taking up too much room.

 

 Pros:

 

Cons: