ECS GF8200A Review

ajmatson - 2008-06-17 15:37:53 in Motherboards
Category: Motherboards
Reviewed by: ajmatson   
Reviewed on: August 19, 2008
Price: $90.00 - $108.99

Introduction:

With the success of the GeForce 8200 chipset from Nvidia, we are seeing more and more motherboards coming out based on this technology designed for mainstream computer users and system builders. The GeForce 8200 chipset takes older, proven technology and combines it with new, interesting technology for a fast, feature-packed platform for today's users. The biggest feature of the GeForce 8200 chipset is the integrated motherboard graphics processor - or mGPU - which brings to the table DirectX 10, Shader Model 4.0, and Hybrid SLI Graphics technology for a well-rounded motherboard base. What is this Hybrid SLI technology, you ask? Basically, it is a dual-GPU setup using a discrete graphics card (dGPU) and an mGPU in combination, which together provides a graphics power increase from GeForce Boost, or power savings - HybridPower - when paired with the correct card. Unfortunately, only certain 8-series cards can enable GeForce Boost, and certain 9-series cards will support HybridPower.

Today, we are looking at one GeForce 8200 based board from ECS - Elitegroup Computer Systems - which is part of their "Black Series" of motherboards aimed towards enthusiasts and gamers who want top-end technology on a budget. Earlier this year, we took a look at the ECS A780GM-A board, which is based on the AMD 780G chipset, and the two boards look strikingly similar, which is not surprising, since the GeForce 8200 chipset was Nvidia's answer to the 780G chipset. The ECS GF8200A supports the latest AMD processors, including the 50 series tri and quad core Phenom CPUs. With all that said, now let's take a closer look at the ECS GF8200A motherboard.

 

Closer Look:

The ECS GF8200A comes packaged in a black box sporting the Dragon mascot that ECS has been using for their Black Series motherboards. The front of the box lists some of the features in a logo type format, and there's another logo that states that this board is a "Gamer's Buy." The back of the box offers a glance at what the motherboard looks like, for people wanting to see the layout prior to purchase, as well as an in-depth look at highlighted features.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Opening the box, you get a peek at the accessories that come with the ECS GF8200A motherboard. On the top layer are the accessories, and underneath is the motherboard, so it is protected during shipment. Packaged with the ECS GF8200A board is the standard line-up of accessories, including one IDE cable, two SATA cables, and I/O plate, the manual, and the driver CD.

 

 

Now that everything is out of the packaging, let's go and get a better view of the board up close.

Closer Look:

The ECS GF8200A follows the same design format as other Black Series boards. ECS uses a black PCB with yellow, red, black, and orange color coded ports and slots on the board, to give it a contrasting, gaming inspired look. One thing you might notice about the GF8200A is the single heatsink on the board. That is because the GeForce 8200 series boards use a single chipset design, which is the MCP78S that has the GeForce 8200 mGPU on the same chip. Also, all of the ports go through this one chip design, eliminating the need for a separate Southbridge chip. The board has a very spacious layout, which should keep any components from interfering with the operation of the motherboard. The back of the board has a retention bracket backplate, which reduces stress on the board from the heatsink, and prevents damage or cracking.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Flipping the board on its side brings us to the ever important back panel. I don't care how well a board performs, if it does not have the correct connections, then you might as well toss it to the side. The ECS GF8200A provides what is needed to get the most out of your board. Starting from the top, we see the two legacy PS/2 connectors for older keyboards and mice, a VGA port, an HDMI port that supports high definition video formats including 720p and 1080p for the ultimate HTPC, six USB 2.0 ports, an eSATA port for expanded external storage, one Gigabit LAN port, and six audio ports. I was surprised to not see a DVI port, or at least a DVI connector included with the package, since most LCD monitors use this connection. I was also shocked not to see a digital audio connection, since most gamers and HTPC users would use this for their setup, although an audio expansion card could be added if needed.

 

 

Like I mentioned above, the ECS GeForce 8200A is designed for AMD processors, up to and including the Phenom series CPUs. The GF8200A only supports processors with a max TDP of 95w according to the ECS website; however, I had no trouble testing the board with the AMD Phenom X4 9850 Black Box which has a max TDP of 125w at stock speeds. This does not mean it will work for future generation CPUs, or for everyone, so take that into consideration. The area around the CPU is clean and uncluttered, which will make adding an aftermarket heatsink no problem at all. The GF8200A uses a 4-pin CPU power connector, and a four phase voltage regulator, which has me worried that the board's overclocking headroom might not be that high. To the right of the CPU area, are the four DIMM slots which support up to 32GB of dual-channel DDR2 1066MHz memory. Yes, you read that right - 32GB maximum! However, since the highest capacity DIMM is currently 2GB, you are limited to 8GB of memory for now. Behind the memory slots are the 24-pin ATX power supply port and the single IDE port.

 

 

Sliding down to the expansion slots, you will see that ECS has given you enough to expand to your hearts' content. There is a single red PCI Express x16 2.0 slot for you to add a dGPU for increased performance, additional monitors, a Hybrid SLI setup to save power, or boost your mGPU. There are also two PCI Express x1 slots for additional network or audio cards, and three PCI slots for legacy expansion cards that you still might use.

 

On the bottom of the ECS GF8200A, you will find the headers needed to hook up external ports and plugs. Again, ECS has tried to anticipate everything that you might need for your system. Starting from the bottom left, there's the front panel audio header, CD-in header, floppy port, COM port header, three USB 2.0 headers, and a fan header. Turning to the right spine, the headers continue with the front panel header, Power and Reset buttons, five SATA ports, another fan header, and the speaker header. The SATA ports are SATA II 3.0GB/s ports, and support RAID 0, 1, 0+1, and 5

 

 

Now that we have had a close look at the board, let's start her up and see what the BIOS is packing.

Closer Look:

The BIOS of a motherboard is as important as the physical parts of the board. You can have a strong, stable board, but if you have a weak BIOS, then the board will not be able to be pushed and perform to its potential. The BIOS of the ECS GF8200A has some great options that allow you to adjust the settings to your needs. If you want to save more power, then adjust the settings in the BIOS. If you want some more raw power for those extra frames in your games, then up the speeds and voltages in the BIOS. We are going to take a look at the BIOS of the ECS GF8200A in sections, so that you get a better understanding of what it has to offer you.

 

Main & Standard CMOS:

The Mail screen is what you are presented with when you first enter the GF8200A's BIOS. This section allows you to enter the menu sections based on needs, and is where you save settings or load defaults. The standard CMOS section is where you set up your hard disks and internal drives for proper operation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advanced Setup & Advanced Chipset Setup:

These sections allow you to set up advanced features for the board, and CPU functions such as Cool'n'Quiet, Virtualization, and the all important boot sequence. In the Advanced Chipset Section, you have the ability to control the memory frequency and timings for more fine-tuned control over your DIMMs. Here is also where you enable the Hybrid SLI support, as well as the mGPU frame buffer size.

 

 

 

Integrated Peripherals & Power Management:

The Integrated Peripherals section is where you can set up and change the options dealing with onboard devices, like the SATA, LAN, and audio. The Power Management section allows you to set up power features like the Suspend Type.

 

 

 

PnP/PCI & PC Health Status:

These sections allow you to set which display initializes first for graphics, and monitor system temperatures and fan speeds.

 

 

Closer Look:

Frequency/Voltage Control:

This section is where the more fine-tuned overclocking settings are kept. Right off of the bat, you have the options to change the voltages of the memory, Northbridge, HyperTransport, and CPU. You can also up the CPU speed to increase your overall performance. The memory voltage can be raised to 2.4v, the Northbridge to 1.24v, the HyperTransport to 1.35v, and the CPU to 1.55v.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

AMD CPU Function sub section:

For even more tuning, you can enter the AMD CPU Function section and have the ability to adjust the CPU overclock. When enabled, you can change the multiplier in half increments, and alter the CPU voltage again to maximize your overclock.

 

 

 

Now that the BIOS is set, let's install the drivers.

Closer Look:

The driver CD that comes with the ECS GF8200A motherboard is just that - a driver CD. No extra software, either proprietary or third party, is included - so don't expect any goodies here. The interface that ECS has implemented is a no-brainer, and could not be any easier. When you pop the CD into the drive, the autorun program will bring up a simple menu for you to use to install the drivers. You have three options on the main menu, which are Setup, Browse CD, and Exit. The Browse CD option just opens the CD in the file browser. The Setup option starts the GF8200A's Setup program, and allows you to select what drivers to install. The INF selection installs all of the base chipset drivers for the motherboard. The Device option lets you choose to install some, or all, of the drivers for the LAN port and the audio ports.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It's as simple as that - no more, no less.

Specifications:

 

CPU
-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
-Note: This board supports CPU up to 95W TDP only; you can refer to AMD website to check your CPU.
Chipset
-NVIDIA GeForce8200 Series
-NVIDIA MCP78S Single Chipset
Graphics
-On Chip ( NVIDIA GeForce8200 based with 2D/3D graphic engine)
-Integrated DirectX10 graphics processor
-Share Memory: Maximum up to 512MB
Memory
-Dual-channel DDR2 1066 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 we have tested is 8GB)
-*(Due to AMD CPU spec limitation, please refer to Memory QVL for more information)
Expansion Slots
-1 x PCI Express x16 Gen2.0 slot (Support Hybrid SLI)
-3 x PCI slots
-2 x PCI Express X 1 Gen1.1 slot
Storage Interfaces
-Support by NVIDIA GeForce8200
      2 x Ultra DMA133/100/66 devices
      5 x Serial ATA 3.0Gb/s devices
      1 x eSATA
-RAID0, RAID1, RAID0+1, RAID5 configuration
Audio
-IDT 92HD206 (Co-lay 92HD202)
-Compliant with 8CH HD audio specification
LAN
-Realtek RTL8111B Gigabit Fast Ethernet Controller (Co-lay RTL8101E)
Rear Panel I/O
-1 x PS/2 keyboard & PS/2 mouse connectors
-1 x Audio port (Line-in, Line-out, Mic-in)
-1 x VGA port
-1 x Ethernet Port
-1 x External SATA port
-6 x USB ports
-1 x HDMI Port
Internal Connectors and Headers
-1 x 24-pin ATX Power Supply connector
-1 x 4-pin ATX 12V connector
-1 x Front panel audio header
-1 x Front panel switch/LED header
-1 x IR header
-3 x USB headers
-1 x SPDIF out header
-1 x IDE connector
-1 x Speaker header
-1 x 3pin SYS_FAN connectors
-1 x 4pin CPU_FAN connectors
-1 x FDD connector
-5 x Serial ATA connectors
-1 x COM1 header
-1 x Clear CMOS header
-1 x CD in header
-1 x 3-pin PWR_FAN connector
-1 x 3-pin NB_FAN connector
-1 x onboard power button
-1 x onboard reset button
System BIOS
-AMI BIOS with 8Mb SPI ROM
-Supports Plug and Play, STR/STD, Hardware monitor, Multi Boot, DMI
-Supports ACPI revision 3.0 specification
Form Factor
-ATX Size, 305mm*220mm

 

 

Features:

 

Testing:

To test how well the ECS GF8200A stands up, I will be running it through a series of benchmarks, both scientific and video based, to push it to the breaking point. This will give us a good idea of how well the board will perform under everyday stress, and show failures, if any. To gauge overall performance, I will be comparing it against other boards using the same chipset, and the newer GeForce 8300 chipset. To keep any outside variables from interfering with the scores, all components will be run at their stock timings, settings, speeds, and voltages. All comparison boards will also be run with the same exact hardware and settings as the ECS GF8200A for better comparison numbers with no differences to cause anomalies in the scores.

 

 

Comparison Motherboard:

 

Overclocking:

Overclocked settings:

On this ECS board, I did not get very far with my attempts at overclocking. I attribute this to the board only having a 4-pin CPU power connector and a four phase voltage regulator setup. I could not get enough clean power through the board to sustain a stable overclock. I did get the ECS GF8200A up to 2.94GHz by bumping the CPU frequency up to 210MHz from the stock 200MHz, and upping the CPU multiplier to 14x. However, to do this, I had to push the CPU voltage up to 1.55v, which is, in my opinion, the highest I would ever like to see the vCore of a CPU. With everything stable at 2.94GHz, that's where the overclocking benchmarks will be run.

 

 

 

Benchmarks:

  1. Apophysis
  2. WinRAR
  3. SPECviewperf 10
  4. PCMark Vantage Professional
  5. SiSoft 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 Heroes: Opposing Fronts
  8. 3DMark 06 Professional

Testing:

First up are the system specific benchmarks, which will test overall scientific performance. For the science tests, only the scores paired with the PowerColor HD 4850 discrete video card are shown, to make the direct comparison to the other boards with the same setup.

 

To get things started, I will run 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 GF8200A board aced all of the tests except the 500MB transfer.

Testing:

SPECviewperf 10 is a benchmark designed to test OpenGL performance. I will be using the multi-threaded tests to measure 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. I will be running a series of tests to gauge performance of each individual board to see which board, if any, rises above the others.

 

Man, the ECS GF8200A is just walking all over the competition here.

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

 

 

It was about half and half here, with the GF8200A winning some and losing some.

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's 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 GF8200A dominated the ScienceMark and CineBench tests, and averaged out in the HDTune benchmark.

Testing:

Crysis has been out for quite some time now. In that time, there has yet to be a single or multi-GPU setup that can fully showcase the graphics performance of the game.  The Crysis single player demo includes both CPU and GPU benchmarks to test the performance of your processor and video card.

Video Settings:

 

Discrete Video Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The GF8200A landed right in the middle of the pack here, with both the discrete card and the integrated GPU.

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.

 

 

Integrated Video Settings:

 

Discrete Video Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The GF8200A did the best here, topping the other boards with an HD 4850 card. In the integrated GPU test, the ECS was almost the tops in every resolution.

Testing:

BioShock is one of the creepier games out in the wild, chronicling the building of a perfect Utopian society undersea gone horribly wrong - its inhabitants driven mad with the introduction of tonics and genetic modifications. Now Rapture is just a shadow of its former glory, with little girls looting the dead of what little they have left, while being shadowed by guardians known as "Big Daddies" 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. The environment as well as the story line will wrap you up for hours on end.

 

Integrated Video Settings:

 

Discrete Video Settings:

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It seems that the GF8200A fell behind at the higher resolutions here.

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 modern-day 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.

 

 

Integrated Video Settings:

 

Discrete Video Settings:

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Again, at the higher resolutions, the GF8200A fell behind the rest of the pack. When a discrete card was used, however, it was on top of the others.

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.

 

 

Integrated Video Settings:

 

Discrete Video Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here, the GF8200 led all of the tests except the 1920x1200 run, where is=t was only slightly behind. For the integrated GPU, it was right in the middle of the pack.

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.

 

Integrated Video Settings:

 

Discrete Video Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The GF8200A showed its true colors at the maximum resolution, taking the lead for the win with the HD 4850. It was dead on with the other integrated GPUs from the comparison boards.

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.

 

Integrated Video Settings:

 

Discrete Video Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Company of Heroes, the GF8200A held the lead by a nose. In the onboard video tests, it was faster than the other 8200-based board, but behind the 8300 chipset.

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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wow! The GF8200A performed almost as well as the newer GeForce 8300 board when paired with a discrete GPU, and was right in the middle when using the onboard video - only slightly behind the 8300 board.

Conclusion:

What can I say? This board is a beast! The ECS GF8200A took everything I threw at it and asked for more. It even accepted a processor with a maximum 125w TDP, when the board states that it officially only supports processors with a maximum 95w TDP. The board also natively supports 1066MHz DDR2 memory when paired with an AM2+ CPU, and that's just the start. The onboard video chip - the GeForce 8200 - provides quality HD video without the need for a discrete card. While you will not be gaming at high resolutions with the mGPU, it does support Hybrid SLI, so you can add a dGPU to save power, or boost performance in an SLI setup. The GF8200A also supports 8-channel HD audio, so this would be a killer platform for an HTPC. This has been one of the strongest GeForce 8200 based motherboards I have had the pleasure to review thus far.

On the flip side, if you use a monitor that has a DVI connection, you might want to buy an adapter, because no DVI port or adapter is included. Also, I was surprised not to see any digital audio outputs on this board, since it is obviously geared towards media applications. Lastly, the overclocking features, while decent, do not hold up well - which is what I expected from the design of the board. You might get further with a CPU that has a lower TDP, but come on - I had a CPU with a TDP over the specification for the board, and still got it overclocked to 2.94GHz! That, in itself, is amazing. If you want a great board with a proven chipset, then I would definitely recommend the ECS GF8200A motherboard. For the price, the performance it offers makes this board a strong candidate for consideration.
 

Pros:

 

Cons: