Gigabyte GA-MA69G-S3H Motherboard

Admin - 2007-07-26 17:59:32 in Motherboards
Category: Motherboards
Reviewed by: Admin   
Reviewed on: August 5, 2007
Gigabyte
Gigabyte
Price: $89.99

Introduction:

Hear the peaceful calm (HTPC), that would be not having to hear your children screaming “where did you put my movie!” That’s the acronym I would use for HTPC, but it actually stands for Home Theater Personal Computer. We have to face the facts that computers are becoming more prevalent in our everyday lives than ever before and manufacturers know this and are producing more products that are targeting these areas more than ever. When looking at an HTPC, High Definition (HD) is the key whether it is video or sound, and there are only a few components left that aren’t compatible with this standard.

When building an HTPC, most look to achieve the HD standard at a minimal cost, so to accommodate this we are seeing more motherboard manufacturers produce boards with onboard HD video and sound. Some have HDMI capabilities, which will also carry sound, and some choose to use DVI as the way to transport the HD digital image. With straight DVI, these motherboards must have an additional sound source onboard since, at this time, DVI is incapable of transferring sound by itself. We are also seeing two formats of motherboards that are equipped with the HD qualities, Micro-ATX and ATX. Micro- ATX allows for a smaller system case which will be more compact, whereas ATX will require a normal sized case and may not fit in most entertainment centers.

In our quest to build the perfect HTPC, Overclockers Club is reviewing a total of four integrated motherboards; this review's focus will be the Gigabyte GA-MA69G-S3H, which is Full ATX. This Gigabyte motherboard contains HD Audio, HDMI out, Video and is Crossfire capable.

Gigabyte is a well-known industry manufacturer of motherboards that was founded over two decades ago. Along with motherboards, Gigabyte also produces graphics cards, notebooks, digital home entertainment appliances, mobile and handheld devices, and networking servers.

 

Closer Look:

The white and green box is not as image laden as some of its competitors, but is still bright enough to catch your eye. While the S3 is the biggest image on the box, what caught my eye was the S-Series print that has an aluminum glow. The back of the box describes the board's features. When you open the box, you will find the board's bundled accessories and underneath it all is the board itself.

 

 

Closer Look:

It has been a while since I have used a Gigabyte Motherboard, but after opening the packaging I was quickly reminded that Gigabyte likes to use a lot of different bright colors to define the internal headers.

 

The board itself is composed of blue PCB and is a standard ATX format, something that is very rare considering that most integrated motherboards are micro-ATX.

 

 

The motherboard supports 16 GB of DDR2 RAM, has 4 onboard SATA headers, an aluminum SB heatsink, one IDE connector, a PCI-E x16, an x4 slot, x1 slot, and 2 PCI slots.

 

 

 

The Northbridge is cooled by an aluminum heatsink that bears the Gigabyte name. In addition to the normal external I/O ports, there are HDMI and D-Sub outputs.

 

 

There is not much in the way of bundled accessories, but the board does include an HDMI to DVI-I adapter.

 

 

Installation:

Installation of the motherboard is no different than any other motherboard. The case that I chose to use for this project is the Thermaltake Mozart, which is designed to be an HTPC Case. There is no removable motherboard tray, but due to the sheer size of the case itself, there was no problem installing the motherboard after attaching the processor, RAM and Heatsink.

 

 

 

 

Closer Look:

 

The BIOS:

The Gigabyte GA-MA69G-S3H utilizes Award Bios. Most features are similar to other Award BIOS features, but Gigabyte has added an overclocking feature called MB Intelligent Tweaker, or M.I.T.

 

Logo Screen and Standard CMOS Features:

I normally turn off logo screens, but this one is quite different that most others. It's not too flashy or too dull, and I felt was a nice alternative to the black and white post screen.

 

 

Advanced BIOS Features:

SorroundView is an added feature to this motherboard. Surroundview, when enabled, offers multi-adapter/multi-monitor support if you choose to use a PCI-E based graphics card in conjunction with the onboard graphics.

 

 

Integrated Peripherals:

The integrated peripherals setting gives you options to set your onboard devices. As with other motherboards, these will be USB support, HDD function, Audio, SATA etc.

 

 

Power Management Setup:

 

 

PnP/PCI Configuration:

 

Closer Look:

 

PC Health Status:

PC Health Status has options to enable or disable smart fan functions, as well as allowing you to set options for shutdown and warning temperatures.

 

 

 

MB Intelligent Tweaker (M.I.T.):

Gigibyte utilizes a feature called MB Intelligent Tweaker (M.I.T.) to help overclock your system. With this you can adjust the multiplier of the CPU, as well as increase the front side bus. Other tweaks include adjusting voltages for the Northbridge, Southbridge, DDR RAM and the CPU. This can be helpful if you choose to utilize a minimal overclock of the system.

 

 

 

 

Installation:

The Gigabyte GA-MA69G-S3H being an integrated motherboard is unlike most of its competitors in the fact that this is a full ATX format board. Most manufacturers have chosen to utilize a Micro-ATX format, which limits the amount of expansion slots. For this project we will use the Thermaltake Mozart HTPC case. The Mozart case is very spacious, but does not come with a removable motherboard tray. After attaching the CPU, RAM and heatsink to the motherboard, I had no problem screwing the motherboard into place inside the case.

 

 

 

Configuration:

The installation drivers for the motherboard are on an auto-play setup disk, which if you choose to use, will guide you through installing all the necessary chipset, video, LAN, sound and utility drivers needed in order to operate the motherboard. Below are some pictures of what is contained on the disk.

 

If you choose a manual install, one of the most important parts of the install should be the chipset drivers. Unless you plan to download a newer version, I suggest that these be the first drivers installed.

 

 

 

Since this is an AMD chipset, you will need to use the ATI SB600 RAID drivers.

 

 

The board does have onboard sound, which is HD and utilizes the Realtek chipset.

 

 

Specifications:

 

BIOS
  1. 1 4Mbit flash ROM
  2. Use of licensed AWARD BIOS
  3. PnP 1.0a, DMI 2.0, SM BIOS 2.3, ACPI 1.0b
Chipset
  1. North Bridge Chipset: AMD 690G
  2. South Bridge Chipset: ATI SB600
  3. Super I/O chip: ITE IT8716
  4. Integrated Peripherals
    1. Realtek RTL8110 Gigabit Ethernet
    2. Realtek ALC889A Audio Codec
Processor
  1. AMD Socket AM2 Athlon™ 64 FX / Athlon™ 64 X2 Dual-Core / Athlon™ 64 / Sempron™ processors
Internal I/O Connectors
  1. 1 24-pin ATX power connector
  2. 1 4-pin ATX 12V power connector
  3. 1 floppy connector
  4. 1 IDE connector
  5. 4 SATA 3Gb/s connector
  6. 1 CPU fan connector
  7. 1 system fan connector
  8. 1 front panel connector
  9. 1 front audio connector
  10. 1 CD In connector
  11. 1 SPDIF In/Out connector
  12. 1 TV Out connector
  13. 2 IEEE 1394a connector
  14. 3 USB 2.0/1.1 connector for additional 6 USB 2.0/1.1 ports by cables
  15. 1 COMB connector
  16. 1 Power LED connector
  17. 1 Chassis Intrusion connector
Rear Panel I/O
  1. 1 PS/2 keyboard port
  2. 1 PS/2 mouse port
  3. 1 D-Sub port
  4. 1 parallel port
  5. 1 HDMI port
  6. 1 SPDIF Out port (optical)
  7. 1 IEEE 1394a port
  8. 4 USB 2.0/1.1 port
  9. 1 RJ-45 LAN port
  10. 6 audio jacks (Line In / Line Out / MIC In/Surround Speaker Out (Rear Speaker Out)/Center/Subwoofer Speaker Out/Side Speaker Out)
Expansion Slots
  1. 1 PCI Express x 16 slot
  2. 1 PCI Express x 4 slot
  3. 3 PCI Express x 1 slot
  4. 2 PCI slot
H/W Monitoring
  1. System voltage detection
  2. CPU / System temperature detection
  3. CPU / System fan speed detection
  4. CPU / System warning temperature
  5. CPU fan failure warning
  6. Supports CPU Smart Fan function(Note 2) (Note 2) Whether the CPU Smart FAN Control function is supported will depend on the CPU you install.
Other Features
  1. Supports @BIOS
  2. Supports Download Center
  3. Supports Q-Flash
  4. Supports EasyTune (only supports Hardware Monitor function)(Note 3)
  5. Supports Xpress Install
  6. Supports Xpress Recovery2
  7. Supports Xpress BIOS Rescue

(Note 3) EasyTune functions may vary depending on different motherboards.

Memory
  1. 4 DDR2 DIMM memory slots (supports up to 16GB memory)(Note 1)
  2. Supports dual channel DDR2 800/667/533/400 DIMMs
  3. Supports 1.8V DDR2 DIMMs

(Note 1) Due to the limitation of Windows 32-bit operating system, when more than 4GB of physical memory is installed, the actual memory available for the operating system will be less than 4GB; Windows 64-bit operating system doesn't have such limitation.

Form Factor
  1. ATX form factor; 30.5cm x 22.9cm
Power
  1. ATX power connector and ATX 12V connector
Remark
  1. Due to different Linux support condition provided by chipset vendors, please download Linux driver from chipset vendors' website or 3rd party website.
  2. Due to most hardware/software vendors no longer offer support for Win9X/ME. If some vendors still has Win9X/ME drivers available, we will publish on website.

 

Features:

GA-MA69G-S3H (rev. 1.0)
AMD 690G chipset

1. Supports AMD Athlon™64 X2/ Athlon™64 Socket AM2 platform
2. Dual-Channel DDR2 800 for outstanding system performance
3. Integrated ATI™ Radeon™ X1250-based graphics
4. Dual PCI-E graphics interfaces to support ATI CrossFire technology
5. Integrated SATA 3Gb/s with RAID function
6. Features high speed Gigabit Ethernet and IEEE 1394
7. Integrated ALC889A 8-Channel High Definition audio with 106 dB Signal to Noise ratio, fully support Blu-ray/ HD DVD playback
8. Integrated HDMI interface with HDCP
9. Supports Windows Vista Premium

Testing:

I will use the OverclockersClub.com benchmarking suite to test the Gigabyte GA-MA69G-S3H motherboard, as well as the other two motherboards chosen to do a comparison. Our suite contains many of the benchmarks you have seen in our video card reviews, plus other benchmarks that will determine CPU, chipset, HDD, rendering and file transfer, to name a few. Settings on all boards will be default, except for memory, which will be set to 667 instead of auto. This will eliminate any variables and allow us to see how well these boards perform right out of the box. Again, I want to reiterate that this system is for the purposes of building an inexpensive extra PC or an HTPC.

 

Testing Setup:

Comparison System:

 

 

The system tests we will be using are listed below:

 

We will 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.

 

 

WinRAR is a tool to archive and compress large files to a manageable size. We will use 10MB, 100MB and 500MB files to test the time needed to compress these files. Time will be measured in seconds.

 

 

 

 

Testing:

Specview 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Specview doesn’t seem to like ATI based video. In comparison to the other two boards, the two that are ATI based run neck and neck, whereas the nVidia based board doubled or tripled the ATI boards in mostly all categories.

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

 

Overall in the PC Mark 05 test, the nVidia based board outperformed the Gigabyte, but the individual video score of the Gigabyte outscored all the rest.

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

 

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.

 

 

Higher is Better

 

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

 

 

Higher is Better

 

 

Lower is Better

Testing:

 

 

The game tests that we use are as follows:

 

First up we have Far Cry. This game makes extensive use of pixel shaders and features Polybump normal mapping technology to increase character details.

 

We will be using the Hardware OC Benchmarking Utility version 1.8 with the following settings.

 

 

 

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:

 

 

 

 

This is something that I didn’t expect. The Gigabyte basically opened a can of “Whoop Ass” on the other competitors.

Testing:

Call of Duty 2 is a WWII first-person shooter game that is dated, but still maintains a tremendous online following. This test will consist of a timed run on the Stalingrad multi-player map, measured by the average FPS (frames per second).

 

The settings used are listed below:

 

 

 

 

 

COD 2 would have to be my favorite game to date, though it looks like I won't be playing it anytime soon an any of these three boards.

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:

 

 

 

 

 

I tried many different combinations of drivers and settings to get Quake 4 to run with the onboard ATI graphics, and all I received were errors of incompatibility. If you choose to play Quake 4 with this board, you cannot install any patches past 1.3. The higher patches will cause an initialization error, which suggests that the graphics board or driver combination will not work with this setup. A driver update will possibly fix this matter.

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.

 

 

 

 

Extras:

In the search to build an inexpensive HTPC, options can be limitless. You can choose to build a full sized upright system, a desktop, or micro. Depending on the size of your motherboard, your options can be limited. The next options are which components to use; will they be some extras that you have around the house or will they be a mixture of both new and old?

All systems start with a motherboard and the motherboard you choose will dictate what you might be able to do with the rest of the system as per what type of CPU you will use (AMD or Intel), onboard video or PCI-E, HDMI or DVI etc. So whatever you choose, choose carefully as you will be bound by the motherboard's features.

 

Gigabyte GA-MA69G-S3H:

The Gigabyte GA-MA69G-S3H, along with having onboard video, is Crossfire ready. To some, this is a perk, but to others it could be a fault. Unfortunately, the Crossfire setup on this board limits you to using your second card in PCI-E 4X. So are you really getting the full benefit of Crossfire? I will admit the perk of utilizing it as a Crossfire setup along with the onboard video can give you the expandability of having 6 monitors connected to the system, but if you are building a budget HTPC, you might not have 6 monitors just lying around to even cross that bridge. The next perk of Crossfire would be increased frame rates while playing games, but its fault could be that you are not too interested in playing games.

HDMI is one of this motherboard's biggest pluses. One cable and you instantly have HD video and sound. Gigabyte was also kind enough to include a 6” HDMI to DVI-I dongle to get you started. HD is today’s rage and having the tools to utilize HD is a plus.

 

BIOS and Overclocking:

Last but not least, we have the BIOS and overclocking. If you noticed while looking at the BIOS screen shots, there wasn’t an option for Advanced Chipset Features. Well, there is, but Gigabyte has chosen to hide it. This might be a way to deter an inexperienced overclocker, but as someone who has the knowledge, I was just a little miffed. I normally skim through a motherboard's manual, so I very easily missed the one sentence that explained how to access the Advanced Chipset Features, and even then, that sentence was a little confusing. “If you do not find the settings you want in the main menu or a sub menu press + to access more advanced options.” Well I looked through the manual 3 times to find that sentence but after reading it and hitting the desired keys in all the submenus, all I got was a help file. Finally, I just went to the main menu and hit the keys and that is when the Advanced Chipset Features appeared. I didn’t notice it at first until I saw that M.I.T. happened to be on the other side of the page.

My main concern about overclocking with this board was not having the Advanced option. Personally, the M.I.T. is too vague and not knowing what my RAM was set at or being able to change the normal functions that would be contained under the advanced settings was a deterrent. When I did finally access the advanced functions, I decided to give overclocking a try. I was able to achieve a 227 FSB overclock before either the chipset, or RAM limitations halted me. (3405 MHz) I did try lowering the multiplier but without using a divider on the RAM, I could not exceed much more than 750 MHz on my DDR2 5300. In order to achieve this, I did have to increase the voltage on the CPU to 1.475v, RAM to 2.1v, and the NB/SB up .50 MHz.

Nonetheless, the board is overclockable, but you will have to work to find the advanced options. Fortunately, most people are not worried about this considering they are building an HTPC.

 

Final Thought:

At a price of just under $90.00 and referring back to the first part of this series of inexpensive ways to build either an inexpensive second home computer or HTPC, your cost would increase approximately $25.00. (HTPC Extras)

For those of you who want to be able to someday utilize the board's Crossfire features, this board would be worth considering.

Conclusion:

I have mixed feelings about this motherboard. On the one hand, it has some nice extras, it did better in the video benchmarks overall and it does have HDMI onboard. I also like the fact that it is a full sized ATX motherboard and it has a lot of onboard headers. What I do not like is that you can only run the second Crossfire card at 4X. On the front of the box, there is an icon stating that Gigabyte motherboards are a gamer’s choice. What type of gaming, PC LCD gaming or HTPC gaming? Yes, for an HTPC, just having the extra frames per second is a plus.

As an enthusiast, I don’t appreciate the hidden “Advanced Chipset Features.” I already know that since this board leans more toward being used for a quality second inexpensive PC or an HTPC, that its overclocking capabilities are not going to be that of a true enthusiast board. So why insult me and make me work to find the advanced options?

Fortunately, I have a set of Crossfire cards that are a little dated and would be just perfect for this type of concept (HTPC). So I don’t have to pick up the cost of purchasing an extra card or two to run it. Again, I remind myself why I would buy this board, and that is for a second PC or an HTPC. Meaning that I have components lying around and if I chose this motherboard, I could build a system around that. So the price does match its performance, and with the extras that can be utilized, the board can be a choice for that HTPC or second computer you're building.

 

Pros:

 

Cons: