ASUS M3N78 Pro Reviewajmatson -
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ASUS chose to go with a different brown and black color scheme for the M3N78 Pro. I was surprised to see that ASUS has shifted the CPU and memory slots, slightly more towards the right hand side of the board. The shift and the proximity of the CPU socket to the memory slots could pose a problem with large heatsinks blocking the first few memory slots. Another difference you might notice about the M3N78 Pro, compared to the majority of GeForce 8200 boards, is that this is a full size ATX design instead of a mini or micro ATX board. On the back of the board, ASUS chose to use an aluminum plate to support the CPU retention bracket. This makes the design sturdier and can also aid in heat transfer for optimal cooling.
The back panel of the ASUS M3N78 Pro is simple yet effective. ASUS has added almost everything you need for your system, including a PS/2 keyboard port, six USB 2.0 ports, an S/PDIF port, an HDMI port, and a set of 8-Channel HD audio ports powered by Realtek's ALC1200 chip. One thing you might notice is the absence of the VGA port. Why, you ask? Well, ASUS, for some reason, has moved the VGA port from the back panel to a header type design on the motherboard behind the PCI slots. Using the supplied adapter, you plug in the cable to the header and secure the bracket in an empty PCI slot. This will allow you to connect a VGA monitor to your motherboard if needed.
The ASUS M3N78 Pro supports AM2 and AM2+ processors including the Sempron, Athlon, Athlon X2, and Phenom series CPUs. The M3N78 also supports HyperTransport 3.0, for a maximum 5200 MT/s using AM2+ CPUs and up to 2000 MT/s using AM2 CPUs. This board uses an all solid capacitor design for maximum stability and longer life span, especially under extreme conditions. There are four memory slots available on the M3N78 Pro which support up to 8GB of DDR2 dual-channel memory. Remember, this board natively supports 1066MHz RAM for extreme performance. ASUS decided to go with the side by side design for dual-channel memory, meaning the two yellow slots would be populated for dual-channel. Normally, this would not be a concern; however, with some modules now featuring large heatsinks, you might run into some problems if you are using them.
Being a full size ATX form factor motherboard, the M3N78 Pro offers more expansion slots than smaller mATX boards. For the lineup, there are two PCI Express x1 slots for additional expansion cards, one PCI Express x16 slot for graphics card expansion, and three PCI slots for legacy card support. The placement of the x16 PCI Express slot concerned me in relation to the location of the SATA ports, because with larger cards you could run into a problem. I was right - even with my typically-sized HD4850 card in the slot the first SATA port was blocked, and the second port was partially covered. With even bigger cards on the market - like the GTX 200 series and the HD4870 - both ports will be blocked; that limits your available SATA ports to four instead of six.
Moving on down to the bottom of the board we can get a look at the headers that are available on the ASUS M3N78 Pro. From left to right, there's the front panel audio header, an S/PDIF header, a floppy port, a COM header, one FireWire header, three USB 2.0 headers, and the front panel connectors. Moving up the right side of the board, we see one IDE port, which supports up to two devices, and six SATA ports. The SATA ports support up to 3GB/s and also support RAID 0, 1, and 10 configurations. The CD-IN header was mysteriously placed in front of the PCI slots, right below the PCI Express x16 slot, and this header would also be covered by a dual slot video card - rendering it useless.
The ASUS M3N78 Pro is powered by a 24-pin main ATX power plug and a 4-pin CPU power plug. This provides the correct amount of power for operation and stability. Again though, here we have issues with the placement of items on this board that makes life tougher. ASUS has placed the main 24-pin plug on the left side of the board above the first PCI Express x1 slot near the back panel connectors. For the life, of me I cannot understand why they did this - the placement makes plugging in the main power plug a pain, because you have to route it just right around the CPU heatsink so it does not interfere with the heatsink's operation. Even worse, if you have a bottom mounted PSU, you have to route the plug around the expansion cards - and that is if you have enough cable to reach it with the extra routing space taken.
Lastly, I want to show you the heatsink for the GeForce 8300 chip. This board uses only one chip which acts as the Northbridge and the Southbridge. There is a small fin type heatsink covering the chip, which keeps it cool; however, the heatsink gets very hot, but this does not cause any stability issues.
Now that we have taken a good look at the board, let's peek at the BIOS that runs this baby.