ASUS M3N78 Pro Review

ajmatson - 2008-07-07 05:24:55 in Motherboards
Category: Motherboards
Reviewed by: ajmatson   
Reviewed on: July 27, 2008
Price: $104.99


Recently, we have done several motherboard reviews featuring the NVIDIA GeForce 8200 chipset, which is geared towards mainstream computer users for projects like HTPCs, workstations, and casual gaming rigs. The GeForce 8200 chipset utilizes an onboard GPU - or mGPU - which brings DirectX 10 and HD playback capabilities to a user without the need for a discrete graphics card, which cuts down on costs and increases performance. Now, take all of that and add higher clock speeds and you have the newer GeForce 8300 chipset. Not long ago, computer builders shunned a motherboard with an mGPU, but these days the technology has erupted - mGPUs are becoming the norm, especially in PCs used for video editing and decoding.

Today, we are going to look at the ASUS M3N78 Pro, which is based on that newer GeForce 8300 chipset. The ASUS M3N78 Pro brings this great new technology to the AMD crowd, supporting both AM2 and AM2+ CPUs - including future 140w TDP Phenom CPUs (current Phenom CPUs max out at 125w TDP). Another interesting feature I found out about the ASUS M3N78 Pro is that it's the first AMD platform motherboard to natively support 1066MHz DDR2 memory. So do I have your attention yet? Well, how about we take a better look at the M3N78 Pro board now!


Closer Look:

At first look, this motherboard package gets my interest piqued - the front of the box  shows off some of its great features, like HDMI support, Hybrid SLI, all solid capacitors, Express Gate technology, and it's even able to decode HD audio and video on the board! The back of the box expands on what's got me going, with a more in depth look at some of the main features of the ASUS M3N78 Pro.



Wow, after reading all of that I felt like a kid on Christmas, because I could not wait until I could get my hands on what was inside. Flipping open the lid of the box, you can see all of the goodies inside. ASUS has included everything you need to get up and running with the M3N78 Pro. Inside there's the motherboard itself, a manual, a driver CD, three SATA cables, two SATA power adapters, and IDE cable, a floppy cable, the I/O shield, a pack of Q-Connectors, an HDMI to DVI adapter, and a VGA bracket. The VGA port on the M3N78 Pro slides into an empty PCI slot on the case, and plugs directly into the motherboard. I will be taking a better look at this in the next section.



Now that everything is unboxed, let's take a better look at the M3N78 Pro motherboard.

Closer Look:

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.

Closer Look:

To me, the BIOS is one of the most important parts of a motherboard. If the board is high quality and has a lot of features, but a weak BIOS, then the whole thing is a waste and - vice versa. Being an enthusiast, I live to push my hardware to its breaking point. I want to know exactly how much I can squeeze out on my components to gain the maximum in performance and efficiency. ASUS has always had strong BIOS programs in the past, so I am interested in seeing what they did for the M3N78 Pro. First, I am going to take a look at the basic features of the BOIS, and then I will look deeper at the overclocking features.



The Main section allows you to set the date and time, configure the disks being used in the system, and view system information, such as the BIOS version.







The Power section is where you set up the power states of the system, such as S1 and S3, wake on LAN and more. Here, you also set how the hardware monitors voltage, temperature, fan speeds and what alarms go off at prescribed thresholds.




Boot & Tools:

In the Boot section, the user can set the disk priority for startup, as well as adjust the security settings to require a password upon entering the BIOS. The Tools area lets you save or load profiles for the BIOS, which is great when overclocking - as you can have one profile for standard settings, and one for overclocked settings, without having to manually change them each time. Also in the Tool section is the ASUS EZ Flash 2 program. EZ Flash 2 makes updating the BIOS as easy as entering the program, selecting the update from any disk, and running the update.





Now let's swing over and take a look at the Advanced section.

Closer Look:


The Advanced section is where all of the hardware-pushing magic happens. This is where you have control of the physical aspects of the motherboard, including overclocking and chipset features. I am going to break them down by section to get a better understanding of what they have to offer.







JumperFree Configuration:

The JumperFree Configuration section is where you can control the speeds and voltages of your hardware to push them as far as they can go. Here you can control the CPU speed, CPU Multiplier (which if you have an unlocked CPU you can push up to 25x), CPU Voltage (which can only be maxed out to 1.3v), and the voltage settings for the memory, Northbridge, and HyperTransport.





CPU Configuration:

The CPU Configuration section allows you to enable or disable CPU features such as AMD Live!, Cool 'N' Quiet, and Virtualization; this is also where you can configure your memory. The memory speed can only be altered at five levels, from DDR2 533MHz to 1066MHz. You can also choose if you want it to run in Ganged or Unganged mod. I was highly shocked to see that you cannot control the memory timings in the BIOS, especially the basics like the tCAS. Even the lowest-end boards I have tested had this feature included.





The Chipset section is where you adjust chipset features such as display adapters and the onboard GPU (mGPU). This is also where you can enable Hybrid SLI. The frame buffer can be adjusted from 64MB to 512MB in four increments, but unfortunately you cannot control the mGPU speed.





 PCIPnP & Onboard Device Configuration:

The PCIPnP and Onboard Device Configuration sections are where you control IRQ resources and onboard devices like the IDE and SATA configurations, audio configuration, USB and FireWire ports, and LAN connections.



Now that we have everything set up, let's take a look at the software supplied with the ASUS M3N78 Pro.

Closer Look:

Installing the software for the ASUS M3N78 Pro could not be easier. ASUS has made all of the drivers available all at once with the ASUS InstALL utility. By choosing this option, all of the drivers will install and reboot when needed automatically, without requiring user input. When the CD in inserted the Support program will start, and you will have several menus to choose from.


The first two tabs are where you install the drivers for the M3N78 Pro. These include the chipset drivers, the audio drivers, the driver for the NVIDIA HDMI program, and the drivers needed for Hybrid SLI to function properly. The second tab is where you choose what support software you need for your system, like ASUS PC Probe, ASUS AI Suite, and the ASUS ExpressGate program.







The last three tabs are utilities that you might need depending on your system and support information. Here you can create and install a RAID drive setup on your computer. Also included are digital copies of the manuals needed for the ASUS M3N78 Pro, and the contact information for ASUS should you need additional support.



The Utilities included on the support CD help you in overclocking, monitoring, and maintaining your system. Some of these utilities include a BIOS updating GUI, ASUS PC Probe (which lets you monitor system temperatures), voltages and fan speeds, ASUS Cool 'N' Quiet (which displays the C&Q speeds and voltages), and the ASUS AI Suite.



The ASUS M3N78 Pro has a feature that we are seeing more and more on ASUS motherboards, and that is the ExpressGate. ExpressGate lets you boot into a stripped down, Linux-based operating system in around 5 seconds, and lets you surf the net, browse photos, download files to external drives. This way, if you only need to browse something quickly or download a driver for your OS, you can do it without having to fully boot the computer.




Now that we have had a look at all of the M3N78 Pro's hardware and software, let's see how she performs.



AMD Socket AM2+ / AM2 Phenom FX/Phenom/Athlon /Sempron Processors
AMD Cool 'n' Quiet™ Technology
AMD Live!™ Ready
Support CPU up to 140W
NVIDIA GeForce 8300
System Bus
Up to 5200/MT/s HyperTransport™ 3.0 interface for AM2+ CPU
2000/1600 MT/s for AM2 CPU
4 x DIMM, Max. 8 GB, DDR2 1066/800/667 ECC,Non-ECC,Un-buffered Memory
Dual Channel memory architecture
*Due to AMD CPU limitation, DDR2 1066 is supported by AM2+ CPU for one DIMM per channel only.
**Refer to or user manual for Memory QVL (Qualify Vendor List)
***When installing total memory of 4GB capacity or more, Windows® 32-bit operation system may only recognize less than 3GB. Hence, a total installed memory of less than 3GB is recommended.
Expansion Slots
1 x PCIe x16 (Support PCIe 2.0 / 1.0 Architecture )
2 x PCIe x1
3 x PCI 2.2
Storage Interfaces
NVIDIA® GeForce 8300
1 xUltraDMA 133/100/66/33
6 xSATA 3 Gb/s ports (Use SATA1-4 for IDE mode.)
NVIDIA® MediaShield™ RAID Support RAID 0,1,0+1,5,JBOD
12 USB 2.0 ports (6 ports at mid-board, 6 ports at back panel)
Integrated NVIDIA GeForce® 8 Series GPU
Hybrid SLI™ Support (supports Windows Vista only)
Supports HDMI™ Technology with max. resolution up to 1920 x 1200
Supports DVI with max. resolution up to 1920 × 1200 @ 60 Hz
Supports D-Sub with max. resolution up to 1920 × 1440 @ 75 Hz
Supports Microsoft® DirectX 10, OpenGL 2.0, Pixel Shader 4.0
Support PCIe 2.0 / 1.0 Architecture
Maximum shared memory of 512MB
Realtek® 8211CL Gigabit PHY featuring AI NET2
Form Factor
ATX Form Factor
12 inch x 9.6 inch ( 30.5 cm x 24.4 cm )
Realtek® ALC1200 8 -Channel High Definition Audio CODEC
Coaxial S/PDIF out ports at back I/O
Support Jack Detection and Multi-streaming
ASUS AI Lifestyle Features
ASUS Express Gate
- Web browser, file downloading and uploading*
- Further free features upgradable
* File downloading and uploading through USB devices only
ASUS Quiet Thermal Solution
- ASUS AI Gear 2
- ASUS Q-Fan 2
- 4+1 Phases ASUS Power Design
ASUS Crystal Sound
- ASUS Noise Filter
- ASUS Q-Connector
- ASUS Q-Shield
- ASUS EZ Flash 2
Overclocking Features
Intelligent overclocking tools
- AI Overclocking (intelligent CPU frequency tuner)
- ASUS AI Booster Utility
Precision Tweaker
- vDIMM: 8 -step DRAM voltage control
- vCore: Adjustable CPU voltage at 0.0125V increment
- vChipset 4-step Chipset voltage control
SFS (Stepless Frequency Selection)
- FSB tuning from 200MHz to 600MHz at 1MHz increment
- Memory tuning from 533MHz up to 1066MHz
- PCI Express frequency tuning from 100MHz up to 200MHz at 1MHz increment
Overclocking Protection
- ASUS C.P.R.(CPU Parameter Recall)
Special Features
ASUS MyLogo 2
Uses 100% All High-quality Conductive Polymer Capacitors!
Back Panel Connections
1 x PS/2 Keyboard
1 x S/PDIF Out
1 x IEEE 1394a
1 x LAN(RJ45) port
6 x USB 2.0/1.1
8 -Channel Audio I/O
1 x HDMI
Internal I/O Connectors
3 x USB connectors support additional 6 USB ports
1 x Floppy disk drive connector
1 x IDE connector
1 x COM connector
1 x VGA connector
6 x SATA connectors
1 x CPU Fan connector
1 x Chassis Fan connector
1 x Power Fan connector
Front panel audio connector
1 x S/PDIF Out Header
1 x IEEE1394a connector
Chassis Intrusion connector
CD audio in
24-pin ATX Power connector
4-pin ATX 12V Power connector
System Panel
8 Mb Flash ROM
DMI 2.0
WfM 2.0
Award BIOS
ACPI 2.0
ASUS EZ Flash 2
UltraDMA 133/100/66 cable
FDD cable
SATA cables
SATA power cables
D-Sub module
HDMI to DVI connector
User's manual
3 in 1 Q-connector
Support Disc
Express Gate Lite
ASUS Update
Anti-virus software (OEM version)





So are you as excited as I am to see how the ASUS M3N78 Pro performs? I am curious to see how much of an improvement the GeForce 8300 chipset is over the GeForce 8200. Will the slightly higher clocks make much of a difference? I am going to put the M3N78 Pro through a series of scientific and video benchmarks to gauge how well it performs. Then I am going to place it head to head against a GeForce 8200 based motherboard to see how the change in chipsets fares on an overall performance level. To prevent anything from affecting the scores, all hardware will be run at stock speeds, timings and voltages.



Comparison Motherboard:




Overclocked settings:

Overclocking this board took a lot of trial and error, but I finally managed to get it stable and good to go. The CPU core voltage maxes out at 1.30v on this board, so you are limited in how far you can push it. Also it did not like a multiplier greater than 14x, after that the computer would not even boot. I also had to put the HyperTransport multiplier to 10x to have the link remain stable. Since I could not modify the memory settings, which had a default 1:2 divider, they had a mind of their own. After all of the bumping and resetting of the CMOS I finally got to 2.950GHz stable, and no problems while running the benchmarks. So with that, the overclocked tests will be run at 2.950GHz on the Phenom X4 9850.




  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 Heroes: Opposing Fronts
  8. 3DMark 06 Professional


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


To get things started, 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.





The GeForce 8300 chipset took the tests for the win.


SPECviewperf 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 ASUS M3N78 Pro is the clear winner here.


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



There is no doubt the M3N78 Pro is the best contender.


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.




Chalk another one up for the ASUS M3N78 Pro motherboard!


Crysis is a new addition to the gaming benchmark suite used at 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:


Discrete Video Settings:












The GeForce 8300 comes out on top with the discrete cards, and pulls ahead in the integrated tests at higher resolutions.


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:












Again, the 8300 chipset pulls slightly ahead.


BioShock 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.


Integrated Video Settings:


Discrete Video Settings:











The Asus integrated video ended on top here against the Gigabyte, but the discrete tests were very close.


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:











It was a close one, but at the highest resolution, the 8300 chipset video came out on top.


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:












The 8300 chipset definitely performed better than the 8200 chipset here.


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 8200 chipset had the 8300 chipset beaten until the resolutions got to the max.


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:












Again the 8300 chipset pulls through.


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.















Yet again the 8300 chipset performed slightly better.


Well, the GeForce 8300 chipset does add that extra "oomph" that the GeForce 8200 chipset could not. With the support for future processors, and an inexpensive, well built board, the ASUS M3N78 Pro is a really good deal if you are looking for a solid platform for your next HTPC or workstation build. Gaming performance with a discrete card was close enough that I could not justify switching from the GeForce 8200 platform if that is what you are currently operating on, but for a new build I would choose this chipset. The integrated graphics, while you will not be able to hardcore game on it, provided decent results at lower resolutions, and was better than the GeForce 8200 mGPU in almost every test. One thing I could not for the life of me understand is why ASUS chose to place the SATA ports and the power ports where they did on this board. With all of the room on it, there are so many other places to put the ports that are out of the way.

Additionally, if you are planning to overclock, I would strongly recommend against purchasing the ASUS M3N78 Pro. The BIOS on this motherboard is pretty weak compared to other boards in this class I have tested, even when compared to the Gigabyte board. The M3N78 Pro only allows you to change the memory speed and voltage to preset limits, and you have no control over the memory timings. This can seriously hurt your performance if you have memory that operates better than JEDEC specs. Also, the processor vCore maxes out at 1.3v, which is why I could only get a 450MHz overclock, and that was it! If I could have gotten to 1.4v, I am sure I would have broken 3.0GHz. Finally, when I was overclocking, the chipset heatsink ran extremely hot, and I had to place a fan over it - so keep this in mind if you do overclock the M3N78 Pro. Overall, for the price it is a decent buy, and if you can live with the little downfalls and plan to run it at stock speeds - give it a whirl.