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AMD IGP Chipset and Motherboard Showdown

AMD IGP Chipset and Motherboard Showdown



Gigabyte GA-MA78GM-S2H (AMD 780G)

Gigabyte GA-MA78GM-S2H (AMD 780G)

Try browsing the major HTPC forums and Gigabyte's 780G board will probably be one of the more frequently mentioned and recommended ones. While other vendors also have similar mATX 780G boards targeted at HTPC enthusiasts, this little board from Gigabyte has garnered more than its fair share of attention. Why is that?

Firstly, it uses the AMD 780G chipset, which comes with an integrated Radeon HD 3200 GPU (with 40 stream processors) that is actually based on the Radeon HD 2400 GPU. By itself, the Radeon HD 2400 may be an entry level GPU but as an integrated component, it's quite an improvement over the existing IGP competition. A unified shader architecture with AMD's Universal Video Decoder (UVD) ensures decent performance for both HD video playback and modest gaming. Also, it can be combined with a Radeon HD 3450/3470 discrete graphics in Hybrid Graphics mode, which is basically Hybrid CrossFire (combining onboard and discrete graphics) for a modest performance boost.

Like other 780G boards, the Gigabyte's Radeon HD 3200 is clocked at 500MHz by default, with options of up to a rather unrealistic 1100MHz in the BIOS. The onboard frame buffer size can also be increased up to 512MB. As for the rest of the Northbridge, this board is ready for the Phenom processor, with HyperTransport 3.0 (1.8GHz) support and if you prefer to have a discrete graphics card, a PCIe 2.0 x16 slot ensures the latest GPUs will get the full bandwidth.

Although the Northbridge looks impressive, this trend is not continued with the SB700 Southbridge. While it's the start of a new 'generation', the SB700 is on paper only slightly better than the older SB600. There are only six SATA 3.0Gbps ports, a decent number but perhaps not sufficient for some of today's enthusiast users. It does have native IDE support for 2 devices along with 12 USB 2.0 ports. In terms of absolute numbers, it's an upgrade of the SB600 and that's about all. If you need something like RAID 5, you'll still need a SB750 solution. The other slight advantage would lie in the silicon with the SB700 on a 55nm manufacturing process compared with 80nm for the SB600. Hence, we expect a board that will run at lower temperatures.

For its mATX dimensions, the layout of the Gigabyte GA-MA78GM-S2H is quite decent. There are certain aspects that could be improved but at the same time, we realize that certain compromises are inevitable. For instance, the SATA ports and the single PCIe x1 slot could be aligned or positioned better. Having the rest of the other connectors (ATX power, IDE and floppy) together however is good practice while the number of outputs on this board is very decent. The two passive heatsinks onboard are relatively small and low profile, suitable for HTPC casings. Also, integrated Gigabit LAN (from Realtek) and HD Audio (from Realtek too) with DTS Connect support makes it one of the more featured mATX boards around.

Throw in Gigabyte's usual polished BIOS and the other proprietary features like the useful Q-Flash to update the BIOS and it's a very appealing package.