The ASUS M4A785TD-M EVO
The ASUS M4A785TD-M EVO
Our first AMD 785G contender comes from ASUS, clad in attractive shades of blue on a dark brown PCB. Our next impression is that ASUS has quietly upgraded its motherboard PCBs with 2oz of copper to match that of its competitor Gigabyte, which started this trend last year as part of its Ultra Durable 3 feature. While the concrete benefits of having more copper in the PCB are hard to pin down, we aren't complaining if every vendor ends up following this, like the now-widespread use of solid capacitors.
It is however telling that even a mainstream board is getting this treatment nowadays as it certainly shows the industry as a whole is improving the quality of their products.
Coming back to the ASUS EVO, as we shall dub it, besides the extra copper, it comes with solid Japanese capacitors to further enhance its billing for quality and stability. That aside, the board itself follows a conventional layout that's certainly very usable, though there are some areas which attention is required and which we'll highlight later.
Vendors have tried but never really managed to ditch the legacy PS/2 connectors and the ASUS EVO here does a halfhearted attempt here by leaving one PS/2 keyboard port. That means USB ports are needed to compensate, though with six USB 2.0 ports at the rear, it should be about enough. An eSATA port here gets the thumbs up from us, while the other connectivity options, like HDMI and optical S/PDIF outputs are standard and expected for this chipset.
ASUS surprised us by having minimal passive cooling on this board. Even the heatsink for the 785G chip is a modest sized one. However, that small heatsink still managed to be located rather too close to the PCIe x1 slot, so you're unlikely able to install any large add-on cards in that slot. Here's one instance where the layout falls slightly short.
In case you haven't noticed from the specifications, the EVO is a AM3 motherboard that only accepts DDR3 memory and an AM3 AMD processor. ASUS claims that it's possible to overclock the memory to 1800MHz but our attempt to use DDR3-1866 memory modules with this board only yielded 1333MHz. It also comes with an additional 128MB cache of SidePort memory (using Nanya RAM) to improve the graphics performance slightly.
Another decision that may be contentious with users is the removal of floppy drive support. Not many users will miss it, especially with Windows and BIOS based utilities for tasks like updating the BIOS. However, ASUS has maintained other older technologies here, with LPT and COM headers on the PCB.
Other features include Gigabit Ethernet, 8-channel HD audio courtesy of a VIA VT1708S chip and FireWire support for a rather well-rounded integrated solutions motherboard.
We're not the biggest fans of SATA ports that are aligned in this fashion, though ASUS just about gets away with it by placing them at the very edge of the PCB. There are only five SATA ports though, the sixth (as expected from the SB710) presumably tapped for use by the rear eSATA port. Given its mainstream nature, we were not expecting onboard switches for power, etc and there are none to be found. Clearing the CMOS is done through a jumper.
Finally, ASUS continues to blitz us with its variety of software and BIOS based tools that enhance their motherboards. The company's EPU Engine that regulates power consumption by dynamically changing the power phases is here, though it's a four-phase version instead of the six we have seen on higher end motherboards. Add to that - ASUS' Express Gate that boots up quickly to a Linux based interface, its BIOS flashing utility (EZ Flash 2) and even an auto overclocking software utility (ASUS GPU NOS) for the integrated graphics with its own dedicated chip onboard to control the necessary adjustments.