VM stands for "Value Motherboard"
690G Northbridge chip bearing AMD logo. How times have changed...
We have already disclosed basic features in this story, we will skip the talk about features and go straight to the point.
The motherboard itself... small, right?
Our test motherboard, the M2A-VM, comes from Asus, packed in mini-ATX form factor. In a high-end segment, this your typical motherboard that enthusiasts will put in home theatre machines, but almost 95 per cent of production of this board will end up in office and home computers, geared towards entry-level consumers. As such, the board does not come with some perks we have grown accustomed to, but the price is nice. M2A-VM is priced around moderate 50 quid, 80 Euro or US Dollar mark, so it is possible to assemble a complete computer for around 250 pounds or 350-400 Euro/Dollars. This is not far off the mark, and you could combine a good entry-level Sempron 3400+, 1GB of Corsair Value memory, 160GB hard disk drive and a LG DVD burner. El cheapo case and PSU will do, since this system will not rival air condition devices in terms of eaten power.
For this test, I've decided to offer my experience with this motherboard for the past sleepless 100 or so hours. We worked in shifts to get this review done in time, which was not so easy since we received the system on Sunday.
690G in office machine
We installed Windows XP Professional 32-bit,and 32- and 64-bit versions of Windows Vista Businesss.
For this usage model, we measure how much time it takes to open following applications: Adobe Photoshop 7.0, five 8.5 Mpixel photos, Microsoft Word 2007, a book with 276.000 characters, Adobe Acrobat 8.0 with 7MB PDF file and Microsoft Excel 2007 with 5MB spreadsheet.
It took 69 seconds for these apps to load, which is around five seconds behind nForce 6150+430 system, and 11 seconds ahead of a G965. Since the Core 2 Duo is a more powerful (and pricier) CPU, that the one we used (see below), we expected that the difference between chipsets would be eaten, but G965 acts like a handbrake. It shows you can have the best CPU in the world, but you still need a good motherboard to complete the cycle and have a good system.
690G in home PC
If you are assembling a PC for home use, an integrated platform is the ideal ma n' pa's computer - it does not cost a fortune and works with financial applications, home decorating software and so on. We hit zero problems while letting our IT-non-adept cousin installing Windows and all the drivers - AMD gets a bonus point here, since it provided the motherboard with no drivers whatsoever, my relative just went to the site (ati.amd.com), downloaded the integrated drivers and everything worked - this was something for which Nvidia has been especially treasured, since its Forceware driver suite was really "one fits all".
690G in HTPC
Using this board as a basis for a home theatre machine is a good idea, but there are some additional expenses which could turn you to alternatives. Performance should be decent enough to connect a huge storage array for Tivo functions, for example, as you have expandability to put in a discrete graphics card - but you will need to plug a TV tuner and a sound card to finish the job.
If you're dead set on 690G chipset, MSI has HDMI output integrated onboard and a decent surround audio subsystem.
On to the benchmarks
AMD gave us this motherboard, 580X-based M2A-CF and Athlon 64 X2 5200+. This CPU packs two cores running at a clock of 2.6GHz. This CPU is still based on 90nm SOI Windsor, but every core has 128KB of L1 and 1MB of L2 cache, just like old 4800+ and latest 6000+. You can easily conclude that this model is nothing else but a FX-70 using Socket AM2, and we have cooled our X2 5200+ with affordable Corsair Nautilus 500 water-cooling kit. For system memory, we opted for Geil PC2-8500/9600 Multispec Kit and we also tested OCZ's PC2-6400 ATI Edition memory kit. Power supply was a trusty workhorse, OCZ Gamexstream 850W, while hard drive was Seagate Barracuda with 250GB capacity.
The system we were comparing it to was based on an Intel Core 2 Duo E6400, which retails for round about equal money. However, bear in mind that Intel system ends up more expensive, since the board costs around $40 more. For equal pricing of the complete system, you would end up running Core 2 Duo E4300, which is a sizeable degrade from fully-fledged Conroe. This system consists of the following components:
Intel Core 2 Duo E6400
Corsair Nautilus 500
Gigabyte United GA-965GM-DS2, mATX
2GB GeIL PC2-8500/9600 MultiSpec Kit
Seagate Barracuda 250GB
OCZ GameXstream 850W
We installed Windows XP Professional 32-bit and Windows Vista Enterprise 64-bit on every system, but disclosed benchmarks are for WinXP only. In 3DMark05 Pro, 690G scored 1017 3Dmarks, while G965 scored 872. As you can see, these results are far from being spectacular. In CPUmark segment, 5200+ scores 5475, while E6400 makes it to 4784. Since we saw that these CPUs score well over 7000 with added graphics cards, you can now see what the hardware toll is when integrated graphics are active.
Fill-rate shows that 690G packs the punch, with 0.72 Gtexel/s in single-texturing and 1.61 Gtexel/s in
multi-texturing modes. At the same time, G965 is capable of achieving 0.70 Gtexel/s in single-texturing and 1.14
Gtexel/s in multi-texturing mode.
Pixel and Vertex shader are neck to neck, with 690G yielding 20.4fps and G965 barely making 16fps.
3DMark06 is something that kills much more powerful graphics cards out there, so we went out for a lunch until the test completed. End result is - 242 3Dmarks for 690G and 180 for G965. Gametests were running between 50 and 60 fpm (frames per minute) for AMD and 45-50 fpm for G965. For testing 3D applications, we chose Far Cry v1.4, Quake 4, Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, Need for Speed: Carbon and World of Warcraft.
We tried a ton of settings in order to find playable setups on G965, but the number of crashes and lack of texturing just made us feel we were doing something wrong. Intel owns more than half of world's graphics market, and it does so with parts which are inadequate for gaming and do not pass Microsoft DirectX tests - DCT 3.0. The only games that did not crash were NFS: Carbon, which runs in semi-texturing mode and WoW, which runs at 7-11 fps and drops to 1fps when you enter a town which has more occupants. We found WoW more playable on old systems with Riva TNT2 and Radeon 7500. 690G supported all of these apps, albeit at mediocre speeds at 1024x768. However, 800x600 is playable, so this is the resolution we recommend.
To move away from gaming, we also tested memory and disk performance. Here, the situation is more neck to neck. In Sisoft Sandra XI, ALU read speed is 5986 MB/s for 690G and 4489 MB/s for G965. FPU is around 6008 MB/s for 690G and 4512 MB/s for G965.
Everest Ultimate Edition is even worse: memory write test, which is far more important than read yields 6565 MB/s for 690G and only 4015 MB/s for G965. It is obvious that integrated graphics take their toll on hardware with around 1-1.5GB/s, because same 5200+ CPU scores 8GB/s when 8800GTS is inserted, and E6400 will rise up to 5.7 GB/s.
Hard disk performance was similar, with a little edge being on Intel side (65 vs. 66 MB/s in HDD test)
This chipset will be a good base for many notebooks and office computers. It would be ideal if ASUS would offer a DVI-only variant, so that owners of this motherboard can connect up to four different LCD screens using digital link only.
The question in the heads of gamers out there is probably - is 690G the answer to my gaming prayers? And the answer is yes and no. If you want to play World of Warcraft in 720p, you will get around 20-25fps with details set to low. While this is not ideal, G965 can only dream of this result: WoW ran at 11fps with lowest details even at 800x600, so we did felt a bit dissapointed. Game compatibility is present wherever you go, but performance still leaves us wanting for more. However, outside the gaming segment, things change in a lot of ways.
Excellent price/peformance ratio
Performance is above competing solutions
Integrated graphics is one step above G965 in speed, and a whole marathon ahead of G965 when it comes to application compatibility
Silent running - no active cooling necessary
No 5.1 or 7.1 surround audio
Integrated graphics is based on four year old marchitecture
Lack of FireWire and HDMI ports limits HTPC usage a bit
Reviewed and tested by Davor Baksa and Theo Valich
Lack of FireWire and HDMI ports limits HTPC usage a bit
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