MSI K9AGM2-FIH review
AMD introduces its first integrated chipset, and with generally impressive results - but which board do you buy?
AMD has always claimed its open-platform philosophy (where all chipset makers are invited to support AMD processors) encourages healthy competition and thus better products for customers. And this is set to continue, despite the company continuing ATi's chipset division and re-branding it AMD.
To gauge its performance, we compared the 690G with an Nvidia nForce 430 chipset containing the previously fastest integrated GPU - the GeForce 6150. The Nvidia chip scored 2 (out of, bizarrely, 5.9) for Aero performance in the new Windows Experience Index benchmark tool, and closer inspection revealed the window animations were sluggish and that video viewed within Flip 3D stuttered.
The same tests on the 690G chipset produced noticeably better results: the bubble effect of a new window was attractively smooth, while Flip 3D never stuttered. The Windows Experience Index agreed, with a score of 3.3 for Aero performance. And gaming benchmarks reinforced this point, with the 690G reaching an average of 16fps in Far Cry and 7fps in Call of Duty 2 at our lowest settings, compared with 8fps and 4fps from the GeForce 6150. The 690V variant of the chipset has an ATi Radeon X1200 to the X1250 of the 690G boards. This means that the 4-pixel pipeline DirectX 9 GPU runs at 350MHz rather than 400MHz, and that it lacks the dual-link DVI, HDMI and HDCP of the 690G.
Both variants have only 20 PCI Express lanes for expansion options, so CrossFire on 690 is unlikely. However, you can run two screens from any 690 motherboard, and up to four by adding an ATi X1000-series graphics card.
Paired up with the ATi SB600 south bridge, with its HD audio and integrated RAID controller, we were also impressed by the sheer performance. Our application benchmarks saw scores of 1.44 with our standard testing components - a very fast score, and despite the chipset drawing only 6W. To top it all off, AMD is also confident that the pricing of AMD 690 motherboards boards will significantly undercut comparatively featured Intel boards. The AMD 690 will not only ramp up competition between Intel and AMD, but should also raise the bar for AMD chipset makers too.
We have two retail boards to see what the new AMD 690G chipset can do. Asus promises that the M2A-VM should be in the shops imminently, while supplies from the MSI factory will hit the shelves at the beginning of April.
The MSI is worth holding out for if you're building a quiet media centre, as the BIOS has fantastic fan control options. We fitted an Arctic Cooling Freezer Pro 64 and set the fan to start only when our Athlon 64 FX-62 test CPU reached 50C (Athlon 64s are fine up to 61C). Light workloads saw infrequent and light fan movement, with only significant work leading to audible fan whirr. With no other active cooling, you've got the basis for a tranquil media centre, especially considering the HDMI output. And with two PCI slots plus the PCI Express graphics and 1x slot, there's enough expansion for TV tuners and the like.
Asus M2A-VM HDMI
The Asus is a bit more flexible since it has four DDR2 RAM sockets, so you're not left with the choice of buying an expensive 2GB now or else risk having to dump RAM in a later upgrade. And the back of the Asus has DVI out to go with the D-SUB, so you can connect to any TFT (the HDMI is supplied by a bundled PCI Express 1x card). The need for HDMI on a desktop is minimal at the moment, though, so you'll likely still have the two PCI slots, plus the 16x and 1x PCI Express slots for expansion cards. And, if you consider that you get high-definition audio, a RAID controller for the four SATA ports, Gigabit Ethernet and a superb desktop graphics chip, those slots should be plenty. With an estimated price of around £50, either motherboard is an absolute bargain.