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Gigabyte GA-MA74GM-S2: AMD 690G, Take 2

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The new AMD 740G chipset is a refresh of the popular 690G. Gigabyte’s budget priced GA-MA74GM-S2 shows us what the die shrink has done by giving us the lowest idle power draw for any micro-ATX board to date.

Gigabyte GA-MA74GM-S2 Motherboard: 690G – Take 2

August 28, 2008 by Lawrence Lee

Product Gigabyte GA-MA74GM-S2
AM2/AM2+ Motherboard
Manufacturer Gigabyte
Street Price US$60

The AMD 690G chipset with its Radeon X1250 integrated graphics processor
was a breakthrough when it was released almost a year and a half ago. Not only
did it perform unusually well with 3D graphics (for an IGP), but it was also
more versatile than anything the competition had at the time. AVIVO made high
definition playback much easier, SurroundView allowed users to use two displays
at once (even with a non-ATI graphics card) and DVI and HDMI outputs were standard
features.

The HD3200 IGP that is part of the newer 780G
chipset
was even more powerful, redefining 3D performance for an onboard
video sub-system, and put Intel IGPs to shame. 780G wasn’t as revolutionary
as its predecessor — for high definition playback and power consumption,
our testing showed very little difference. This is a testament to 690G. The
690G is far from obsolete, and AMD seems to realize this as well. Traditionally,
older chipsets just get left by the wayside as technology marches on, but this
time, AMD has refreshed the 690G with a die-shrink, reducing the fabrication
process from 80mm to 65mm, to lower power consumption and reduce production
costs. It could very well breathe a little extra life and excitement into a
chipset that isn’t quite ready for retirement.

The revised chipset has a new name, 740G, though the fabrication process seems
to be the only thing that has changed. On paper, it appears virtually identical
to 690G so we don’t expect any surprises. The board we are looking at today
is made by Gigabyte, one of their "S-series" of motherboards positioned
as low-cost, value products. As such, it isn’t loaded the brim with features
like most 780G boards, but it’s rare that we find use for all the extra features
anyway.


The board ships in a typical, not oversized box.


Box contents.

Gigabyte GA-MA74GM-S2: Specifications (from the
product web page
)
CPU
1. Support for Socket AM2+/ AM2 processors: AMD Phenom™
FX processor/ AMD Phenom™ x4 processor/ AMD Phenom™ x3 processor/
Athlon™X2 processor/ AMD Athlon™ processor/ AMD Sempron™
processor

(Note) If you install AMD AM2+ CPU on AM2 motherbord, the system bus speed
will downgrade from HT3.0(5200MHz) to HT1.0(2000 MT/s) spec; however,
the frequency of AM2+ CPU will not be impacted. Please refer "CPU
Support List" for more information.

Hyper Transport Bus
1. 2000 MT/s
Chipset
1. North Bridge: AMD 740G
2. South Bridge: AMD SB700
Memory
1. 2 x 1.8V DDR2 DIMM sockets supporting up to 8 GB of
system memory (Note 1)
2. Dual channel memory architecture
3. Support for DDR2 800/667 MHz memory modules
Onboard Graphics
1. Integrated in the North Bridge
Audio
1. Realtek ALC888 codec
2. High Definition Audio
3. 2/4/5.1/7.1-channel (Note 2)
4. Support for S/PDIF Out
5. Support for CD In
LAN
1. Realtek 8111C chip (10/100/1000 Mbit)
Expansion Slots
1. 1 x PCI Express x16 slot
2. 1 x PCI Express x1 slot
3. 2 x PCI slots
Storage Interface
South Bridge:
1. 1 x IDE connector supporting ATA-133/100/66/33 and up to 2 IDE devices
2. 6 x SATA 3Gb/s connectors supporting up to 6 SATA 3Gb/s devices
3. Support for SATA RAID 0, RAID 1 and RAID 10

iTE IT8718 chip:
1. 1 x floppy disk drive connector supporting up to 1 floppy disk drive

USB
Integrated in the South Bridge 1. Up to 12 USB 2.0/1.1
ports (4 on the back panel, 8 via the USB brackets connected to the internal
USB headers)
Internal I/O Connectors
1. 1 x 24-pin ATX main power connector
2. 1 x 4-pin ATX 12V power connector
3. 1 x floppy disk drive connector
4. 1 x IDE connector
5. 6 x SATA 3Gb/s connectors
6. 1 x CPU fan header
7. 1 x system fan header
8. 1 x front panel header
9. 1 x front panel audio header
10. 1 x CD In connector
11. 1 x S/PDIF In/Out header
12. 4 x USB 2.0/1.1 headers
13. 1 x Serial port header
14. 1 x chassis intrusion header
15. 1 x power LED header
Back Panel Connectors
1. 1 x PS/2 keyboard port
2. 1 x Parallel port
3. 1 x D-Sub port
4. 1 x DVI-D port (Note 3)
5. 1 x coaxial S/PDIF Out connector
6. 4 x USB 2.0/1.1 ports
7. 1 x RJ-45 port
8. 3 x audio jacks (Line In/Line Out/Microphone)
I/O Controller
1. ITE IT8718 chip
H/W Monitoring
System voltage detection 1. CPU/System temperature detection
2. CPU/System fan speed detection
3. CPU overheating warning
4. CPU/System fan fail warning
5. CPU/System fan speed control (Note 4)
BIOS
1. 1 x 8 Mbit flash
2. Use of licensed AWARD BIOS
3. PnP 1.0a, DMI 2.0, SM BIOS 2.4, ACPI 1.0b
Unique Features
1. Support for @BIOS
2. Support for Download Center
3. Support for Q-Flash
4. Support for EasyTune (Note 5)
5. Support for Xpress Install
6. Support for Xpress Recovery2
7. Support for Virtual Dual BIOS
Bundle Software
1. Norton Internet Security (OEM version)
Operating System
1. Support for Microsoft Windows Vista/ XP
Form Factor
1. Micro ATX Form Factor; 24.4cm x 23.4cm
Remark
1. Due to different Linux support condition provided by
chipset vendors, please download Linux driver from chipset vendors’ website
or 3rd party website.
2. Due to most hardware/software vendors no longer offer support for Win9X/ME.
If some vendors still has Win9X/ME drivers available, we will publish
on website.
Notes
(Note 1) Due to Windows XP 32-bit operating system limitation,
when more than 4 GB of physical memory is installed, the actual memory
size displayed will be less than 4 GB.
(Note 2) To configure 7.1-channel audio, you need connect with the port
of HD Audio standard via front panel and enable the multi-channel audio
feature through the audio driver.
(Note 3) The DVI-D port does not support D-Sub connection by adapter.
(Note 4) Whether the CPU/System fan speed control function is supported
will depend on the CPU you install.
(Note 5) Available functions in Easytune may differ by motherboard model.

PHYSICAL DETAILS & LAYOUT

A board’s layout is important in several regards. The positioning of components
can dictate compatibility with other products (third party heatsinks mainly)
and also ease of installation. Poorly placed power connectors can also airflow
and make the system more thermally challenging.


Bird’s eye view.

At first glance, the layout is eeriely similar to the MA78GM-S2H.
From connector placement to heatsink construction, the boards appear identical
with only one exception — the new board has only two memory slots. As 2GB
DIMMs are now widely available, this shouldn’t be a concern unless you plan
on using more than 4GB of RAM. The lack of memory slots is really the only clue
that this is a budget motherboard — Gigabyte has provided 4 USB expansion
headers and 6 SATA ports, unheard of in the $60 price range. The layout is good,
with all connectors on the edges and there are two fan headers, both of the
4-pin, PWM variety.


Viewed from the side.

The chipset heatsinks are well designed with many thin fins, though the one
sitting atop the northbridge is much shorter than normal — this is necessary
due to its close proximity to the PCI-E 1x expansion slot. To cut costs, only
the capacitors that handle CPU power regulation are of the solid-state variety.


Back panel connectors.

The back panel isn’t loaded with outputs, but it does offer enough to satisfy
most users. Both VGA and DVI outputs are provided as well as a coaxial S/PDIF
port. No HDMI unfortunately as it is a low-cost solution. The PS/2 mouse port
has been done away with, so be sure to have a USB mouse handy.

BIOS

BIOS options on mATX boards are typically very spartan. The
presence of an IGP and the more limited cooling associated with an mATX platform
makes manufacturers nervous about allowing users the ability to customize
their clock/voltage settings.


"Advanced" options.

The "MB Intelligent Tweaker" menu provides most access
to most of the settings the majority of enthusiasts are after. CPU and memory
clocks and voltages can be adjusted to varying degrees. The onboard graphics
processor’s core speed can be altered if desired.

Notable Available BIOS Adjustments
Setting
Options
CPU Frequency200Mhz to 500Mhz in 1Mhz increments
PCI-E Frequency100Mhz to 200Mhz in 1Mhz increments
VGA Core Clock200Mhz to 600Mhz in 1Mhz increments
Memory Frequency400/533/667/800Mhz (may depend on CPU)
Memory TimingsVarious
CPU Voltage0.800V to 1.550V in 0.025V increments,
1.550V to 1.900V in 0.050V increments
Memory Voltage+0.1, +0.2V, +0.3V
Northbridge VoltageN/A
Video Memory Size 64MB, 128MB, 256MB, 512MB

A wide range CPU voltages can be selected, but memory voltage
is very limited with the maximum being +0.3V (or 2.1V total). Chipset voltage
is absent.


"PC Health Status."

The PC Health menu provides a quick overview of voltages, temperatures
and fan speeds. Built-in fan control is available for both fan headers. The
CPU Smart Fan control supports both DC and PWM fans, though setting the mode
to "Auto" is probably best.

TEST METHODOLOGY

Test Setup:

Measurement and Analysis Tools

Our main test procedure is designed to determine the overall system power
consumption at various states (measured using a Seasonic Power Angel), and to
test the integrated graphics’ proficiency at playing back high definition videos.
Standard HD-DVD and Blu Ray discs can be encoded in three different codecs by
design: MPEG-2, H.264/AVC and VC-1. MPEG-2 has been around for a number of years
and is not demanding on modern system resources. H.264 and VC-1 encoded videos
on the other hand, due to the amount of complexity in their compression schemes,
are extremely stressful and will not play smoothly (or at all) on slower PCs,
especially with antiquated video subsystems.

We use a variety of H.264/VC-1 clips encoded for playback on the PC. The clips
are played with PowerDVD 7 and a CPU usage graph is created by the Windows Task
Manger for analysis to determine the approximate mean and peak CPU usage. High
CPU usage is indicative of poor video decoding ability on the part of the integrated
graphics subsystem. If the video (and/or audio) skips or freezes, we conclude
the board’s IGP (in conjunction with the processor) is adequate to decompress
the clip properly.

Cool’n’Quiet was enabled, and the following features/services were disabled
during testing to prevent spikes in CPU/HDD usage typical of fresh Vista installations:

  • User Access Control
  • Microsoft Defender
  • Windows Sidebar
  • Indexing
  • ReadyBoost
  • Superfetch
  • Windows Search
  • Security Center
  • Aero interface

Video Test Suite


1080p | 24fps | ~10mbps
H.264:
Rush Hour 3 Trailer 1
is encoded in H.264 with Apple Quicktime.

1080p | 24fps | ~7.5mbps
WMV3:
Coral Reef Adventure trailer
is encoded in VC-1 using the
WMV3 codec (commonly recognized by the moniker, "HD WMV").

720p | 60fps | ~12mbps
WVC1: Microsoft Flight Simulator X trailer
is encoded in VC-1. It is encoded using the Windows Media Video 9
Advanced Profile (aka WVC1) codec — a much more demanding implementation
of VC-1.

1920×1080 | 24fps | ~19mbps
WVC1: Drag Race is a recording of a scene from
network television re-encoded with TMPGEnc using the WVC1 codec. It
is the most demanding clip in our test suite.

TEST RESULTS

Our test system is fairly basic, featuring an OEM 80Plus power supply, notebook
hard drive and Blu-ray drive. The CPU is a X2 4850e, a mid-level dual core 45W
processor. It is cooled by a stock AMD heatpipe cooler with PWM fan connected
to a variable DC fan controller (so the fan’s power draw does not come into
play).

Test Results: Gigabyte GA-MA74GM-S2
Test State
X2 4850e @ 2.5Ghz, C&Q
X2 4850e @ 1.5Ghz/1.1V
Mean CPU Use
Peak CPU Use
System Power
Mean CPU Use
Peak CPU Use
System Power
Off
N/A
2W
N/A
2W
Sleep (S3)
N/A
2W
N/A
2W
Idle
1%
2%
31W
1%
2%
33W
Rush Hour
42%
64%
58W
62%
97%
46W
Coral Reef
37%
46%
58W
53%
63%
46W
Flight Sim.
64%
77%
63W
86%
96%
50W
Drag Race
69%
80%
66W
87%
95%
51W
CPUBurn
100%
92W
100%
56W
CPUBurn + ATITool
100%
97W
100%
61W

At stock CPU speed, the power consumption figures, especially at the low-end
were truly impressive. Idling at a 31W is a new record for a mATX board in our
lab. Video playback was good, though H.264 playback required more CPU support
than more modern GPUs due to the lack of ATI’s UVD — typically it’s the easiest
clip in our test suite.

With the CPU underclocked to 1.5Ghz, power consumption under load was much
better though both of our VC-1 test clips failed to play back properly — the
audio stream exhibited clipping when it was played. It seems that 1.5Ghz is
not quite enough to get through our test suite. Luckily the vast majority of
AMD’s dual core processors are 2Ghz or faster.

Loading the GPU with ATITool while CPUBurn was running resulted in a 5W difference
at both CPU speeds we tested at.

Test Results: 690G vs. 740G vs. 780G @ 2.5Ghz
Test State
Asus
M2A-VM HDMI
Gigabyte
GA-MA74GM-S2
Asus
M3A78 Pro
Mean CPU Use
System Power
Mean CPU Use
System Power
Mean CPU Use
System Power
Off
N/A
2W
N/A
2W
N/A
2W
Sleep (S3)
N/A
3W
N/A
2W
N/A
3W
Idle
1%
40W
1%
31W
1%
39W
Rush Hour
38%
70W
42%
58W
6%
64W
Coral Reef
33%
68W
37%
58W
42%
65W
Flight Sim.
58%
71W
64%
63W
71%
69W
Drag Race
63%
72W
69%
66W
73%
69W
CPUBurn
100%
89W
100%
92W
100%
82W
CPUBurn + ATITool
100%
92W
100%
97W
100%
94W

Compared to 690G and 780G boards from Asus, the MA74GM-S2’s low-load power
efficiency is even more pronounced. When idle, it consumes a full 9W less than
the M2A-VM and 8W
less than the M3A78 Pro.
Power consumption during video playback was also noticeably lower. It is not
until the CPU is put at full load that the other two boards are able to claim
lower power draw.

Test Results: 690G vs. 740G vs. 780G @ 1.5Ghz/1.1V
Test State
Asus
M2A-VM HDMI
Gigabyte
GA-MA74GM-S2
Asus
M3A78 Pro
Mean CPU Use
System Power
Mean CPU Use
System Power
Mean CPU Use
System Power
Off
N/A
2W
N/A
2W
N/A
2W
Sleep (S3)
N/A
3W
N/A
2W
N/A
4W
Idle
1%
43W
1%
33W
1%
34W
Rush Hour
58%
52W
62%
46W
8%
40W
Coral Reef
48%
51W
53%
46W
52%
46W
Flight Sim.
81%
53W
86%
50W
87%
50W
Drag Race
87%
54W
87%
51W
87%
50W
CPUBurn
100%
59W
100%
56W
100%
54W
CPUBurn + ATITool
100%
62W
100%
61W
100%
64W

At 1.5Ghz, the MA74GM-S2 is more power efficient across the board than the
M2A-VM, albeit to a lesser degree than at stock settings. The 780G-equipped
board, with the UVD feature, had much lower CPU utilization and power consumption
during H.264 playback, but otherwise matched the MA74GM-S2 in every test state,
almost watt-for-watt. When the CPU clock and voltage are reduced, the playing
field is much more level.

FAN CONTROL

SpeedFan is our application of choice for customizable fan control. If properly
supported, it can be configured to raise/lower multiple fan speeds to designated
limits when any specified temperature threshold is breached.


SpeedFan and PC Health.

The screenshot above shows the correlation between SpeedFan’s readings and
the temperature and fan speed sensors. Most of the readings in SpeedFan were
corroborated by Gigabyte’s EasyTune utility, though there was a mysterous "Temp3"
that seemed to rise with CPU temperature but it was in a much higher range —
between 70°C and 100°C. Also, we could not locate the sensor for the
so-called "System" temperature — increasing the cooling around
the southbridge, northbridge and VRM areas did not lower this reading during
load.

SpeedFan can be configured to control both the CPU and Chassis fan headers.
Setting PWM modes 1 and 2 in the Advanced menu from "SmartGuardian"
to "Software Controlled" enables the speed controls. They offer a
full range of control for both PWM and DC fans.

If you prefer to use the board’s own Smart Fan feature, it does work fairly
well. We tested it by connecting the fan on the CPU cooler to a variable DC
fan controller set to a relatively low 5V and proceeded to stress the processor
using CPUBurn. The CPU and Chassis fan speeds were monitored and graphed using
SpeedFan. A Scythe 80mm connected to the Chassis fan header stayed at about
860RPM (7V) throughout testing. A Scythe 92mm PWM fan connected to the CPU fan
header started out at 400RPM until the core temperature reached 34°C at
which point it began to gradually ramp out. It increased in speed incrementally
about 50RPM for every two degrees until it hit 42°C when the increase in
speed doubled. It eventually reached the fan’s maximum speed of 2560RPM at approximately
66°C. On some boards the fan throttles quite abruptly when certain target
temperatures are reached. The exact opposite was the case here as the fan increased
in speed very smoothly.


The default Smart Fan settings.

Smart Fan’s behavior can actually be customized using the EasyTune utility.
By default the minimum fan setting is 31% and the minimum and maximum temperatures
(the range in which the CPU fan speed will increase) is 20°C and 65°C
respectively. The range can be adjusted to how fast you prefer the CPU to ramp
up in speed. Note the the maximum fan speed cannot be changed — it is stuck
at 100%.

OVERCLOCKING

With effective third party heatsinks on the market, and many low power CPUs
available, overclocking, to an extent, can improve performance without compromising
the noise level of a silent PC. A simple overclocking investigation was conducted
with the CPU multiplier set to 5x and RAM at 533Mhz/2.10V. The CPU frequency
was increased in increments of 5Mhz/10Mhz until the system failed a 5
minute run of Prime95 with ATITool 3DView running simultaneously or failed to
boot or showed other signs of instability.


The maximum FSB overclock with our X2 4850e.

Our sample board and processor could take a maximum frequency boost of 255Mhz,
or 28% above stock. No graphical anamolies were detected by ATITool suggesting
the overclock did not compromise the video subsystem. With ample voltage applied
to our X2 4850e processor, we managed to get it stable at 2.93Ghz using a 11.5x
multiplier.

3D PERFORMANCE

To get a rough estimate of how well the HD2100 GPU plays games, we ran 3DMark05/06.
As a synthetic benchmark, it has limited value, but it should give you a good
idea of how well it performs.

3D Performance: Futuremark Comparison
Motherboard/GPU
3DMark05
3DMark06
Asus M2A-VM HDMI
(X1250 IGP)
1060
286
Gigabyte MA74GM-S2
(X2100 IGP)
1124
305
Asus M3N78 Pro
(GF8300 IGP)
1669
902
Gigabyte MA78GM-2SH
(HD3200 IGP)
2293
1116
Gigabyte MA78GM-2SH
(HD3450 256MB)
3405
1716
All systems equipped with 2GB of system RAM and 256MB
of VRAM assigned for IGPs.

As you can see there was very little improvement over the X1250 IGP. While
you may look at the results and think, "HD3200 is twice as fast,"
keep in mind that none of the current integrated GPUs on the market are a match
for even a $30 discrete graphics card such as the Radeon HD3450.

COOLING

To test how well the chipset heatsinks performed, we overclocked the CPU frequency
to 255Mhz, and lowered CPU cooling fan’s voltage to 7V to reduce the amount
of top down airflow the board received. After 20 minutes of stressing the system
with CPUBurn, the northbridge heatsink reached 61°C according to an IR thermometer
— hot enough that three seconds of direct skin contact was too much to
handle. The southbridge cooler on the otherhand was only mildly warm, registering
only 48°C. The power regulation circuitry to the left of the CPU socket
also got extremely hot — a few of them registered between 90°C and
95°C. This suggests that efficiency drops at higher load; the board drew
more power during full load testing than the 690G and 780G boards.

FINAL THOUGHTS

At idle, the Gigabyte GA-MA74GM-S2 proved to be the most energy efficient mATX
motherboard we’ve ever tested. It is an excellent choice for a low-power system
(such as a server or media extender), and when paired with one of AMD’s 45W
dual core processors, it doesn’t sacrifice much in terms of performance. Intel’s
desktop processors may offer more speed, but they also come with higher idle
power consumption. Before today, the lead was about 10W idle, but with the release
of the 740G chipset, the lead is more like 20W.

The Gigabyte board’s fan control is very flexible. Smart Fan control results
in a smooth ramp up of the CPU fan speed, and it can be adjusted to your own
preferences using Gigabyte’s EasyTune utility. For those looking for even more
control, both fan headers can be controlled via SpeedFan, whether they be standard
3-pin DC or 4-pin PWM fans. The cooling on the board is adequate for the actual
chipsets, but we found the MOSFETs near the CPU socket got incredibly hot during
load. An extra heatsink for these components would not be amiss, but it seems
the added expense can only be justified on high-end boards. The voltage regulators
may not be able to handle the highest TDP processor — the newest 140W Phenoms
are absent from the board’s CPU
support list
.

High definition video playback has not improved compared to its predecessor,
the 690G chipset, but honestly it was plenty good to begin with and still perfectly
suitable for H.264 or VC-1 playback. Its 3D performance takes a step back from
the superior performance of nVidia’s Geforce 8300 and AMD’s HD 3200 IGPs, which
is of interest to casual gamers. A more "serious" gamer will surely
want the performance of a discrete graphics card. The board also lacks HDMI
output, though it’s probably too much to ask for it on a $60 board.

As 740G is meant to replace 690G in AMD’s chipset line-up, it is priced very
attractively. While it is, for all intents and purposes, the same chip manufactured
on a smaller fabrication process, the resulting decrease in power consumption
is significant enough to make it more than a worthwhile successor. It’s just
about ideal for an inexpensive, capable and power efficient home server.

PROS

* Outstanding idle/light load power consumption
* Low price
* Good HD video playback
* Flexible fan control

CONS

* Limited 3D performance
* VRMs get very hot

Our thanks to Gigabyte
for the GA-MA74GM-S2 sample.

* * *

Articles of Related Interest
Asus P5E3 Premium: A Mean, Green
Motherboard?

Asus M3A78 Pro: An ATX 780G
Motherboard

Asus M3N78 Pro: Geforce 8300
& HybridPower Explored

AMD 780G: Best Ever Integrated
Mainstream Chipset?

Asus P5E-VM HDMI: A microATX
C2D board for gamers?

* * *

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