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[nextpage title=”Introduction”]

Abit AN-M2 is a socket AM2 motherboard with on-board video based on GeForce 7025-630a chipset from NVIDIA, competing directly in both price and functionalities with motherboards based on AMD 690V and AMD 690G, thus targeted to digital entertainment PCs. Let’s take a look at the performance and features of Abit AN-M2.

Abit AN-M2Figure 1: Abit AN-M2 motherboard.

We haven’t reviewed a motherboard from Abit since they were bought by Universal Scientific Industrial (USI) and changed their official name to Universal Abit, one year and a half ago. Even though the name is the same, the company is different. In order to differentiate themselves from the “old” Abit, they now write their name in lower case, “abit”, while the “old” Abit was written in all caps, “ABIT”. Anyway, we were very curious to review one of their new motherboards to take a look at what they’ve been doing.

NVidia released recently two new chipsets with integrated graphics, GeForce 7050 and GeForce 7025. The main difference between the two is the support for HDMI and PureVideo on GeForce 7050, features not present on GeForce 7025. PureVideo is the name give by NVIDIA to their set of 2D enhancements, like video de-interlacing. This feature is known on the AMD/ATI world as Avivo.

The other basic specs remain the same from the GeForce 6100 series, like Shader 3.0 (DirectX 9.0) engine, engine core running at 425 MHz (475 MHz on GeForce 6150 except LE and SE models) and two pixel shader processors and two vertex shader processors. There are some minor differences, and you can see them on the table from Figure 2, which was taken from NVIDIA’s website.

Abit AN-M2Figure 2: Differences between GeForce 7000 and GeForce 6100 chipsets.

AMD 690V also doesn’t support HDMI, runs at a lower clock rate (350 MHz) and has only one video controller, providing only one video output. AMD 690G runs at 400 MHz and supports HDMI – even though not all AMD 690G motherboards come with a HDMI connector –, thus being in this respect a direct competitor to GeForce 7050, not 7025. However, GeForce 7025 has two independent video outputs, just like AMD 690G. Both AMD chipsets are Shader 2.0 parts (DirectX 9.0) but have four pixel shader processors and four vertex shader processors, double the amount found on NVIDIA chipsets.

The good thing about GeForce 7025 is that it has two independent video controllers inside, providing two video outputs on-board. Abit AN-M2 comes with two video outputs: one standard VGA output and one DVI output, allowing you to connect two video monitors to your computer at the same time without needing to install an add-on video card. This is simply great, especially if you think that the primary target of this motherboard is digital home PCs.

In summary, GeForce 7025 is better than AMD 690V because it has two video outputs, but AMD 690 series has Avivo, while GeForce 7025 doesn’t have a similar technology (PureVideo).

Before going further, we need to clarify that GeForce 7025 is a single-chip solution, integrating on the same chip the equivalent of a north bridge and a south bridge. The south bridge that is integrated inside GeForce 7025 is called nForce 630a and that’s why you will see GeForce 7025 being also referred as GeForce 7025-630a.

Of Figure 3 you can see the connectors present on the motherboard rear panel: PS/2 mouse, PS/2 keyboard, optical SPDIF out, VGA, DVI, analog audio inputs and outputs, four USB 2.0 ports and  Gigabit Ethernet port. There is no serial or parallel ports on this motherboard, not even through an I/O bracket.

Abit AN-M2Figure 3: Rear panel connectors.

[nextpage title=”Introduction (Cont’d)”]

As you could see in Figure 1, this motherboard provides one x16 PCI Express slot for you to install a “real” video card in the future. It also has one x1 PCI Express slot and two regular PCI slots.

This motherboard has four SATA-300 ports and one ATA-133 port, all controlled by the chipset. The SATA ports support RAID 0, 1, 0+1 and 5. Here is another difference between NVIDIA and AMD chipsets: NVIDIA chipsets support RAID 5, while AMD chipsets don’t. On the other hand AMD chipsets support RAID 10, while NVIDIA chipsets support RAID 0+1, which is different: On RAID 0+1 if one of the hard drives fails, the system becomes a RAID 0 system (stripping). On RAID10, if one of the hard drives fails, the system becomes a RAID 1 system (mirroring).

It has 10 USB 2.0 ports (four soldered on the motherboard) and no FireWire ports.
 
It also has Gigabit Ethernet, controlled by the chipset and using a Marvell 88E1116 chip to make the physical layer interface.

On the audio section, this motherboard has eight channels provided by the chipset together with a Realtek ALC888 codec. The audio section of this motherboard is probably its best feature, because usually motherboards with on-board video use low-end codec, like Realtek ALC883, which provides a lousy 85 dB signal-to-noise ratio for its inputs. ALC888, on the other hand, provides fair specs for the average user, with a 90 dB signal-to-noise ratio for its inputs and a 97 dB signal-to-noise ratio for its outputs. The maximum sampling rate of its inputs is of 96 kHz, while its outputs supports up to 192 kHz. While these specs are enough for the average user, someone thinking of working professionally with analog audio editing and capturing should look for a motherboard with at least 95 dB SNR and 192 kHz sampling rate for its inputs.

This motherboard also provides full 7.1 analog audio jacks on its rear panel, feature not found on all motherboards with 7.1 audio around. So you can easily hook an analog 5.1 or 7.1 set of speakers to this motherboard. This motherboard also has one optical SPDIF out connector, another feature not easily found on motherboards with integrated video, making it easy for you to hook your PC to your home theater receiver with the best audio quality possible.

This motherboard has four DDR2-DIMM sockets, two black and two blue, accepting up to 8 GB of DDR2-400/667/800 memory. This is great, because several motherboards with on-board video have only two sockets, restricting your options for upgrading your memory in the future. With this motherboard if you want more memory you just have to buy two extra memory modules and install them on the empty sockets. We are saying “two” because socket AM2 processors support dual-channel feature and on this motherboard to enable this feature you simply need to install the modules on sockets with the same color.

The overall construction quality is top-notch. Abit used a passive heatsink on top of the MOSFET transistors from the voltage regulator circuitry (see Figure 4), which is great to ensure a longer life span for these components. Also all capacitors on this motherboard are Japanese, from Rubycon, including the capacitors from the audio section (several manufacturers use Japanese capacitors all around the board but on the audio section). This way you won’t face any capacitor leakage problem in the future. To make the quality of this motherboard even better Abit could have used ferrite coils instead of iron coils on the voltage regulator circuit, but that would be asking too much for a low-end motherboard.

Abit AN-M2Figure 4: Passive heatsink on top of the voltage regulator transistors.

In Figure 5, you can see everything that comes with the motherboard.

Abit AN-M2Figure 5: Motherboard accessories.

Before going to our performance tests, let’s recap the main features of the reviewed board.

[nextpage title=”Main Specifications”]

Abit AN-M2 main features are:

  • Socket: AM2.
  • Chipset: NVIDIA GeForce 7025/nForce 630a.
  • Super I/O: Winbond W83627DHG
  • Parallel IDE: One ATA-133 port.
  • Serial IDE: Four SATA-300 ports controlled by the chipset supporting RAID 0, 1, 0+1 and 5.
  • USB: Ten USB 2.0 ports (four soldered on the motherboard and six available through I/O brackets that don’t come with the motherboard).
  • FireWire (IEEE 1394a): No.
  • On-board audio: Produced by the chipset together with Realtek ALC888 codec (eight channels, 24-bit resolution, up to 96 kHz sampling rate for the inputs and up to 192 kHz sampling rate for the outputs, 90 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the inputs and 97 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the outputs).
  • On-board video: Yes, produced by GeForce 7025.
  • On-board LAN: Yes, Gigabit Ethernet (1,000 Mbps) controlled by the chipset together with a Marvel 88E1116 chip to make the physical layer interface.
  • Buzzer: Yes.
  • Power supply: ATX12V v2.x (24-pin).
  • Slots: One x16 PCI Express, one x1 PCI Express and two PCI slots.
  • Memory: Four DDR2-DIMM sockets (up to 8 GB up to DDR2-800/PC2-6400).
  • Number of CDs that come with this motherboard: 1 CD.
  • Programs included: Motherboard drivers and utilities.
  • Extra features: None.
  • More Information: https://www.uabit.com
  • Average price in the US*: USD 80.00

* Researched at Shopping.com on the day we published this review.

[nextpage title=”How We Tested”]

During our benchmarking sessions, we used the configuration listed below. Between our benchmarking sessions the only variable was the motherboard being tested.
 
Hardware Configuration

Software Configuration

  • Windows XP Professional installed using NTFS
  • Service Pack 2
  • DirectX 9.0c

Driver Versions

  • ATI video and chipset driver version: 7.2 IGP
  • Nvidia video driver version: 93.71 (on GeForce 6100 and 6200)
  • Nvidia video driver version: 101.17 (on GeForce 7025)
  • Nvidia video driver version: 158.22 (on GeForce 8800 GTS)
  • Nvidia nForce chipset driver version: 8.26 (on ECS GeForce6100SM)
  • Nvidia nForce chipset driver version: 14.10 (on Abit AN-M2)
  • Nvidia nForce chipset driver version: 9.35 (on ASUS M2N32-SLI Deluxe)
  • Audio driver version: Realtek R1.60
  • Audio driver version: Realtek A3.86 (on ECS RS485M-M)

Used Software

We adopted a 3% error margin; thus, differences below 3% cannot be considered relevant. In other words, products with a performance difference below 3% should be considered as having similar performance.

[nextpage title=”Overall Performance”]

We measured the overall performance of this motherboard using SYSmark2004, which is a software that simulates the use of real-world applications. Thus, we consider this the best software to measure, in practical terms, the system performance.

The benchmarks are divided into two groups:

  • Internet Content Creation: Simulates the authoring of a website containing text, images, videos and animations. The following programs are used: Adobe After Effects 5.5, Adobe Photoshop 7.01, Adobe Premiere 6.5, Discreet 3ds Max 5.1, Macromedia Dreamweaver MX, Macromedia Flash MX, Microsoft Windows Media Encoder 9, McAfee VirusScan 7.0 and Winzip 8.1.
  • Office Productivity: Simulates the use of an office suite, i.e., simulates sending e-mails, word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, etc. The following programs are used: Adobe Acrobat 5.05, Microsoft Office XP SP2, Internet Explorer 6.0 SP1, NaturallySpeaking 6, McAfee VirusScan 7.0 and Winzip 8.1.

The software delivers specific results for each batch and also an overall performance result, all in a specific SYSmark2004 unit.

We ran this software in two scenarios. First using the motherboard on-board video, comparing its performance to other motherboards with on-board video we had available: MSI K9AGM2-FIH (AMD 690G), ECS AMD690GM-M2 (AMD 690G), Foxconn A690GM2MA (AMD 690G), ECS RS485M-M (Radeon Xpress X1100) and ECS GeForce6100SM (GeForce 6100-405).

Then we disabled the board on-board video and installed a GeForce 8800 GTS from MSI to compare it with an ASUS M2N32-SLI De Luxe, which is a high-end socket AM2 motherboard based on NVIDIA nForce MCP 590 SLI chipset. Our idea was to see if this motherboard would achieve the same performance level of a high-end motherboard when we installed a high-end video card on it.

Abit AN-M2

With its on-board video enabled Abit AN-M2 achieved the same overall and Internet Content Creation performance level of all other motherboards that we included in our comparison. On Office Productivity the reviewed board achieved the same performance level of ECS RS485M-M (ATI Radeon Xpress 1100) and ECS GeForce6100SM-M but was 3.11% and 5.08% slower than the other motherboards we included in our comparison.

When we installed our overclocked GeForce 8800 GTS on the reviewed board Office Productivity performance increased 3.11%.

[nextpage title=”Processing Performance”]

Using the same methodology of the previous test, we measured processing performance using PCMark05 Professional program. This program gives the results in a specific unit and since it includes video performance on its score, the motherboard with the best video will achieve the best results.

Abit AN-M2

On PCMark05 Abit AN-M2 achieved the same performance level of ECS GeForce6100SM-M and ECS AMD690GM-M2 (AMD 690G), being 3.26% faster than MSI K9AGM2-FIH, 6.03% faster than Foxconn A690GM2MA (AMD 690G) and 14.86% faster than ECS RS485M-M.

ASUS M2N32-SLI De Luxe was 4.46% faster than Abit AN-M2 when we installed our overclocked GeForce 8800 GTS.

[nextpage title=”3D Performance: 3DMark2001 SE”]

To evaluate GeForce 7025 3D performance we installed a very low-end video card on Abit AN-M2: GeForce 6200 TurboCache with 64 MB and 64-bit interface (from XFX).

We also installed a high-end video card, an overclocked GeForce 8800 GTS from MSI, on it and compared its performance to a high-end motherboard with the same video card installed, ASUS M2N32-SLI De Luxe. The goal here was to see if by installing a high-end video card the reviewed board achieved the same performance level of a high-end motherboard.

We ran several programs, as you will see in the next pages. The amount of RAM memory the chipset “steals” from the main RAM memory to be used as video memory was left on the motherboard default value, which was “auto” for the reviewed motherboard.

The first one, 3DMark2001 SE, measures 3D performance by making DirectX 8.1 simulations, and the results you can see below (we ran it using its default configuration). All the listed video cards were installed on Abit AN-M2.

Abit AN-M2

On 3DMark2001 SE Abit AN-M2 achieved the same performance level of ECS AMD690GM-M2 (AMD 690G) and MSI K9AGM2 (AMD 690G), being 5.52% faster than Foxconn A690GM2MA (AMD 690G) and 9.73% faster than ECS GeForce6100SM-M. Here ECS RS485M-M (ATI Radeon Xpress 1100) was 3.30% faster.

The problem is that even the “worst” PCI Express video card is a lot faster than on-board video solutions: GeForce 6200 with 64-bit memory interface and TurboCache technology was 72% faster than Abit AN-M2. This is a huge difference.

When we installed our overclocked GeForce 8800 GTS on the reviewed board it achieved the same performance level of ASUS M2N32-SLI De Luxe, what is great.

[nextpage title=”3D Performance: 3DMark03″]

We followed the same methodology described in the previous page, but now running 3DMark03. 3DMark03 simulates DirectX 9.0 (i.e., Shader 2.0) games, which is fully supported by all four chipsets with integrated graphics we added to our comparison: Radeon Xpress 1100, AMD 690G, GeForce 6100-405 and GeForce 7025-630a.

You can check the results of our benchmarking below. All the listed video cards were installed on Abit AN-M2.

Abit AN-M2

On 3DMark03 Abit AN-M2 was 9.30% faster than Foxconn A690GM2MA, 12.68% faster than ECS RS485M-M (ATI Radeon Xpress 1100) and 24.05% faster than ECS GeForce6100SM-M. On the other hand MSI K9AGM2-FIH (AMD 690G) was 8.94% and ECS AMD690GM-M2 (AMD 690G) was 7.32% faster than the reviewed board.

The problem is that even the “worst” PCI Express video card is a lot faster than on-board video solutions: GeForce 6200 with 64-bit memory interface and TurboCache technology was 64% faster than Abit AN-M2. This is a huge difference.
 
When we installed our overclocked GeForce 8800 GTS on the reviewed board it achieved the same performance level of ASUS M2N32-SLI De Luxe, what is great.

[nextpage title=”3D Performance: 3DMark05″]

We again followed the same methodology described previously, but now running 3DMark05. This program measures 3D performance by simulating DirectX 9.0c games, i.e., using Shader 3.0. This programming model is used by the latest games and supported by GeForce 6100-405 and GeForce 7025-630a, but it isn’t supported by Radeon Xpress 1100 nor by AMD 690G.

It isn’t fair to use this program to evaluate 3D performance of motherboards with on-board video, as they achieve a very low score on this program. We ran it anyway, basically to see the performance achieved by Abit AN-M2 using a real video card installed and also to compare it to other motherboards with on-board video.

You can check the results of our benchmarking below. All the listed video cards were installed on Abit AN-M2.

Abit AN-M2

Here Abit AN-M2 was 14.43% faster than ECS GeForce6100SM-M and 51.98% faster than ECS RS485M-M (ATI Radeon Xpress 1100). Motherboards based on AMD 690G were faster, though: Foxconn A690GM2MA was 6.36% faster, MSI K9AGM2-FIH was 38.36% faster and ECS AMD690GM-M2 (AMD 690G) was 38.39% faster.
 
On this program our GeForce 6200 with 64-bit memory interface and TurboCache technology was 76% faster than Abit AN-M2.

When we installed our overclocked GeForce 8800 GTS on the reviewed board it achieved the same performance level of ASUS M2N32-SLI De Luxe, what is great.

[nextpage title=”3D Performance: Quake III”]

We used the demo four available on version 1.32 of Quake III to make our benchmarking with this game. We ran this demo three times at 1024x768x32 resolution and all image quality settings on their default configuration and we picked the middle value for our comparisons, i.e., we discarded the highest and the lowest values.

We didn’t use Quake 4 because with its latest patch installed (1.4.2 when this review was published) it complained that it couldn’t be run on AMD 690G.

You can check the results of our benchmarking below. All the listed video cards were installed on Abit AN-M2.

Abit AN-M2

Here Abit AN-M2 achieved the best performance among all motherboards with on-board video we included in our comparison: it was 21.01% faster than ECS GeForce6100SM-M, 25.94% faster than ECS RS485M-M (ATI Radeon Xpress 1100), 27.16% faster than MSI K9AGM2 (AMD 690G), 33.83% faster than ECS AMD690GM-M2 (AMD 690G) and 44.88% faster than Foxconn A690GM2MA (AMD 690G).

The problem is that even the “worst” PCI Express video card is a lot faster than on-board video solutions: GeForce 6200 with 64-bit memory interface and TurboCache technology was 74% faster than Abit AN-M2.
 
ASUS M2N32-SLI De Luxe was 9.27% faster than the reviewed motherboard when we installed our overclocked GeForce 8800 GTS.

[nextpage title=”Overclocking”]

Abit AN-M2 has some overclocking options and an extensive memory timings setup screen. Here are the options you will find on Abit AN-M2 (June 5th, 2007 BIOS):

  • Base clock (HTT clock): From 200 MHz to 400 MHz in 1 MHz steps.
  • PCI Express clock: From 100 MHz to 150 MHz in 1 MHz steps.
  • CPU voltage: 1.3 V to 2.0 V in 0.025 V steps.
  • Memory voltage: 1.85 V, 1.90 V, 2.00 V, 2.10 V, 2.25 V and 2.55 V.
  • Clock multiplier.
  • North bridge HyperTransport speed.

In Figure 6, you can see all memory timings adjustments that this motherboard has – far more than necessary, especially for its class.

Abit AN-M2Figure 6: Memory timings adjustments.

The PCI Express clock configuration is very important, as you can lock the PCI Express clock at a given value (100 MHz, for example). Usually when you increase the FSB clock you will automatically increase the PCI Express clock as well, and sometimes your overclocking will be limited not by the CPU but by the devices connected to the PCI Express bus. Thus with this option you can increase the probability of setting a higher overclocking.

On this motherboard we could increase the CPU base clock from 200 MHz to 218 MHz, making our Athlon 64 X2 5000+ to run at 2,834 MHz, a 9% increase over its original clock of 2.6 GHz.

We didn’t play with the voltage configurations, so with time and patience you may achieve a better overclocking with this motherboard.

[nextpage title=”Conclusions”]

It is always important to have in mind the audience a given product is targeted to. Abit AN-M2 and GeForce 7025 is clearly targeted to digital home PCs, where gaming isn’t the most important factor. For this PC class, video quality, connectivity options and size are more relevant.

Compared to competing chipsets from AMD, GeForce 7025 has some advantages and some disadvantages. As it doesn’t have HDMI support, it competes with AMD 690V and with motherboards based on AMD 690G that doesn’t bring a HDMI connector (not all AMD 690G motherboards come with HDMI connection). GeForce 7025 is better than AMD 690V because it has two video outputs, while AMD 690V only provides one. But both AMD 690G and AMD 690V have Avivo, AMD/ATI’s 2D enhancement tools, while GeForce 7025 does not provide PureVideo. That is probably the major flaw with this chipset, since it is targeted to digital entertainment PCs, where this feature is desirable. And AMD 690G provides a better DirectX 9 performance than GeForce 7025.

Abit AN-M2 has some strong features, especially its on-board audio, because it is based on Realtek ALC888 codec and not on ALC883 as other motherboards with on-board video we’ve seen around. Translation: you can use this motherboard to capture and edit your analog audio with a low noise level (90 dB signal-to-noise ratio). Of course users thinking of working professionally with analog audio capturing and editing should look for a sound card with at least 95 dB SNR on its inputs.

Another advantage of its on-board audio is its full support to 7.1 analog speakers, providing six independent audio jacks on its rear panel. Some motherboards around have only three jacks, making it impossible for you to hook up a 7.1 analog speaker system and also killing your mic in and line in inputs when using a 5.1 analog system.

It also provides an on-board optical SPDIF output, which is great, as it makes it easy for you to connect your PC to your home theater receiver with the best audio quality possible.

The overall construction quality of this motherboard is also worth mentioning, as it only uses Japanese capacitors and a passive heatsink on top of the voltage regulator transistors. It could use ferrite coils instead of iron coils on its voltage regulator circuit, though.

Another good thing about this board is the presence of four memory sockets. Several motherboards with on-board video have only two sockets, making it impossible to upgrade your memory keeping the old modules installed.

Since this motherboard has two video outputs, you can let its on-board video enabled in order to connect your PC to four independent displays, two connected on the motherboard and two on the add-on video card.

Even though it has a decent audio quality with an on-board optical SPDIF output and a good overall performance for regular applications, we think the absence of PureVideo and HDMI connection makes MSI K9AGM2-FIH (which is based on AMD 690G) a better pick for someone building a high-def digital entertainment PC today, plus it brings a higher DirectX 9 performance than Abit AN-M2.