Biostar TA785GE 128 M is a microATX socket AM2+ motherboard with on-board video based on the new AMD 785G chipset, which uses a new DirectX 10.1 graphics engine (Radeon HD 4200, codenamed RV620) featuring dedicated 128 MB video memory on the motherboard (feature called “Side Port” by AMD) to increase performance. In this review we will compare the performance of AMD 785G to AMD 790GX and AMD 780G and we will also analyze Hybrid CrossFire performance. Check it out.
The new AMD 785G chipset can be used on socket AM2+ or on socket AM3 motherboards. On the first case, the system will use DDR2 memories, while on the second it will use DDR3 models. Socket AM3 CPUs can be used on any of the two platforms, depending on what kind of memory you want to use, however socket AM2+ CPUs cannot be installed on AM3 motherboards. In fact AMD alerts that if you try you will fry your processor and they won’t replace it because the warranty does not cover this situation.
This chipset, like AMD 790GX and 780G, has as an option to have some local memory on the motherboard in order to increase performance, feature available on the reviewed motherboard.
In the table below we provide a comparison between AMD 785G, AMD 790GX and AMD 780G. As you can see AMD 785G specs are very similar to AMD 780G, with both having 40 processors running at 500 MHz. The two main differences between the two is the support for DirectX 10.1 on AMD 785G and the inclusion of more stages on the chipset integrated video decoder (called UVD, Unified Video Decoder by AMD), which helps increasing performance when playing movies on your PC, since tasks that are traditionally performed by the CPU are now performed by the chipset. Another smaller difference is the support for HDMI version 1.3 on AMD 785G, while AMD780G supports HDMI 1.2.
|Chipset||AMD 780G||AMD 790GX||AMD 785G|
|GPU Clock||500 MHz||700 MHz||500 MHz|
|Engine||HD 3200||HD 3300||HD 4200|
|South Bridge Chip||SB700||SB750||SB710|
|USB 2.0 Ports||12||12||12|
|RAID||0, 1, 10||0, 1, 5, 10||0, 1, 10|
|ATA-133 Ports||1 (2 devices)||1 (2 devices)||1 (2 devices)|
|CrossFire (Hybrid Graphics)||Yes||Yes||Yes|
ROPs stand for “Raster Operation Units” and are also known as “Rendering Back-End Units.” They are the final stage on rendering a 3D image.
Other chipsets with on-board video from AMD include AMD 690V, AMD 690G, AMD 740G and AMD 780V. AMD 690V, AMD 690G and AMD 740G are based on a DirectX 9 graphics engine, while AMD 780V is based on a DirectX 10 one. AMD 780V is based on Radeon HD 3100 engine, which runs at 400 MHz – clock is the main difference between HD 3100, HD 3200 and HD 3300 engines. AMD 780V also doesn’t support Hybrid Graphics configuration.
SB750 south bridge chip, besides bringing RAID 5 support, has an overclocking feature called “Advanced Clock Calibration” or simply ACC. How exactly this new feature works is completely obscure, as AMD does not explain how it works in details. All we know is that SB750 provides a feedback loop to Phenom processors using some unused CPU pins. This feature is only available on Phenom processors and allows you to unlock hidden features from the CPU: depending on the CPU model you can unlock extra memory cache and even one extra CPU core, in the case of triple-core CPUs. You can read more about this feature here and here. According to Biostar, TA785GE 128 M also supports ACC, and we guess that this is one of the differences between SB700 and the new SB710.
Hybrid Graphics technology allows the on-board video to work in parallel to a discrete video card under CrossFire mode, increasing gaming performance (usually when you install a “real” video card the on-board video is disabled). The video card must support this technology and in fact only a few support this. Read our tutorial SLI vs. CrossFire for further information.
In this review we will analyze the Hybrid Graphics feature by installing a Radeon HD 3450 on the reviewed board, first with the on-board video disabled and then with it enabled and CrossFire mode activated.
In our benchmarking we will compare Biostar TA785GE 128 M to ECS A785GM-M, which is based on the same chipset but being a socket AM3 model without the 128 MB on-board video memory, to ECS A790GXM-A (AMD 790GX with 128 MB on-board memory) and to Sapphire PI-AM2RS780G (AMD 780G).
Before going to our tests, let’s take an in-depth look at Biostar TA785GE 128M.
[nextpage title=”The Motherboard”]
In Figure 1 you can have a good look at Biostar TA785GE 128M. It is a socket AM2+ motherboard, meaning that it supports the new HyperTransport 3.0 and the “split plane” technologies used by AMD CPUs based on K10 architecture (i.e., Phenom CPUs). For more information read our Inside AMD K10 Architecture tutorial. Translation: it supports AM2, AM2+ and AM3 CPUs, what makes this motherboard compatible with a vast range of processors.
As mentioned, this motherboard comes with a dedicated 128 MB (1 Gbit) memory chip to be used by the on-board video, which can be seen in Figure 2. In theory the use of this dedicated chip increases gaming performance and of course we will see that if this is really true in this review.
The reviewed motherboard has only one PCI Express 2.0 x16 slot and two standard PCI slots. At least this allows you to install a “real” video card on it whenever you get tired of its on-board video performance. When installing a video card you may want to install a model that is compatible with Hybrid Graphics technology, this way instead of simply disabling the on-board video you can put it to work in parallel with the video card under CrossFire mode in order to increase performance (read our SLI vs. CrossFire tutorial for a complete list of compatible cards).
This motherboard has four DDR2 memory sockets. Usually low-end motherboards have only two memory sockets, so having four of them on this board is a blessing, as it will help you adding more memory in the future without needing to replace your current memory modules. Since this motherboard has only DDR2 sockets you cannot install DDR3 memories, even if you are using a socket AM3 CPU. For enabling dual-channel feature you must install the modules on sockets with the same color, if you are installing two modules.
[nextpage title=”The Motherboard (Cont’d)”]
As you could see on the first page, the chipset supports six SATA-300 ports and all are present on the reviewed board, supporting RAID levels 0, 1 and 10. Near the SATA ports this motherboard has a reset and a power button, which always help users that are building the PC outside a case or debugging their computer.
SB710 south bridge supports one ATA-133 port, which is present on the motherboard.
The chipset supports 12 USB 2.0 ports and the motherboard provides 10 of them, four soldered on the rear panel and six through headers. Unfortunately this motherboard doesn’t come with any I/O bracket for you to use these extra USB ports. No FireWire controller is available.
This motherboard has a six-channel on-board audio produced by the chipset together with a Realtek ALC662 codec, which features a 98 dB output signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) and a 90 dB input signal-to-noise ratio, with 24-bit output resolution, 20-bit input resolution and up to 96 kHz sampling rate for both outputs and inputs. While these specs are good enough for the average user, people working professionally with analog audio capture and editing will be better off with a different motherboard or will have to buy an add-on sound card. This board does not provide SPDIF outputs and it uses shared analog outputs, i.e., you cannot use the mic in and the line in jacks while a 5.1 analog speaker set is connected to your PC.
This motherboard also features one Gigabit Ethernet port, controlled by a Realtek RTL8111DL chip. This controller is connected to the south bridge chip through individual PCI Express x1 lanes, which is perfect, as this configuration won’t limit the performance of your Gigabit Ethernet ports (controllers connected to the system using the regular PCI bus can face a bottleneck – i.e., may not be able to achieve the maximum Gigabit Ethernet performance).
In Figure 6, you can see the rear panel of the motherboard. There you will find one mouse PS/2 connector, one keyboard PS/2 connector, DVI output, VGA output, four USB 2.0 ports, Gigabit Ethernet port and 5.1 channel analog audio outputs (shared).
The capacitors from the voltage regulator circuit are solid, which is great, but the other capacitors are regular electrolytic models (from OST).
In Figure 8, you can see all accessories that come with this motherboard.
Before going to our benchmarking, let’s recap the main features from this motherboard.
[nextpage title=”Main Specifications”]
Biostar TA795GE 128M main features are:
- Socket: AM2+.
- Chipset: AMD 785G + SB710 south bridge.
- Super I/O: ITE IT8718F
- Clock generator: Realtek RTM880N-793
- Parallel ATA: One ATA-133 port controlled by the chipset.
- Serial ATA: Six SATA-300 ports controlled by the chipset (RAID 0, 1 and 10).
- External ATA: None.
- USB: 10 USB 2.0 ports (four soldered on the motherboard rear panel and six available through I/O brackets; this board doesn’t comes with I/O brackets for using these extra ports).
- FireWire (IEEE 1394a): No.
- On-board audio: Produced by the chipset together with a Realtek ALC662 codec (six channels, 24-bit resolution for the outputs, 20-bit resolution for the inputs, up to 96 kHz sampling rate for the inputs and outputs, 90 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the inputs and 98 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the outputs).
- On-board video: Yes, Radeon HD 4200 engine with two independent outputs, one VGA and one DVI and with dedicated on-board 128 MB memory (one Samsung K4N1G164QQ-HC20 chip), feature called “Side Port” by AMD.
- On-board LAN: One Gigabit Ethernet port controlled by a Realtek RTL8111DL chip, connected to the system through a PCI Express x1 lane.
- Buzzer: No.
- Power supply required: ATX12V 2.x (24-pin).
- Slots: One PCI Express 2.0 x16 and two standard PCI.
- Memory: Four DDR-DIMM sockets (up to 16 GB up to DDR2-800/PC2-6400 or DDR2-1066/PC2-8500, depending on the CPU, socket AM2 or socket AM2+/AM3, respectively).
- Number of CDs that come with this motherboard: One.
- Programs included: Motherboard drivers and utilities.
- More Information: https://www.biostar-usa.com
- Average price in the US: USD 70.00.
* Researched at Newegg.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 and the addition or removal of a “real” video card (Sapphire Radeon HD 3450, 64-bit memory interface).
- Motherboard BIOS: 07/23/09
- Motherboard revision: 1.0
- CPU: AMD Athlon II X2
245 (2.9 GHz, dual-core, 1 MB L2 cache per core, socket AM3)
- CPU Cooler: AMD stock cooler
- Memory (DDR2): Two 1 GB Corsair Dominator TWIN2X2048-8500C5D modules (DDR2-1066/PC2-8500 with 5-5-5-15 timings), configured at 1,066 MHz.
- Memory (DDR3): Two 1 GB Crucial CT12864BA1067 modules (DDR3-1066/PC3-8500, CL7, 1.5 V), configured at 1,066 MHz.
- Hard Disk Drive: Western Digital Caviar SE16 500 GB (WD5000AAKS, SATA-300, 7,200 rpm, 16 MB buffer)
- Video Card: Sapphire Radeon HD 3450 256 MB, 64-bit memory interface (on some tests, see text)
- Video Monitor: Samsung Syncmaster 932BW
- Power Supply: SilverStone Element ST75EF 750 W
- Optical Drive: Lite-On LH-20A1L
Operating System Configuration
- Windows Vista Ultimate 32-bit
- Service Pack 2
- Video resolution: 1440×900 75 Hz
- Video/Chipset drivers: Catalyst 9.7
- Realtek audio driver: R2.29 (2.81)
- PCMark Vantage Professional 1.0.0
- 3DMark06 Professional 1.1.0
- 3DMark Vantage Professional 184.108.40.206
- Unigine Tropics Benchmark 1.2
- Half-Life 2: Episode Two – Patch June 23th 2009 + HardwareOC Half-Life 2 Episode Two Benchmark Tool 220.127.116.11
- Fallout 3 – Patch 1.7
Some Information About our Methodology
All motherboards included in our comparison were configured with 256 MB shared memory, with Biostar TA785GE 128M and ECS A790GXM-A (AMD 790GX) having 128 MB dedicated video memory, for a total of 384 MB.
Since we were reviewing a motherboard with on-board video, we were very interested in comparing its 3D video performance with the performance achieved by other motherboards with on-board video and also with a very low-end video card, so we could have an idea of how slower on-board video is compared to a very inexpensive video card. We chose Sapphire Radeon HD 3450 with 256 MB and 64-bit memory interface because this is one of the cheapest video cards available today.
We chose an entry-level CPU to go with the motherboard, an Athlon II X2 245, because it is a socket AM3 CPU and thus compatible with both socket AM2+ and socket AM3 motherboards.
ECS A785GM-M (AMD 785G) is a socket AM3 board and thus with this particular motherboard we had to install DDR3 memories. We picked DDR3-1066 memories since with socket AM2+ motherboards we were using DDR2-1066 parts. In both cases we doubled checked to see that the memories were really being accessed at 1066 MHz.
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=”PCMark Vantage”]
PCMark Vantage simulates the use of real-world applications and gives scores for the following categories:
- TV and Movies
For a detailed description of each one of these tests, please download and read the PCMark Vantage Reviewer’s Guide.
You can see the results for each category below. We are not going to compare the results for the Memories and HDD suites.
This benchmarking was done using the motherboard on-board video. Usually the motherboard with the fastest graphics engine achieves the highest score on this program. The result for “Radeon HD 3450” refers to the results achieved by the reviewed motherboard with this video card installed and its on-board video disabled.
Biostar TA785GE 128M achieved a PCMark score on the same level as ECS A785GM-M (AMD 785G) and ECS A790GXM-A (AMD 790GX with 128 MB), with Sapphire PI-AM2RS780G (AMD 780G) achieving a score 3.68% higher.
On the TV and Movies benchmark, Biostar TA785GE 128M achieved a performance 3.45% higher than ECS A785GM-M (AMD 785G), but ECS A790GXM-A (AMD 790GX with 128 MB) achieved a performance 4.73% higher and Sapphire PI-AM2RS780G (AMD 780G) achieved a performance 5.02% higher than the reviewed motherboard.
On the Gaming benchmark Biostar TA785GE 128M achieved the same performance level as ECS A785GM-M (AMD 785G) and Sapphire PI-AM2RS780G (AMD 780G), with ECS A790GXM-A (AMD 790GX with 128 MB) being 5.96% faster.
On the Music benchmark all three motherboards achieved the same performance level.
On the Communications benchmark Biostar TA785GE 128M achieved a score similar to ECS A785GM-M (AMD 785G) and to Sapphire PI-AM2RS780G, being 3.16% higher than the one achieved by ECS A790GXM-A (AMD 790GX).
And finally on the Productivity benchmark all three motherboards achieved the same performance level.
As you can see on PCMark the performance difference between the reviewed motherboard was practically negligible.
Installing a Radeon HD3450 increased the overall score by 8.30%, the TV and Movies score by 12.39%, Gaming score by 5.29% and Music score by 3.09%, while on Communications benchmark the installation of this video card didn’t change the score and on Productivity, where the score actually decreased 3.62%.[nextpage title=”3DMark06 Professional”]
3DMark06 measures Shader 3.0 (i.e., DirectX 9.0c) performance. We ran this software under its default configuration. For this test we included the result achieved by a 64-bit Sapphire HD 3450 card installed in the motherboard PCI Express x16 slot while disabling the motherboard’s on-board video, so we can have an idea of the performance of a very low-end video card compared to the on-board video of the reviewed motherboard. We also enabled Hybrid Graphics, i.e., configured our Radeon HD 3450 to work in parallel with the on-board video in CrossFire mode, to see the performance gain. The results you can see below.
The addition of the on-board 128 MB made Biostar TA785GE 128M to be 7.76% faster for DirectX 9.0c gaming than ECS A785GM-M (AMD 785G), which doesn’t have this dedicated memory. Biostar TA785GE 128M was also 7.90% faster than Sapphire PI-AM2
RS780G (AMD 780G). ECS A790GXM-A (AMD 790GX with 128 MB), however, was 15.97% faster.
The good news is that the on-board video from the reviewed motherboard achieved the same performance level of a Radeon HD 3450.
Enabling Radeon HD 3450 to work together with AMD 785G under CrossFire mode increased gaming performance by 73.20%. This is fantastic, because this 70%+ performance boost is gained absolutely for free.
[nextpage title=”3DMark Vantage”]
3DMark Vantage measures Shader 4.0 (i.e., DirectX 10) performance. We ran this program under its “Entry” profile, which basically disables all image quality enhancements and set resolution to 1024×768.
On this program Biostar TA785GE 128M achieved a performance 3.73% higher than ECS A785GM-M (AMD 785G) and 3.50% higher than Sapphire PI-AM2RS780G (AMD 780G). ECS A790GXM-A (AMD 790GX with 128 MB) was, however, 22.93% faster.
The good news is that the on-board video from the reviewed motherboard was 27.26% faster than a Radeon HD 3450 for DirectX 10 gaming.
Enabling Radeon HD 3450 to work together with AMD 785G under CrossFire mode increased gaming performance by 71.64%. This is fantastic, because this 70%+ performance boost is gained absolutely for free.
[nextpage title=”Unigine Tropics”]
We ran this benchmarking tool at 1024×768 setting all image quality settings to their lowest values. Although this program supports DirectX 10 rendering, for some reason this option didn’t work with us, so we used this program to benchmark DirectX 9.0c performance. The results below are in frames per second (FPS).
The on-board 128 MB video memory helped Biostar TA785GE 128M to achieve a performance 5.04% higher than Sapphire PI-AM2RS780G (AMD 780G) and ECS A785GM-M (AMD 785G). Here ECS A790GXM-A (AMD 790GX with 128 MB) was 22.40% faster than the reviewed motherboard.
Adding a Radeon HD 3450 improved performance by 9.60% and configuring in CrossFire mode with the on-board video made performance to almost double (93.60% increase).
However Tropics is a “heavy” simulation. As you can see the frame rates achieved by all motherboards were way below 30 FPS, meaning that playing a game based on an engine like this one using on-board video is close to impossible.[nextpage title=”Half-Life 2: Episode Two”]
Half-Life 2 is a popular franchise and we benchmarked the video cards using Episode Two with the aid of HOC Half-Life 2 Episode Two benchmarking utility using the “HOC Demo 1” provided by this program. We ran the game under 1024×768 with no anti-aliasing and bilinear filtering, i.e., using the lowest image quality possible. The results, given in frames per second, you see below. This game was included to see how the on-board video from the selected motherboards would perform with an older game being run.
On this game Biostar TA785GE 128M achieved the same performance as Sapphire PI-AM2RS780G (AMD 780G), being a little bit faster (3.27%) than ECS A785GM-M (AMD 785G). ECS A790GXM-A (AMD 790GX with 128 MB) was 26.10% faster than the reviewed motherboard.
A 64-bit Radeon HD 3450 was 12.68% faster than the on-board video from the reviewed motherboard. When this video card was configured to run under CrossFire mode with the on-board video, performance increased 71.71%.[nextpage title=”Fallout 3″]
Fallout 3 is based on the same engine used by The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, and it is a DirectX 9.0c (Shader 3.0) game. We configured the game with “low” image quality settings at 1024×768. To measure performance, we used the FRAPS utility running an outdoor scene at God mode, running through enemy fire, triggering post processing effects, and ending with a big explosion in front of Dupont Circle. The results below are in frames per second (FPS).
Biostar TA785GE 128M was 6.62% faster than Sapphire PI-AM2RS780G (AMD 780G) and 47.53% faster than ECS A785GM-M (AMD 785G). ECS A790GXM-A (AMD 790GX with 128 MB), however, was 16.27% faster than the reviewed motherboard.
A 64-bit Radeon HD 3450 was 7.66% faster than the on-board video from the reviewed motherboard. When this video card was configured to run under CrossFire mode with the on-board video, performance increased 79.79%.
However on a newer game like Fallout 3 the frame rates achieved by all motherboards were way below 30 FPS, meaning that playing a new game using on-board video is close to impossible.[nextpage title=”Overclocking”]
Biostar TA785GE 128M provides some overclocking options, including:
- Automatic overclocking: three preset levels are available, V6, V8 and V12.
- GPU internal clock: 100 MHz or between 150 MHz and 999 MHz in 1 MHz increments (under “Advanced Chipset Setup”).
- Base clock: From 200 MHz to 600 MHz in 1 MHz increments.
- CPU voltage: From +0.050 V to +1.450 V in 0.050 V increments.
- Memory controller (CPU NB) voltage: From +0.050 V to +1.450 V in 0.050 V increments.
- Memory voltage: From 1.95 V to 2.65 V in 0.010 V increments.
- HyperTransport (HT) voltage: From 1.25 V to 1.55 V in 0.10 V increments.
- South bridge (SB) voltage: From 1.20 V to 1.50 V in 0.10 V increments.
- Side port voltage: From 1.8 V to 2.1 V in 0.1 V increments.
- Full memory timings configuration.
Another unique feature present on this motherboard is a menu for you to monitor and adjust the motherboard voltage regulator, see Figure 12.
We could increase the CPU base clock only up to 219 MHz with stability, a 9.5% increase. We didn’t play with voltages or any advanced configuration, so you with more time and patience may be able to achieve better results.
Biostar TA785GE 128M is a typical microATX entry-level motherboard with on-board video. It brings as an advantage over competitors having a dedicated 128 MB video memory chip soldered, so its on-board video performs a little better on certain games than the one from other AMD 785G-based motherboards.
At USD 70 it can be a an interesting option if you want to have an affordable motherboard and only play games from time to time, and even then only older titles. Don’t even try to run newer games because the on-board video from AMD 785G isn’t powerful enough for that. The game will load, but at a frame rate way below 30 frames per second even at a low resolution and with all image quality enhancements disabled, the game will run ultra slow.
AMD790GX continues to be the chipset with the fastest integrated graphics for the AMD platform, but motherboards based on this chipset cost at least 40% more than the reviewed board.
One good option you have with this motherboard is to put the on-board video to work in parallel with a “real” video card by enabling Hybrid Graphics (CrossFire), this way you get extra performance for free. Of course you need to use a video that is compatible with this technology.
If you don’t care about gaming, then any motherboard with on-board video will fit your needs, as long as they carry all other features you will need, and Biostar TA785GE 128M may fall under this category, although it doesn’t carry any fancy feature like eSATA ports or SPDIF outputs – which, by the way, simply makes it impossible for you to build a home theater PC (HTPC) using this motherboard.
There are two small problems with Biostar TA785GE 128M that you have to be aware of. First, the audio jacks are shared, i.e., you cannot use a 5.1 set of speakers and a microphone at the same time (several users are migrating to USB headsets, if this is your case this should not bother you). The second problem is that there is a choke next to the motherboard ATX12V connector that makes it impossible for you to install an EPS12V connector there, so make sure your power supply has an ATX12V connector and not only an EPS12V one.