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[nextpage title=”Introduction”]

GF8200A Black Series is an entry-level socket AM2+ motherboard with on-board video from ECS based on GeForce 8200 (MCP78M-A) chipset from NVIDIA. Since it features an HDMI output, this board is clearly targeted to users willing to build a media center PC based on an AMD CPU like Athlon X2. In this review we will compare the performance of GeForce 8200 to its main competitor, AMD 780G. Check it out.

NVIDIA currently has three chipsets series with integrated video for the AMD platform, GeForce 8100, GeForce 8200 and GeForce 8300. As mentioned, ECS GF8200A Black Series is based on GeForce 8200, which incorporates a DirectX 10 graphics engine. The main competitor of the reviewed motherboard are boards based on the AMD 780G chipset – which also features a DirectX 10 engine, has similar specs and can be found on the same price range. While GeForce 8200 (codename MCP78M-A) is a single-chip solution, AMD 780G uses two chips (RS780 north bridge chip and SB700 south bridge chip). In the table below you can see a comparison between the main specs of these two chipsets.

Chipset GeForce 8200 AMD 780G
GPU Clock 500 MHz 500 MHz
Graphics Processors 16 40
Graphics Processors Clock 1,200 MHz 500 MHz
ROPs 4 4
DirectX 10 10
PCI Express 2.0 2.0
USB 2.0 Ports 12 12
SATA-300 Ports 6 6
RAID 0, 1, 0+1, 5 0, 1, 10
ATA-133 Ports 1 (2 devices) 1 (2 devices)
Hybrid SLI/CrossFire GeForce Boost Hybrid Graphics

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.

As you can see, these two chipsets have very similar specs. AMD 780G has more graphics processors (40 against 16) but the graphics processor on GeForce 8200 run at a higher clock rate. Both chipsets have RAID capability but supporting different RAID levels.

Both chipsets support Hybrid SLI (GeForce Boost) or Hybrid CrossFire technologies. These technologies allow the on-board video to work in parallel to a discrete video card under SLI or CrossFire modes, 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 our benchmarking we will compare ECS GF8200A Black Series to Sapphire PI-AM2RS780G, which is based on AMD780G and competes directly with the reviewed motherboard.

Before going to our testings, let’s take an in-depth look at ECS GF8200A.

[nextpage title=”The Motherboard”]

In Figure 1 you can have a good look at ECS GF8200A Black Series. 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.

ECS GF8200A Black Series motherboardFigure 1: ECS GF8200A Black Series motherboard.

As you can see this motherboard has one PCI Express x16 2.0 slot, allowing you to install a “real” video card in the future if you want to play games on your PC. As mentioned, the chipset supports GeForce Boost technology, where the on-board graphics engine can work in parallel with the video card installed under SLI mode in order to increase performance. But in order for this technology to work, you must install a compatible video card (GeForce 8500 GT or GeForce 8400 GS, for example). You can install any video card you want, but you won’t have GeForce boost with non-compatible models.

This motherboard also has two PCI Express x1 slots and three PCI slots. That is a very good number of expansion slots for an entry-level motherboard with on-board video.

ECS GF8200A Black Series motherboardFigure 2: Slots.

Another highlight from this motherboard is the presence of four 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.

It is always good to remember that with AMD processors the memory controller is embedded inside the CPU, so the amount and types of memory the system supports depend on the CPU, not on the motherboard. Socket AM2 and AM2+ processors support only DDR2 memories, with AM2 processors (i.e., Athlon X2) supporting up to DDR2-800 and with AM2+ processors (i.e., Phenom) supporting up to DDR2-1066.

All socket AM2/AM2+ CPUs support dual-channel feature so for the best performance you must install two or four memory modules (do not install just one memory module). For enabling dual-channel feature you must install the modules on sockets with the same color, if you are installing two modules.

ECS GF8200A Black Series motherboardFigure 3: Four memory sockets.

[nextpage title=”The Motherboard (Cont’d)”]

As you could see on the first page, the chipset supports six SATA-300 ports. On this motherboard five SATA-300 ports are available and the sixth port was installed on the rear panel as an eSATA-300 port. With the number of users using external hard disk drives based on eSATA connection increasing every day we think the addition of an eSATA port on this motherboard was more than adequate and a rare feature to see on entry-level models.

This motherboard has an eight-channel on-board audio with individual analog jacks for each output, so the mic in and line in jacks aren’t shared with other functions, not requiring you to reinstall plugs when wanting to use a mike. The only thing we really missed on this motherboard was at least one on-board coaxial SPDIF output. Since this motherboard has HDMI output for allowing you to connect your PC directly to HDTV sets, we think that having at least one on-board SPDIF output is imperative for media center PCs. The manual doesn’t mention if the motherboard routes digital audio to the HDMI output and unfortunately we couldn’t test this feature.

The audio codec used is an IDT 92HD206, which features a 95 dB output signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) and a 90 dB input signal-to-noise ratio, with 24-bit resolution and up to 192 kHz sampling rate, which isn’t bad at all for an entry-level motherboard.

This motherboard also features a Gigabit Ethernet port controlled by a Realtek RTL8111B chip.

In Figure 4, you can see the rear panel of the mother
board. There you will find mouse PS/2 connector, keyboard PS/2 connector, VGA output, HDMI output, six USB 2.0 ports, one eSATA-300 port, one Gigabit Ethernet port and complete independent 7.1 channel analog audio outputs. As you can see there are no serial or parallel ports on the rear of the motherboard. One serial port is available through an I/O bracket that doesn’t come with the board.

ECS GF8200A Black Series motherboardFigure 4: Rear connectors.

This motherboard also provides other smaller yet important features. The voltage regulator circuit uses ferrite chokes (which present a lower power loss compared to the iron chokes traditionally used on this circuit) and solid aluminum capacitors (which prevent the infamous capacitor leakage problem). Unfortunately the capacitors used on the rest of the motherboard are traditional electrolytic caps (on the sample we’ve got one cap was from TK, a Japanese manufacturer, and all others were from OST, a Taiwanese manufacturer). It is clear that ECS is increasing the quality of their products, at least on some series. 

ECS GF8200A Black Series motherboardFigure 5: Voltage regulator circuit featuring ferrite chokes and solid capacitors.

Other smaller feature is the presence of a power and a reset switch soldered on the motherboard, which helps a lot while you are building or troubleshooting a PC.

ECS GF8200A Black Series motherboardFigure 6: On-board power and reset switches.

Before going to our benchmarking, let’s recap the main features from this motherboard.

[nextpage title=”Main Specifications”]

ECS GF8200A Black Series main features are:

  • Socket: AM2+.
  • Chipset: NVIDIA GeForce 8200 (MCP78M-A).
  • Super I/O: Winbond W83627DHG
  • Parallel IDE: One ATA-133 port controlled by the chipset.
  • Serial IDE: Five SATA-300 ports and one eSATA-300 port controlled by the chipset.
  • USB: Twelve USB 2.0 ports (six soldered on the motherboard 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 an IDT 92HD206 codec (eight channels, 24-bit resolution, up to 192 kHz sampling rate for both inputs and outputs, 90 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the inputs and 95 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the outputs).
  • On-board video: Yes, with two independent outputs, one VGA and the other HDMI.
  • On-board LAN: One Gigabit Ethernet port controlled a Realtek RTL8111B chip, connected to the system through a PCI Express x1 lane.
  • Buzzer: No.
  • Power supply required: ATX12V 2.x (24-pin).
  • Slots: One x16 PCI Express 2.0 slot, two PCI Express x1 slots and three PCI slots.
  • Memory: Four DDR-DIMM sockets (up to 8 GB up to DDR2-800/PC2-6400 or DDR2-1066/PC2-8500, depending on the CPU).
  • Number of CDs that come with this motherboard: One.
  • Programs included: Motherboard drivers and utilities.
  • Extra features: On-board power and reset switches.
  • More Information: https://www.ecsusa.com
  • Average price in the US*: USD 75.00

* 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).

Hardware Configuration

Software Configuration

  • Windows Vista Ultimate 32-bit
  • Service Pack 1

Driver Versions

  • NVIDIA nForce driver version (includes video driver): 18.11
  • ATI motherboard/video driver version: Catalyst 8.6

Software Used

Some Information About our Methodology

Both motherboards included in our comparison were configured with 256 MB shared memory.

Since we were reviewing a low-end motherboard with on-board video, we were very interested in compar
ing its 3D video performance with the performance achieved by its main competitor 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.

Also because we are talking about an entry-level system, we chose an entry-level CPU to go with the motherboard, an Athlon X2 4600+. This CPU doesn’t suffer from the problem some AMD CPUs have of not being able to access memories at their full speed.

Even though we had DDR2-1066 memories, we configured them as DDR2-800 units, for two reasons. First, entry-level PCs won’t use DDR2-1066 memories and, second, Athlon X2 can only access memories up to 800 MHz.

We tried to use 3DMark Vantage but this program couldn’t run even on its lowest configuration.

Error Margin

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: PCMark Vantage”]

The new PCMark Vantage program simulates the use of real-world applications and gives scores for the following categories:

  • PCMark
  • Memories
  • TV and Movies
  • Gaming
  • Music
  • Communications
  • Productivity
  • HDD

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. See the results below.

ECS GF8200A Black Series Motherboard

The only test where the two motherboards achieved a similar performance was on the Communications batch, and the only test where ECS GF8200A was faster than Sapphire PI-AM2RS780G was on the Productivity batch, where the reviewed motherboard achieved a score 3.84% higher than Sapphire’s model.

On all other batches Sapphire PI-AM2RS780G was faster than ECS GF8200A, maybe showing us that AMD 780G chipset is faster than NVIDIA GeForce 8200 (we will need to see the results from the other tests to confirm this). Sapphire PI-AM2RS780G achieved a PCMark score 11.57% higher, a TV and Movies score 7.92% higher, a Gaming score 18.90% higher and a Music score 6.05% higher than ECS GF8200A.

[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 also included the result achieved by a 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. The results you can see below.

ECS GF8200A Black Series Motherboard

On 3DMark06 the motherboard from Sapphire based on AMD 780G achieved a performance 92.62% higher than GeForce 8200. A very low-end Radeon HD 3450 video card was 180.98% faster than the on-board video from GF8200A.

[nextpage title=”Call of Duty 4″]

Call of Duty 4 is a very heavy DirectX 9 game that implements high-dynamic range (HDR). We ran this game under 1024×768 resolution configuring all image qualities set to either “low,” “no” or “off” and filtering to “bilinear” (i.e., configuring the game to run on its lowest quality possible). We used the game internal benchmarking feature, running a demo provided by NVIDIA called “wetwork.” We are putting this demo for downloading here if you want to run your own benchmarks. The game was updated to version 1.6. The results you can see below, given in frames per second (FPS).

ECS GF8200A Black Series Motherboard

On this game GeForce 8200 and AMD 780G achieved similar performance, with a low-end Radeon HD 3450 video card being 41.97% faster than the on-board video provided by GeForce 8200.

[nextpage title=”Half-Life 2: Episode Two”]

Half-Life 2 is a popular franchise and we benchmark 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.

ECS GF8200A Black Series Motherboard

Here AMD 780G was 73.68% faster than GeForce 8200. A very low-end Radeon HD 3450 was 142.11% faster than the on-board video produced by GeForce 8200.

[nextpage title=”Unreal Tournament 3″]

Unreal Tournament 3 is the latest installment from this famous first person shooter franchise, supporting DirectX 10 graphics when installed on Windows Vista with a DX10 compatible card (which was our case). We upgraded Unreal Tournament 3 to version 1.2 and benchmarked it with the help of HOC UT3 benchmarking utility using the “Containment” demo, disabling anisotropic filtering and running the game at 1024×768. The results are below, in frames per second (FPS).

ECS GF8200A Black Series Motherboard

 

On this game AMD780G was 38.46% faster and Radeon HD 3450 was 100% faster than the on-board video produced by GeForce 8200.

[nextpage title=”Quake 4″]

We upgraded Quake 4 to version 1.4.2 and ran its multiplayer demo id_perftest with SMP option enabled (which allows Quake 4 to recognize and use more than one CPU), under 1024×768 with image quality settings configured at “low.” You can check the results below, given in frames per second.

ECS GF8200A Black Series Motherboard

 

On Quake 4 AMD780G was 199% faster and our low-end Radeon HD 3450 was 565.29% faster than the on-board video produced by GeForce 8200.

[nextpage title=”Overclocking”]

ECS GF820
0A Black Series provides a few overclocking options, including:

  • Base clock: adjustment from 200 MHz to 600 MHz in 2 MHz increments.
  • Memory voltage: 1.90 V, 1.97 V, 2.04 V, 2.11 V, 2.18 V, 2.26 V, 2.33 V and 2.40 V.
  • North bridge (NB) voltage: 1.13 V, 1.17 V, 1.20 V and 1.24 V.
  • HyperTransport (HT) voltage: 1.20 V, 1.25 V, 1.30 V and 1.35 V.
  • HyperTransport clock: 200 MHz, 400 MHz, 600 MHz, 800 MHz, 1000 MHz and auto (probably will show more options when a Phenom CPU is installed). This option is located on “Advanced Setup.”

ECS GF8200A Black Series MotherboardFigure 7: Overclocking options from GF8200A.

With this motherboard we could increase the base clock from our Athlon X2 4600+ from 200 MHz to 230 MHz with the CPU running stable. Under this overclocking our CPU was running internally at 2,775 MHz, a 15.62% increase from its default clock rate of 2.400 MHz. We could set our CPU running at higher clock rates, but the system was unstable.

ECS GF8200A Black Series MotherboardFigure 8: Maximum overclocking we could set with this motherboard.

[nextpage title=”Conclusions”]

Even though ECS brought an entry-level motherboard with a good manufacturing quality we were disappointed with the performance provided by GeForce 8200 compared to the competing AMD 780G chipset.

But on the on-board video universe achieving a higher performance may not mean anything, because you won’t be able to play newer games anyway. You need at least 30 frames per second to play a game, and during our tests this mark was only achieved by AMD 780G on Half-Life 2: Episode Two.

Taking out 3D performance, ECS GF8200A may be a good option for a media center PC, as it offers an on-board HDMI output. We still don’t know if this output provides digital audio. If it doesn’t, this board is flawed for this application, as it doesn’t have an on-board SPDIF output.

On the good side, this motherboard provides one x16 PCI Express 2.0 slot, allowing you to install a “real” video card if you want to upgrade your PC to be able to play games in the future, and four memory sockets. Usually low-end motherboards provide only two memory sockets. Four sockets allow you to add more memory in the future keeping your current memory modules. Another highlight from this product is the presence of six SATA-300 ports, one being an eSATA port. This is more than enough even for the exigent user. Usually entry-level motherboards come with far less SATA ports.

This motherboard also supports GeForce Boost (Hybrid SLI) feature, where you can set the on-board video card to work in parallel with your “real” video card in order to increase gaming performance a little bit. This technology, however, only works with very few video cards, such as GeForce 8500 GT and GeForce 8400 GS.

If you are looking for a motherboard with on-board video for an AMD CPU, we recommend boards based on AMD 780G (could be even from ECS). They provide the same features with higher performance.