We took a quick look at MA78GM-S2H a socket AM2+ motherboard from Gigabyte targeted to AMD CPUs targeted to HTPC (Home Theater PC) or “media center” computers. This motherboard is based on AMD 780G chipset with ATI SB700 south bridge chip. Because of the available features this board isn’t targeted to the low-end market but to PCs that require a lot of multimedia features, which is an expanding market right now. It uses the microATX form factor, so you can install it on a smaller case targeted to this class of computers.
You can learn more about AMD 780G chispset – including its features and performance – on our Sapphire PI-AM2RS780G motherboard review. So we won’t repeat everything that we have already said there, but in summary AMD 780G has integrated video with a DirectX 10 engine. On our ECS A790GXM-A Black Series motherboard review you will find a comparison between 780G and its “turbo” version, 790GX.
Like all AM2+ motherboard MA78GM-S2H is compatible with Hypertransport 3.0 bus. Read more about this bus in our The HyperTransport Bus Used By AMD Processors and Inside AMD K10 Architecture tutorials.
MA78GM-S2H comes inside a custom-made box, i.e., it doesn’t use a generic box where the manufacturer simply puts a sticker with the model number and board features. Several features are described on the box, starting with Phenom X4 and Athlon X2 compatibility, the presence of an integrated video capable of achieving more than 2,000 points on 3DMark 06 and the ability to play Blu-Ray movies in full HD resolution (1080p). Actually this last feature is very questionable, because consumers may think that by just buying this motherboard you can play Blu-Ray movies, what obviously isn’t true, as you need a Blu-Ray drive and you can play Blu-Ray movies on any PC with this kind of drive installed. The box also describes the compatibility with Hybrid CrossFire feature and the presence of solid capacitors on the CPU voltage regulator circuit.
Now let’s analyze this motherboard in details.
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Analyzing the voltage regulator circuit (learn more about it on our Everything You Need to Know About the Motherboard Voltage Regulator Circuit tutorial) we can see that it uses ferrite chokes and solid aluminum capacitors. This motherboard uses a four-phase voltage regulator design, what is very good. By the way, all other electrolytic capacitors from this motherboard are Japanese from Sanyo.
Gigabyte MA78GM-S2H has four memory sockets, what clearly set it apart from other low-cost motherboards (which usually have only two memory sockets). It is compatible with DDR2 memories up to 800 MHz or 1,066 MHz, depending on the CPU, accepting up to 16 GB and also being compatible with dual channel architecture. It is important to note that on AMD CPUs the memory controller is embedded in the CPU, so who really defines memory compatibility is the CPU, not the motherboard or the chipset. So if you install a Phenom processor it will accept 1,066 MHz memories, but a Sempron or Athlon X2 will only recognize memories up to 800 MHz.Near the memory sockets you will find one ATA-133 port, the floppy disk drive connector and a parallel port header (you need an I/O bracket to use the parallel port, which doesn’t come with this motherboard), see Figure 6.
Near the south bridge chip (which is cooled by a small passive heatsink) you will find five SATA-300 ports, which can work under RAID 0, 1, 10 or JBOD modes. Not bad at all, an HTPC computer will hardly need more than that.
The RD700 south bridge chip supports 12 USB 2.0 ports and on this motherboard only four are located on the rear panel, what is a pity. The eight remaining ports are available on headers that require I/O brackets or adapters to be used. Even if you install memory card readers, the USB ports from the case, etc you will still have too many unused USB ports. We would like to see at least six USB ports on this board’s rear panel.
The connectors for the computer case (on/off and reset switches, LED’s, etc) aren’t colored but can be very easily identified thanks to a very well printed silk-screen layer on the printed circuit board.
Gigabyte MA78GM-S2H has two PCI slots, one x1 PCI Express slot and one x16 PCI Express slot, where you can install a “real” video card. If your video card is based on an ATI chip and compatible with the “Hybrid CrossFire” mode you can enable it in order to increase gaming performance. Under this mode the on-board video works in parallel with the add-on video card increasing performance, but only a very few low-end video cards are compatible with this mode. Read our SLI vs. CrossFire article for a list of compatible cards.
In Figure 8, you can see, besides these slots, the passive heatsink (i.e., without a fan) from the north bridge chip. This heatsink is cut in a way to allow the installation of long cards in the x1 PCI Express slot or of a video card with a heatsink on its backside. Unfortunately this heatsink works extremely hot all the time and Gigabyte could have done a better job and added a heatsink with a better performance to make the north bridge chip to work a little bit cooler.
But it is on its rear panel that MA78GM-S2H shows that it isn’t a low-end motherboard. Even though it doesn’t have serial and parallel ports (they are available on the motherboard through headers, requiring the use of I/O brackets that you can buy separately if you want to use them) this panel has several features targeted to HTPC’s.Besides the mouse and keyboard PS/2 connectors you can see three different video outputs: VGA, DVI and HDMI (supporting digital audio). You can’t use the three of them at the same time, however, only two. This is the first time we’ve seen a motherboard with these three video outputs at the same time. This motherboard also has an optical SPDIF output (a mandatory feature on HTPC’s), four USB 2.0 ports, one FireWire port and one eSATA-300 port (which supports RAID with the internal SATA ports). As we have already mentioned, we’d like to see more USB ports here. You will also find a Gigabit Ethernet port and full 7.1 analog audio independent outputs.
Together with the on-board HDMI connector the highlight of this motherboard is its on-board audio, using a high-end Realtek ALC889A codec, a rarity even on high-end products. One constant complaint we make regarding on-board audio solutions is the low signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) for the analog input. With values below 95 dB you will have a lot of white noise (background noise) when converting analog audio sources to digital format (VHS to DVD or other digital format, LP to CD or MP3, etc). This codec, however, offers a signal-to-noise ratio on the same level of professional add-on sound cards: 104 dB for its analog inputs and 108 dB for its analog outputs. You can use this motherboard to build a PC to work professionally with audio and video editing without the need of an add-on sound card. The on-board optical SPDIF connector completes the package.
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Gigabyte MA78GM-S2H main features are:
- Socket: AM2+.
- Chipset: AMD 780G with SB700 south bridge.
- 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, supporting RAID 0, 1, 10 and JBOD.
- USB: Twelve USB 2.0 ports (four soldered on the motherboard and eight available through I/O brackets that don’t come with the motherboard).
- FireWire (IEEE 1394a): Two ports controlled by Texas Instruments TSB43AB23 chip (one soldered on the motherboard and one available through an I/O bracket that doesn’t come with the motherboard).
- On-board audio: Produced by the chipset together with a Realtek ALC889A codec (7.1+2 channels, 24-bit resolution, 192 kHz sampling rate for both the inputs and outputs, 108 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the analog outputs and 104 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the analog inputs). On-board optical SPDIF output.
- On-board Video: Yes, Radeon HD 3200 graphics engine with two independent outputs with three connectors, VGA, DVI and HDMI (supporting digital audio). Only two connectors can be used at the same time.
- On-board LAN: One Gigabit Ethernet port controlled by a Realtek 8111C chip, which is connected to the system through a PCI Express x1 lane.
- Buzzer: No.
- Power supply required: ATX12V 2.x (24-pin) or ATX12V 1.x (20-pin).
- Slots: One x16 PCI Express 2.0 slot, one x1 PCI Express slot and two PCI slots.
- Memory: Four DDR2-DIMM sockets (up to 16 GB up to DDR2-800/PC2-6400 or DDR2-1066/PC2-8500, depending on the CPU).
- Number of CDs/DVDs provided: One.
- Programs included: motherboard drivers and utilities.
- Extra features: Japanese capacitors, solid aluminum capacitors and ferrite chokes on the voltage regulator circuit.
- More information: https://www.gigabyte.com.tw.
- Average price in the US*: USD 96.00
* Researched at Shopping.com on the day we published this First Look article.
We didn’t expected to find complete overclocking options on a motherboard targeted to the HTPC market, so it came to a complete surprise to us when we find out that MA78GM-S2H had several overclocking options.
As it happens on other Gigabyte motherboards, there is an option called “M.I.T.” (Motherboard Intelligent Tweaker) with several overclocking options on the motherboard setup. But if you press Control + F1 on the setup main screen this “M.I.T.” menu displays even more options.
On MA78GM-S2H this menu is really complete: you can increase the CPU base clock in 1 MHz steps up to 500 MHz, you can configure the HyperTransport clock, the memory controller clock, the memory clock and the PCI Express clock. You also have an option to change the CPU clock multiplier.
There are also voltage adjustment options for the CPU (up to +0.6 V increase), memories (up to +0.3 V increase) and north bridge chip (up to +0.3 V increase). You can’t, however, reduce any voltage.
There are also complete memory timings adjustments as you can see in Figure 11.
We didn’t play a lot with this motherboard but we could easily put a 2.3 GHz Phenom X4 CPU working at 2.53 GHz (10% increase on the CPU internal clock). With more time and patience you will be able to achieve a higher overclocking for sure.
Gigabyte MA78GM-S2H is a very well loaded motherboard for the usage it is targeted for: HTPC’s or PCs for editing audio and video. What makes this an spectacular motherboard for these applications are the presence of three video outputs (VGA, DVI and HDMI supporting digital audio; only two of them can be used at the same time), the presence of an optical SPDIF output, FireWire ports (excellent for connecting digital camcorders based on this standard) and the impressive Realtek ALC889A codec, a rarity even on high-end motherboards.
One constant complaint we make regarding on-board audio solutions is the low signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) for the analog input. With values below 95 dB you will have a lot of white noise (background noise) when converting analog audio sources to digital format (VHS to DVD or other digit
al format, LP to CD or MP3, etc). This codec, however, offers a signal-to-noise ratio on the same level of professional add-on sound cards: 104 dB for its analog inputs and 108 dB for its analog outputs. You can use this motherboard to build a PC to work professionally with audio and video editing without the need of an add-on sound card.
The number of SATA-300 ports is more than enough for most users and the presence of an eSATA-300 port on the rear panel is becoming more important. We, however, were disappointed by the fact that this motherboard has only four USB 2.0 ports on its rear panel, from a total of 12 ports.
Obviously don’t expect to use its on-board video to run at a high frame rate the latest games, but the presence of an x16 PCI Express slot supporting Hybrid CrossFire allows you to install a “real” video card in case you want to upgrade your computer in order to play games. The overclocking options available aren’t bad at all, making this a good pick if you are willing to build a small gaming system to be connected to your home theater setup.