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[nextpage title=”Introduction”]

M861G from PCChips is an entry-level socket 754 motherboard with on-board video based on VIA K8M800 chipset, clearly targeted to entry-level PCs based on the socket 754 Sempron and Athlon 64 CPUs. In this review we will compare its performance with other socket 754 motherboards with on-board video based on competing chipsets, namely SIS 760GX and GeForce 6100.

PCChips is, for decades, the queen of the very low-end motherboards and was, for ages, the number 1 motherboard manufacturer in the world (they lost their first position to ASUS as soon as ASUS decided to also focus the entry-level market). They bought ECS in the late 1990’s and since then they focused ECS brand for developed markets like USA and Europe and PCChips brand for underdevelopment markets, like South America. That’s why you may not have seen PCChips motherboards in the US, even though they are still around. In summary, PCChips and ECS are the same company.

Actually in the past some ECS and PCChips brands shared some models, i.e., they had the same motherboard with different model numbers using different brands. They seemed to stop doing like this, as ECS doesn’t have any model that matches M861G.

If you want to learn more about ECS and PCChips, read our article about the trip we did to visit their factory in ShenZhen, mainland China.

As we mentioned, M861G is a very simple motherboard targeted to socket 754 CPUs (socket 754 version of Athlon 64 and Sempron processors) with integrated graphics (a.k.a. on-board video). It also carries one AGP 8x slot, allowing you to disable its on-board video and install a real video card later, if you want to.

PCChips M861GFigure 1: PCChips M861G v1.6a.

This motherboard has “everything on-board”: video, audio, LAN and modem (optional, through its CNR slot). The model we’ve got for reviewing came with one CNR 56 Kbps modem. It also comes with two Serial ATA ports, controled by VIA VT8237R south bridge; two DDR-DIMM sockets, accepting up to 2 GB of up to DDR400/PC3200 memory; its on-board audio is controlled by the VIA VT8237R south bridge using the Realtek ALC655 codec, providing 6 channels with 90 dB signal-to-noise ratio, which is great; its LAN is also controlled by its south bridge, using VIA VT6103L chip to make the interface with the physical layer; eight USB 2.0 ports, four soldered directly to the motherboard and four available through an I/O bracket, but the board doesn’t come with any bracket.

PCChips M861GFigure 2: Two serial ATA ports and VIA VT8237R south bridge.

As you can see in Figure 2, this motherboard uses a colored front panel pin header, making it easier to identify the function of each group of pins.

PCChips M861GFigure 3: CNR modem that came with the model we reviewed (this item is optional).

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

[nextpage title=”Main Specifications”]

The main specifications for PCChips M861G v1.6a are:

  • Socket 754.
  • Chipset: VIA K8M800 (AGP 8x, ATA-133)
  • Super I/O: ITE IT8705F
  • Parallel IDE: Two ATA-133 ports.
  • Serial IDE: Two SATA-150 ports.
  • USB: Eight USB 2.0 ports, four soldered directly on the motherboard and four available through an I/O bracket (that doesn’t come with the motherboard).
  • FireWire (IEEE 1394): None.
  • On-board Audio: Produced by the chipset together with the codec Realtek ALC655 (six channels, 16-bit resolution, 90 dB signal-to-noise ratio).
  • On board Video: Yes, produced by the chipset (S3 UniChrome Pro IGP graphics engine).
  • On-board LAN: Yes, Fast Ethernet (100 Mbps) produced by the chipset together with VIA VT6103L chip.
  • Buzzer: No.
  • Power Supply: ATX12V v1.x (20-pin).
  • Slots: 1 AGP 8x slot, 2 PCI slots and 1 CNR slot.
  • Memory: 2 DDR-DIMM sockets (up to 2 GB up to DDR400/PC3200).
  • Number of CDs that come with this motherboard: 1 CD.
  • Programs included: None.
  • Extra features: CNR 56 Kbps modem (optional).
  • More Information: https://www.pcchips.com.tw
  • Average price in the USA: We couldn’t find this motherboard being sold alone on North American price comparison websites we researched. A M861G + Athlon 64 2800+ bundle could be found around USD 155 on Pricewatch.

[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

  • BIOS: November 2nd, 2005
  • Processor: Athlon 64 3200+ (2 GHz)
  • Memory: Two 256 MB PC3200 modules from TwinMOS
  • Hard Drive: Maxtor DiamondMax 9 Plus (40 GB, ATA-133)
  • Screen resolution: 800x600x32

Software Configuration

  • Windows XP Professional installed using NTFS
  • Service Pack 1A
  • Direct X 9.0B
  • SiS AGP driver version: 1.21
  • SiS video driver version: 3.67
  • ATI video driver version: 7.95 (6.14.10.6396)
  • NVIDIA nForce driver version: 8.22
  • NVIDIA video driver version: 81.98
  • VIA Hyperion driver version: 5.04A
  • VIA video driver version: 16944421

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 SYSmark2002, 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 and Office Productivity. The programs used on Internet Content Creation batch are the following: Dreamweaver 4.0, Photoshop 6.0.1, Premiere 6.0, Flash 5 and Windows Media Encoder. The programs used on Office Productivity batch are the following: Word 2002, Excel 2002, PowerPoint 2002, Outlook 2002, Access 2002, Netscape Communicator 6, NaturallySpeaking 5, VirusScan 5.13 and WinZip 8.0.

The software delivers specific results for each batch and also an overall performance result, all in a specific SYSmark202 unit. The results you see on the graph below.

PCChips M861G

PCChips M861G v1.6a achieved an overall performance similar to other socket 754 motherboards with on-board video that we’ve tested (Foxconn WinFast 6100K8MB-RS, which is based on GeForce 6100 + nForce 410, and Foxconn WinFast 760GXK8MB, which is based on SiS 760 GX).

A high-end motherboard based on nForce 3-250 Gb (MSI K8N Neo Platinum) and with a Radeon 9800 Pro installed was 4.80% faster on SYSmark2002 than PCChips M861G v1.6a. Of course this comparison isn’t fair, but just for you to have an idea of the performance difference between an entry-level motherboard and a high-end one on SYSmark2002.

[nextpage title=”Processing Performance”]

We measured the motherboard processing performance through PCMark04 software. We included a high-end motherboard (MSI K8N Neo Platinum) with a Radeon 9800 Pro installed in the comparison, to check the performance of the PCChips M861G v1.6a compared to a high-end motherboard. Of course this comparison isn’t fair, but just for you to have an idea of the performance difference between an entry-level motherboard and a high-end one on PCMark04.

PCChips M861G

PCChips M861G v1.6a (VIA K8M800) achieved a performance similar to Foxconn WinFast 760GXK8MB (SiS 760 GX). Foxconn WinFast 6100K8MB-RS, which is based on GeForce 6100 + nForce 410, was 9.76% faster than the reviewed motherboard. MSI K8N Neo Platinum (nForce 3-250 Gb) with Radeon 9800 Pro was 31.76% faster. Keep in mind that PCMark04 score reflects video performance, so the motherboard with the best video card will achieve the best performance.

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

Since PCChips M861G v1.6a has on-board video, we decided to compare its 3D performance not only with other socket 754 motherboards with on-board video but also with two entry-level video cards to see how is its on-board video compared to add-on VGAs. So we included results obtained with a GeForce FX 5200 with 128 MB and 128-bit interface (from XFX) and a GeForce FX 5200 with 128 MB and 64-bit interface (from Leadtek) installed on this motherboard.

VIA K8M800 is based on S3 UniChrome Pro IGP engine, which is a DirectX 7 part. SiS 760 GX, used by Foxconn WinFast 760GXK8MB, is based on Mirage 2 engine, which is a DirectX 8.1 part. And GeForce 6100, which is used by Foxconn WinFast 6100K8MB-RS, is based on GeForce 6 engine, which is DirectX 9.0c. So these three chipsets use graphics engines from three different generations.

3DMark2001 SE measures 3D performance by making DirectX 8.1 simulations.
 
You can check the results of our benchmarking below. All the listed video cards were installed on PCChips M861G v1.6a.

PCChips M861G

As you can see, the integrated graphics of K8M800 used by PCChips M861G v1.6a achieved the worst result in 3DMark2001 SE, as Foxconn WinFast 760GXK8MB (SiS 760 GX) was 3.57% faster and Foxconn WinFast 6100K8MB-RS (GeForce 6100) was 106.43% faster.

As we always say, on-board video has never the same performance level of an add-on card, even the low-end ones. A 64-bit GeForce FX 5200 was 167.09% faster than VIA K8M800 integrated graphics and a 128-bit GeForce FX 5200 was 293.57% faster.

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

We followed the same methodology described in the previous page, but now running 3Dmark03. Keep in mind that 3DMark03 simulates DirectX 9.0 games, which are fully supported by GeForce 6100 but not by SiS 760GX (which is DirectX 8.1) and VIA K8M800 (which is DirectX 7).

You can check the results of our benchmarking below. All the listed video cards were installed on PCChips M861G v1.6a.

PCChips M861G

The lousy result achieved by PCChips M861G v1.6a comes from the fact that K8M800 chipset is a DirectX 7 part, not supporting all features provided by 3DMark03, which simulates DirectX 9 games.

Foxconn WinFast 760GXK8MB (SiS 760 GX) was 19.82% faster than PCChips M861G v1.6a and Foxconn WinFast 6100K8MB-RS (GeForce 6100) was 865.77% faster.

A 64-bit GeForce FX 5200 is 876.58% faster than VIA K8M800 and a 128-bit GeForce FX 5200 is 1,259.46% faster.

It was really interesting to see that GeForce 6100 achieved a performance similar to a 64-bit GeForce FX 5200 installed on PCChips M861G v1.6a.

[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 the game’s default configuration and we picked the middle value for our comparisons, i.e., we discarded the highest and the lowest values.

You can check the results of our benchmarking below. All the listed video cards were installed on PCChips M861G v1.6a.

PCChips M861G

This time PCChips M861G v1.6a was better than Foxconn WinFast 760GXK8MB (SiS 760 GX), being 23.55% faster. But as expected, Foxconn WinFast 6100K8MB-RS (GeForce 6100) was 141.64% faster.

A 64-bit GeForce FX 5200 was 296.92% faster than the on-board video from PCChips M861G v1.6a and a 128-bit GeForce FX 5200 was 426.25% faster.

[nextpage title=”Overclocking”]

This motherboard doesn’t bring fancy overclocking settings, as it usually happens to entry-level motherboards. On PCChips M861G v1.6a you can only change the base clock rate (from 200 MHz to 232 MHz at 1 MHz steps) and the memory clock rate (SPD, 100 MHz, 133 MHz, 166 MHz or 200 MHz).

We could put our Athlon 64 3200+ (2 GHz) base clock at 220 MHz (2.2 GHz internally), a 10% increase over the CPU standard clock. More than that the system hanged.

[nextpage title=”Conclusions”]

PCChips M861G v1.6a is a good option only if you aren’t going to use its on-board 3D video, i.e., won’t be playing games with it. It’s chipset, VIA K8M800, is a DirectX 7 part, an engine from three generations ago. In summary, you won’t be able to play current games on it, only very old ones.

But if you are buying or assembling a PC only for office usage, this motherboard provides a great cost/benefit ratio, since it is probably the cheapest socket 754 motherboard available on the market today.

And, of course, you can install later a real video card on it, through its AGP slot. The problem with this concept is that AGP slot is being phased out and we don’t know for how long we will still be able to find AGP video cards on the market. Of course this concern is only valid if you are going to upgrade your PC and install a real video card a couple of years from now.

Also on the good side it comes with two Serial ATA ports, so the only technology not supported by this motherboard is really PCI Express – which is not targeted to very low-end systems anyway.

So the only problem we see with this motherboard is users and/or sales rep thinking that it will run games. It won’t.