AMD made it very clear in our sneak peek at the 780G integrated chipset and Athlon X2 4850e processor that its platform aspirations were coming to pass. Not only did the company introduce a complementary hardware ecosystem, complete with processor, chipset, and graphics solution, but it succeeded in trumping the best effort of its principal rival. Intel’s G35 simply couldn’t keep up with the 780G’s alacrity in gaming and video decoding.
The 780G chipset demonstrated somewhat playable frame rates—a boast most built-in GPUs cannot make. We heard grumblings that the built-in Radeon HD 3200 graphics weren’t enough to give mainstream gamers the high resolutions and detailed textures today’s titles offer. Why bother if you’re not going to get that “elevated” experience? Isn’t that like dinging Toyota’s Avalon because it won’t yield the guttural experience of a Ferrari when you blast up the Pacific Coast Highway? For the gaming enthusiast who can’t afford to add a GeForce 8800 GT or Radeon HD 3850 to his system, AMD’s 780G could mean the difference between playing Half Life 2: Episode 2 or a compelling night of Solitaire. This is the open door where before there was a wall.
On top of its performance, the 780G/Athlon X2 4850e combination paints a rosy picture of value. The CPU is priced at $89 and the Gigabyte motherboard we used as a test bed in the launch article rings in at $99. Even after adding a $50 Radeon HD 3450 card to take advantage of Hybrid Graphics, you’re still hanging out under the $250 mark.
That Gigabyte board, the GA-MA78GM-S2H, was the one AMD chose for its initial batch of sampling. And it represented the chipset’s built in functionality well, while delivering great stability, an impressive set of features, and modest configurability through Gigabyte’s M.I.T. BIOS controls.
ASUS is hot on Gigabyte’s heels with its own 780G-based board, though. The M3A78-EMH HDMI defies ASUS’ habit of packing in every add-on available at a premium price by sticking to the basics, consequently driving down the price target for a 780G platform by another $10. Expect to find this one around the $89 mark. Should you spend the extra Alexander Hamilton to get eSATA support, optical output, and FireWire on the Gigabyte board or do ASUS’ cuts make good sense to the cost conscious? Stay tuned as we compare the microATX motherboards, and then pit the 780G chipset against Intel’s G35 in a round of high-definition video playback.
Back Panel I/O Ports
Our ASUS M3A78-EMH HDMI didn’t arrive in retail packaging. Rather, it shipped as a kit, together with an Athlon X2 4850e CPU, two gigabytes of DDR2-800 memory from Corsair, and a reference cooler—the same type used in our 780G sneak peek to help cut down on noise.
But that didn’t stop us from digging into the retail box’s bundle. When you buy the M3A78-EMH HDMI, you get the board, a driver CD, the user’s manual, an I/O shield, an array of storage cables, and a SATA-to-Molex power adapter. Notably missing from the package is a DVI-to-HDMI adapter, which you do get with ASUS’ Intel G35-based P5E-VM HDMI board. There’s also no digital audio connectivity. ASUS’ documentation talks about an audio module, but it doesn’t ship alongside this board.
There’s no question that ASUS built the M3A78-EMH HDMI to curl toes in the living room, the home office, and at work. Just be aware that the bundle is minimalist, and if you want to hook up to either of the digital video outputs, you’ll need the right cables since ASUS doesn’t provide adapters.