Like the Gigabyte board, ASUS’ M3A78-EMH fits on a microATX PCB, great for those home entertainment chassis that slide into an A/V rack. Whereas Gigabyte colors its offering blue, the ASUS board is a blasé shade of brown. No matter—these aren’t the boards you’d drop into case with a clear panel and light up with LEDs.
We were initially impressed that Gigabyte managed to cool both the 780G northbridge and SB700 southbridge passively using small, aluminum heatsinks. ASUS does even better by covering both pieces of core logic with copper. The result is a postage stamp-sized piece of metal on the SB700 and a northbridge cooler slimmer than Gigabyte’s, but also significantly taller.
At first blush, most of the M3A78-EMH’s built-in extras look like what we saw on Gigabyte’s board. However, ASUS employs three-phase power to Gigabyte’s four. You’ll also notice that the M3A78-EMH lacks a FireWire controller. As far as external storage is concerned, we’d be fine without FireWire if the board included eSATA, but ASUS leaves that out as well, instead choosing to expose all six SATA 3 Gbps ports internally.
We’re also a bit perplexed by ASUS’ decisions on which digital audio and video functions to enable. The board’s rear I/O panel gives access to VGA, DVI, HDMI, four USB 2.0 ports, Gigabit Ethernet, and 7.1-channel sound through 1/8” mini-plugs, but there is no optical or coaxial audio connection on the back panel. If you were planning to take the platform into a home theater environment, you’d either need to go through the HDMI connection or a discrete sound card for digital audio transfer. And while you probably won’t be switching back and forth from the DVI and HDMI video outputs, picking one or the other requires moving two jumper blocks on the board itself. In contrast, Gigabyte lets you switch between digital outputs with a BIOS switch.
ASUS gives you the same expansion options on the M3A78-EMH HDMI that Gigabyte enables on its GA-MA78GM-S2H: one PCI Express x16 slot, one PCI Express x1 slot, and two PCI slots. Naturally, the PCI Express links are all compliant with version 2.0 of the bus spec.
Everything else about the M3A78-EMH HDMI’s layout is average fare. You get plenty of headers for front-panel USB connectivity, one floppy connector, a single parallel ATA header, and standard power connectivity. Four DDR2 sockets take up to 8GB of DDR2-1066 memory—plenty for a mainstream board like this one. No fancy frills. You get a solid list of specifications mostly attributable to the hard work AMD’s engineering team put into its 780G chipset.