It has been a while since PCSTATS tested an Intel
motherboard bearing VIA chipsets, but despite the flurry of nVidia nForce and
Intel 900-series chipsets VIA does indeed have solutions of its own. The VIA
P4M890 is not the newest of the bunch, but it does offer good performance for
Intel Core 2 Duo class processors, and it is absolutely rock bottom affordable.
The VIA P4M890 has a concise set of features, really nothing more than the
basics, but with a UniChrome Pro integrated videocard all the important bases
are well covered (network, video, IDE/SATA I RAID, audio, ect.) The Biostar
P4M890-M7 motherboard PCSTATS is testing in this review for you today is a
purebred mainstream motherboard. When it comes to the essentials, this board
offers exactly what you need to build a simple working computer. There are no
fancy features or accessories here, apart from the integrated UniChrome Pro
videocard, and for this reason the Biostar P4M890-M7 motherboard is incredibly
inexpensive; just $53 CDN ($46, £23 GBP) for an Intel Core 2 Duo motherboard is
We're going to be realistic with our expectations here, for Biostar's
P4M890-M7 motherboard is best suited to the corporate world and those of
you looking to build a simple computer on a very small budget. The Intel
Core 2 Duo processor is arguably the best processor on the market as of this
writting, and the Biostar P4M890-M7 provides a very cost effect platform to
build a simple PC from. The onboard UniChrome Pro IGP won't get you fully
through Windows Vista with all the eye candy it offers, so the board also has a
PCI Express x16 expansion slot.
Based on the VIA P4M890 Northbridge and VIA VT8237R+
Southbridge the Micro-ATX Biostar P4M890-M7 motherboard sports its no-frills 128-bit 2D/3D onboard UniChrome Pro videocard, a 10/100 network card, 5.1 channel audio, 1.5GB/s SATA I & two IDE channels, and a PCI Express x16 and x1 expansion slot. True, these onboard peripherals are a bit bland, but the critical points are covered.
The Biostar P4M890-M7 supports all Socket 775 processors from the Intel Celeron D to the Pentium 4/D up to Intel's Core 2 Duo processor (from 533Hz to 1066MHz FSB). The board has two DDR2 memory channels which accommodate up to 4GB of DDR2-533 (PC2-4200) memory. If you find the onboard UniChrome Pro videocard lacking, there's a PCI Express x16 slot for a stand alone videocard. You can also upgrade the system through the PCI Express x1 for high bandwidth devices and two 32 bit PCI slots for legacy devices.
The Biostar P4M890-M7 is a tiny Micro ATX motherboard
measuring in at 190 x 244mm in size. Components are closely spaced, leading to
the ever-annoying issue about removing memory when the videocard is installed.
Otherwise though, the layout of the motherboard is pretty good and most ports
and headers are placed in accessible areas. The board is compatible with
older ATX 1.4+ 20 pin power supplies with ATX12V connectors, however it is advisable to use an ATX 2.0 power supply if this motherboard will be equipped with a Intel Core 2 Duo CPU. Biostar equips this entry level motherboard with KZG and OST brand electrolytic capacitors.
The VIA P4M890 Northbridge and VT8237R+ Southbridge chipsets do not generate all that much heat, refreshing after working on scorchers like the Intel 975X, P965 Extreme or nVIDIA nForce 680i. The small passive aluminum heatsink on the Northbridge is cool to the touch even with the system operating at full load, and it's totally silent. :-)
If this board will be the foundation of your first home-built PC, you should find the user manual well documented and easy to follow. There's a lot of good information in the manual but it can get a bit technical at times so brush up on your lingo before reading.
About the only thing to keep in mind with the Biostar P4M890-M7 motherboard is that the P4M890 chipset incorporates a single channel memory controller. Late model Intel Core
2 Duo motherboards just about all use
dual channel memory controllers, so while this might give the Biostar P4M890-M7 a
bit of a handicap, it's not as big a deal with most workstation applications and software. Have
a look through PCSTATS office oriented benchmarks a few pages forward, to see what we mean. Games do tend to see an impact because the memory is single channel only, however it's not as large as you might expect.
High Definition Content
Playback: System Load Test
With all the companies pushing High definition
content like no tomorrow, it's time to find out whether the systems of
today, like the Biostar P4M890-M7 motherboard, are ready for the high definition
content of tomorrow. VIA is a bit vague about whether the onboard
UniChrome Pro videocard supports High Definition Acceleration. It certainly
supports the 1080p resolution as well as traditional MPEG-2 acceleration, let's
see how it handles High Definition content.
CPU Load when running High
To test the high definition video playing
capabilities on the Biostar P4M890-M7 motherboard, and specifically its VIA
UniChrome Pro onboard videocard via the VIA P4M890 chipset, we'll playback a
video downloaded from Microsoft's WMV HD Content Showcase through Windows Media
Player 10. "The Discoverers" (IMAX) video is available in both 720P and 1080P
formats. The Core 2 Duo E6600 processor utilization during playback will be
monitored via Task Manager.
CPU utilization when running the 720P version of the Discoverers
video hovered between 18-24%. Looks like High Definition content acceleration
has become standard equipment and the VIA UniChrome Pro videocard does pretty
When running the higher bandwidth 1080P version of the Discoverers
video, CPU utilization also jumps between 18-24%. The VIA UniChrome Pro IGP and
VIA P4M890 chipset is somewhat lesser known than Intel's latest core logic
offerings. PCSTATS will look at what the VIA P4M890 has to offer next.