For most of its existence, the AMD processor platform has
heavily depended on third party chipsets made by VIA, nVIDIA, ATI, ALI,
or SIS. It's fortunes were tied to the performance and capabilities of
3rd party core logic. In 2006 AMD gobbled up the Canadian videocard
company ATi. ATI had been making headway with its own line of motherboard chipsets,
and for the first time since this merger AMD has had its own in-house motherboard chipset to pair with an Athlon64 processor. The last time the planets aligned like this was with the AMD750 Irongate (Slot A) and the AMD760 (Socket A, SMP platform), but in each of those situations that was core logic born out of utter necessity.
ATi's experience in building chipsets is not a long tale,
but its pre-AMD merger platforms seriously challenged stock from Intel and
nVIDIA's stables. The ATI CrossFire Xpress 3200 chipset is still
considered faster than Intel's 975X, and that was certainly quite a feat at the
time. However, the real winner in ATI's line up was a
little known chipset slated for release at the time of the merger, the
'RS690.' Intended to be married with an AMD Athlon64 processor, the
'RS690' was said to beat the pants off nVIDIA's extremely popular GeForce
6100 & 6150 series...
PCSTATS has been waiting patiently for the AMD 690G (the renamed ATI RS690) to hit the pavement since we first saw it at CES 2007. With HDMI and Radeon Xpress 1250 graphics on board, this chipset is set for big things!
Biostar has been releasing some really cool products the
last little while, the Sigma-Gate GeForce 7600GS being one of the neatest
videocards to pass through the PCSTATS test labs in all of 2006 in fact. Today
though, PCSTATS is excited to be testing out the Biostar TA690G AM2
motherboard; a MicroATX platform ideal for home theatre PC application. This
board stands out because of the comprehensive video outputs it has. A standard
analog video output isn't too astounding, but a digital DVI port,
S-Video TV-output and an HDMI video output all on one motherboard is pretty darn unique!
The Biostar TA690G AM2 motherboard is built on AMD's 690G Northbridge and
SB600 Southbridge chipsets, and it supports all Socket AM2 processors from the
AMD Sempron to the Athlon64/X2 and FX processors. The platform can be used for
32-bit or 64-bit computing as well. Four DDR2 slots accommodate up to 4GB of
DDR2-400/533/667/800 memory. In terms of data storage, four 3.0Gb/s Serial ATA
II channels provide lots of room for additional drives, and RAID 0,1,10 is
possible too. There is one one parallel IDE port, so you're best off connecting
a DVD/ROM there. Gigabit Ethernet and 7.1 channel High Definition audio come
standard, though the COM and parallel printer ports are both only available from
headers. With its' ATI Radeon X1250 Graphics on board, the Biostar TA690G AM2
provides a good solid platform for office applications and the like, without the
need to install a stand alone videocard. If gaming is your thing, you'll want to
install a nice Geforce 8600GTS PCI Express 16 videocard or something comparable.
The onboard graphics card shares up to 512 MB of system memory.
The Biostar TA690G AM2 motherboard retails for $104 CDN ($91 USD, £46GBP), or
for a little less than that at Newegg.com. Either way you cut it, the 690G is an
In terms of expansion the Biostar TA690G AM2 provides ten USB 2.0 ports for
peripherals (four are on the rear I/O, the rest via internal headers). Firewire
is not included. There is a PCI Express x16 slot for stand alone videocards (a
good idea if you plan on gaming), a PCI Express x1 slot for high bandwidth
devices and two PCI slots for legacy peripherals. As you can see, the Biostar
TA690G AM2 motherboard is pretty compact. The layout is user friendly, but as we
mentioned the parallel and serial ports have been relegated to headers instead
of full connections at the rear I/O. It would have been nice if Biostar also
included those brackets...
Biostar does an excellent job with the user's manual and
makes some very important points clear. First when using the onboard video, you
can only use one of the analog and digital
outputs at once. That means if you're using the S-Video, you can't use
the 15 pin analog output (or vice versa) and if you're using HDMI, the DVI port
is disabled (again vice versa). This is because of the way the AMD 690G chipset
There are a couple
of nice nods towards the user experience like a set of hard Power and Reset
buttons on the PCB, and fully passive thermal solutions for each chipset. The
AMD 690G and SB600 chipsets generate very little heat in general, a nice change
from the nVIDIA and Intel infernos... Thus both chipsets can be passively cooled
with small heatsink that doesn't create any noise whatsoever.
The board also incorporates High Bandwidth Digital
Content Protection. This is a form of Digital Rights Management developed by
Intel for high definition digital video and audio content. Whether you like it
or not, the HDCP signal travels through the DVI or High Definition Multimedia
Interface (HDMI) to HDCP compatible display's. This is supposed to ensure that
only legitimate High Definition content is played, if the HDCP keys don't match
or are missing content plays at a reduced quality. This standard was spearheaded
by the movie industry in an attempt to combat piracy, in any case the Biostar
TA690G AM2 is ready if HDCP truly does become a global standard.
Biostar's TA690G AM2 will work with 20-pin main ATX
cable power supplies, but older units are not designed to
handle the power requirements of modern computers with multiple videocards, so
do yourself a favour and upgrade to a PSU with a 24-pin cable.
So to recap, the AMD 690G supports HDCP and is Windows
Vista compatible, has no less than four onboard video output options, and runs
without any noisy chipset fan. Looks we've got a perfect little HTPC platform on
our hands if it also stacks up in the benchmarks with a AMD Athlon64 X2 5000+ processor under the hood. PCSTATS
answers that question next, but first let's look at the technology behind AMD