Choosing the right motherboard when AMD or Intel
decide to change memory standards is never a fun proposition. There
are always two choices; you can stick to the existing memory format that's
plentiful and cheap, or future-proof your computer by adopting the new memory
type that's always more expensive and generally less plentiful on store shelves.
In this respect the sticker shock of DDR3 RAM isn't as bad as it used to be.
Intel broke the world into DDR3 memory a while back, DDR3 memory isn't hard
to find and there are many different speeds to choose
from. The socket AM3, AMD Phenom II X3 and X4 processors bridge the memory divide with prudent backwards
compatibility on socket AM2+ motherboards. AMD is nice that way, not forcing you
to buy three sticks of DDR3 when the economy is all doomy and
Enter the ASUS M4A78T-E motherboard, the first socket AM3 board to cross
PCSTATS test bench for the popular 45nm Phenom II X3/X4 processor
families. ASUS' M4A78T-E is nearly identical to the M3A78-T which we reviewed recently, but
naturally as a socket AM3 platform it supports DDR3 1066/1333 memory.
To be specific the M4A78T-E has four slots for DDR3 memory, with a maximum
capacity of 16GB (when running in a 64-bit operating system), at speeds of
1066/1333 and 1600(O.C.) MHz.
The ASUS M4A78T-E motherboard is
built on AMDs 790GX integrated graphics processor and SB750 southbridge, supports HyperTransport 3.0 at 5200 MT/S and
has a 128MB DDR3-1333 memory buffer built in just for the Radeon HD 3300
IGP. Like all AMD 790GX motherboards, you can think of it as
an IGP platform with a entry level videocard.
The Radeon HD 3300 on-board graphics solution is based
largely on the Radeon HD 3200 IGP,
but with a core overclock fo 700MHz from 500MHz, making it one of the fastest
integrated graphics chipsets. The Asus M4A78T-E equips the Radeon HD 3300 with
an additional 128MB of DDR3 Sideport memory for additional graphics oomph. The
board is well equipped with Analog VGA, DVI and HDMI video outputs.
The HDMI port supports HDCP, provides audio, and can output video at 1080p
resolution. Like it's sister motherboard the M3A78-T, the
ASUS M4A78T-E is an ideal candidate for a Home
Theatre PC system.
If suped-up IGPs don't get your heart pumping never
fear! ASUS' M4A78T-E motherboard has a pair of PCI Express 2.0 x16 slots
that will readily accommodate gamers with one, or two PCI Express
videocards. A lone videocard gets x16 lanes of bandwidth, two videocards in
CrossfireX run with x8/x8 lanes of bandwidth. The
AMD 790GX chipset supports hybrid Crossfire, so you can merge the on-board graphics card with the
Radeon HD 3300 for additional performance, or even additional monitors. Along with the PCI Express x16
slots, a pair of PCI Express x1 with a single lane of
bandwidth each, and a pair of legacy PCI slots are present.
terms of connectivity the M4A78T-E is well stocked; five SATA II ports with
RAID 0,1,5, 10 and JBOD, IDE for legacy drivs, one eSATA port, two
Firewire ports (one via header), six USB 2.0 jacks (six via header), 8-channel HD
audio, an optical SP/DIF output and Gigabit LAN.
a street price of around $191 CDN ($150
USD, $120 GBP), the ASUS M4A78T-E motherboard is about $20 more than its DDR-2 sibling,
the Asus M3A78-T. Factor in the cost of additional DDR3 memory,
and you can expect to pay a fair amount more to get your
new Phenom II processor fully kitted out.
Is it worth the additional cost to build a DDR3 Phenom II
PC right now? That's a very good question.
The Asus M4A78T-E is built to take advantage of high-end
videocards like the Radeon
HD 4870 X2 , so it's
got plenty of room available for bulky dual-slot-wide videocard heatsinks. The PCI Express x26
slots have two spaces in between them, so even the widest graphics cards
have enough breathing room. When the Radeon HD 3300 IGP is
being used by itself, or a single Radeon or Geforce video card is
plugged in, there's plenty of space for peripherals.
While its predecessor has a split design
of parallel and perpendicular SATA connections, the Asus M4A78T-E motherboard has all its
SATA II jacks grouped together in the right corner of the board.
It's easier to plug the cables in, but more challenging to keep the
inside of the PC case looking neat.
remaining front panel headers are grouped together on the bottom edge of
the motherboard, with three USB headers and an additional firewire
port. These can be connected through ASUS' Q-connectors, which make them quick and easy
to set up. There's also a S/PDIF output, and an AAFP header for Azalia
The I/O shield for the ASUS M4A78T-E is rounded to prevent nasty finger
cuts when being installed, and has six USB ports, DVI, VGA and
HDMI ports, as well as a firewire and eSATA ports for connecting external hard drives.
Gigabit lan ports and PS/2 ports are included as always. In addition to using
the HDMI for audio output, ASUS have provided an optical S/PDIF
output and a seven-channel surround-sound stereo output.
Simple passive aluminum heatsinks cool the AMD 790GX, SB750 and
processor VRM MOSFETs. The AMD 790GX northbridge doesn't react very well
to overheating, so do yourself a favour and ensure there is good airflow
moving through the PC case. If you experience heat issues when taxing the 790GX in a
3D game (this is the only time you may), just aim a fan
in the direction of the northbridge heatsink.
The Asus M4A78T-E has a pair of fan connectors
that can be used for this purpose.
It's time to start putting the Asus M4A78T-E motherboard through its paces. The Phenom
II X3 720 Black Edition processor has been dropped into the new socket AM3 slot,
so let's start off with some video playback and see how much of
a difference DDR3 memory really makes.