NVIDIA GF9300 (ECS GF9300TA) mainboard review
Posted by Hilbert Hagedoorn on: 10/14/2008 01:00 PM [ 0 comment(s) ]
So the tale goes like this, I kind of started to grow a soft-spot for mainboards as tested today. As you guys know I was pretty excited about the AMD 790GX chipset already mainly due to its price, performance and power consumption ratio. This product today is not that different to be honest. The overall baseline performance is pretty much on PAR with competing mainboards, heck it can even compete with the more expensive mainstream performance motherboards just as well. The one negative we could find was what seems to be a BIOS issue with memory timings, we think it was stuck at DDR2-667. Our memory was reporting back 15-20% less performance on read bandwidth than typically expected. So that's something ECS needs to fix with a BIOS update. Overall it took the performance scores down, but really only a little. Second negative has to be heat in combo with overclocking. Sure, the board wasn't built for it anyway yet the IGP will get hot. Make sure you have proper ventilation in your chassis (as you should always have), no biggy though.
Quite a surprise was that this is one of the first ECS mainboards we tested that can actually overclock pretty decently without me pulling my hair out, we had no problems at all firing off a 1333 MHz FSB at the processor making it run a fairly decent 600 MHz above baseline specifications, and that's just swell. But do not expect nForce 750/780/790 overclock results or BIOS settings okay? This is still a value / entry level product.
With a GF9300 based motherboard you get a bucketload of options and features, that's for sure. The GF9300 products will cost you roughly 99-109 USD and I feel that's a fair price for what you are getting. Connectivity is great, HDMI you'll find as standard and then, depending on the board partner, a DVI, Display Port or VGA connector. We see six SATA connectors, a lot of USB connectivity and fairly good support for fast DDR2 memory up to 8 GB. So yeah, I'm really encouraged by this product. One dislike... the lack of 'GeForce Power aka Hybrid Power', the ability to turn off a secondary dedicated graphics card to save another 30-50 Watts of power. This feature was not introduced while everybody was expecting it. Certainly a bummer as far as I am concerned and definitely a missed chance for NVIDIA.
Prolonging that note, massively impressive was the power consumption. By only using the integrated GPU, Q6600, 2 GB memory, a HDD and DVD-ROM, we would idle at roughly 100 Watts. When we started to stress the 4 CPU cores, we spotted roughly 150-160 Watts. So that is very commendable. The ball changes though the minute you insert a fairly decent dedicated graphics card, as that unit alone will suck up 30-50 Watts by itself, which (again) is why I find it disappointing from NVIDIA's side not to see Hybrid Power functional on this chipset.
None the less, the GF9300 based mainboards will be a flexible solution, and not just for the budget minded. It performs as fast as any modern mainboard, you can make it a gaming rig, you can use it excellently for HTPC and if it floats your boat, it's a nice NET PC as well. I also think it's lovely we can use the integrated GPU, if not utilized for graphics, for CUDA, transcoding, PhysX and whatever new applications we'll see in the future... So I think ECS did a really nice job with this Black Edition version of the GF9300. The design looks great, and you get some extra features which boil down to additional value. Two recommendations to ECS though, start integrating an optical TOSLINK and please move to a DVI connector rather then using an old analog d-sub VGA connector.
One recommendation to NVIDIA, get image sharpening (pixel sharpening) back in your products please. It's needed for decent IQ calibration on HD screens.
But these are minor points really, if you're looking for a competitive IGP solution, and a versatile and flexible mainboard that's not too expensive... this should be ranking at the top of your list. Definitely recommended.
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