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As fun as it is to read about high end 790i or X48 based motherboards, the fact is that the majority of us can't or won't spend $300 on a motherboard upgrade. Mortgages, rent, car payments, gas, food..... all of these are much higher on the priority list and as much as you would love to have the best components money can buy, emptying your wallet just to keep up with technology is a tough pill to swallow. That's why companies like Elitegroup Computer Systems (ECS) are so successful. They provide the mainstream consumers with motherboards without the heatpipes or the bling but at a price that makes sense. And as one of the top mainboard manufacturers in the world, ECS is flooding the market with affordable products without sacrificing quality or performance.
The ECS A770M-A motherboard is based on the AMD 770 chipset and supports the latest AM2+ processors available (up to 95W TDP). It provides four DDR2-1066 capable sockets, one PCIe 2.0 x16 slot, eight channel HD audio and eSATA. This affordable board provides the basics you would need to build a budget AMD system and allows you to save your cash or spend it on other components. If you happen to be in the market for a reasonably priced, no frills motherboard you will want to check out this review. Read on to find out if the A770M-A has what it takes to be the foundation of your next build.
|CPU SUPPORT||Socket AM2 / AM2+ |
AMD SB600 Southbridge
|REAR I/O PANEL|
|INTERNAL I/O HEADERS|
ECS Motherboard Support CD
As you can see, ECS provides a modest bundle to get things started. They included an installation guide with lots of color pictures which is sure to come in handy for the novice user. I would liked to have seen them provide a few more SATA cables though, at least one for each port. And I had an issue with the included driver CD not supporting 64-bit Vista. But it did not cause a major problem as the drivers were automatically updated by the operating system.
The AMD 770 is the entry level chipset of the 7-series familiy. Its designed for consumers who want the latest technology at an affordable price. Its flexibility shows with support of both the Athlon and Phenom processors. Also, HyperTransport 3.0 technology greatly increases CPU communications bandwidth while PCIe 2.0 improves graphics performance.
The board has a pretty nice layout with a dark purple color scheme. There is plenty of room around the CPU socket for any type of heatsink you may decide to use. The four memory sockets can hold a maximum 32GB of DDR2 according to the documentation. Although I've never come across any 8GB memory sticks, if the need were to arise then this is the board you want. ECS also included a couple of low profile, aluminum heatsinks for the northbridge and southbridge chips.
You can find the data and power ports along the edges of the board which helps with cable management and system airflow. There are four, black SATA II ports located near the southbridge heatsink. I had an issue with the vertical orientation of these connections. The GTX 280 videocard I installed for this review blocked ports 1 and 2 and left me with only two usable ports. With the size of current videocards reaching considerable proportions, designing these to be right angle SATA connections would solve this issue.
The A770M-A has one PCIe 2.0 x16 slot for support of latest graphics cards. There are also two PCIe x1 slots and three PCI expansion slots. The PCI Express x1 slot is designed to house less bandwidth intensive cards up to 250MB/sec while the remaining PCI slots support various expansion options such as LAN, USB and SCSI cards.
The rear panel houses a diverse collection of ports that should fit the needs of any system builder. I love the fact that ECS included an eSATA port along with the other standard connections you would find on a motherboard. And having six USB 2.0 ports along with the onboard 8-channel audio is a nice touch.
The AMI BIOS is easy to navigate and simple to use. It has all of the standard options you would need and makes them easy to find. Obviously this isn't an enthusiast level motherboard but that won't stop me from seeing what it can do. There are only a handful of overclocking options available and really limits how far I can push the processor and memory. In the Frequency/Voltage Control menu, I'm able to modify the CPU frequency along with the processor and memory voltages. Unfortunately, there is no way to adjust the multiplier here.
Memory speed and timing options are also limited. These can be found in the Memory Configuration menu under the Advanced Chipset Setup. Here you can adjust the memory clock and CAS Latency but the rest of the timings are automatically set by the BIOS.
First and foremost, overclocking results are never guaranteed. Many factors can influence what a system is capable of, including complimentary components (motherboard, processor, power supply), user experience, and simple luck of the draw. Two identical systems will not necessarily yield identical results, and anything over the rated specification should be treated as a bonus, not an expectation.
I intended on using the Phenom 9850 BE processor for this review. Unfortunately, the A770M-A only supports processors with 95W TDP and below. This basically means you will not be able to use the Phenom 9850 or the 9950 processors due to their thermal specification. So instead I used AMD's dual core 2.6GHz 5200+ for computer processing duties.
With watercooling, I was able to raise the CPU voltage to 1.55V while maintaing very good temps on both cores. I increased CPU Frequency from 200 to 238 and this allowed me to reach a CPU speed of 3.09GHz. Also, the memory was blazing along at DDR2-883MHz 5-5-5-18.
|Adobe Photoshop CS2|
|Sisoft Sandra 12|
|Super Pi V1.5|
Call Of Juarez
Knights Of The Sea
For this benchmarking session I installed a fresh copy of Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit with SP1. Each benchmark was run at least three times with a reboot conducted between them. The games were run with HIGH settings, 1220x1080 resolution and 4x AA enabled when applicable.
The CPU and memory overclocks provided great performance gains throughout the entire benchmarking suite. There were 20% gains in scores on several benchmarks and excellent memory bandwidth increases. I also saw good improvement in both the synthetic and real world gaming benchmarks.
|Warranty & Support|
The ECS A770M-A motherboard offers some nice features for an entry level product. Its biggest selling point is its price and for many, that's the main issue. But ECS was still produced a board that supports many of the latest AMD processors, is DDR2-1066 capable, provides an eSATA port and sports a PCIe 2.0 slot. And that's basically what you need to build a budget to mid-range level system.
For all this board has going for it, there were a few problems. Claiming to be an AM2+ board but not supporting two of the latest processors is a disappointment. Granted, those chips may be a mismatch for this board but that option should be made available to the consumer. Also, the SATA port design needs to be corrected to account for the length of today's videocards. And I would love to see more overclocking options available within the BIOS.
System builders will always provide a demand for affordable motherboards and ECS supplies them with what they need. Elitegroup Computer Systems also maintains a level of quality and performance that keeps customers happy. If you are in the market for an AMD board with some nice features and a great price, you should definitely check out the ECS A770M-A.
Other Reviews of Note
Its always nice to have more than one opinion on a component before you spend your hard earned money. For one, We may see something others missed, or vice versa. As with all reviews published at HardwareLogic, we'll not only give you our recommendation, but also point out some reviews from some other great sites around the web.