The ECS A780GM-A Black Series AMD 780G motherboard was configured with the following components for this review:
» AMD 5400+ X2 2.8GHz dual core processor
» Noctua NHU-12P CPU cooler with 120mm AcoustiFan
» Maxtor MaxLine III 250GB SATA 3Gbps hard drive
» Tuniq MiniPlant 950W ATX power supply
» Aeneon XTune 2GB DDR2-1142 dual channel memory kit
» 512MB Sapphire Toxic HD3870 PCI Express graphics card
» Windows Vista Home Premium
For the bulk of the testing, the system was equipped with all components listed above except for the Sapphire Radeon HD3870 graphics card. The onboard graphics were the focus of most tests, but to see how well it could perform with a higher end card installed, this PCI Express solution was added for comparison purposes in some tests.
The images below show the A780GM-A prepared for testing with the processor, memory, and CPU cooler in place. When it was reviewed, the Noctua cooler presented problems because of the size, but these issues do not apply on this board. The A780GM-A offers plenty of room around the CPU socket, the cooler doesn't hang off the edge of the board, and other features like the memory slots and chipset coolers will not cause any interference issues. The layout made installation a snap, even when using larger, enthusiast grade components.
Even with a PCI Express graphics card installed, there was no problem with the placement of any components. While having only one x16 slot helps open things up, you don't have to worry about the memory retention mechanism hitting into the top of the graphics card, and the chipset heatsinks are so low profile that any card / cooler will clear them.
As mentioned earlier in the review, in order to use dual channel memory, you must install the matched pair in adjacent slots. For this review the two 1GB sticks of Aeneon DDR2 are installed in the two yellow slots to make this happen.
The main issue I had with the installation was a rather trivial one. Most PCI Express x16 slots have a release mechanism with a tab on the top side of the slot, which makes access very easy. If you check the pictures above, only a small portion of the release mechanism is above the slot, while the portion you need to access will be hidden by the card, no matter how thin it is. With a thick card like a HD3870, for example, it is impossible to reach the lever. I wound up using a thin screwdriver to press on the top part of the lever, which still wasn't easy, and opened up the possibility of slipping and gouging the motherboard or video card.
Once up and running on the A780GM-A, the only significant issue I encountered was related to the memory, as mentioned in the BIOS section of the review. Despite trying kits rated for 1200MHz, 1150MHz, 1142MHz, and 1066MHz, I could not make the board work with the BIOS set to 1066MHz. 800MHz DDR2 was the top functional setting, but by overclocking the frontside bus I was able to raise the memory speed. Even with overclocking, the maximum speed that the 1142MHz kit used for all testing saw was a mere 940MHz.
Other than that, my only complaint is with the integrated audio solution. In my brief tests over HDMI everything seemed great, but the analog audio was not impressive. The crackling and hissing from my desktop speakers was present from the moment Windows started, and it was a bit disappointing that one of the easier things to get right on a board was too annoying to enjoy.