Home Theatre PC Motherboard Shootout

February 5, 2008 | 11:55

Tags: #2 #690g #7050pv #am2 #benchmark #core #ddr2 #duo #g35 #hdhqv #home #hqv #htpc #igp #lga775 #results #review #theatre #tv

Companies: #amd #asus #gigabyte #intel #msi #nvidia


Chipset: AMD 690G
Manufacturer: MSI
UK Price (as reviewed): £39.77 (inc. VAT)
US Price (as reviewed): $67.75 (ex. Tax)

Although we looked at the MSI K9AGM2 nearly six months ago, the K9AGM3-FIH is a slightly updated model with more memory slots and a re-arranged rear I/O. Fundamentally it’s the same board but we felt the need to have at least one AMD CPU and chipset present to represent all areas of the market.

Phenom support is available for both 9500 and 9600 processors, but understandably is limited to HT 1.0 at 200MHz instead of HT 3.0 at 266MHz. Like the K9A2 CF there is no support for 125W CPUs like the Athlon 64 X2 6000+, 6400+, FX-62 and faster Phenom processors.

Feature and price-wise it’s almost comparable to the Gigabyte GA-73PVM-S2H board, but again lacks in quite a few areas compared to the Asus.
  • AMD Athlon 64 X2 AM2 and Phenom processors up to 95W
  • AMD 690G north bridge and SB600 south bridge
  • Dual channel memory with up to 8GB DDR2 800MHz from four DIMM slots
  • AMD Radeon X1250 graphics with DirectX 9.0 support, HDMI and HDCP Crypto ROM included, and VGA (dual output capable, no DVI option provided)
  • One PCI Express x16 1.1 slot
  • One PCI Express x1 1.1 slot
  • Two PCI slots
  • Four SATA 3Gbps ports with RAID 0, 1 and 0+1
  • Realtek RTL8111B PCI-Express Gigabit Ethernet controller
  • Realtek ALC888 7.1 channel premium High-Definition audio codec
  • VIA VT6308P IEEE1394a Firewire
  • 10 USB 2.0 ports
Home Theatre PC Motherboard Shootout MSI K9AGM3-FIH - AMD 690G Home Theatre PC Motherboard Shootout MSI K9AGM3-FIH - AMD 690G
Click to enlarge

Of the three featured, the MSI appears to be the most basic – there’s less colour differentiation and the core power components are of lower quality, although it feels wrong to compare AMD to Intel boards in this way, since the K9AGM3 was designed before the quad-core Phenom chips were released onto the market, while both Intel boards were made after the Kentsfield-based Core 2 Quad chips arrived.

The MSI K9AGM3 doesn’t use a single solid aluminium capacitor—not even around the CPU socket—and while the basic three phase power regulation will suffice, the components used are pretty dated. You’re not likely to see anywhere near the same level of overclocking on this board, but you get what you pay for and as long as it’s stable that’s what really matters for an HTPC.

Both north and south bridges have tiny heatsinks—the smallest of the three boards. It’s worth mentioning that the north bridge heatsink does get quite hot during HD-video playback, but never too hot to touch or make it crash. The south bridge is the older SB600, so there are “only” four SATA 3Gbps ports provided, but that’s still more than the Gigabyte GA-73PVM-S2H has, because one of its ports has been given eSATA duties – that’s not the case here.

The MSI does have a full four DDR2 slots for maximum upgrade potential, but it only has the Realtek ALC888 instead – this is still better than the ALC883 on the Asus, but not quite as good as the ALC889a on the Gigabyte. We’ll be looking at on-board audio quality with RightMark later...

Home Theatre PC Motherboard Shootout MSI K9AGM3-FIH - AMD 690G Home Theatre PC Motherboard Shootout MSI K9AGM3-FIH - AMD 690G
Click to enlarge images

The other features are virtually identical to the Gigabyte though – the same peripheral slots, USB, Firewire etc. The rear I/O has been redesigned from the K9AGM2, dropping the parallel port and opening up the option of a DVI (which isn’t included here). The MSI doesn’t have S/PDIF or eSATA here like the Gigabyte does, but it still manages to feature six 3.5mm audio jacks, four USB 2.0, Gigabit Ethernet, HDMI, VGA and PS2 ports. What it does do though is provide pin-outs for S/PDIF, Composite and S-Video TV-out, but it requires sourcing a compatible PCI bracket since there isn’t one provided in the box.
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