It's been a while since we looked at motherboard Graphics Processing Units (mGPU) from NVIDIA. Back in 2004, we reported on Soltek's QBIC EQ3702M Mini Barebones System, which was based on NVIDIA's nForce 2 Platform Processor and an Integrated GeForce 4 MX Graphics Processor (IGP). It was around that time that NVIDIA began to distinguish their integrated graphics processors from the competition (AMD and Intel) by referring to them as motherboard Graphics Processing Units (mGPU).
Asus M3N78 Pro Motherboard
The product being reviewed today is the Asus M3N78 Pro motherboard, which supports AMD processors and utilizes NVIDIA's GeForce 8300 chipset. nV News is primarily focused on evaluating NVIDIA-based graphics cards as they relate to game performance. Although our motherboard reviews typically don't involve head-to-head comparisons with other motherboards, we do invest the time to assemble a new system from scratch and report on our findings along with way.
Asus M3N78 Pro Motherboard
Since gaming is an important activity for many of our visitors, we report on 3D game performance with the mGPU along with a variety of popular discrete NVIDIA-based graphics cards (dGPU). Pictured below are the GeForce 9600 GT at the bottom left, the GeForce 9800 GTX at the bottom right and the GeForce GTX 280 at the top right.
System Components (Partial List)
For a budget motherboard, the M3N78 Pro offers leading-edge features like support for the latest AMD Phenom processors, PCI-Express 2.0, NVIDIA's Hybrid SLI Technology, which is available on Windows Vista only, and dual-channel DDR2 memory. Although this motherboard does not support traditional SLI using multiple discrete graphics cards, it does offer GeForce Boost and HybridPower technologies.
GeForce Boost increases the performance of supported dGPU's by working in conjunction with the mGPU. With NVIDIA's HybridPower, the dGPU can be switched off while the mGPU takes over the duties of less intensive tasks such as high definition DVD playback, web browsing, email, and mainstream productivity applications. HybridPower is a desirable feature as the technology decreases total system power consumption while generating less heat and noise from the GPU cooling fan.
Asus M3N78 Pro Features
The graphics sub-system on the Asus M3N78 Pro consists of a mGPU powered by the GeForce 8300, which is a derivative of NVIDIA's GeForce 8400 GS desktop GPU and supports DirectX 10 and OpenGL 2.0. The architecture of the GeForce 8300 is lightweight in term of 3D performance with a core clocked at 500MHz and 16 stream processors, which are clocked at 1.5GHz. Note that NVIDIA's flagship GPU, the GeForce GTX 280, has a total of 240 stream processors. The mGPU supports a variety of video connections including HDMI, DVI, and VGA. Note that the HDMI and DVI connections cannot be used simultaneously.
The GeForce 8300 features NVIDIA's PureVideo HD, which is capable of decoding MPEG2, AVC (H.264), and VC-1 video content when combined with the faster HyperTransport 3 link available on Phenom processors.
Having been accustomed to the high-end and more expensive SLI-based motherboards, I was impressed with the specifications that the M3N78 Pro offers. The table below list most of the specifications and includes PCI-Express and PCI expansion slots, IDE and SATA communication ports, Gigabit Ethernet, High Definition Audio, Firewire, USB, and Asus AI Lifestyle features.