We were not quite done when we published our AMD-ASUS Enthusiast Buying Guide. Here, we have our Mainstream Buying Guide, which targets the light gamer, and even the entertainment freak.
In our second installment, our aim is to build a mainstream gaming rig while keeping on a tight budget; great gaming experience and endless hours of enjoyment doesn’t necessarily mean building systems costing a couple of bombs.
We will be using the AMD Phenom II X2 550 Black Edition processor for this build. As introduced in our first article, which is the enthusiast buying guide featuring the X4 955 BE, the full Phenom II family consists of dual-core (X2), tri-core (X3) and quad-core (X4) parts to cater to different end-users with different needs. With aggressive core binning, AMD is able to reduce overall processor costs and churn up better price-performance ratio figures.
The X2 550 Black Edition processor, which also happens to be AMD’s only dual core part in its Phenom II lineup, is clocked at 3.1GHz. For comparison sake, while Intel’s Core 2 Duo E8400 (3GHz) and E8500 (3.16GHz) dual core parts are priced at $250 and $300 (in Singapore Dollars) respectively, you could get a X2 550 BE for almost half the price at just $165. Talk about impressive price-performance ratio here…
Storage media is cheap these days, the amount of high-definition content available on the Web has also increased. Gone are the days whereby pricey home theatre equipment was the only way to enjoy good quality movies and music. People are shifting towards using their computers as a one-stop entertainment hub – computers are slowly entering the living room. However, not all computers are able to playback high definition content smoothly, hardware decoding, together with reasonably fast processors, are very handy when it comes to handling HD data.
Hence, we’re taking a slightly different approach when it comes to our motherboard recommendation for our Mainstream guide. We’ve decided to go for a board that is up to the task for high definition living room entertainment, but at the same time still has options and support for the enthusiast crowd – and that board is the ASUS M4A78-HTPC.
As a targeted-for-HTPC product, the M4A78-HTPC has quite a few stuff that would keep your eyes open.
AMD’s 780G chipset sits aboard the M4A78-HTPC motherboard. The 780G has an integrated ATI Radeon HD 3200 graphics solution, which means you could have a fully functional system without the need of adding an extra graphics card. The Radeon HD 3200 is capable of handling the latest Blu Ray and HD DVD content and Full High Definition (HD 1080p) streams. In addition, the 780G chipset supports Hybrid Graphics. Available only to users who run Windows Vista, they can enable Hybrid CrossFireX, which allows simultaneous rendering from both the integrated HD 3200, and a discrete graphics card which supports the feature for better graphics performance.
Display outputs are not an issue here, with connectors for HDMI, DVI and VGA. If you’re on the integrated graphics solution alone, or intend to utilise ATI’s Hybrid Graphics technology, simply connect the cable of your choice. One wouldn’t have problem with output to a standard desktop monitor, or even living room LCD television sets.
We have support for up to 8-channel audio, which can be used for gaming and home entertainment. As this board is also positioned as a Home Theatre PC (HTPC) board, you get additional bells and whistles like S/PDIF and optical outputs, and interestingly, gold-plated RCA outputs. RCA jacks are found commonly on amplifiers for hi-fi equipment rather than your typical multimedia speakers.
That’s not all, the M4A78-HTPC also offers independent power input and circuitry for the onboard audio components. This reduces electrical noise, which in turn improves sound quality.
There are also other features available such as Tranquil Mode, whereby the motherboard adjusts processor and chassis fan speeds according to temperature. Compared to running all fans at 100% speed, you would be able to note that the system is operating at a lower noise level under most circumstances.
The built-in ExpressGate is like a mini operating system. You don’t need to boot to Windows, load your applications, and stuff like that. All you need is 5 seconds from power on, and you’re ready to do things like browse the Net, use Skype, and also Instant Messaging.
Gamers and enthusiasts are not forgotten either with a bunch of overclocking options available in the BIOS for your tweaking pleasure. Overclocking and high CPU power draw required when doing so are handled by the board’s 4+1 phase PWM.
The M4A78-HTPC gives a lot of flexiblity to end-users; one could either run a low-powered integrated graphics driven HTPC machine connected to your LCD TV and home theatre sound system, or a gaming rig with ATI’s Hybrid Graphics enabled for added performance and high quality sound for an immersive gaming session. At $199, this board is a steal.