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Asus P5N7A-VM review



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In many respects the Nvidia GeForce 9300M chipset at the heart of this Asus P5N7A-VM motherboard is an utterly logical product as it combines the Core 2 processor with decent integrated graphics. Nvidia tried something similar with the GeForce 7000 series of chipsets which we saw when we reviewed the MSI P6NGM-FD and while the graphics were capable of movie playback they scored about 400 marks in 3DMark06 and weren't up to the task of playing any game more demanding than FreeCell.

Nvidia's next integrated graphics core was the GeForce 8300 which featured in the Asus M3N78 Pro. This was a far more impressive piece of silicon and scored 1,300 marks in 3DMark06 however it was allied to the Phenom processor and wasn't available for Core 2. It may sound as though Nvidia took its eye off the ball as Phenom has very little appeal compared to Core 2 but it took pains to ensure that GeForce 8300 was slightly faster than the AMD 780G chipset. If you were building a Media Centre around an AMD processor you now had to make a choice between Nvidia and AMD graphics but surely Nvidia had the Core 2 IGP market all sown up?

In a word, no.

Intel's G35 wasn't much better than the G965 in terms of performance as both IGPs score about 600 marks in 3DMark06 but the G45 is a completely different proposition as we saw with the Intel DG45ID motherboard. G45 has decent digital outputs, proper movie playback and scores 1,200 in 3DMark06 so the time is clearly ripe for a new Nvidia chipset, and that time is now.

Nvidia has launched a pair of chipsets that are identical apart from the speed of the graphics core. The GeForce 9300M and 9400M chips are fabricated using a 65nm process and have a 32W TDP. They support Core 2 Duo with dual channel DDR2-800 or DDR3-1333 memory. The graphics core supports DirectX 10.0 and Shader Model 4 using 16 Unified Shaders; the 9300M runs at 450MHz Core/1,200MHz Shaders while the 9400M has a 580MHz Core and 1,400MHz Shader clock speeds. Graphics memory is shared system memory so the speed is likely to be 800MHz as we doubt there will be many DDR3 versions of this chip on the market.

Nvidia tells us that the 9300M graphics core has slightly lower performance than a dedicated GeForce 8400GS graphics card. We don't have a comparison for 9400M yet except to say it's what the new range of MacBooks will be sporting. There are 20 lanes of PCI Express 2.0 so you can expect a proper x16 graphics slot on Micro-ATX motherboards while Mini-ITX designs will have to rely on the 9300/9400 graphics.

It's a single chip that combines the Northbridge with an nForce 730i Southbridge that supports Gigabit Ethernet, six SATA or eSATA ports with RAID, 7.1 HD audio, up to 2 USB 2.0 ports and a sprinkling of PCI and PCIe expansions slots.

Ordinarily we would expect review samples to use the fastest version of a new chip however the Asus P5N7A-VM has a 9300M core but we hope in time to see the P5N7A-EM which has the GeForce 9400M core. At present we don't have a price for the P5N7A-EM so we've made an educated estimate and reckon it will be a rather expensive £80-£85. The 9400M version won't be any cheaper so the new chip will be the same price as the Intel DG45ID.

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Hans Gruber

October 16, 2008, 4:04 pm

Nice review, Mr Waldock. You explained it all very well and I learned a lot.



October 16, 2008, 5:23 pm

the MSI board with this new 9300 chipset does not have dual-link DVI (so would only output low res)

can you please tell us if this Asus does..?


October 16, 2008, 5:43 pm

I'm afraid I'd have to disagree I found this a disappointingly thin review - was it rushed?

On the 3dMark chart the labels indicate you're comparing 2 Gigabyte boards - wrong chart or wrong labels?

Ok so there is not a lot of difference between this and a G45 although the Nvidia supports faster memory and has a PATA interface. By the way it would be helpful to know the driver levels you used on the G45 comparison board.

Leo Waldock

October 16, 2008, 6:35 pm

HDMI up to 1,920 x 1,200 so 1080p

DVI up to 1,600 x 1,200

VGA up to 2,048 x 1,536

Display Port up to 2,560 x 1,600

Driver versions are bang up to date for 32-bit Vista and are nForce 20.07 and GeForce 178.13 for the 9300M and INF and GFX for G45

As for Nvidia supporting PATA there is a JMicron JMB368 controller so in that respect it is just like Intel.

Hans Gruber

October 16, 2008, 7:26 pm

@Epic. I didn't know anything about integrated graphics options on motherboards, currently available today so did find it useful in that regard. I felt that part at least was well explained.

My own interest for the board did not extend any further than this, as I have a P45 board and have no use for it. Whether the review covered over features sufficiently, I'll leave for you and others to judge.

I've been browsing through some of Leo's past memory reviews and found those interesting and somewhat enlightening, too. So, I appreciate the effort in providing a readable (though less dense) overview of the differences to some of the computer components out there today. It all helps. Cheers. :)

Guilherme Mello

October 16, 2008, 11:29 pm

what CPU was used for the charts?

Leo Waldock

October 16, 2008, 11:59 pm

The CPU should have been listed on the test results - it was a Core 2 Duo E8500 running at stock 3.16GHz on 1,333MHz front side bus. 2GB dual channel DDR2 - 800MHz on the 9300M, 1,066Mhz on G45. OS was 32-bit Windows Vista Ultimate Edition.

Singulariter 1

October 17, 2008, 12:11 am

I would say check out the: ASUS M3A78-EM

It's pretty much all the same features on 780G for half the price


October 18, 2008, 1:29 am

Does this board have overclocking enabled for the GPU? I know Asus has been shy about allowing it on 780G boards, so I would assume it to be the same for the 9300M. It might be a good way to save some cash to look for a board that allows it.


November 4, 2008, 7:32 pm

Question: How many screens can the 9300M chip drive at the same time?

I'd love to use this as a second computer, but be able to drive my main TV to watch DVDs etc.. while still having my computer monitor plugged in.


November 4, 2008, 9:25 pm

Answer: Two

Looking at the manual on the Asus site it states you can run VGA at the same time as the DVI/HDMI. But you can't run two digital outputs at the same time. I can therefore drive my monitor via VGA (it's old) and have a hdmi connection to my TV.


November 14, 2008, 8:54 pm

Thanks for the review Leo. You helped me finally decide for this board :)

Now that i have it, i have some questions (maybe others can help too). I've mounted it on a Antec Fusion Remote Max case with a E8400 with a Xigmatek HDT-s1283 (yes, it fits inside that case). I'm only using the Antec 12 and 14 cm fans provided with the case, and I didnt check the temperature of the chipset until todays update of Speedfan wich told me my chipset was at 75 degrees celsius on IDLE!!! I've checked it with GPU-Z too. In your article you say you mounted a case fan to lower that temperature. You mean you mounted a case fan on the chipset? I'd like more info on this if possible

Thanks a lot, and keep the good work


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