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AMD - Biostar M7NCG Pro

Biostar might not be a brand that you recognise, but it has been around since the mid 1980’s. Biostar is one of the smaller motherboard manufacturers that has mainly targeted low volume system integrators in the past. More recently however, Biostar has switched its attention toward the consumer market and also started to produce some high-end products that should be a lot more appealing to consumers.

The M7NCG Pro is something of an odd beast; first off it’s the only nForce2 IGP motherboard with integrated graphics on test. Furthermore it’s one of few nForce2 IGP boards with dual VGA outputs on the motherboard itself.

Although this is not the most best specified motherboard on test, you still get a reasonable set of features for your money. These include onboard 10/100Mbit LAN, a single Firewire port on a rear bracket with the option for a second one, S/PDIF output and a set of six USB 2.0 ports. Those still in need of a serial port should take note that this motherboard does not come with one as standard, although it features an internal connector for an optional bracket.

Moving on to the software bundle we where quite impressed as Biostar supplies a full version of Norton Antivirus 2003, Norton Ghost 2003 and Norton Personal Firewall 2003. This is the kind of top drawer bundle we’d expect from the big manufacturers and Biostar should be commended for its inclusion.

What we weren’t so impressed by was the manual. It’s very thin, brief and doesn’t cover much apart from the different connectors and the few jumpers on the motherboard, plus a section on how to use the dual VGA output of the integrated graphics.

Unfortunately we encountered a problem while testing and it took us quite some time and a couple of phone calls to Biostar to sort it out. The BIOS allows you to change the bus speed of the motherboard and we assumed we had set everything up correctly. This was not the case however and the benchmarks came out far below our expectations. Consulting the manual provided little help and had it not been for a very helpful member of staff at Biostar in the UK we would never have managed to figure it out. There is a jumper on the motherboard that locks the bus speed to 100MHz and invalidates the setting in the Bios. A good manual would have had information about this jumper, but it was only mentioned in passing on the motherboard overview.

As the M7NCG Pro is based on the nForce2 IGP, you miss out on support for the latest Athlon 3200+ processor from AMD as well as PC3200 memory (400MHz). This also reflects in our benchmarks, as we had to test the M7NCG Pro with a 3000+ processor and force the memory to run at PC2700 (333MHz). But we where still impressed by the performance in Sysmark 2002 where it managed to beat two of the KT600 boards, both with a faster processor fitted. This doesn’t carry on trough the rest of the benchmarks though, but we still feel that the K7NCG Pro has a target audience, especially if you don’t intend to play games on your PC and want a simple setup to use with two displays.

The price of the K7NCG Pro might be a bit on the high side, although you have to consider that it does come with integrated graphics which adds additional cost to the board. Our only concern is that you might find it a bit hard to locate this board, since tracking down a Biostar retailer can be a touch chore.

Verdict

We where positively surprised by the K7NCG Pro. Although it doesn’t win any awards, it’s nonetheless a competent product for the right user, but be aware of its limitations.

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