Once you’ve jumped through the hoops you’ll find that Hybrid Graphics works as advertised but that raises the bigger question. What is it for?
HD 3200 graphics core is far and away the best IGP that we have ever seen. It has a UVD (Unified Video Decoder) that supports Blu-ray and HD DVD playback with minimal CPU load, which means that you can install a cheap processor that requires very little cooling so your HTPC will be as near-silent as possible. Build a PC around 780G and it will handle every task under the sun short of gaming.
Add in a Radeon HD 3450 graphics card for £25, however, and you increase graphics performance and then when you enable Hybrid Graphics the frame rate will improve by a measurable amount. This boost in performance is free of charge but it doesn’t add the ability to perform a new task. You’re already able to run the Aero interface in Vista and to watch HD movies so the next step is to play games and that still requires a proper graphics card.
As we’ve already explained this isn’t totally straightforward and there’s further evidence of confused thinking as 780G allows you to raise the core speed of the HD 3200 core in the BIOS. It’s hard to imagine a gamer who would tinker at that sort of level when £50 will get you a moderate graphics card that does a far better job, with a lot less fuss.
On the other hand it’s also hard to see who would build a HTPC that doesn’t have an HDMI output or digital audio. On that score the Sapphire PI-AM2RS780G compares very poorly with the likes of the Gigabyte GA-MA78GM-S2H, which only costs slightly more at £60.
Indeed, it seems as though Sapphire is aiming this motherboard at a very specific segment of the market: people who want a small, cheap, quiet PC that handles their daily tasks with the minimum of hassle. Fair enough that policy has worked for Intel for many years. But, even here we hit a small stumbling block since if you use the DVI output from the IGP, at least one and probably two of the four USB ports will be blocked.
Still, there is always a market for a small, cheap and effective motherboard and no doubt this Sapphire will answer the prayers of a number of PC builders. If you’re completely skint and want to build a PC with a cheap Athlon 64 CPU that uses 780G graphics with a view to upgrading to a Phenom and a proper graphics card at a later date then it’ll do you nicely. The rest of us would do far better to spend slightly more on a 780G with more features.
There’s no denying that the 780G chipset is a jewel and the Sapphire PI-AM2RS780G is very cheap, but despite those two virtues it manages to leave us unimpressed due to its lack of features when compared to other 780G boards.