Abit AN-M2HD mATX Motherboard Page: 1
Introduction

With the huge focus on Intel's Core 2 line of CPUs, AMD have been left somewhat behind in the world of technology. But with the huge price drops that AMD have enforced over recent months AM2 has become a more than attractive option for the less raw power-hungry users out there. Today I'll be looking over a mATX offering from Abit, the AN-M2HD. This board has been developed with the Hi-def Home Theatre PC in mind. Lets see how this board fairs in the OC3D Labs.

Packaging

The AN-M2HD is presented to us in a light green box, depicting what I can only describe as a cell-shaded lady demoing the board in a theatre set-up. There's the usual logos from AMD, Nvidia and the board manufacture to draw attention to what the product boasts.
 
AN-M2HDBox_f

The rear of the box lays down a lot of detailed information about the product inside and the accessories, that both accompany, and are available separately for it.

AN-M2HDBox_B

The motherboard and accessories are all kept separate in Abit's familiar method. Abit use of clever inserts create compartments for each item.

AN-M2HDBox_in

Underneath we see the board is held in place and protected by the cardboard insert.

AN-M2HDBox_board


Package

The accessories that accompany the board are quite generous and include:
 
AN-M2HDPack

I must say that its nice to see Abit including the DVI to HDMI cable to save the end user buying one separately.

Specification

Taken directly from Abit's site:
 
# CPU Designed for AMD® Socket AM2 Processors with 2000M T/s system bus using Hyper Transport Technology
# AMD® Cool 'n' Quiet Technology
# Chipset NVIDIA® GeForce®7050PV/nForce 630a
# Dual Head Display Controller
Full NVIDIA nView multi-display technology capability, with independent display controllers for one digital HDTV and one analog monitor
# Memory 4 X 240-pin DIMM sockets support max. memory capacity 8GB
# Supports Dual Channel DDR2 800 un-buffered ECC / Non-ECC memory
# Graphics Integrated GeForce7 Series Shader model 3.0 DirectX9 graphics
# Programmable PureVideo HD Video Processor
# HDMI Integrated TMDS interface with HDCP key
# LAN Gigabit Ethernet
# Audio On board 7.1 CH HD Audio CODEC
# Auto Jack Sensing and optical S/P DIF Out
# Expansion Slots 1 x PCI-E X16, 1 x PCI-E X1, 2 x PCI
# Internal I/O 1 x Floppy Port supports up to 2.88M B
# 1 x Ultra DMA 133/100/66/33 IDE Connector
# 4 x USB 2.0 header (support 8 ports)
# 4 x SATA 3Gb/s connector
# 1 x IEEE1394 header
# 1 x S/P DIF Out header
# Back Panel I/O 1 x PS/2 Keyboard, 1 x PS/2 Mouse
# 7.1 CH HD Audio connector (Front, Line-in, MIC-in, Center/Subwoofer, Surround, Rear Surround)
# 4 x USB2.0, 1 x RJ-45 LAN Connector, 1 x 1394
# 1 x HDMI, 1 x D-Sub, 1 x S/P DIF Out
# Serial ATA 4 x SATA (RAID) 3 Gb/s
# Supports SATA RAID 0/1/0+1/5 and JBOD
# Form Factor mATX form factor 244 x 244 mm
# PCB Color: Blue
# RoHS 100% lead-free process and RoHS compliant
# Windows Vista Microsoft Vista Premium visual interface support

On the next page we'll take a look at the boards layout...


Abit AN-M2HD mATX Motherboard Page: 2
 
The Board
 
 
Overview
 
Here you can see an overview of the board. The first thing that strikes me is the 4 DIMM slots, with most mATX boards sporting only 2 to save space and money. Another feature that struck me about this board was that abit have bothered to add a heat sink to the pwm area. With a 3 phase design (seen below) I was left wondering if this was entirely necessary.

The back of the board is nothing out of the ordinary, bur abit have added a large backplate to the retention bracket for holding the HSF assembly on. I felt this was a nice touch as it'll minimise bending of the board.
 
SATA_plugs

The bottom right of the board shows off its 4 internal USB headers and 4 SATA ports. Whilst bottom centre there lies the front panel header and the clear CMOS jumper. Abit deserve a special mention for their fantastic jumper design here. While its by no means new, it can be an absolute life saver.
 
PCI_slots
 
Moving to the left we come to the PCI slots. Abit have gone for a balanced mixture with these, readying the board for PCI-E cards while retaining the ability to use today's and older hardware via the PCI slots. Further left again we see the front panel audio and firewire headers.
 
PWM_area
 
Moving upwards we see the PWM heatsink. As I mentioned earlier, and I'm not sure if this is necessary, but I'm wondering if we'll find somthing else under there. Just above that the ATX 12v1 connector is placed exactly where it should be, at the very edge. Abit have gone for a 4 pin option here rather than an 8, and I'm guessing that this is due to the motherboard not being aimed at overclockers, and there was simply no need for it.
 
Socket

Across to the right we come to the CPU socket. The mounting system is slightly reminiscent of a socket 939.
 
DIMM_slots

Finally, top right we see the dimm slots, FDD and IDE connectors and the 24 pin ATX conector. The latter being nice and close to the edge of the board allowing cable tidying to be easier, and leading to a cleaner system. Which could be an important factor in a cramped media chassis.

Overall the board is layed out extremely well and there shouldn't be any conflicts when installing large heatsinks or dual slot graphics cards.


Abit AN-M2HD mATX Motherboard Page: 3
I/O Options
 
I/O_options

Here we see the I/O options mounted on the AN-M2HD. All the essential are included here: with 4 usb ports; ethernet; firewire; 2 PS2 ports; enough analogue plugs for a 7.1 speaker system + microphone, optical out, a D-Sub (VGA) connector and finally the ever important HDMI port. I would have liked to have seen an eSATA port on here, but it's understandable that its been left out due to the intended nature of the board.



Bios

The An-M2HD has been shipped with a pretty standard Pheonix award BIOS. Providing all the usual functionality of a BIOS menu with a few mild overclocking features and the options for the on-board GPU added in.
 
Bios_main

Bios_CPU
 
The very basic overclocking options the bios contains are stored under the softmenu heading, containing controls for the FSB & PCI-E clock speeds and the multiplier under the 'CPU operating speed'. The Vcore and DDR2 voltage controls are included under that heading.

Bios_4
 
The 'PC health status' menu allows you to control the shut down temperatures and fan speeds. I was quite impressed by the options available in this section as the board is geared towards HTPC solutions, and keeping the unit quiet is a major priority. Also found under this heading was the usual temperature readouts and fan speed reports.

Bios_CpuV

Bios_DDR2v
 
The two shots above show an impressive, if not ambitious, voltage range for both RAM and the CPU; with a  maximum of 2.55v and 2.00v respectively. I felt these were rather high values for a board not aimed at the overclocking market.

Flip the page to take a look at ....


Abit AN-M2HD mATX Motherboard Page: 4
Installation

The size of this board means that its simply a breeze to install into a normal size system. Upon mounting it in its testbed the most time consuming part of it was putting in the screws that held the board to the standoffs!

AMD's mounting system contributed to the the ease of installation. With two clips and what I can only describe as a retention arm and your ready to go (remembering the thermal paste of course).

The only niggle I came across was after installing my Arctic Freezer heatsink it would have been difficult to get RAM into the first two slots due to the DIMMs being so close to the socket. But had I installed them the other way around there was still clearance for the sticks, so the board can't really loose point for this minor inconvenience.

I can't imagine the board being too much of a hassle even when installing it in a mini HTPC case.

Testing

The setup used to put this board though its paces consisted of the following components:

AMD Athlon 64 X2 4200+
Abit AN-M2HD
1GB Crucial Ballistix PC6400
Hitachi 7K160 80GB
Seasonic M12 600W

Method

To test the motherboard I first ran it at stock using as stress test comprising of Orthos (dual Prime95), Folding @ Home running on both cores (set to idle priority) and RTHDRIBL running 1/2 screen. I let this run for 12hours to see how the board would fare.

The benches and tests used on the motherboard were:

Super PI 1m and 32m

SiSoft Sandra:

Processor Arithmatic
Procsssor Multemedia
Memory Bandwidth
Memory Latency

3DMark05 and 3DMark06 @ 1024 x 768 and 1280 x 1024

Highest playable settings:
* Counter Strike Source
* F.E.A.R.
*The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion

Windows Media and Quicktime HD Playback

HD Tach

Cinebench:

CPU Rendering


All tests are run three times for consistency and the averages given.

Note also that all of our motherboard tests also mean the we "live" with the motherboard for a two week period to make sure any issues are found.


Abit AN-M2HD mATX Motherboard Page: 5
Stability

To test the limits of this board, i subjected it to a 12 hour torture session. To really push the board I ran Orthos, a dual instance of prime95, alongside a quarter-screen instance of RTHDRIBL.



Stresspassed

I'm pleased to say that the board was still happily crunching away after the 12 hour period straight out the box. i hadn't tweaked the bios settings, or even needed to flash to the latest version to achieve stability as some of the boards that have passed though OC3D's labs have needed.

SuperPi 1 million

SuperPi is a program that stresses the CPU and memory by calculating Pi to a pre-determined level. The 1M takes it up to 1,000,000 places, and is a very effective quick bench for the speed of any PC. Because the Abit AN-M2HD is the first AMD board that we have reviewed, we have given the figures from our previous review of the Abit F-I90HD for reference. Due to the nature of the testing for HTPC use and the difference in price of the CPU's these figures are intended as a reference only and are not intended as a direct comparison.
 
Pi_1m

SuperPi 32 million

32m is a very much elongated version of the test performed above. As its name indicates it calculates Pi up to 32,000,000 decimal places, and as a result the benchmark is longer.

 
Superpi_32m
 
 
Sandra Synthetic benchmarks

The arithmetic test from SiSoft's Sandra benchmarking program are designed to test every aspect of the CPU.

 
Sandra_arethmetic
 
The Multi-media test is designed to test the tasks that media centres would need to deal with on a regular basis.
 
Sandra_multi


Memory Benchmarks

Sandra Bandwidth 

Sandra Latency
 


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3D Mark

To begin testing the 3D capabilities of the board I ran Futuremark's renowned synthetic benchmarking programs, 3DMark05 and 3DMark06. To provide a rough comparison I will compare the AN-M2HD to the F-I90HD again. But when reading the results please bear in mind that the CPU used with the ATI X1250 IGPU on the F-I90HD was far superior to the one tested with this board.

3dmark05_results
 
3D Mark 05 gave the IGPU on the board a bit of a hammering to say the least. The stressful test took its toll and this was reflected in the score.
 
3Dmark06_results
 

Again, given the extra power of the CPU the F-I90HD outscored the AN-M2HD in 3DMark06. However, the GPU scores were on par with each other.

Gaming Performance

Counterstrike: Source

The second incarnation of the popular half life mod runs off the highly adaptable Source Engine. The game is extremely scalable to match a multitude of system specifications. I tested by playing through a 3 minute timed demo recorded by myself on a server running cpl_fire during a PCW, and measuring the framerates with fraps.
 
css_results
 
Running at 1024x768 Counter Strike: Source played fairly smoothly. Whilst not the most eye-pleasing of experiences the game was playable on the 7050 chip.
 
F.E.A.R.
 
F.E.A.R is a first-person shooter developed by Monolith Productions. While it was released in late 2005, its still one of the more graphically challenging titles about that uses DirectX 9.0c features. To test the AN-M2HDs capabilities I played though a level of the game and once again using fraps. I took a snapshot of 3 minutes from it and recorded the minimum, maximum and average frame rates that the on-board GPU could produce.
 
fear_results
 
As with CSS above I had to lower the resolution for the game to become playable. But at 1024x768, with most of the settings off or low the game became playable. Unfortunately, this meant it was far from the prettiest thing under the tree
 
Oblivion
 
The latest incarnation of The Elder Scrolls series has to be one of Dx9's most testing games. Huge landscapes and high-detail models and textures make it challenging for even the most powerful of cards to run smoothly. To test the AN-M2HDs IGPU I took a 3 minute benchmark using fraps. Inside that timeslot I wandered around a cityscape, out into the wild and then entered an inn to get the most accurate feel for how the game would play on this board.
 
Obv_results
 
Unfortunately the 7050 didn't really handle Oblivion at all. I had to set the resolution to 640x480 and bring all the settings down as low as they'd go to obtain what was a borderline playable frame rate.
 
Gaming Summary
 
With all the setting turned down, CounterStrike: Source and FEAR were more than playable, but seriously lacking in the eye candy department. While this will be well below a lot of enthusiasts standards, its a vast improvement on the older generation of IGPU, where you were lucky to get a few fps on anything remotely 3D. Unfortunately it just wasn't powerful enough to run Oblivion at anywhere near its potential. If someone were to buy this board with the intention of using it in a gaming PC I wouldn't think twice about recommending they make a use of the PCI-E slot and adding in a more capable graphics card.
 
Flip the page for the HD Playback, HDTach and Cinebench tests...


Abit AN-M2HD mATX Motherboard Page: 7
HD Playback

To test the intended main function of the AN-M2HD I hooked it up via the included HDMI to DVI cable to my Dell 2407WFP. Then using media player classic, played a few different HD videos including various snippets from Microsoft's WMV HD showcase page (that can be found here) and the fantastic looking, slightly odd, open source film Elephants Dream.

Playback of the files was on the whole smooth and crisp. There were a few very, very minor glitches in the form of a bit of pixelation in the Elephants Dream, during one of the fast moving sequences. But you really wouldn't notice it if you weren't actively looking for it as I was.
 
Elephants_dream

To expand a little on what is essentially the whole point that this motherboard was designed for, I also hooked the AN-M2HD to a 37" LG 37LF65 1080p HD TV via a HDMI to HDMI cable. There was no hassle in setting it up as everything was automatically detected. This helped testing by adding the audio on the same connection, where as the HDMI to DVI cable relied on the on-board Realtek chip to reproduce the sound. I used the same videos as the 2407 and I must say it was a fantastic experience.
 
HDTach Results

HDTach is a freeware program that performs a quick benchmark of the systems hard drives and interface. It provides the user with info on various aspects of the disk and disk interface's performance including the read speed in mbps and the percentage of CPU that's used by accessing the drive. Both of which are shown in the graph below.
 
HDtach_results


As you can see the AN-M2HD actually edged out the F-I90HD in the read tests, showing that the Nforce 630 chip performs perfectly well in this department. The CPU usage was equal at 2%. Meaning that there's going to be virtually no cycles taken up by disk access.

Cinebench 10

Cinebench is a benchmarking program that assesses the performance of the computer. It's based on Maxon's popular animation software, Cinema 4D. This benchmark tests the main aspects of the setup thoroughly, through rigorous CPU and GPU tests. Unfortunately, I didn't really have a board targeted at the same market as this one to compare, as the version of Cinebench used for the F-I90HD was 9.5, and therefore the scores differed too much.
 
 cine10
 
 The AN-M2HD is once again a little restricted in the test by the CPU. The scores weren't too bad however.


Abit AN-M2HD mATX Motherboard Page: 8
Overclocking
 
To start testing the overclocking capabilities of the AN-M2HD I started by entering the BIOS and accessing the Softmenu. From here I could alter the (rather limited) options allowing  me to reach the boards maximum potential.
 
From here, with the CPU Operating speed and Voltage Control settings, i had the ability to adjust the FSB, PCI-E clock, CPU and DDR2 voltages. For these tests I also set the RAM divider and HyperTransport multipliers to lower figures to make sure they didn't impede the CPU.
 
With a very low stock Vcore of 1.2V I really didn't expect to get much out of the little X2 4200 used in this test. I was reasonably impressed with the end clock however. While maintaining a 3 hour orthos session the AN-M2HD managed to keep the 4200+ stable at 2615mhz.
 
CPUz
 
While this result is no world record for 1.2v Vcore its quite impressive. There was one oddity that I encountered that I feel I shout point out however. As you can see from the CPU-Z screenshot the FSB obtained was 237.5mhz, when the BIOS setting was 240mhz. The board would boot and operate up to 2.8ghz, but it wasn't 100% stable.
 
I encountered another oddity next. Unfortunately I can't tell whether it's the motherboard or the CPU restricting the overclock as this is the first AMD based board we've had the opportunity to look at. But increasing the voltage didn't improve the headroom on the chip at all. With an upper limit of 1.50v the chip wasn't at all Orthos stable over 2.6ghz.
 
Finally the conclusion...


Abit AN-M2HD mATX Motherboard Page: 9
Conclusion
 
To be perfectly honest, I feel that this review hasn't really shown the AN-M2HD in the best light. The fact that the AMD cpus are losing out to Intel's Core 2's has resulted in it looking like it  can't keep up. And this simply isn't the case. It does exactly what it says on the tin (or box, as the case may be) and it does it well. As far as IGPUs go, the 7050 isn't too bad. While it would still be a better option to add in a graphics card for serious gaming, for very light play it did the job.
 
When looking at this board however, you must bear in mind exactly what it was designed and built for. Which is sitting in a small case, under a large TV, playing high definition video and audio. And this task it performed at a superb level. Coupled with the Arctic Cooler and Seasonic M12 the system was inaudible over even very quiet audio tracks
 
The next best thing about the AN-M2HD is its price. Coming in at the £50 mark and combined with the fantastic pricing on AMD's current range means that you could put together the basis of a HTPC for next to nothing. It can be found for £52 and a penny over at Komplett.co.uk
 
  Komplett
 
I had this board for a few weeks just to get an overall feel for how it would perform in the longer term. And after this time I can safely say that it would make a fine basis to an HTPC by anyone's standards. I'm therefore recommending it for anyone looking for a low cost home theatre solution and also awarding it the 'Value For Money' award, as its price is a major plus point.
 
 
 
The Good:
 
The Medicore:
 
The Bad:
Thanks to abit for providing the board for review.
 
Discuss in the forums.