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ASUS M4A785TD-V EVO and M4A785TD-M EVO AM3 Motherboards Review

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Asus M4A785TD-V EVO & M4A785TD-M EVO AM3 Motherboards Review​



Manufacturer's Part Number: M4A785TD-V EVO and M4A785TD-M EVO
Price: Approximately $110 CDN or Click Here
Manufacturer's Product Page: ASUSTeK Computer Inc.



Despite the success and popularity of Intel’s new P55 platform and i5 and i7 processors, buyers continue to keep a keen eye on the green team. Let’s face it – not everyone needs all of the processing horsepower that the i7 has on tap and even fewer are willing to pay for it. Although many of our enthusiast readers may scoff at that statement, it can’t be denied that the overwhelming majority of PC users fall into the “budget” bucket. As the struggling economy continues to drag it’s feet, buyers are more and more weary of what they are spending their hard earned loonies on - and AMD has certainly taken notice.

It is no secret that the Phenom II can’t really compete with Intel’s high end offerings, but AMD has recently taken quite a handle on budget market. Instead of competing in the performance department, they have instead focused their attention on value. With their very low priced Athlon II series processors, affordable quad-cores have never been more within reach to the average consumer. At around the $100 mark, they may not be as quick as Phenom II clock-for-clock, but they still bring a fair bit of multi-threaded power to the table and provide a solid computing experience.

As great as $100 quad core processors are, they need to have a fitting platform to match. What good is a $100 processor if it has to be stuck in a $200 motherboard? AMD has undoubtedly invested a great deal in their integrated platforms, and no one can dispute the success of the 790GX/SB750. Although the 790GX was an integrated platform – a great one too - it was still more of a mid-range platform with quite a few PCI-Express lanes and a slightly higher price tag to go along. AMD has trimmed down and updated the platform to further increase it’s value proposition and make the platform a perfect mate for their new Athlon II series. Enter AMD’s new 785G/SB710 chipset with integrated Radeon 4200 series graphics – AMD’s latest integrated socket AM3 chipset platform.

Today we’ll be taking a look at a pair of new boards from ASUS based on the 785G/SB710 chipset combination dubbed the “M4A785TD-V EVO” and the “M4A785TD-M EVO”. Both boards are outfitted very similarly, but the “V” model is a full-ATX form factor, while the “M” is a more compact mATX model. Both are priced very competitively given their rather generous suite of features in the $100 range. How about a $100 board to match with a $100 quad? It makes a lot of sense to us!

Without further ado, let’s see just how much bang the EVO “V” and EVO “M” bring to the table.


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lemonlime

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AMD’s 785G/SB710 Chipset

AMD’s 785G/SB710 Chipset

Although there is plenty of information circulating on AMD’s 785G/SB710 since it’s release a few months ago, we thought we’d provide a quick overview and refresher for those interested. As always, we’ll start with the requisite block diagram.

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Much like all AMD processors since the advent of the Athlon 64, memory control is exclusive to the processor and has virtually nothing to do with the chipset and platform. With that said, motherboard manufacturers can decide whether to offer DDR2 or DDR3 support as all AM3 processors are backward compatible with both standards. Both of the M4A785TD models we’re looking at today are exclusively DDR3, and we wouldn’t expect a lot of continued focus on DDR2 given the relatively similar price/GB for both DDR2 and DDR3 these days. We should also mention that although the 785G was released in tandem with the Athlon II series of processors, the platform equally supports higher end Phenom II processors. The only consideration that board makers must take into consideration is the higher TDP of Phenom II quads and must outfit power delivery systems accordingly. Both the EVO “M” and EVO “V” that we’re looking at today will accept all AM3 processors, including the 140W Phenom II X4 965.

The AM3 processor used on this platform interfaces with the 785G using the tried and true “HyperTransport 3.0” bus for heaps of bandwidth between processor and chipsets. As expected, all PCI-Express 2.0 lanes are provided by the 785G chipset for a grand total of 22 lanes. Only 16 lanes are provided for discrete video purposes and unfortunately, can’t be split for 8X/8X crossfire configurations as was possible with the 790GX. An additional six 1X lanes are available for either slots or for onboard components. Some motherboard makers set aside four of those lanes for CrossFireX support as we’ll see shortly with the M4A785TD-V EVO, but it is unfortunately a bandwidth-squeezed configuration for higher end cards.

Before we cover off on the new integrated Radeon 4200 IGP, let’s take a quick look at the SB710 southbridge. Without getting into too much detail, we’ll begin by saying that it is almost identical to the SB750. About the only real feature difference you’ll find is the lack of RAID-5 support – something almost no one in the consumer space is interested in. Six SATA-2 ports, a single Parallel ATA channel, twelve USB 2.0 ports, legacy PCI and HD Audio are all taken care of by the SB710. Another great feature that enthusiasts are very interested in that has been maintained in the SB710 is “Advanced Clock Calibration” or ACC. As we’ll see later in the review, the SB710 allows unlocking of Deneb cores just like it’s predecessor the SB750.

So with all of that out of the way, let’s take a closer look at the integrated Radeon 4200 graphics on the 785G.

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Although newer than the 790GX, the 785G is not superior in performance. We just thought we’d get that out in the open right away. It is, however, superior to the older 780G in all respects. All three AMD IGPs platforms are built on the same low-power 55nm process and employ 40 shade-processors. The big thing that sets apart the 790GX from the 785G is clock speed. The 790GX operates at 700MHz compared to the 500MHz of both the 785G and 780G. Hopefully there will be some overclocking headroom on tap as we’ll test later in the review.

The significant differences really come in the form of features. The 785G is the first of the pack to bring DirectX 10.1 support, HDMI 1.3 and implementation of AMD’s UVD2. UVD2 or “Unified Video Decoder 2” brings further enhancement in the form of multiple video stream acceleration (think picture-in-picture) as well as other image quality enhancing features. Lots more information on UVD can be found here.

Like the 790GX, the 785G also supports “Hybrid Crossfire X”. This essentially allows the IGP core to work in tandem with a similar discrete graphics core to improve performance. There has surprisingly been a lot of confusion and contradictory information as far as which cards can be paired with the 785G. Given the 4000 series name, it seems odd that lower end 3000 series cards are intended to be paired with the chipset, rather than 4000 series cards. Even AMD’s hybrid crossfire site has not yet been updated to include the 785G at the time of writing. It sure would be nice to hear the official word from them on this.
 
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lemonlime

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Packaging and Accessories

Packaging and Accessories

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Both the M4A785TD "V" and "M" come in green boxes that we’ve come to expect from ASUS. It seems that this is becoming a standard of sorts. Hey, green for AMD, blue for Intel – It makes perfect sense to us. The boxes are adorned with lots of colorful feature badges outlining all of the significant board features. There is also a nice full-color image of each board on the rear of the box.

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As expected, the M4A785TD-M comes in a smaller, lower profile box that hints to its smaller footprint.

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Within, we are greeted with a rather weak accessory package from both the M and V models. There are literally only essentials to be found included with these boards – especially the M4A785TD-M. Although pretty sparse, we should note that the EVO boards are targeted toward the budget conscious, and ASUS would much rather put effort into the boards themselves than throw in mostly useless extras that won’t even be used.

The following is included:

M4A785TD-V EVO:
  • 4x Black Locking SATA Cables
  • 1x IDE cable
  • Rear I/O shield.
  • Software CD and Manual
  • 2x Quick Header Connect Adapters

M4A785TD-M EVO:
  • 2x Black Locking SATA Cables
  • 1x IDE cable
  • Rear I/O shield
  • Software CD and Manual

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We were pleased to see ASUS include higher quality “locking” SATA cables of the black variety. These cables provide a nice and secure connection and are favoured by most buyers. Most boards – especially entry level models - include the cheaper non-locking models. Only the full size ATX model, the M4A785TD-V includes quick-connect adaptors for the header and USB leads. These adaptors make removing and reinstalling the board a quicker affair as it is not necessary to plug in all of the various connectors each time.

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Both boards are protected in a standard anti-static bag. Unfortunately, there is no protective padding to be found underneath the board.
 
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lemonlime

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A Closer Look at the M4A785TD-V EVO

A Closer Look at the M4A785TD-V EVO

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At first glance, the overall layout of the M4A785TD-V EVO is quite good. The ATX power connector and SATA ports can be found at the edge of the board, and the CPU-power connector is located at the top left – all ideal locations. The IDE connector really isn’t in a very good location near the case header connections, but this is forgivable given that most people don’t use IDE devices these days. You’ll also notice the absence of a floppy header – good riddance in our opinion.

From an expansion slot perspective, the layout looks good as well. There is triple slot spacing between the two full-length PCI-E slots and the 1X slot can accept very long cards without obstructing anything on the board. ASUS was a little bit excessive with the legacy PCI slots in our opinion, but definitely a good thing for those with older wireless cards and sound cards.

USB headers and case headers can be found in the usual south west corner of the board. A parallel header can also be found here for those desperately hanging on to their trusty HP LaserJet 4, but an optional port bracket will have to be purchased from ASUS to use it. The clear CMOS jumper is in a decent location, just above the case header connections, but may be difficult to access with a video card installed in the lower slot.

We should also mention that there are three fan headers on the M4A785TD-V, conveniently located at both east and west sides of the board for intake/exhaust fans. The 4-pin CPU fan header is oddly located at the north west extreme of the board, but still close enough not to be a problem.

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Taking a closer look at the top half of the board, we see that ASUS decided to use a standard 4-pin CPU power connector instead of the 8-pin found on higher end boards. Although this doesn’t cause an issue as the two standards are backwards compatible, it does limit the current deliverable to the CPU in extreme overclocking scenarios.

Now with the minor 4-pin observation out in the open, we’ll look at a feature you really don’t find in budget priced boards – 8+2 phase power. Generally speaking, it is common to find 4+1 phase configurations, but ASUS has doubled up both the CPU power phases as well as the HT/memory controller power phases. This should help to provide a more stable delivery of power to the processor and it’s internal components. You’ll also notice that ASUS used all solid capacitors. Not just in the CPU power section of the board, but everywhere. Solid capacitors are much more reliable and should last longer than traditional capacitors. ASUS rates the M4A78T-E as “140W CPU Capable” and we certainly would agree with that statement.

There is also an interesting little jumper right near the CPU power connector labeled “OV_CPU”. Moving it away from its default position allows a CPU voltage selection up to 1.9V. Without moving the jumper, the previous limit was 1.7V. ASUS doesn’t document what this jumper does anywhere in the manual, but with a name like OV_CPU, we couldn’t help but try it out for ourselves.

A large passive heatsink also covers the MOSFETS and should help to provide extra cool in instances of “heavy power draw” – i.e. overclocking and overvolting!

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We find four non-alternating dual channel memory slots in their typical location at the top right of the board. The blue and black color separates the channels so for two dim, dual channel operation, you simply match the colors. The memory power is provided by a simple single-phase design. This is expected given the price of the board, and should be just fine for the majority of buyers out there. As mentioned, the the CPU fan header is located at the extreme corner of the board, which is a little out of the way but not really a problem. It is of the 4-pin variety, so those with standard 3-pin and newer 4-pin PWM fans are covered.

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If you’ve never been to Sydney, Australia, you need not look farther than the ASUS M4A785TD-V to see the famous “Sydney Opera House”. In all seriousness, the wide two-tone 785G heatsink adds quite an eye-catching centerpiece to the board. We’ll see just how effective this heatsink is in the “Thermal Performance” section.

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On the right hand side of the large 785G heatsink, we see half of a DDR3 module protruding. This IC is the 785G’s “side-port memory” that helps to boost performance. Although 128MB may seem puny in comparison to today’s 1GB discrete standard, it can boost frame rates over the sharing main memory alone. This is a very positive feature that the ASUS EVO boards have going for them, as quite a few entry level 785G boards do not have onboard side-port memory modules. This is definitely a feature prospective 785G buyers should look for if planning to use the onboard Radeon 4200 video capabilities.

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The AMD SB710 southbridge is covered by a small and low-profile passive heatsink. Although it may appear very small in comparison to the one covering the 785G, the SB710 has a very small thermal footprint and genuinely doesn’t need much in the way of cooling as we’ll see shortly.

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On the SATA side of things, we can find five labeled ports just above the SB710. You may be wondering where that sixth port went, and we’ll direct your attention to the E-SATA port on the rear I/O panel. Although the ports are not on the edge of the board in a 90 degree orientation, we were pleased with their location. Even with a very long PCI-Express graphics card in the upper slot, all SATA ports remain accessible. A case-fan header can also be found right next to the SATA ports for easy connection to a frontal case intake fan.

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The M4A785TD-V enjoys two full-length 16X slots, and a single PCI-E 1X slot. We were a little disappointed to see three legacy PCI slots on the board – in a perfect world, it would have been nice to trade at least one of these out for an additional PCI-E 1x slot as PCI is beginning to go the way of the dinosaur.

Although the M4A785TD-V does support Crossfire using its two full-length PCI-E slots, we should mention that the lower slot is held back to a mere 4X operating mode, while the upper blue slot operates with full 16X bandwidth. Since all of these PCI-E lanes hang off of the 785G chipset, it should technically have been possible to split the lanes into an 8X/8X configuration. It appears that AMD decided not to do this in order to promote higher-end - and more expensive - 790GX and 790FX offerings to the enthusiast market. With that said, a 4X PCI-E 2.0 slot is plenty for folding purposes, or for low to mid-range crossfire configurations. If we had to choose between a single slot, or the slot configuration in the M4A785TD-V, we’d gladly pick the two slots!
 
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lemonlime

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A Closer Look at the M4A785TD-V EVO Page 2

A Closer Look at the M4A785TD-V EVO - Page 2

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Moving right along, we see that firewire support is provided by the VIA VT6308P located close to the SB710 heatsink. Oh, did we mention that the M4A785TD-V included firewire support? This is definitely not a feature we expect to see with budget priced boards, so we’re happy that ASUS decided to include this. One firewire port can be found on the rear I/O panel, as well as an on-board header for internal connections.

Audio is provided by a VIA “Vinyl” VT1708S 8-channel CODEC. It is not surprising that the EVOs don’t utilize the very common Realtek brand audio CODECs. ASUS generally sticks with ADI or in this case, VIA for audio features. This isn’t really a pro or a con, but just an observation that buyers should be aware of. The VT1708S is comparable in features and specification to mid-range Realtek CODECs that we’d expect to find on a board in this price range. One nice feature is SPDIF digital output on the rear I/O panel for those with higher end DACs and amps. A full list of specifications on the VT1708S can be found at VIA’s website. VIA Vinyl VT1708/A - VIA Technologies, Inc.

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On the LAN front, the M4A785TD-V utilizes the Realtek RTL8112L PHY. Unfortunately – or fortunately for some – this seems to be a pretty new PHY from Realtek and is not listed on their site yet. From what we can tell, it is more or less the same as the RTL8111 series, which is a simple 10/100/1000Mbps controller – pretty standard stuff here. Let’s move along.

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We see that ASUS opted to use the popular ITE IT8712F-S I/O controller. This controller is responsible for hardware monitoring, fan speed management and other related tasks. Being a common model, third party applications such as “Hardware Monitor” by CPUID recognize this I/O controller without issue.

For those curious, clock generation is provided by an ICS 9LPRS485CGLF chip.

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On the rear I/O panel, we have a spread of ports not resembling that of a budget board. Here we’ve got six USB 2.0 ports, LAN, Firewire, eSATA, audio jacks and even an optical digital audio output. On the video side of things, we find not only DVI and VGA but also HDMI.

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Case header connections are in the usual south east corner of the board. We should note that the M4A785TD-V included a removable BIOS chip. If BIOS corruption occurs, it should be possible to replace the chip and avoid having to replace the entire board. Unfortunately, there aren’t any convenience power/reset switches or buttons on the EVO boards. You’ll find just the basic pin-outs we’re afraid.

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We were pleased to see that ASUS didn’t skimp on the backplate. Nothing is worse than seeing those cheap plastic models that bend easily and offer very little support. This metal backplate is standard fare on higher end models and we’re happy to see it on the M4A785TD-V. Heatsinks are secured using push-pins – not screws – but we can’t really complain at this price point. From a clearance perspective, we didn’t find any pins, capacitors or other components that would interfere with aftermarket heatsink installation.
 
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lemonlime

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A Closer Look at the M4A785TD-M EVO

A Closer Look at the M4A785TD-M EVO

Now that we’ve had a chance to take a look at the full-size M4A785TD-V, let’s have a look at the mATX M4A785TD-M.

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At first glance, the layout appears good. There are a few oddities, like the lower than usual ATX power plug and the SATA port locations at the bottom of the board. Although odd, these two observations shouldn’t cause any significant issues. The CPU power connector is at our preferred north-west corner of the board, and the USB/case header connections at the bottom. Unlike the full sized M4A785TD-V, the IDE port is in a perfect location on the mATX model.

As expected, ASUS didn’t include a floppy header on the M4A785TD-M either. An LPT and serial port header can be found at the north east corner of the board, which was a wise move. Some older front panel displays on HTPC cases utilize serial connections, and this location would be ideal for that scenario.

We should also mention that there are only two fan headers on the M4A785TD-M. This is probably sufficient given the compact nature of the board, although both are located at the top of the board, which isn’t really ideal. The 4-pin CPU fan header is actually located in a better location than on the full-size model. It can be found nice and close to the CPU socket so that you don’t have to route fan cabling around the memory modules.

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As expected, ASUS used a standard 4-pin CPU power connector for the M4A785TD-M. That is about the only thing in common it has with it’s big brother in the realm of CPU power delivery. Those interested in the micro model will have to trade in their beefy 8+2 phase power for a more “standard” 4+1 phase design. This was likely done to reduce cost and to conserve space. As you saw with the M4A785TD-V, all of those coils and caps took up a fair bit of real-estate. We should also note that ASUS didn’t include a MOSFET heatsink like they did with the full-sized model. In cramped mATX cases, cooling of the power delivery components is even more important, so we’re not quite sure why this seems to be the general trend among mATX AM3 boards today.

Although the M4A785TD-V is undoubtedly superior in this regard, we should reassure you that the 4+1 phase power system found on the micro model is a solid design that many higher end boards use – even the MSI 790FX-GD70. ASUS rates the board for 140W CPUs like the Phenom II 965, and we have no doubts that it’ll handle overclocked Phenom IIs with little difficulty.

On a positive note, ASUS continued the theme of 100% solid capacitors on the “M”. Not just in the CPU power section of the board, but everywhere. Solid capacitors are much more reliable and should last longer than traditional capacitors.

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Like the “V”, the “M” also utilizes a standard single power phase for the memory modules and utilizes color-coded non-alternating slots.

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The Sydney Opera House is back! - Albeit in a slightly smaller form. For those wondering why the heatsink appears chopped off a bit on the bottom, this is so that longer 1x PCI-E cards can fully clear the heatsink.

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Like the “V”, the “M” model also employs 128MB of sideport DDR3. This buffer helps to boost the performance on the onboard Radeon 4200 graphics controller. As mentioned earlier, this is a very positive feature that the ASUS EVO boards have, as quite a few entry level 785G boards do not have onboard side-port memory modules.

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As expected, the theme of down-sized heatsinks continues on the SB710. Although the “M” model’s heatsink appears very small, it should be plenty for the very low-power SB710 southbridge.

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From an expansion port perspective, we have a little bit of everything. A single PCI-E 1X slot, a single PCI-E 16X slot and a pair of legacy PCI slots can be found on the lower half of the board. We’d consider this a good mix for a mATX board. Those interested in Crossfire support will have to look to the full-sized model, but this is a pretty non issue as the vast majority of mATX buyers won’t care about multiple video card configurations.

The SATA ports are located at the very bottom of the board near the case headers. This may be a pro or a con depending on the case the “M” is installed in. At any rate, you’ll be pleased to know that expansion cards won’t obstruct the ports.

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We won’t go too much into the various ICs present on the “M” model as they are almost all the same as those found on the “V”. The only exception is the 1394 controller, which was swapped out for a JMicron JMB381 controller. With space at a premium, we suppose this was done due to the much smaller size of JMB model. It is literally one third the size of the VIA controller. Aside from that, the board utilizes the same VIA Vinyl audio CODEC, Realtek LAN PHY and ITE I/O controller.

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The rear I/O panel is also stacked, just like the “V”. We were very pleased to see the inclusion of both digital audio output, HDMI, 1394 and eSATA.
 
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lemonlime

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Hardware Installation

Hardware Installation

In the Hardware Installation section we examine how major components fit on the motherboard, and whether there are any serious issues that may affect installation and general functionality. Specifically, we are interested in determining whether the motherboard has adequate clearance levels in all critical areas.

M4A785TD-V EVO

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We’re happy to report that we didn’t encounter any major “show stopping” issues when installing our large Noctua NH-U12P tower heatsink on the ASUS M4A785TD-V EVO. Areas surrounding the CPU socket remain nice and open. Even the Sydney Opera H—err, 785G heatsink keeps low enough to avoid both the heatsink and any optional fans installed on the reverse side of the NH-U12P.

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As with almost all AM2/AM3 boards, the memory slots are a tad too close to the CPU socket. Very large memory modules like Corsair’s “Dominator Series” or the OCZ “Reaper” series may have clearance issues if you populate the DIMM slot closest to the CPU. Thankfully all standard profile memory heat spreaders will not have an issue with the board. As a work around, the fan could be mounted slightly higher up the heatsink for additional clearance.

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Even with a larger dual-slot video card installed, all of the board’s components and ports remain unobstructed. We were pleased to see that all five SATA ports were 100% accessible, as well as the front fan header. Things would be a little tighter with two cards installed obviously, but again, there would be no show stopping clearance issues.

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Whatever sits in the 1X slot won’t have clearance issues, but will inevitably sit close to the video card and will receive some of it’s heat output. Those with PCI-E sound cards should probably consider using the white 16X slot before using the blue 1X slot above the video card if it’s free.


M4A785TD-M EVO

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Likewise, we had no issues with installation on the M4A785TD-M EVO. The CPU socket area remains nice and clear, and the 785G heatsink is low enough not to obstruct the majority of oversize heatsinks.

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Even with a large dual-slot video card installed, the board remained completely unobstructed. This is a nice surprise given the compact nature of the board.
 
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lemonlime

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Included Software

Included Software

Now that we’ve got everything installed on our test bench, let’s take a look at some of the applications included by ASUS.

Installation Media


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ASUS packs quite a bit into their installation CD. Everything from chipset drivers to Norton Internet Security is bundled. Everything you’ll need to get the system up and running is included.

PC Probe II


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PC Probe II is a simple to use monitoring tool that displays information such as fan speeds, temperatures as well as voltage readings. There are options within the application to trigger alerts if a temperature has exceeded a given threshold. As with most “value” boards, there aren’t a whole lot of voltage and temperature sensors on the EVO “V” and “M” boards. It is also worth noting that Probe II is a “read-only” application. Fan speeds and voltages cannot be changed from the application. As you’ll see shortly, there are other programs that can fit this bill.


TurboV

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TurboV is a very handy overclocking utility that allows users to to change system clock speeds and even voltages from Windows. Those on a quest for maximum system performance will appreciate being able to change these settings within the operating system instead of an endless cycle of reboots.

We should note that TurboV doesn’t seem to come bundled with the M4A785TD-M EVO, only the “V”. We tried installing the application regardless, but unfortunately, only system clock speed (reference clock) could be adjusted. System voltages could not be adjusted and were not recognized correctly on the “M”.


GPU-NOS

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One really cool application that ASUS includes with the EVO boards is an application called GPU-NOS. Although it has nothing to do with Nitrous Oxide, it makes IGP overclocking a piece of cake. Not only can you increase the GPU core frequency, but you can also increase sideport frequency as well as the relevant voltages. Your favorite profiles can also be saved and recalled on demand. As you’ll see in our overclocking section, this tool very much comes in handy when trying to push the Radeon 4200 to it’s limits.
 
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