Choosing a Mainstream Chipset for Phenom

Written by:  • Edited by: Christian Cawley
Updated Jul 21, 2009
• Related Guides: AMD

Choosing a Chipset series, this article looks at Mainstream Chipsets for AMD's Phenom CPU family from AMD (the 770 and 780G) and nVidia (GeForce 8 series and nForce 7 series). We compare features and prices to find the chipset that best suits your needs and possibly saves you a few dollars in the process.

By AMD: 770 and 780G

With Phenom CPU's topping out at price and performance points well below Intel offerings, it is a fair assumption that most people building an AMD powered system will be choosing mainstream components. So AMD had better get these chipsets right.

The first hurdle they ran headlong into is their ancient southbridge. The SB600 has been around for so long that it has no place on store shelves... let alone your new computer. This little fossil has support for 4 SATA devices and 10 USB devices versus competitor offerings with 6 and 12 respectively. Furthermore, running Vista on it either requires that you run your SATA devices in IDE mode with the accompanying performance, or go through the lengthy and complicated fix Microsoft documents here. Even if you do all that, SATA performance isn't where it should be.

It's not that AMD is unaware of the problem; boards with a far more competitive SB700 southbridge were supposed to be out as of January 2008, with SB750 in the higher-end boards on their heels. Delay led to delay, and it is still hard to find these boards today. In summary, don't touch an AMD chipset unless it has a SB700 or more recent southbridge.

AMD's Excellent Integrated Graphics

AMD has done some very interesting things with their newer chipsets, particularly in terms of integrated graphics: the 780G and V come with HD 3200 and HD 3100 on board, respectively, the V model being intended for business use and eliminating some of the fancier video connection options. These graphics chips are modified from the RV610 that powers the Radeon HD2400 series. Though not the newest or highest end Radeon product, including the chip from a discrete GPU, as an integrated graphics solution it is changing the way people think about integrated graphics. Though not suitable for truly demanding graphics users, it brings a level of eye-candy that people who do without graphics cards have never seen.

The 780G is also a superbly efficient chipset, with very modest power and cooling requirements. All those graphics right on board, the low power draw, and availability in μATX make this an unparalleled choice for a home theater or Mini-PC (provided of course the model you're considering has an SB700). The 770 with SB700 could be used successfully for a budget PC. It is also worth noting that AMD offers PCI-E 2.0 on all 7 series chipsets.

Before going this route though, be aware that many 770 and 780 based boards don't support AMD's fastest CPUs, the power hungry ones with Thermal Design Power requirements of 125w or more, such as the Phenom 9850. Some do, but research the issue very carefully for your specific board. AMD seems content with the argument that people who want to run their fastest processor will be happy to spring for a 790F or FX, even though the price difference on the boards is as much or greater than that of the CPU's. Use AMD's configuration tool to make sure your board/chip combo will run well, but it doesn't look like they update it very often.

blog comments powered by Disqus
Email to a friend