We're going to be focusing a lot more on real-world application performance in reviews, as I mentioned in our Intel vs AMD Dual Core War review recently. We could throw all these SiSoft Sandra and CineBench numbers at you, but in the end what would it really mean? Especially in terms of motherboards! What really matters in motherboard performance is how their onboard peripherals work - and we'll get to that later. But before that, we have to find out if the motherboard is at least capable of keeping up - if not outperforming - its competition. For that, we'll use PCMark Vantage and SYSMark 2007.
PCMark Vantage was recently released, and is a completely different approach compared to what we've seen before from the PCMark team. Instead simply testing low-level performance of PC's, there are several new suites in the program that attempt to recreate what a real user might do, all using the software built into Windows Vista. This is really the way we've been going with our reviews as well, something you'll have noticed if you've been following us over the years. Although we include some synthetic benchmarks like SiSoft Sandra and even 3DMark, we feel it's far more important to test real-world scenarios. Futuremark agrees, and thus PCMark Vantage is a great fit for us.
Vantage itself runs in a way similar to the older PCMark programs - select a 'suite' to run, and it will test a variety of scenarios and give an overall score for that 'suite'. There is also a CPU test that is very much like the CPU test from PCMark 05, and a Graphics test that uses components of 3DMark 06.
Each Vantage suite was run three times, and an average score of the three is given each time.
Memories focuses on Vista's photo and video features. The tests include some image manipulation, which depends on the CPU and GPU. There is also some video transcoding (two videos are compressed to 320x240 1 Mbps WMV9 - one is 720x480 35.38 Mbps, and the other 1280x720 11 Mbps) which is obviously CPU dependant as well.
So far, the scores are pretty tight, although the NForce 570 Ultra powered board is ahead by about 5%.
TV & Movies Suite
This one is pretty obvious - it uses Vista's various video playback and transcoding features. All sorts of video types are played in these tests - 720p VC1 from an HD-DVD, 1080i MPEG-2 from terrestrial HD, and 1080p MPEG-2 from Blu-Ray. Even more video transcoding is done in this test, a lot of it also in HD. As you can guess, this suite is very CPU bound, but relies on GPU as well.
With most of the work being done by the CPU here, the scores are even.
The music suite does a lot of music transcoding, something a lot of people do every single day. There's some WAV > WMA Lossless, MP3 > WMA, as well as shrinking WMA files to a higher bitrate WMA format. There is even some web-browsing thrown in (you gotta buy your music somewhere right!) with transcoding and Windows Media Player library management going on in the background.
Once again, the M2N-E pulls ahead by a small amount - this time 3%
We all communicate using our PCs, right? So why not test it! Actually, the communication suite in PC Mark Vantage has a lot of data encryption (CNG AES ABC) as well as some data compression. Also tested in the suite are web browsing using IE7, searching within Windows Mail, and some audio transcoding to simulate VOIP.
In the Communications suite, the M2N-E pulls even further ahead - 6.5% this time.
Probably the least profound suite in the program; after all, how productive can you be in Windows without installing an Office application? These tests utilize Windows Contacts, Windows Mail, IE7, Windows Defender, and WordPad. Yes, WordPad. At least it's not Notepad. Also, Vista's startup time is tested.
Looks like WordPad works pretty well on both boards...
The gaming suite is sort of like a 'mini 3DMark' test. It runs some game engine-based CPU, GPU, and HDD tests. Level loading is tested, which makes use of data compression; it also tests multithreading by running several tests at once.
The HDD suite uses various HDD-intensive tasks within Vista. This includes a run of Windows Defender, loading a level in a game, importing pictures, video editing, media center usage, adding music to WMP11, and loading large applications. Also, Vista startup time is tested.
The AX78 performs fine here, but this was after hours of working out issues with the drive controller. I'll get to that later on in the review.
So far, the AX78 lags behind the NForce 4 570 Ultra-powered Asus M2N-E. Although it's not by a huge amount - between 3-6% depending on the scenario, performance isn't exactly on par. It's up to the other features to make up for this very slightly lower performance.
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