The Asus M3A76-CM is a decent yet mildly disappointing affair. A mATX offering, it can’t seem to decide whether to aim to please HTPC owners or overclockers, and pleases neither.
Notable features include:
- Socket AM2+: Athlon, Phenom and Phenom II processor support
- DDR2 1066 support (for two of the four channels)
- Maximum of 8GB RAM supported
- Onboard graphics (ATI HD3000) with Hybrid CrossFireX Support
- Onboard sound
- RAID support
- HyperTransport 3.0
- Gigabit Ethernet
- PCIe 2.0
A full list can be found on Asus’s website.
Processor and RAM
Apparently supports Phenom, Phenom II and Athlon processors. Mine is currently running with the AMD Athlon X2 7750+ Black Edition. As for RAM, it does support DDR 1066, but for only officially one DIMM on each channel, making a maximum of 4GB. You might get away with more, but it’s at your own risk. The memory can be run in Ganged or Unganged mode, the latter providing more performance, in theory, for multi-core processors. I’m running a Corsair 4GB kit of 2 x 2GB DDR2 1066MHz/PC2-8500 XMS2 with 5-5-5-15 timings at 2.1V. Crucial RAM should be good as well, though.
The M3A76-CM uses the AMD 760G chipset and is coupled with the SB710 southbridge. This provides RAID facilities in the form of RAID 0, RAID 1, RAID 0+1, and JBOD arrangements. Note, however, that RAID 5 is not available – for that, you need to look at the SB750 or some other similar chipset.
Unfortunately, XP doesn’t like this RAID setup. I had massive issues trying to install Windows XP Professional SP3 on a RAID 0 array. Neither loading the necessary drivers from a floppy disk nor slipstreaming them worked. Setup would fail with the message: “Setup did not find any hard disk drives installed in your computer.” After a lot of head-bashing, I tried Windows 7 RC on the first day it was released. The RAID 0 array was picked up by Windows 7 straight away without any quibbles whatsoever. Thumbs up to 7 for its built-in support.
The 760G is a cut-down 780G: it lacks the high-definition hardware acceleration of the 780G. Seeing that one of the main aims of this board might be the HTPC market, this could be a deal-breaker. You really don’t want a CPU fan going at full whack during a quiet period of your latest Blu-ray acquisition. Budget for a decent quiet CPU fan such as the Scythe Ninja II (or its smaller brother, the Scythe Mini Ninja, more suitable for HTPCs) if you must buy this board.
The other main issue I have with the chipset is with its limited overclocking facilities. I understand that if this is not aimed at enthusiasts, there may be little point in releasing enthusiast options. However, in this case, the SB710 hardware would be able to support Advanced Clock Calibration (ACC), which has the potential to unlock disabled cores in Phenom X3 processors and even Athlon Black Editions…and what have Asus done? Not enabled it. If the hardware can support it, why not provide the BIOS option? It’s annoying. As of BIOS version 1001, no ACC option is available.
Onboard sound and graphics
Not much to say here. It features onboard video in the form of the ATI HD3000. Interestingly, it does allow Hybrid CrossFireX, which allows another compatible ATI card to be paired with the onboard graphics for supposedly better performance. Personally, without having tested it, I’d be concerned about memory bottlenecks; however, I’m not a gamer, and would be interested to hear if it does provide benefit.
On the plus side, the onboard DVI connection is HDCP compliant, so provided you’re running Vista or above, you should be able to play Blu-ray films with little problem.
The Asus M3A76-CM is a mixed bag. It provides a decent array of features, and is probably adequate for normal business use. Yet it has a below-average northbridge paired with an above-average southbridge. It ends up just being frustrating, though: it’s being held back by a string of underwhelming BIOSes that fail to make full use of the hardware. Asus need to realise that since it’s not quite good enough for the HTPC market, it should be made as palatable as possible to overclockers. And that means enabling ACC.
Overall rating: 6.5/10