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Power consumption
We measured system power consumption, sans monitor and speakers, at the wall outlet using a Watts Up Pro power meter. Power consumption was measured at idle and under a load consisting of a multi-threaded Cinebench 10 render running in parallel with the "rthdribl" high dynamic range lighting demo. Results that fall under "No power management" were obtained with Windows Vista running in high-performance mode, while those with power management enabled were taken with Vista in its balanced performance mode.

Both at idle and under load, the GeForce 9300 consumes about seven more watts than our G45-based system. That's not a terrible margin given the GeForce's significantly more potent graphics core, especially when you consider that the platform's load power consumption is still lower than that of the 780G and 790GX.

Micro ATX motherboards aren't often overclocked, but with official support for front-side bus speeds up to 1333MHz, the GeForce 9300 has plenty of headroom available if you want to crank the clocks on a budget Intel processor. But how would MSI's P5NGM-Digital fare when pushing a processor beyond stock speeds? To find out, we dropped the board's memory bus speed to 400MHz to take our DIMMs out of the equation and started bumping up the front-side bus speed, testing stability with a dual-core Prime95 load along the way.

We've had our Pentium E2180 up to 3.1GHz with its default voltage, and the P7NGM fell just short of that mark, making it up to a stable 3GHz. At higher speeds, the board wouldn't give us a video signal, even with additional processor and chipset voltages applied. We even tried a virgin sacrifice, to no avail.

Motherboard peripheral performance
Core logic chipsets integrate a wealth of peripherals, but they don't handle everything. Firewire, Ethernet, and audio are farmed out to auxiliary chips, for example. To provide a closer look at the peripheral performance you can expect from the motherboards we've tested today, we've complied Firewire, Ethernet, and audio performance results below. We've used motherboard rather than chipset names here because these performance characteristics reflect the auxiliary peripheral chips used on each board rather than the performance of the core logic chipset.

Ethernet performance
Throughput (Mbps) CPU utilization (%)
Asus M3N78 PRO 825 52.4
Gigabyte GA-MA78GM-DS2H 938 20.9
Gigabyte GA-MA790GP-DS4H 940 28.7
MSI G45M-FIDR 944 23.9
MSI P7NGM-Digital 940 31.9

MSI's decision to ditch the GeForce 9300's integrated Gigabit Ethernet controller in favor of a Realtek solution doesn't look like a bad one. The board delivers competitive networking performance, although we've seen lower CPU utilization from other implementations of this particular Realtek chip.

HD Tach Firewire performance
Read burst
speed (MB/s)
Average read
speed (MB/s)
Average write
speed (MB/s)
CPU utilization
Asus M3N78 PRO 40.3 32.0 24.6 2.3
Gigabyte GA-MA78GM-DS2H 42.0 37.5 24.1 2.7
Gigabyte GA-MA790GP-DS4H 42.1 37.6 24.7 2.3
MSI G45M-FIDR 34.5 31.8 13.2 1.3
MSI P7NGM-Digital 34.5 31.7 13.3 1.0

Note to motherboard makers: avoid JMicron's Firewire chip. It's slow across the board, and the P7NGM suffers as a result.

RightMark Audio Analyzer audio quality
Overall score Frequency response Noise level Dynamic range THD THD + Noise IMD + Noise Stereo Crosstalk IMD at 10kHz
Asus M3N78 PRO 4 5 4 4 3 1 3 5 3
Gigabyte GA-MA78GM-DS2H 4 5 5 5 3 1 3 6 3
Gigabyte GA-MA790GP-DS4H 4 5 4 4 3 1 3 5 3
MSI G45M-FIDR 4 5 4 4 3 1 3 5 3
MSI P7NGM-Digital 4 5 5 5 3 1 3 6 3

Despite a pedestrian ALC888 codec chip, the P7NGM matches the RightMark Audio Analyzer scores of Gigabyte's GA-MA78GM-DS2H, which features Realtek's flagship ALC889A codec.