AMD’s 690G chipset comes out for an encore

AMD launched its 690G chipset back in February, and five months later, they’re back with an update. Sort of. The chipset hardware hasn’t changed, but AMD has been fiddling with BIOSes and drivers to give the second wave of 690G-based motherboards that’s hitting the market a little extra punch.

Much of the force behind this punch comes courtesy of AMD’s claim that the 690G is now capable of smooth HD DVD and Blu-ray playback at 1080p. But you won’t find AMD’s Universal Video Decoder in the 690G. Instead, AMD says it’s been able to smooth high definition video playback through “driver streamlining.” Playback is largely handled by the CPU, and to watch HD content in all its 1080p glory, a dual-core Athlon X2 processor is required. Each HD format has different processor speed requirements, as well, and we’ve outlined those requirements below.

Format Required X2 speed
MPEG2 1.8GHz
VC-1 2.2GHz
H.264 2.4GHz

With a 1.9GHz clock speed, the affordable Athlon X2 3600+ has enough horsepower for MPEG2 playback. That won’t cut it for movies encoded in VC-1 or H.264 formats, though; you’ll need at least an Athlon X2 4600+ to ensure smooth playback with all HD DVD and Blu-ray movies at their maximum resolution. AMD also recommends dual-channel memory configurations of at least DDR2-667, and a minimum of 1GB of memory for playback in Windows XP, and 2GB for Vista.

So the 690G may now support smooth 1080p playback, but it doesn’t do so on its own. And while a 4600+ and 2GB of memory should be well within the budget of anyone who can actually afford a 1080p display, so should mid-range graphics cards from AMD and Nvidia that handle HD video decoding in hardware and provide much better 3D performance than the 690G’s integrated graphics core.

If the hardware requirements for HD playback put you off, you may be interested in the second component of AMD’s 690G refresh: overclocking. AMD didn’t put much effort into 690G overclocking at the chipset’s launch, instead opting to focus on overall platform stability. However, the company has been working on its reference BIOS for 690G motherboards, adding voltage adjustments, memory timings, CPU multiplier and HT clock control, and even the ability to manipulate the clock speed of the chipset’s integrated graphics core. These tweaking and overclocking features are all but ubiquitous on enthusiast-oriented ATX boards, of course, but they’re not nearly as common on the kinds of budget Micro ATX boards that typically play host to integrated graphics chipsets.

AMD is working with its board partners to ensure that these overclocking features make their way to end users, and Gigabyte has answered the call with the GA-MA69GM-S2H.

This board is the best 690G implementation we’ve seen, offering a full suite of overclocking features in addition to onboard VGA, DVI, and HDCP-compliant HDMI output, TOS-Link digital S/PDIF audio output, PCI Express x4 and x16 expansion capabilities, Firewire, and four DIMM slots. Add passive chipset cooling to the mix and a $76 street price, and we’ll even forgive the board’s PCI-based Realtek Gigabit Ethernet chip.

HD video playback may get AMD’s 690G redux more headlines, but given its hardware requirements, the combination of BIOS-level overclocking options and a second wave of more mature, feature-rich motherboards may ultimately prove more attractive to enthusiasts. With the “free” overclocking headroom available with many of AMD’s budget Athlon X2 processors, squeezing at least 2.4GHz from a 3600+ may not take too much effort, either.

Comments closed
    • todd
    • 12 years ago

    I have two of the S3H’s. One is in my main box, with a 65w x2 4600 and a 1650pro card. Just a surfing box. That board is real solid. Slow booting, but solid as a rock. The other board will go in a friends photoshop box with an x2 4400 and 4 gigs of ddr2 800. She’ll actually be using the onboard vid for a while. Building that box now.
    Guess I’ll go over to gigabytes site and see if there is a new bios update. Latest bios is F2, from may.
    I like these full atx boards just in case my vid card blows up. The price is right too.
    The onboard ethernet is weak. I added a nice intel card, so maybe that price isn’t quite as outstanding as I thought.

    • MadManOriginal
    • 12 years ago

    The speeds for VC-1 and h264 may make sense with the 690G graphics core, the MPEG2 decoding is definitely too high but it’s the slowest speed dual-core they sell so that probably explains it. Here is an intersting if a touch old article from February, so it doesn’t include the AMD HD 2k series and is geared toward the video card contribution, but it does show that even with low-end graphics card a decent CPU ought to be able to do it all if not bogged down with other apps. It also looks as if 1080p is what really takes some horsepower. They do use an FX-60 2.6GHz dual-core though so keep that in mind:
    §[<http://www.xbitlabs.com/articles/video/display/video-playback_9.html#sect0<]§

    • clone
    • 12 years ago

    I’ve sold a few of the older 690 Gigabyte Matx boards with XP and Vista and all of my customers are really happy with them.

    the DVI is a really nice addition and while some in online forums have mentioned the lack of overclockability…….what the heck did you expect for a sub $100 Matx board that comes with everything including a DVI option?

    it’s great to hear that the new boards do offer the feature as it may get 1 or 2 ppl in the world who just had to have a 1080p computer on the absolute cheapest budget that could only fit a 3600 AM2 dual core that had to be overclocked to fit the bill for their 1080p needs but personally I don’t tell my customers about overclocking and lock the bios’s if I suspect they will anyway.

      • evermore
      • 12 years ago

      You lock customers out of access to functions of a product for which they paid? That’s not nice. Plus from a business perspective, you should let them foul things up and then charge them to fix it.

    • LiamC
    • 12 years ago

    Are Gigabyte abusing themselves again?

    Their S-Line GA-MA69GM-*[

    • pluscard
    • 12 years ago

    If I understand this – the people with the existing 690g boards can do a bios update and get the new features.

    Nice job, AMD.

      • Kent_dieGo
      • 12 years ago

      If the MB manufacturer descides to… Lets hope Biostar has new BIOS for my new TA690G.

    • PenGun
    • 12 years ago

    There does not appear to be hardware acceleration at all. Those numbers are typical for software decoding.

    My GT6600 takes 18Mb/s 1080i mpeg2 that is nearly 100% of one athy64 2Ghz core in software to about 30% with the hardware involved. This with the fairly primitive Linux xvmc Nvidia hardware acceleration.

      • Vaughn
      • 12 years ago

      I think you are spot on, this motherboard has onboard video not a dedicated videocard. So all decoding will be done on the CPU hence the steep requirements. If you were to throw in a Decent GPU, doesn’t have to be one of the newest ones, i’m sure it will be less cpu intensive and do abit more of the processing on the videocard.

        • evermore
        • 12 years ago

        Being integrated into the chipset does not preclude the video chip doing hardware acceleration. The 690G as well as Nvidia’s and Intel’s integrated chipsets have integrated hardware acceleration features.

        What matters is exactly what things are accelerated. The 690G, being based on the X700 chip, doesn’t have even the possibility of supporting UVD, which the HD2400 and HD2600 do, but the HD2900 does not. The CPU has to do more work without UVD. So you could install an HD2900 and in some ways have no better video decode support than with the 690G (except the 2900 obviously has more power for the things it CAN accelerate). The reason this change is big is that the 690G’s drivers and BIOS are now more capable of supporting HD video so you are less likely to need an add-in card if you’ve got a capable CPU. Even with a powerful CPU, previously you still couldn’t have done HD well.

          • PenGun
          • 12 years ago

          My Opteron 165 has done a fine job for a couple of years now. Just getting into HD?

            • evermore
            • 12 years ago

            I myself don’t believe you need a 2.2GHz X2 AM2 CPU to handle it in reality. Just pointing out what AMD is marketing. And primarily that integrated graphics can do hardware acceleration.

            I’m not into HD at all yet. Can’t bring myself to plonk down the money for a nice TV when I’ve got a perfectly good Wega 32″ CRT, and am avoiding digital cable TV for as long as possible.

            My eyes suck anyway. Wonderful color is wasted on me.

            • SPOOFE
            • 12 years ago

            I’m sure a slower CPU can do it just fine. I’m sure AMD is being terribly conservative with their estimate, both, I’d guess, in the hopes of enticing new consumers into buying faster processors… and to ensure that even a system bogged down with crapware can still play video well.

            • PenGun
            • 12 years ago

            Mines a Wega too. A 34XS955N in fact. A lovely thing, almost impossible to find now, pretty well all the Super Fine Picture Tubes are gone.

    • smandzak
    • 12 years ago

    I hope this will help MSI to update their K9AG Neo2-Digital BIOS with a few more features. Its awful having a chip thats willing to overclock but is stopped by the lack of HT multiplier control. Luckily it can already adjust clock, multiplier, memory, & basic voltages.

    • StashTheVampede
    • 12 years ago

    Here is a somewhat trivial question to many of you: what software do I need to use in order to utilize the GPU for 1080p video? MPEG2 has been playable via software for some time, but VC-1 and H.264 aren’t fairing well with general software decoders.

    Do you need to use Windows Media Player? Or can you use any player as long as the latest ATI drivers are installed?

      • BobbinThreadbare
      • 12 years ago

      If your card supports it, power dvd will use it to accelerate playback.

    • d0g_p00p
    • 12 years ago

    Can someone explain to me why you need such beefy hardware to decode HD streams? I am quite sure my HD-DVD player does not have a 2.4Ghz CPU or 2GB of RAM in it.

      • Vrock
      • 12 years ago

      Actually, the first gen HD-DVD players have 2.4ghz Pentium 4 chips and 1gb of RAM. I’m thinking the high specs have more to do with OS overhead than anything else.

      • Peldor
      • 12 years ago

      Because CPUs are general purpose where a video decoder chip is special purpose. Efficiency is much easier when you’ve only got one task to worry about.

      • eitje
      • 12 years ago

      the simple answer is that an HD-DVD player has custom hardware in it designed to only do one thing: decode movies. x86 processors are general purpose devices, such that single-step actions for the custom hardware have to be generalized into multi-step actions for the x86 processor, which are again translated into micro-ops during the actual code execution.

    • echo_seven
    • 12 years ago

    Does give or take 200 MHz (pretty much just +/- 10% performance) really mean that much in terms of what kinds of things you can decode? If you can decode 30 fps of H.264 with a 2.4 GHz X2, then shouldn’t 2.2 GHz X2 should be able to decode about 27?

    Someone correct me if I’m wrong…

      • BobbinThreadbare
      • 12 years ago

      I would bet that the requirements are little high, to insure smooth playback on all the time.

    • Dposcorp
    • 12 years ago

    I just built two systems based on this board and my brother built one:
    BIOSTAR TForce TF7050-M2 with HDMI/HDCP..

    §[<http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813138061<]§ Has on board HDMI (with HDCP), VGA, and S-Video out, and comes with a HDMI to DVI adapter, so you have 4 different ways to output video right out of the box. Also has 4 Dimm slots, and onboard power and reset switches. It has a Bios tweak or two, and seems to overclock a little bit as well. ;) (If you consider a Athlon 64 X2 3600+ Brisbane 1.9GHz @ 3096Mhz okay) §[<http://forums.extremeoverclocking.com/t257764.html<]§ Has a great Bios, with CPU, Ram, and Northbridge voltage adjustments, to name a few things. By the way, you can overclock the onboard graphics if you feel the need. Very nice board for the month that I have had it.

      • flip-mode
      • 12 years ago

      Impressive. I love my Biostar Tforce 550. Only downside to your mobo is no DVI out. Edit, oops, just spotted where you said HDMI to DVI.

    • Vrock
    • 12 years ago

    It’s a shame that Blu-ray playback drives are so dang expensive. The price makes BRD HTPCs impractical to say the least.

      • flip-mode
      • 12 years ago

      That won’t stop the file sharers.

        • Vrock
        • 12 years ago

        I’m not sure I understand your point.

      • poulpy
      • 12 years ago

      Dunno about Blu-Ray but you can grab the Xbox360 HD-DVD drive and 5 titles for $170 these days, not that I’m in the market for any HD format but that’s a pretty sweet deal.

        • Vrock
        • 12 years ago

        Yeah I know, unfortunately there’s no Blu-ray drive equivalent.

        • pluscard
        • 12 years ago

        Standard DVD looks decent on an LCD display. The up-converting DVD’s look even better, and they’re inexpensive.

        I think it all comes down to the size of the display. If you’re at 42″ or larger, anything less than full HD just doesn’t cut it. At 37″ or smaller, standard DVD looks quite good.

    • pluscard
    • 12 years ago

    This is slightly off topic from the 690g, but it’s related to HD playback.

    I’m curious to see how many others are doing this. I hooked my 2 year old Sempron notebook to the rgb video input of my $767 “Vizio” LCD at 1366×768 res. I connected the audio to my surround sound with a simply mp3 to rca adaptor $3.94 at walmart. Now I go to abc.com and watch full size shows with limited commercials on my big screen. I’ve only been using it for 2 nights, so I haven’t checked out other available content. I really need a wireless mouse, because you have to click “cont.” to resume the video after the 2 commerical breaks (have to get up off the couch – that won’t work for long.)

    What’s interesting is at 1366×768, it appears to be high definition. It’s clearly better than standard def broadcasts. The second point is all my equipment is low-tech – even my dsl is only 700k down, yet it appears to work just fine.

    Finally, the direction has to be towards “TV on demand”. If I can make this a permanent setup – I might cancel my $120/mo Directv contract.

    • MadManOriginal
    • 12 years ago

    Why are mATX boards that have DVI output so hard to find on the Intel side 🙁

      • flip-mode
      • 12 years ago

      Intel’s integrated scene sucks.

        • yehuda
        • 12 years ago

        NVIDIA had promised to ship an Intel IGP chipset on Q1 07. I really don’t know what holds them back.

    • Chaseme
    • 12 years ago

    I’ve got what is I guess a first gen 690G and 1080p x264 decodes choppy with a 4600 and free CoreAVC. Put in the retail CoreAVC and no more problems.

    This is more about *itty codecs than actual hardware.

    • flip-mode
    • 12 years ago

    y[

    • yehuda
    • 12 years ago

    I ordered the ATX variant (S3H) the other day with a BE-2300 processor. Traded the bundled TV cable in the S2H for BIOS undervolting in the S3H since it’s my first AMD build (yeah) and I don’t know what to expect in terms of noise and thermals. I chose the Gigabyte over the Asus because it seems it would be easier to upgrade the stock Northbridge cooler on the Gigabyte model (which I do plan to do). Hopefully the hardware fan control works well, but if RPMs turn out to be too high I guess I can offset them with a Zalman Fan Mate controller.

    • poulpy
    • 12 years ago

    Building an HD capable HTPC wouldn’t you be better off with a dirt cheap CPU and a Radeon HD 2400?

    • Firestarter
    • 12 years ago

    This ‘news’ makes me wonder, how fast does a Core 2 Duo need to be to decode 1080p x264 content?

    • evermore
    • 12 years ago

    You can make MPEG2 video so high resolution that it requires a 1.8GHz dual-core CPU to play it? Or is it just that 1.8GHz is the slowest X2 processor they plan to make (since I can’t see that such a thing exists now) but they can’t admit that you could do it with a Sempron or Athlon 64?

    Weren’t people playing back VC-1 before the newest GPUs and CPUs came out? I think H.264 is pretty new and required high-end stuff right from the start but I thought VC-1 was a little older. Certainly old enough that TWO 2.2GHz processor cores seems like overkill.

      • dragmor
      • 12 years ago

      1080p is alot of pixels to push, playing content at 720p or your TVs 480i or 576i is much easier.

    • alex666
    • 12 years ago

    Yeah, I’d like to see some testing of this board. I’m planning on building a HTPC within the next 6 months, so this is very intriguing. It also strikes me as a rather quiet affirmation that AMD is still thinking of the enthusiast on a budget.

    • provoko
    • 12 years ago

    So do you need that mobo to do “driver streamlining”? Or just any AMD X2 will do?

    If you do need this mobo, Will TR please do a test with HD playback between 690G 2.4ghz X2 and some other mobo with a 2.4ghz X2? And of course against a 8600/2600 video card.

    Thanks.

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