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AMD's 780G integrated graphics chipset lives up to its potential, delivering an incredibly complete platform for mainstream desktops and home theater PCs within a surprisingly modest power envelope. With a little help from an energy-efficient Athlon X2 4850e, the 780G's idle power consumption is nothing short of a revelation. And it's not like the chipset has sacrificed features and performance in the name of power efficiency. The 780G packs in a DirectX 10-class integrated graphics core, PCI Express 2.0, loads of expansion ports and display output options, and a very impressive video decoder capable of smooth 1080p Blu-ray playback in any format, with even a budget CPU.

In addition to its potent video decoding capabilities, the 780G's Radeon HD 3200 graphics core offers the best 3D performance we've seen from an IGP—not that we expected any less from what is essentially an eight-month-old budget GPU squeezed into the 780G's north bridge. Never before has integrated graphics come this close to delivering the kind of experience you get with a discrete graphics card.

That said, the experience still isn't close enough if you want to play the latest games and have them look even remotely like they're supposed to. We had to drop resolutions all the way down and scale in-game detail levels way back just to get playable frame rates. Hybrid CrossFire helped, but it didn't do enough. The 780G's graphics core may beat Intel's GMA slideshow by miles, but if you want to really experience games, we recommend biting the bullet and buying a proper graphics card.

The 780G's case is further helped by Gigabyte's excellent implementation in the GA-MA78GM-S2H. You get a lot of board for only $100, including passive chipset cooling, a great array of expansion ports, a fast Firewire chip, and surprisingly decent BIOS tweaking and overclocking options. Gigabyte even throws in a switch to disable AMD's TLB erratum patch should you wish to drop a Phenom into the board without incurring a severe performance penalty.

The 780G isn't perfect, though, and our enthusiasm for the chipset is tempered by an SB700 south bridge that feels more like a die-shrunk SB600 than a brand new chip. The fact that AMD has allowed AHCI problems that afflicted the SB600 to persist in the SB700 comes across as more than just a little sloppy, particularly given the hoops one has to jump through just to install Vista in AHCI mode. Mainstream desktops and home theater PCs may see little benefit from the Native Command Queuing support that AHCI mode provides, but it's a feature that should work properly. And it just doesn't.

Even through it falls short of perfection, AMD's 780G is still the best integrated graphics chipset we've ever tested and a perfect platform for do-it-yourself home theater PCs. Intel's integrated graphics performance just doesn't measure up, and while Nvidia's upcoming GeForce 8200 should provide stiffer competition, it's not ready yet. You can buy Gigabyte's 780G board today. TR

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