The 785G is undoubtedly an important integrated graphics chipset, particularly as we enter the back-to-school season and anxiously await Windows 7's launch, but I'm finding it hard to muster what feels like an appropriate level of excitement. Yes, the 785G will find its way into droves of budget systems powered by Microsoft's latest operating system. And yes, enthusiasts will probably snap up a good number of boards to build home theater PCs for themselves or basic desktops for friends and family. But the 785G isn't a radically new product. The integrated Radeon HD 4200 isn't much of an upgrade over the old 3200, and it's still woefully inadequate if you want to play the latest games at reasonable resolutions and detail levels. AMD hasn't fixed its south bridge AHCI drivers, allowing the plague of poor Vista and XP performance scaling to infect Windows 7. Support for multi-channel LPCM output over HDMI hasn't been added, either, despite the fact that integrated graphics chipsets from Intel and Nvidia are both up to the task. Really, beyond some new features for the UVD and support for Socket AM3 processors, little has changed since the 780G.
I suppose I'm not looking at the 785G from the proper angle, though. This is a budget chipset meant for $80 motherboards, so it's probably not meant to dazzle with new hotness. Instead, the 785G does what a modern budget chipset should: it combines more than enough I/O connectivity for the average user with a competent graphics core that can easily handle light gaming and high-definition video playback. Add in WHQL-certified drivers for Windows 7 months before the operating system's official release, and you have a solid foundation for just about any system short of a gaming rig.
So the 785G is a subtle refinement of the 780G, one that hasn't addressed some of the rough edges of the original. But then the 785G isn't exactly entering a market teeming with stiff competition. The only integrated graphics chipset that I can think of that's more capable than the 785G is Nvidia's GeForce 9300, but it's a bit of a power hog and nearly impossible to find on sub-$100 mobos. If you want to build a system with integrated graphics on the cheap, the 785G really is your best bet.
As for the motherboards we've looked at today, the Asus MA785GTD-V EVO and Gigabyte MA785G-UD3H both offer commendable flexibility, sporting not only integrated graphics processors, but also the ability to run two-way CrossFire configs. I think that also makes the boards a little confused, but it's hard to complain about having more options. After all, the presence of these full-sized ATX models isn't going to dampen the number of more focused Micro ATX designs based on the 785G. Plus, both have solid layouts and decent arrays of BIOS-level overclocking and tweaking options.
But which one is best? That's an easy call, actually. The UD3H is $10 cheaper, yet it has the best audio feature set, a much faster Firewire chip, lower idle power consumption, more PCIe slots, and support for older processors and DDR2 memory. Sure, DDR3 prices have fallen dramatically over the last year, but DDR2 is still less expensive. When you're dealing with budget systems, every dollar counts.
To Asus' credit, the EVO is a faster 785G implementation than the UD3H, in part thanks to its 128MB of sideport memory. Speed isn't the only consideration at this end of the spectrum, though. The UD3H is a better all-around board, and although I wouldn't put one in my primary desktop, it'd be just about perfect for my next home theater PC. For me, that's good enough for Editor's Choice distinction.