ASUS M3A78-EM Motherboard Review

asus-m3a78-em-motherboard
asus-m3a78-em-motherboard

Asus tends to pack a lot of features into their computer products and the M3A78-EM is no exception. As AMD-based motherboards go, the M3A78-EM is neither at the top or low-end of the spectrum. However, don’t let this ASUS M3A78-EM’s middle-of-the-road status discourage you if you’re either looking for a feature-rich, high performance motherboard,  or wanting to build a bargain-priced computer system on a cheapskate budget, as was I. The M3A78-EM has quite an impressive list of features and capabilities at a price that might surprise you.

Introduction

The M3A78-EM is a Micro-ATX, AM2 Socket, motherboard supporting a wide range of AMD Processors: Athlon 64, Sempron, Athlon 64 X2, Athlon X2, Phenom X4, and Phenom X3.
The board is based on the AMD 780G and ATI SB700 chipsets, which have been around long enough to be very stable, well-supported performers. I recently upgraded my old P4-HT-3.0GHz Computer with an M3A78-EM board, AMD 8650 Phenom X3 Triple Core Processor and 4GBs of DDR2-800 RAM. The Asus M3A78-EM board can be had for around $80 online. Unless, you’re a gamer or running intensive graphics and multimedia applications, the AMD Phenom X3 stuff is a great way to get into multi-core processing for cheap. After researching Tom’s Hardware CPU charts, I noticed that the lower-end AMD Phenom X3 processors offered very comparable performance for business applications to Intel Core-2 Processors that cost much more. The Phenom X3 seemed just right for my needs and the Asus M3A78-EM was the perfect board for it. One tremendous benefit of this Asus motherboard is its onboard, ATI, HD3200 Graphics Controller which performs fast enough that you can get by without needing to pay extra for a good PCI Express Graphics Card. So for around $200, I got decent graphics, motherboard and plenty of memory which was all I needed to make a noticeable improvement to my old system.

Asus M3A78-EM Features, Specs

    • Form Factor / Type

      Micro ATX – Socket AM2+ Processors
    • Processors Supported

      Athlon 64, Sempron, Athlon 64 X2, Athlon X2, Phenom X4, Phenom X3
    • Memory Support

      4-Slots for a total of 8GBs using PC2-6400, PC2-5300, PC2-8500, 2-channels, unbuffered
    • Graphics

      ATI Radeon HD 3200 using shared system memory
    • Audio

      Realtek ALC1200 7.1 channel, high-definition, surround sound

Connections

  • SATA Ports: 6 7-pin connectors support RAID 0, 1, and 10, 1-eSata
  • Networking: 1-10/100/1000 RJ45 Ethernet Port
  • USB: 6 USB Ports with support onboard for 6 additional
  • IDE: 1 40-pin, ATA-133 IDE Port
  • Floppy: 1
  • Keyboard 1-PS/2 Port, No Mouse Port
  • Serial / Parallel: None
  • Expansion Slots: 1 processor, Socket AM2+ , 4 memory, DIMM 240-pin , 1 PCI Express 2.0 x16 , 1 PCI Express x1 , 2 PCI
  • Graphics/Multimedia: DVI, HDMI, Firewire
  • Audio: 1 x audio, SPDIF output, TOSLINK

M3A78-EM Installation and Support

Documentation, quality and support for Third-Party computer components have come a long way. Back in the 90’s when I ran my own computer business, I can remember what an adventure it always used to be whenever I switched to a new motherboard maker or model. Eventually, I turned to a policy of genuine Intel products-only, because it was the only way I could guarantee consistency. Asus has proven to me that things are considerably better than they used to be for non-Intel products. The Asus M3A78-EM manual is far better than what I am normally used to. It is laid out well and thorough. In a matter of about 30 minutes I had the board, CPU and Memory installed in my old chassis and was able to boot into a display on my first try. The display correctly informed me that my CPU fan was improperly installed which I was quickly able to remedy thanks to the clear, distinct labeling on the board. Connecting all of the LED lights; Hard-drive, reset, power, etc., has always been a challenge for me, but thanks to a little gadget called the Q-Connector, I was able to get everything else plugged in relatively quickly and accurately on the first try. I loaded Vista Ultimate successfully. One small mistake in the manual is they recommend you download Vista Servicepack 1 before installing the motherboard drivers from the included software DVD. This is not something you can possibly do without first loading the proper LAN drivers to make it possible to get online. I went ahead and installed all of the Drivers which consisted of AMD Chipset, Realtek Audio, ATI HDMI, ATI VGA and the Realtek Lan drivers. After a few very fast reboots, I had everything installed and was able to continue with the installation of Vista Service Pack 1 and the other Microsoft updates.
Once I was satisfied everything was running properly, I explored some of the Bios Settings.
Like the manual, even the BIOS settings screen (entered by pressing DEL while screen boots up), is well explained. This is somewhat of a necessity due to the fact that Asus motherboards are pretty well loaded with unique features.

Features of the M3A78-EM Asus Motherboard

Express Gateway

One feature that threw me for a bit of a loop in the beginning was a message I kept getting that my system did not have the Express Gateway installed? What the heck is the Express Gateway, I thought? Thanks to the useful manual, I quickly learned that the Express Gateway is a pretty nifty way of booting into a hidden, built-in operating system of the motherboard. According to the manual, you can turn your computer on and be online in about 5 seconds. That’s a little bit too optimistic. I found that it takes about 20 seconds to get to the Express menu screen. The Express Gateway software must be installed from the included Software DVD, and enabled in the bios menu. It worked for me without a hitch. In a matter of seconds you will have a menu screen for chatting, Skype, online-games and internet browsing. Unfortunately, the Graphics settings do not support wide screen monitors, so the interface isn’t as visually appealing as it could be. I must say that I love the concept of a down, dirty and fast OS that completely bypasses the need for expensive Microsoft products, but I think this idea needs a bit of work and refinement before it can be a true Windows OS replacement.

Software Included with ASUS M3A78-EM

The Software DVD is loaded with applications and utilities; some useful, some not, depending on your tastes. Here’s what you get:

  • Norton Internet Security 2008Internet Security Software
  • ASUS PC Probe:Utility for monitoring fans CPU/MB Temps
  • ASUS Update: Utility for making it easy to upgrade or flash your Bios
  • Cool ‘N Quiet: Utility for adjusting fan voltages and speed settings
  • Cool MediaOne Starter:Application software for sharing and managing your multimedia data.
  • Ulead Burn Now:Software for burning audio and video CDs and DVDs
  • Ulead Photo Impact 12 se:Photo Editing software
  • ASUS AI Nap: Tool for making it easy to turn computer on or off without exiting programs
  • Raid Utilities:Installs Raid Capabilities for your particular OS: Vista or XP.
  • Other: AntiVirus, Winzip 11, Cyberlink Powerbackup and Adobe Acrobat Reader 8

ATI Hybrid CrossfireX

If you’re thinking ATI Hybrid CrossfireX might have something to do with combining a discrete PCIe Graphics with your integrated HD 3250 Graphics, you are correct. The only caveat is that this feature only works with Vista Operating Systems. Well, okay – that’s not the only caveat. You might think that Asus would make it easy to find out what discrete Graphics Cards are compatible with this technology, but you’d be wrong. If I have a pet-peeve with Asus as a technology manufacturer, it’s the poor support for teaching and training you how to maximize the features and benefits of their products. It appears that the Radeon 3000 and 4000 products will possibly work with this hybrid crossfire technology, but as of this writing, I am unsure.

Performance

There are processors that are plenty faster than the Phenom X3 8650 I paired with this board, however, I am quite satisfied with the performance. The speed at which Vista loads and runs compared to my old 2GB, P4HT-3GHz Intel system is astonishing. There are no sounds of the hard drive grinding while I wait to change screens and run multiple tasks. Everything feels much snappier and quicker. With the onboard ATI graphics sharing 256MBs of RAM, the Bios reports that I still have 3,840MB of Free Memory. My OS is installed and boots from a 160GB SATA Drive, and I use a 2nd 400GB Sata for storing Data. For what its worth, I have a 6GB paging file on the Data Drive and a 3GB paging file on the Boot Drive.

My Windows Vista Experience Score looks like this:

  • Processor AMD Phenom(tm) 8650 Triple-Core Processor 5.5
  • Memory (RAM) 4.00 GB 5.9
  • Graphics ATI Radeon HD 3200 Graphics 4.1
  • Gaming graphics 1663 MB Total available graphics memory 4.0
  • Primary hard disk 105GB Free (149GB Total) 5.2
  • Overall: 4.0

I’m here to tell ya, that the Vista Experience index doesn’t mean what it says. My previous old-dog Intel System had an overall experience score of 4.5 due to the higher-powered, discrete GeForce 7900GS Graphics Card. I’m sure 3D Games performed better with that card, but the overall experience running Vista on my new Phenom X3 system with the Asus M3A78-EM is superior by about 5-times.
If you a 400 Watt Power Supply or above and a usable chassis, for $200, you can’t go wrong with the Asus M3A78-EM motherboard, 4GBs of RAM and a Phenom X3 8650 CPU.

Final Ratings

  • Features: 92
  • Installation: 84
  • Documentation and Support: 66
  • Performance: 92
  • Value/Cost: 94
  • Overall: 86

2 thoughts on “ASUS M3A78-EM Motherboard Review”

  1. Thanks for the “rundown” on this MOBO. I’ve also got an M3A78-EM MOBO. Mine has an AMI BIOS. I’ve been trying to find out the SATA Hard Drive limitations on the BIOS.
    Recently, I installed a Seagate 3G 1Tb drive. I installed this as a second drive (a data drive-no OS). Suprisingly, it worked. Considering my System (Windows XP Pro, 32-bit) kept asking for the drivers. Seagate and Tech Support for my machine said that I didn’t need drivers.
    But, in the end, I think the drive died. Upon bootup, I’d have problems getting past the BIOS splash screen. Finally ending up with the error message : ” NTDLR is missing. Press CTRL+ALT+DELETE to restart. (by my understanding is looking for the Windows loader file).
    With that I disconnected the drive.
    My main drive (with the OS) is a WD 320Gb SATA drive.
    I’m still not sure what went wrong. I’d sure like to be able to learn what went wrong, and apply it to my “bank of knowledge”.
    Gary Stanullwich
    fhandley@hughes.net

    Reply
  2. @Gary Stanullwich:
    I have the same motherboard and what i found was that whenever you install a new hard drive it automatically becomes the one that the bios sets as the 1st hard drive and consequently tries to boot from. What I do is simply enter the bios and change the HDD boot options –> problem solved.

    Reply

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