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Unofficial Gigabyte GA-MA69GM-S2H Mboard HTPC Thread

post #1 of 1469
Thread Starter 
I've spent some [too much] time over the past few days investigating what would be best for an "HD PC" - a PC that is primarily for playback of HD and SD video files, as well as possibly HD and SD DVDs. The PC would not be used for gaming. (I myself have a satellite HD-DVR, so I don't need tuner cards.) I have built a number of PCs, and I'm familiar with what an HD TV needs to be "fed". I did read through the recommendations here and at Anandtech, and did some research and I came up with the following:

1 - An "HD PC" needs to have an HTPC case, and be living room friendly. As such, it needs to be relatively small, horizontal, attractive, cool and quiet. The HTPC case designed by Silent PC Review fits all that, is inexpensive, is manufactured by a major case company, and includes a good PS for an HD PC. So, I can't see not building it in an Antec NSK-2480 case (especially at under $80).

2 - This means a micro ATX board.

3 - An "HD PC" is not used for gaming, and not used for multitasking. In order for it to be cool, quiet and inexpensive, it needs to use integrated graphics. These days, software decoding is cheaper, cooler, and much simpler than adding a HW-assist graphics board (and then having to spend hours getting the right PDVD update that still doesn't work right. ).

4 - HDMI is a must. Having to buy an optional HDMI fixture just adds to the cost.

5 - The only Core 2 Duo motherboard that fits the description is Abit 190HD, but there are endless horror stories on multiple forums about quality problems.

6 - The only remaining motherboard that fits everything, is the Gigabyte GA-MA69GM-S2H for AMD X2 dual core processors (which btw, is also a recommended board in the stickied thread and is the top matx AMD mboard in the Sept 10 revision of that thread at Anandtech, with the comment "Notes: The board is capable of full 1080p (H.264/VC-1/MPEG-2-encoded) HD DVD or Blu-ray playback with a faster processor (2.4GHz or higher)."). And, the big bonus is that the bottom line is much cheaper than Core 2 Duo motherboards and necessary fixtures. The Gigabyte board includes HDMI, Component and SP/DIF outputs installed, for under $80, as well as what looks to be the best IGP at the moment, the ATI 1250. The customer reviews and expert reviews for the board are both very positive.

In my case, I have a tradition of always buying the cheapest CPU that will fit the socket, and then waiting some months to get the $300 CPU for $40.

I do think a dual core is required, so I'm going to get the 4000+ and try OC-ing it using the Ctrl-F1 options - supposedly you can get 2.8ghz without much trouble, which should be more than enough for the 1.6 version of CoreAVC which is about to be released.

I'd be happy to hear any comments, arguments or questions, and so I decided to start a thread to consolidate discussion about this motherboard.

PS Some previous threads about this board:



PS The board has an amazing amound of support for both Legacy (old) devices and Modern devices, as it has connectors for 2 PATA (IDE) devices (cable included), 1 FDD (cable included) 2 PCI slots, PS2 mouse, PS2 keyboard, VGA monitor, Composite Video, S-Video, and Component Video, as well as HDMI 1.2, DVI-I, IEEE 1394a (Firewire), Toslink Optical Digital Audio SP/DIF, many USB 2.0 ports (4 jacks mounted), 8 channel lossless HD Audio (6 multi-purpose analog stereo jacks mounted), Gigabit Lan, 4 SATA 3.0gbs (2 cables included), 4 DDR2-800 RAM, 1 PCIe x16, and 1 PCIe x4, whew - amazing how all this fits on a micro ATX board. The board even includes headers for the other legacy devies, namely parallel and serial ports. The only thing not supported directly is a modem, which can easily get for ~$10 and install into a PCI slot if you needed to have one.

Important Memory Information:

4 DDR2 DIMM memory slots (supports up to 16GB memory)(Note 1)
Supports dual channel DDR2 800/667/533/400 DIMMs
Supports 1.8V DDR2 DIMMs
(Note 1) Due to the limitation of Windows 32-bit operating system, when more than 4GB of physical memory is installed, the actual memory available for the operating system will be less than 4GB; Windows 64-bit operating system doesn't have such limitation.

In other words, if you are buying memory, you need to check that it is either "1.8V" or that the range of voltages includes 1.8V (for example "1.8V-2.0V").

If Overclocking, be sure to read:

"Appendix III. Calculating Memory Frequency when Overclocking"

( scroll down a little to "AMD Platform" section )

in the long post:

post #2 of 1469
Thread Starter 
Newegg has a small discount during October when you bundle this board with 4200+, 4600+ or 5200+ CPUs (2.2ghz, 2.4ghz and 2.6ghz stock speeds respectively). And they currently have Free Shipping on the board and all three processors.

So, I ended up getting the 4200+ instead of the 4000+ (because the 4200+ is actually $2 less than the 4000+ if you buy the bundle with the board).

To get those bundle prices, you need to go to the newegg page with the Gigabyte motherboard, and then scroll down to "Combo Deals" and click on "View All".
post #3 of 1469
I'm still setting up my system with this motherboard and 5000+ Brisbane CPU with Vista Ultimate 32-bit. After installing the latest drivers from Gigabyte and outputting this to my Samsung LNT5281F tv over HDMI, I noticed serious underscan when I set the resolution to 1920 x 1080 at 60 hz. I couldn't find any way to adjust it to fill the screen with the software and drivers provided by Gigabyte. It only seemed to do 1 to 1 pixel mapping if I set the screen at 1920 x 1080 at 24Hz, but then the colors were really bad.

I then downloaded the latest ATI drivers and Catalyst Control Center and installed them. After rebooting, it still had the same black borders surrounding the desktop after being installed but when you go into the settings in the Catalyst Control Center you see that by default it is set to underscan (maybe by about 15% or so, don't recall the actual number). Adjusting this underscan setting to zero fixes the issue and now it looks perfect with 1-1 pixel mapping at 1920 x 1080, 60hz. Colors look great.

I'm just curious why it defaults to underscan with my tv using the Gigabyte software/drivers without any settings to change it; at least there were none that I could find. Seems like crappy software design to me. Anyway, simple enough to fix it by downloading the latest from ATI.
post #4 of 1469
I am using this board with a Brisbane 4800+, 2 Gigs of RAM, Vista Ultimate and the built in Toslink + HDMI connectors to my TV/Receiver. It plays everything I've thrown at it except VC1 encoded Blu-ray. I tested with a Planet Earth Blu-ray ripped to the HD and it's simply not watchable. I also tested with Xmen 3 (H.264) and it played well with no stuttering, even though my CPU utilization in PowerDVD was very high. I don't have an HDDVD drive so I cannot test that format.

All of the various other HD media samples I've tested with played fine. The list includes 1080p samples of VC1 and H.264 encoded movies you can download for free from legit websites. In fact, I think the VC1 samples were from Microsoft's site. This leads me to believe the VC1+Blu-ray issue I experienced is probably bitrate related. I guess the downloaded 1080p samples I tried were encoded at a lower bitrate then the Planet Earth series BD.

The only thing that really bothers me about this board is the fact that I cannot get DxVA2 to work in any way, shape or form. Gigabyte released a BIOS upgrade after the announced hardware acceleration support by ATI back in August for the 690G chipset. I can't find anything from Gigabyte stating that the BIOS update actually enabled hardware acceleration, although at least one hardware reviewer assumes it did. Anyhow, the long and short of it is, you can enable AVIVO support in PowerDVD (7.3 Ultra 3104a), but it just unchecks itself when you play a movie. Maybe others have had some success in Windows XP but I can't be bothered reinstalling just to test.

The only other negative I've found with this board was when I was playing around with overclocking. You can overclock the FSB no problem, but when you do so it automatically reduces the memory bus frequency. You can still get stable performance improvements by overclocking, but by forcing the memory bus frequency down it hurts access times between the GPU and RAM. No biggie, I run at stock speeds anyhow.

This is a great, stable motherboard and ideal for a HTPC. However, if HDDVD and Blu-ray playback are a must for you, I would recommend either buying a video card with CONFIRMED hardware acceleration in your OS of choice or getting a CPU in the 5600-6000+ range.
post #5 of 1469
I have this board running a BE-2350 with 2GB Ram and HDMI connected to a 42" HP plasma (EDTV). The board definitely seems to be the best choice for this type of system right now.

I'm new to HTPCs, Vista, and to media centers and I haven't had much luck with video codecs. I have an XviD that won't play in WMP or VLC, even though Gspot reports that the XviD codec is installed. I suspect that I'll need to to do some codec cleansing on my system and start over. Hopefully, that doesn't require re-installing the OS and completely starting over.

Destato - what codecs or codec package have you installed? Any recommendations?
post #6 of 1469
Not to get too off topic but in response to snapper:

I guess it depends on what you want to play. PowerDVD is good for High Definition discs, recorded Hidef transport streams or MKV files (renamed with extension .avi). I use PowerDVD for all HiDef content as it is fairly efficient and seems to render things well on my setup.

The free alternative is Haali Media splitter + FFDShow + Media Player Classic. You can use this setup with the default Directshow filters or you can play around with adding external filters like CoreAVC (not free) to improve performance. I would really not recommend installing codec packs as they usually have more than what you need (and god knows what else). MPC will also play other stuff like DivX or Xvid if you install the corresponding codecs. There is a sticky thread in this forum that goes over FFDShow in pretty explicit detail and is worth checking out.
post #7 of 1469
Anyone with this motherboard getting flawless playback in MCE 2005 from an HD Homerun? It works great for me on most channels and shows, but some like football I get a lot of stutter. Seems like when there is a lot of action is when the video stutters. This will happen even on SD channels. It seems to play back with little or no stutter in VLC. It also does not happen at all when watching DVD's through MCE, just live and recorded tv. I was just curious if anyone else with this board was getting flawless playback in MCE 2005.
post #8 of 1469
:I just ordered this board with a BE-2350 as an upgrade to my GF's computer. (actually a test bed to a soon-to-be-built dedicated HTPC). It comes in tomorrow, cant wait to get it up and running. Hard to go wrong: MB,. CPU, 2 gigs of Corsair ram, 320 gig Seagate SATA HD, and Corsair powersupply for $450 shipped next-day.
post #9 of 1469
Does anyone know what is the HDMI version number of the HDMI output on this board?
post #10 of 1469
Oops, I see that A_Dude already mentioned that it's 1.2.

I am a newbie to PC building in general so I have a very basic question about installing the MB in a case. What do you do if the rear connector cutouts on the case don't match the MB's connectors?
post #11 of 1469
Originally Posted by trainCatcer View Post

Oops, I see that A_Dude already mentioned that it's 1.2.

I am a newbie to PC building in general so I have a very basic question about installing the MB in a case. What do you do if the rear connector cutouts on the case don't match the MB's connectors?

The Motherboard comes with a backplate which fits into the case, and matches the motherboard's ports perfectly.
post #12 of 1469
Does anyone know if there is a setting which would allow audio to be outputed through HDMI and SPDIF at the same time for this motherboard? From what I can see, you can only choose one or the other. When I'm surfing the web I usually don't care to turn on my receiver and would rather play crappy system sounds and youtube content through my tv speakers but if I want to play some music I prefer it going through my receiver and it would be nice if I didn't have to go into the sound settings each time to switch it from one to the other.

One strange thing I've been noticing on my tv (samsung lnt5281f) is some random flickering and static/clipping noises with it connected via HDMI. I'm not sure if it's drivers or what is causing this. I tried switched to a DVI -> HDMI cable instead to see if there is a difference and so far I've been flicker free but I'll have to continue to monitor it. What is stranger still is that I get audio on my tv! I know HDMI is based on DVI spec for the video portion but I didn't think it was possible to get audio coming out of the DVI interface of my motherboard to the HDMI input on my tv. Anyone else notice this? Is this good for my tv? I changed my audio settings to output via SPDIF into my receiver for now to avoid any potential issues.
post #13 of 1469
I have this board. I am unable to find the datasheet of the Realtek ALC889A codec. In the driver the sample frequency is limited to 48kHz (SPDIF and HDMI). This is one big disadvantage.
post #14 of 1469
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by snapper View Post

I'm new to HTPCs, Vista, and to media centers and I haven't had much luck with video codecs. I have an XviD that won't play in WMP or VLC, even though Gspot reports that the XviD codec is installed.

If the VLC version is stable in Vista, then it should play any valid XviD file.

So, either the problem is with VLC or the file is bad.
post #15 of 1469
I've jumped aboard the boat with this board too. It's paired with a X2 4800+ Brisbane revision G2. Sofar the integrated graphics have impressed me. Going from a A64 3200+ with a 6800GT to this, the new machine feels much faster.
My current problems are getting stable RMClock operation, and Speedfan proper temperature readout.
At 12x200 MHz, the CPU runs 'stable' at 1.1v, and at 0.8-1 GHz at 0.8v.
Freedom to undervolt and reduce CPU-speed was the major reasons I went for this setup over an Intel setup.
System stability is not yet perfect. I'm using BIOS F3A is installed.
CPU usage during 1080p H264 playback looks good, but I've yet to enjoy the system through a full movie.

In some time, I'm sure this will be a perfect HTPC.

The board is excellent, with good onboard sound (though I'm using X-Fi Elite Pro), excellent IGP with many output options. Minusses are hot operation of Northbridge, and ATM system stability.
Has anyone changed the heatsink of the Northbridge, without blocking the PCI-Express 1x or 16x slots? Would a Zalman ZM-NB47J be a good upgrade?

Another project is getting the parallel VFD display connected to the internal parallel port connector. I think that will require looking into the datasheets, and measuring pins from the original LPT-connector to the VFD.
post #16 of 1469
I have this board coupled with a 6000 cpu and 2gb of ram. Running optical out to receiver and hdmi to projector.

I am in the original posters same situation. I only use my htpc for movies and have no need for tuner cards as I have a HDDVR. The system I put together for 530.00 (without hard drives) plays everything I want. It can play 1080p mkv with cpu utilization at around 32%.
post #17 of 1469
Has anyone else had any problem plugging in their power supply into this board? I have a few 2x10 ATX power supplies (the board is 2x12, but 2x10 is supposed to work as well) that have fit multiple other boards, but something's preventing the power supply from plugging in on this one. I can't see any obstructions, and the only possible thing it looks like is that the power pins are slightly out of alignment. I obviously don't want to push too hard, and am trying to figure out if I need to RMA this board.
post #18 of 1469
I'm also using a 2x10 PSU, and to make it fit in the motherboard, it needs to be put as far as possible form the SATA ports.
post #19 of 1469
Thanks for the reply...that wasn't it exactly. The PSU plug has a fool-proof design so you can't put it in the wrong position. It was the pins. I used a small filing tool to bend them inwards a bit, and my PSU finally plugged in. Am installing OS now...
post #20 of 1469
I am doing a build with the same MB. List as follows

AMD X2 5600+ (I do not want a standalone vid card in this box, HP for HD decode FTW!)
2 gigs of GSkill DDR2 800
Hauppauge WinTV-PVR 150
Antec NSK2400 case
Silverstone VFD (left over from MP3 box)
WD SE16 WD5000AAKS 500GB
Sony DVD/CD RW (only silver drive to be found, and temporary until i can find that LG combo drive)

I have everything but the proc and memory in. Just waiting for the UPS driver! I will take pictures of the build to post. (Hopefully to help someone thinking about a similar HTPC)
post #21 of 1469
Anyone confirm this configuration works with BluRay DVDs and PowerDVD playback???

The other boards have problems with HDMI onboard and BluRay, Im building a machine and I want it to work, strictly for HDMI.

Also, I have some confusion on IR abilities. I want to shutdown and start the HTPC remotely. How is this done??

post #22 of 1469
I am wondering if the HDMI jack will pass audio as well? If not, is there anyway to get the new HD audio formats off of this?

post #23 of 1469
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by penngray View Post

Also, I have some confusion on IR abilities. I want to shutdown and start the HTPC remotely. How is this done??

IR refers to InfraRed, which would be something like a TV remote control.

"Remotely" refers to over the Internet, which is entirely software that is part of Windows.

So, you are probably referring to using a remote control, which for an HTPC, is normally done by plugging in a USB Remote Control Receiver, usually bundled with the matching remote control. Probably a search of titles in this Forum with the word "remote" would bring up a lot of stuff.

ATI made a product ("Remote Wonder") that you can find on ebay, and there are also products made especially for Windows Media Center.
post #24 of 1469
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by davdev View Post

I am wondering if the HDMI jack will pass audio as well? If not, is there anyway to get the new HD audio formats off of this?


All HDMI jacks should pass audio, it is part of the specification. The Windows Control Panel->Sound will control HDMI audio.

The board is designed to pass HD Audio through the analog audio jacks on the back of the board, this is controlled by an Audio Manager application that is included on the CD-ROM.
post #25 of 1469
Originally Posted by A_Dude View Post

The board is designed to pass HD Audio through the analog audio jacks on the back of the board, this is controlled by an Audio Manager application that is included on the CD-ROM.

Great, any comments about how well this board passes the audio? I have been reading the power dvd is downsampling the newer codecs anyway, so I wonder if this is even something to worry about yet.
post #26 of 1469
Does anyone know how much more CPU intensive playing an HD-DVD image would be over an mkv.

I would much rather use only the IGP instead of buying another GPU.

Anyone out there play HD-DVD images with this board sucessfully?
post #27 of 1469
I had posted this in an earlier thread. Details about my build on this one.

Originally Posted by kapone View Post

Update on the v2 case and VFD.

Installed everything (Gigabyte s2h 690g, X2 5000+, 2GB corsair XMS2 RAM). I like the case! very nicely laid out, and the setup isn't difficult at all.

Started installing and configuring the VFD, and I realised I need to run the wire to the VFD for the POWER_SW, and then the one's from the VFD to the motherboard. This required removing the front panel, but took all of about 10 minutes.

Installed Vista Home Premium 32 bit. Updated everything (most of the drivers from the gigabyte site, updated display driver from ATI and all Windows updates). For the VFD, there's an updated driver from Antec (on their website) and another one from soundgraph (beta). Tried both. For the VFD, both work. The volume control will work only with the driver from Antec though, so ended up using that. However STILL couldn't get it to work (or the Graphic EQ). Racked my mind for 2 hours and scoured forums, until I realized (doh!), I had not installed the realtek sound driver (since the Vista default driver works, I missed installing it). Installed it, went into the VFD properties and set the realtek as the sound device, and voila! the volume control works and so does the Graphic eq.

I'm very impressed with this case, and actually the gigabyte s2h motherboard and the integrated x1250 graphics. Right now running the onboard video (with 256MB buffer, overclocked to 500, overclocked X2 5000 at about 2.9 GHz) and the CPU and system idle at around 27C! At full load, I have yet to see it go to 38C!. Very nice. And the 2 120mm fans in the case are set to low, can't hear anything from the system except the hard drive from 2 feet away (and it's sitting next to me as I type this).

I can everything from live TV (SD and HD), SD DVDs and HD DVDs and the highest I have seen the CPU go is about 60% on King Kong. But the movie runs butter smooth (and that's from my network), no stutters whatsoever. From onboard video this is amazing!

Originally Posted by kapone View Post

Update on the system.

Threw in a gigabyte 8500GT, the onboard video got deactivated automatically (it's set to auto in the BIOS), and horrible stuttering on video and audio. Random thoughts of strangling nvidia, gigabyte, microsoft, antec...were running through my head...

Decided to reinstall Vista. I deliberately went back and did a factory reset on the BIOS ("Load optimized defaults"), and did not overclock anything. The 5000 is running at it's rated speed.

Reinstalled from scratch.

- Basic Install
- Install chipset drivers
- Let Windows do its thing for all required updates.
- Installed latest Realtek Audio driver from the gigabyte website.
- Installed the Antec VFD driver.
- Installed official 163.69 video drivers from nVidia.

Reboots wherever asked for.

- Aero enabled for Vista, including transparent glass.
- Sidebar disabled and closed.
- NO other services have been shut off/disabled.

whoa!! Butter smooth system. Hell, it runs smoother than when I had it overclocked before! (note to self..don't get too enthusiastic with overclocking. Sometimes it's good to leave things alone.) I think the smoothness is due to he memory and FSB and CPU working the way it's supposed to, instead of forced timings.

- Installed HDHomerun drivers, went throught he channel scan.
- Did the registry tweaks to enable the DVD Library.
- Pointed the Library to my photos, video and music collections.

Instant nirvana!

- Live 720p/1080i HD takes about 18-20% CPU now (vs 40-50% before).
- SD DVD playback takes about 8% CPU now. (The hardware MPEG2 decoding does do it's thing on the 8 series. Which is to be expected).
- HD DVDs from the network using PowerDVD latest build run at ~30% CPU now! (as opposed to 50-60% CPU before). Very nice, and silk smooth.
- Still have to test direct from disk HD DVD playback from the Xbox drive.

The system is uber stable and responsive, even with all the Vista "eye candy" turned on. No lag whatsoever. And the video plays very very smooth... I'm impressed. The one thing I have learned over the years, is that a lot of times, it's not the hardware but the software that causes issues with an install. Especially how it's installed and configured (and in what order).

Originally Posted by kapone View Post

Some screenshots from this system.

This is live SD TV.

This is live TV HD.

Casino Royale SD DVD

Batman HD DVD (The video window is black, as PowerDVD uses overlay and snapping off a screenshot, it's black, but note the CPU usage.)

This is BOTH, PowerDVD playing Batman HD DVD and Media Center playing live HD TV at the SAME time.. Note the CPU usage.

post #28 of 1469
Wow, better results than I hoped

Thank you much kapone!
post #29 of 1469
Thread Starter 
So, it sounds like everything was working fine on the integrated ATI x1250 graphics, but nevertheless you added an Nvidia graphics card, and then you had problems.

A casual scan of this Forum indicates that you can spend 24 hours a day just reading about Nvidia graphics card HTPC problems....
post #30 of 1469
er...remember, these screenshots are from the 8500GT, not the onboard video. Although that looks great as well. I have since thrown in a 2600XT into it (I keep testing video cards...sigh...), and I actually like the 2600XT better than the 8500GT, although the 8500's MPEG-2 accelration is better than the 2600, but the 2600's VC1 is better than 8500.....grrr....
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