MSI P7NGM Digital
Written by Scott Harness   
Tuesday, 14 October 2008

thumb.JPGMSI P7NGM Digital

NVIDIA and MSI make a good team with the P7NGM Digital. This is an mATX board with more features than you might expect, and more to offer than just budget media duties.

Manufacturer:
Price:

Today is the release day for the new motherboards. We will be looking at the based mATX motherboard, which aims to bridge the gap between onboard graphics and game playing frame rates, something that can come in handy if you're on a budget or perhaps looking to build a Multimedia PC such as an HTPC. It doesn't stop there though, as the gives the more than one trick up it's sleeve.

Usually, onboard graphics means "just enough" but with the 9x00 series, are keen to point out that just enough is "not good enough". Coupled with Full HD Decoding, these are seriously diverse boards, and in the case of the , it's a lot to put on the shoulders of a small board. Will it hold up? Let's find out.

Specifications

Form Factor
mATX
CPU

LGA-775 supporting the Intel Core 2 Family / Pentium D / Pentium 4 / Celeron D / Celeron

Chipset / MGPU
NVIDIA GeForce 9300
FSB
Supports up to FSB 1333 MHz
Memory

Dual Channel DDR2-800

Direct 10 Support

Yes

Graphics Cores 16
Core/Shader Clocks 450/1200 MHz
Texture Fill Rate 3.6 Billion / second
Max. AA 16x
RAMDACs 400MHz
Max. HDR 128-bit
Max. Analog Res. 2048x1536
Max. Digital Res. 2560x1600
GeForce Boost Yes
NVIDIA PureVideo HD Yes - Full HD Decode (1080i/p)
Display Options RGB, Dual-Link DVI, HDMI
PCI 2
PCI-Express 2.0 20 Lanes (1x16, 1x4)
SATA II 6 Ports
MediaSheild

Yes

NIC

10/100/1000

Audio

HDA 7.1 LPCM (Azalia)

Ports

USB 2.0 (12 / 2C) / IEEE-1394 (1x header, 1x rear) / PS2 (2) / 6 Audio / 1x VGA / 1x HDMI (1.3a) / 1x RGB

Key Features of the GeForce 9300

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Advanced, highly integrated, single chip design offers game changing performance—five times the performance of Intel integrated graphics.

A 16-core motherboard GPU that delivers enough horsepower to drive top DX9 and DX10 enthusiast games—at playable frame rates—with full support for hardware antialiasing and advanced filtering.

A first for integrated graphics: the ability to run the top 30 games at playable frame rates, and more importantly, with full support for advanced graphics features, ensuring the game is experienced the way it was meant to be played.

Adobe® Photoshop® CS4 allows digital artists of all kinds to work in a more intuitive way by taking basic Photoshop tasks and accelerating them with the power of NVIDIA motherboard graphics.

Brings CUDA technology to new mainstream desktops.

New Hybrid PhysX feature turns the motherboard GPU into a dedicated PhysX processor.

Dedicated PureVideo HD video processor powers full spec BluRay playback with support for 8-channel LPCM audio, delivering the most advanced media center capabilities of any integrated graphics platform.

Full offload of H.264, VC-1, and MPEG-2 HD video titles at lower CPU utilization frees the CPU for other tasks, and a perfect HQV HD score means the highest visual quality of any integrated-graphics platform.

Support for HybridSLI technology delivers 70%+ faster performance

It's clear here that the are aiming to provide you with as much as possible for as little as possible. Budget gaming, budget HD Multimedia and even budget Photoshop Acceleration are all rolled in to the feature set of one motherboard, keeping costs low but end user options open. But I want to expand a little on some of the features above.

The Hybrid PhysX feature is going to be quite appealing at first glance to many, however we are still waiting on a game to make 'proper' use of PhysX. Ok, that's fine, when that killer game comes along, I'll upgrade my graphics and use the onboard MGPU for PhysX. Unfortunately, as powerful as the 9x00 series MPGU's are, they are not powerhouses, and warn you that combined with anything over a 9500GT will likely degrade your frame rates. If you want PhysX, it's more likely you'll want more than a 9500GT in the first place. Also, for right now at least, Hybrid PhysX support can only be found under Vista 32bit.

Hybrid SLI or GeForce Boost also has caveats. Currently, only 8400GS and 8500GT cards support GeForce Boost. GeForce Boost technology only improves performance over the motherboard GPU when low- to –mid-level GPUs are used. High-end GPUs will not offer additional performance when GeForce Boost is enabled.

Dedicated Purevideo HD playback and offloading of H.264,VC-1 and MPEG2 HD is very welcome here. Blu-Ray drives are coming down in price daily, and now with no need for a separate (albeit cheap) graphics card to offload the work to as well, a very cheap HD multimedia machine can be built.

No matter how you look at the features, both positive and negative, there are plenty of them to provide you with the fullest possible all round end user experience without making a large dent in your wallet.

The MSI P7NGM Digital

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Our sample is an mATX sized board but don't let it's size fool you. This thing is overflowing with features. The board itself is based on a rather nice black PCB and has everything you could need and more all on-board. Around the CPU socket, we can see a 4 pin AUX connector, which does sit a little lower than we would like. Apart from this, the socket area is clear enough for the largest of cooling setups. The MGPU heatsink is a simple fanless object sporting the MSI logo and is quite unobtrusive. As we have seen of late, MSI have kept with the Dual Channel coloring setup for the DDR2 Dimm slots; 1 stick in a each slot of the same color. Next to these sit the 24pin main power, the FDD port and the single IDE port.

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MSI have provided the full 6 SATA II ports and these are clustered under the ram slots. Bottom left, the traditional PCI slot area has a total of 4 slots; from the top, a single 1x PCIe slot, a single 16x PCIe 2.0 PEG slot and two PCI slots.

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The I/O Panel is quite interesting. We have the usual twin PS/2 ports for mouse and keyboard. Next is a HDCP HDMI slot, and yes it is a full HDMI slot, with the board capable of outputting 7.1 Audio as well as 1080p Video. VGA and DVI ports sit just below. Four USB 2.0 port, a Firewire port and a GB NIC come next. Finally, 6 audio jacks for regular sound.

bios  bios bios bios bios

The BIOS for the P7NGM Digital is of the usual MSI fair, and provides quite a lot of options for a small board. Being a board with GPU capabilities, you are able to choose how much system ram, 32M-256M to appropriate.

bios bios bios

bios bios bios

Under the Integrated Peripherals heading, the HD Audio Controller can be set for Internal, External or Internal + External. This means that you are able to receive audio from the HDMI (Internal) and the 6 regular audio jacks (External) or both at the same time.

bios bios bios

Whilst not traditionally the best of overclockers, this mATX board does provide a few overclocking options. The CPU Frequency can be set manually or via the (linked) FSB. Dram options cover all the major memory sections such as CAS and tRAS. The PCIe frequency can be manually set. Voltage adjustments can be made for the CPU, DRAM, NB and VTT FSB Voltage.

Considering this is a small budget board, there is certainly a very full BIOS to go with it, one that supports all the latest CPU options too.

Testing - Motherboard

Test Setup: Intel E6420 (2.13GHz), 2x 1024MB Patriot DDR2 PC2-6400, Maxtor 500GB 16MB Cache HDD, Vista Home Premium SP1

For Comparison, the MSI P45 Platinum and the Asus Blitz Formula (P35) were used. All Three boards used an MSI 8600GT during this portion of the testing.

Testing Suite

- We ran the memory bandwidth benchmark.

- A good indicator of CPU/Motherboard performance is version 4.2, by Xavier Gourdon. We used a computation of 10000000 digits of Pi, Chudnovsky method, 1024 K FFT, and no disk memory. Note that lower scores are better, and times are in seconds.

- CDex v170b2 was used to convert a 440.5MB Wav file to a 320kbs MP3. Times are in minutes:seconds, and lower is better.

DVD Shrink - We ripped the War of the Worlds bonus feature off the disk at 100% and compressed the file from the hard drive to 70%. Times are in minutes:seconds, and lower is better.

– We converted the same VOB file (531MB) from our War of the Worlds bonus feature used in the previous test to a 344MB x.264 file in an MP4 container. A 1 Pass High Performance profile was used with program defaults for everything else.

- Photoshop is perhaps the defacto standard when it comes to photo editing tools. Given that it is so popular, we incorporated DriverHeaven's latest test into our review process. Lower scores are better, and times are in seconds.

Enemy Territory: Quake Wars @ 640x480 and Crysis @ 800x600 at LQ Settings - While higher resolutions tax the video card, lower resolutions rely on CPU and subsystem speed. Higher scores are better. We used Guru3D's Crysis benchmark tool and a custom timedemo for ETQW.

Sisoft Sandra - CPU Arithmetic

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SiSoft Sandra - Memory Bandwidth

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SiSoft Sandra - Multimedia

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The first test results are quite interesting. For a small budget board, it holds its own very well indeed. It trails slightly behind our P35 and just in front of our P45. Multimedia results are particularly good to see.

Pifast

 

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The MSI P7NGM Digital certainly does well here too. Our P35 once again sits in front, but the GeForce board is right on it's tail with only a few milliseconds seperating the two.

CDex

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I had to run these tests more than the usual 3 times (for each) because I was convinced I was doing something wrong. But everytime I did, the MSI P7NGM Digital stormed ahead with around a 15 second lead over the other boards. With it's capabilities in the multi-media department and peformance like this for audio conversion, it's concievable to use this board as a basis for a home media hub; films, photos and quick audio conversions when adding to your library.

DVD Shrink

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Again, another test we would like to see the MSI P7NGM Digital do well in as media hub is DVD ripping and it doesn't dissapoint. Keep in mind, we are using a small clip from the War of the Worlds DVD, so any savings will be multiplied over a longer time period/full disk.

Auto-MKV

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While the previous two tests showed a marked increase over the comparison boards, here things are more in line with the present company.

Photoshop CS3

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Photoshop CS3 is unfortunately not accelerated by the board, hence the similar results above. I don't have Photoshop CS4 to test with but if you've run the DriverHeaven test yourself, you will know that (as indicated above) it does take a while to run through. Any Acceleration for Photoshop can only be a good thing, and puts the MSI P7NGM Digital at the top of the list for budget Desktop Publishing Office machines along with it's Multi-Media capabilities.

Gaming - ETQW

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Gaming - Crysis

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Keep in mind these are our standard motherboard tests, and to keep things fair, the P7NGM was using an MSI 8600GT just like the other two boards. We'll examine it's graphic prowess soon, but for now, as a subsystem, it keeps up with the comparison boards well enough.

Testing - 3D Graphics Test Suite

Test Setup: Intel E6420 (2.13GHz), 2x 1024MB Patriot DDR2 PC2-6400, Maxtor 500GB 16MB Cache HDD, Vista Home Premium SP1

Half Life 2: Lost Coast – Even though time has moved on, it still manages to impress, and you can't argue at the price. We ran through a typical 2 minutes of play at highest possible settings, including HDR.

Crysis – This FPS hit the scene and pretty much brought every machine to their knee's, and still does. It might seem a little odd then to be using such a heavy duty game for an onboard graphics solution, but let's see how it does anyway.

Enemy Territory Quake Wars – Whilst there is no doubt that ETQW's likes a decent CPU and subsystem, it still requires a decent graphics card to get the best out of it too.

Half Life 2: Lost Coast

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Lost Coast plays extremely well. Ok, hardcore gamers are going scoff at the numbers, but this is onboard graphics we are using here, and running at 1280x768 (16:10 Aspect) with High settings, Reflect World, 2xMSAA, 4xAF. Pretty impressive for some 'lunch time at work' gaming.

Enemy Territory: Quake Wars

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ETQW runs well as long as it can maintain (or near to) 30 FPS. I've tested using my own config, as set up for an 8600GT at 1280x800. Medium settings through out, 2xMSAA, 4xAF. Nothing overly ambitious for an 8600GT and not all that much of a struggle for the MSI P7NGM Digital either.

Crysis

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Yeah, I must be mad. Crysis. The game that brings graphics cards to their knee's, and I'm trying to run it with onboard video. Everything set to low, 1024x768, but it wasn't quite enough. It was pretty close though. Perhaps with a faster CPU to back it, you might get Crysis into the playable range for the majority of the game, although no doubt the end levels, especially the mountain exit in the snow will be a slideshow.

Testing – Video playback

Test Setup: Intel E6420 (2.13GHz), 2x 1024MB Patriot DDR2 PC2-6400, Maxtor 500GB 16MB Cache HDD, Vista Home Premium SP1, Dell 2005FPW 20.1” Widescreen Monitor and/or Sony KDFEA12U 50” Rear Projection (720p/1080i)

Cyberlink's PowerDVD Deluxe 8 was used for playback while Vista's built in performance monitor provided real time indication of CPU usage.

HD MPEG2 – We used a 2 minute capture of Monsters Inc at 1080i, specifically the scene in the restaurant. Peak Mbps for this clip was recorded at 26.84Mbps and an average of 17Mbps. We recorded the average CPU usage during playback, lower numbers are better.

De-interlacing – We visually tested the effects of the cards de-interlacing capabilities with playback of the opening 3 minutes of Will Smith's I, Robot at 1080i MPEG2.

MPEG4 AVC – 1080p, 21.02Mbps Peak, while not exactly going to stress a system too much, The Dark Knight trailer 3 offers enough of a performance test for our purposes. Like the MPEG2 test, we recorded the average CPU usage, lower numbers are better.

HD MPEG 2 1080i – Monsters Inc

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This test is a simple playback of the restaurant scene, a clip lasting 2 minutes. The MSI P7NGM Digital makes light work of it, with an average CPU usage of just 1.97% and peaking at only 3.37%. Additionally, this was using the highest available De-interlacing method. Using VLC and the CPU to playback (Interlacing set to X) and things change considerably. You really don't need a high performing CPU to pair with this board for 1080i playback at all.

1080i Deinterlacing

I, Robot's opening scenes can be a real load when it comes to interlacing; the bubbles and the ceiling fan look horrific without proper De-interlacing. Again, the MSI P7NGM Digital's 9300 MGPU doesn't disappoint, providing a crisp, vibrant image without any visible lines or judder.

H.264 1080p

 

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The Dark Knight (Trailer 3, 1080p) doesn't put a huge load on the system, but as you can see, at only 1.23% average load (never peaked higher than 4%), the MSI P7NGM Digital barely bothers the CPU at all. A near 30% CPU usage is recorded for the same clip playing via CPU.

Final Words

The , based on the new NVIDIA GeForce 9300 MPGU, offers a jack-of-all-trades board for users on a budget.

While not doing the best in the synthetic tests, we've seen the keep up with and even occasionally surpass Intel P35's and P45's in many real world applications. Don't forget, a few functions of Adobe's Photoshop CS4 are accelerated by the board as well, which makes for a cheap workhorse setup for the office.

If multimedia is your thing, then the does very well, especially when it comes to High Definition playback. There are 3 options to choose from for display, one of which is a fully HDCP 1.3a compliant HDMI port providing a 1 cable home theatre solution. 7.1 Azalia sound (8 Channel LPCM Digital Audio) and upto 1080p playback of all the major HD formats can be done by the board itself, which means you can buy a cheaper, low powered CPU and skip on the graphics card completely. Couple that with DDR2 prices of late, and when it comes to price, the is on to a clear win as an HD HTPC base. Speaking of the display options, nView Multi-Display is supported as well.

Still the has more to offer with its gaming capabilities. Now don't get me wrong here; you're not going to get high resolution, full optioned gaming. What you are going to get is true playable frame rates at low resolutions and with limited (mid range) eye candy on todays games. Older or less graphically demanding games such as ETQW's or Source engine based games can be run at the 1280 to 1024 range of resolutions comfortably, and even with middle to high graphic options in the games, there is (depending on the game) often enough performance in the 9300 MGPU left over to allow for a little MSAA. DX10 Crysis performance sat a just a couple of frames behind DX9 performance as well, but considering we were having to run at lowest possible graphics settings, it didn't really matter visually if we used DX9 or DX10. I did try to play Racedriver GRID, but was unable to lower the games settings to get playable frame rates; it was close though, very close, and you may find a fast CPU could bring it into playbable range.

NVIDIA are also keen to point out that Hybrid SLI and Hybrid PhysX are supported, and whilst nice I can't see these being overly popular features. Hybrid SLI currently works with 8400GS and 8500GT cards, and let's face it; they're not power houses. If you're looking for a board like this, then the on-board graphics performance is more than likely going to be enough. If you want more, you will likely want more than an 8500GT has to offer. That said, budget gamers will like the price saving and performance games of the cheap combined with a cheap 8500GT. Hybrid PhysX is a much more appealing feature at first glance, but were still waiting for that 'killer game' that will really make PhysX desirable and there are caveats to using Hybrid PhysX (9400 or 9500 series cards work best, faster cards can actually degrade performance. You also currently need to be running Vista 32bit).

You get an awful lot in such a small board here, and the board itself has been a pleasure to use in the short time I've had to test it. I've not had any lockups, BSOD's or other issues, and apart from rebooting to adjust BIOS options or install drivers, it's been running solidly, loaded on and off during testing and retesting for the past 4 days. Also keep in mind that the drivers used are bound to mature as time goes on, potentially offering more performance.

If you're on a budget and you like to game, then the has a lot to offer. If you want HD Playback without the expense of a high performance CPU or Graphics card, then you can't go wrong with the . If you want a cheap workhorse board for the office that will perhaps help out during photo editing, again you are not likely going to find a better base for your system. Perhaps you want all the above; work from home during the day editing on a multi-monitor setup, and at night use the same PC for Blu-Ray playback and a little large screen gaming. The , based on the NVIDIA GeForce 9300 is the little board that could.

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