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USB Displays Coming; Forget About DVI, HDMI

Waging standard wars is one of those annoying, but unavoidable flaws in today’s setup of the technology industry. In a perfect world, there would only be one standard defining a technology, but the reality is that in a diverse environment as IT, there will always be different interests and there will always be customers at stake, sparking different ideas of how a certain technology should look like: Take the display segment, for example, and take a closer look at the history of interfaces will reveal a huge mess of D-SUB 15/DB-15, BNC, HDI-45, ADC, DVI-I, DVI-D, HDMI, DisplayPort. Has anyone ever thought about the idea of reusing another interface with a proven track record and that has been around for quite some time to connect a PC to a monitor… such as USB?

Of course there have been such people. Among those were Quentin Stafford-Fraser and Martin King, who were driven by the idea that multi-monitor setups should be less so complicated, which resulted in the founding of DisplayLink back in 2003. Initially, they worked on the idea to use Ethernet to connect a monitor to a PC, but quickly shifted their focus to USB. The technology made its market debut in 2007 as part of the 19″ Samsung SyncMaster 940UX monitor. Today, there are about 20 different products with DisplayLink chips available and there is more to come: We have no doubt that some of the products we saw down in Silicon Valley will create lots of buzz on gadget-crazy sites.

How DisplayLink works

An old saying claims that there is no such thing as free lunch. And that is also true with DisplayLink and its capability to transmit data between the PC and a monitor. To be able to squeeze picture through the limited bandwidth of the USB 2.0 standard (480 Mb/s), DisplayLink uses a tiling approach. The technology continuously checks the frame buffer inside a GPU for refreshed parts of the screen, using nothing else but a USB 2.0/Wireless USB connect to refresh the displayed picture. At least in theory, this would mean that you can connect as many screens as you want and you would only need a single cable. Or no cable at all (if you are using a Wireless USB hub).

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DP-160 chip on DisplayLink PCB: This is the place where DisplayLink enables USB displays.

In terms of hardware, the tiling process is covered by a combination of DP-120 or DP-160 chips with DDR memory. DP-120 is DisplayLink’s debut chip and supports resolutions of up to 1440 x 900 pixels, while the more powerful DP-160 will officially support resolutions of up to 1600 x 1200 pixels (1680 x 1050 pixels if we are talking about 16:10). Physical limitations are either six daisy-chained 1280 x 1024 displays or several 1680 x 1050 monitors. In theory, you should have no issues connecting one monitor with an USB cable, and then connecting that monitor to another one.

usbdisplaylink1
A look in how DisplayLink exactly works.

Sadly, we live in an imperfect world and this technology is not without flaws. As you can imagine, rapid image movements impacts the display refresh rate. This limitation reveals itself especially in fast-paced games and movies. USB 2.0 and Wireless USB suffer from bandwidth limits and DisplayLink users simply have to deal with occasional stuttering in certain applications. However, we expect this problem to be resolved once USB 3.0 is introduced and supported.

On the software side, DisplayLink supports 32-bit Windows XP and Vista as well as Mac OS X. 64-bit Windows XP/Vista drivers are currently in their alpha stage with an expected final release date of Q3 2008 (August). Given these limitations we took a test drive of the technology using Windows XP Professional 32-bit and Vista 32-bit. We will be waiting for the 64-bit drivers and if you are wondering about Linux, we will have to disappoint you: DisplayLink is very cautious about its intellectual property, which means that it can’t open source most of its code. Don’t expect Linux support anytime soon.

The only real issue of these displays is a lack of HDCP support, since DisplayLink’s encryption cannot encrypt encrypted packages. As a result, you will not be able to run HDCP-protected content such as Blu-ray movies on these displays. Dennis Crespo, DisplayLink’s head of marketing with an engineering head, said that the negotiation with the RIAA/MPAA – who are very protective of high-definition content – is an ongoing process: The problem here is that it is nearly impossible to explain that DisplayLink offers protected display path, we were told.

To give you an impression what experience the DisplayLink technology is offering, we decided to have a closer look at two monitors and two USB adapters. We were especially interested in the true limitations of the USB adapters. Samsung and LG are currently offering 19/22+7″ and 20″ displays. We had a chance to look at the Samsung 19” model.

Over the past couple of weeks, we have used not one, but two 19″ Samsung SyncMaster 940ux monitors in combination with a Sewell USB to DVI External Video Card. A HP Pavilion tx1000 notebook and various testbed systems (mostly equipped with Intel Core 2 Extreme processors and Nvidia/ATI graphics cards) served as PCs.

Samsung SyncMaster 940ux

SyncMaster 940ux does not differ from the regular business-oriented 19″ displays offered by Samsung today. This LCD was the launch product for DisplayLink and the specifications haven’t changed since then. The business-focused monitor uses a TN panel and displays a resolution of 1280 x 1024 pixels. Other specifications include brightness of 300 Candela, a contrast ratio of 1000:1 and a 5 ms GTG response time. According to the spec, this display should feature 160 degree horizontal and vertical viewing angles, which were actually closer to 165 degrees according to our measurements.

usbdisplaylink2
Two displays connected using a single USB cable.

Connecting the display is really something new. You only need to connect the power cord as well as a USB cable between the LCD and your PC. DVI and Analog D-SUB connectors remain unused. It gets more fun when you want to connect a second LCD: Take another USB cable and simply connect the second monitor.

We experienced a flawless installation and removal from all tested computers. You are disabling the display simply by using the Safe Remove Hardware option – the same way you work with USB flash drives and other USB hardware.

We have noticed that 720p HD video ran in our environment without noticeable stuttering, while playing games proved to be a smooth experience as well. If you play World of Warcraft or similar genre, strategies, or a Flight Simulator, you should not notice any difference to traditional displays. However, the bandwidth limits showed up in games such as Unreal Tournament III, Gears of War and Call of Duty 4: It seems that those games don’t like the tiling architecture. In Need for Speed: Pro Street we noticed issues with motion blur. Interestingly enough, the USN display worked well with other games such as Crysis and Half-Life 2: Episode Two. But our recommendation clearly is to stay away from a DisplayLink display, if you are running fast-paced games – at least as long as we are still waiting for USB 3.0.

We enjoyed several movies and had zero issues with movie playback, even in fast scenes. We were not able to detect a visible differences or disadvantages over DVI in titles such as Superman Returns, Terminator 3 and LoTR: Return of The King.

That, of course, means that you won’t notice any difference in everyday applications such as web surfing, Photoshop, YouTube, Excel, Word, Skype or a Media Player.

Given the fact that the USB controller requires CPU cycles to work, there is an obvious concerns how much of your CPU this technology will need. Two connected monitors resulted in a 30% load on a single Intel “Core 2″ CPU core, or about 8% on a quad-core Core 2 Extreme QX6800 (2.93 GHz). Expect 50% of one Q6600 core being loaded in such a scenario.

If you are looking at a much less powerful CPU, such as AMD’s Turion 64 X2 2.0 GHz, the numbers were a total CPU load of 60-70% – or 100% of one core. That leaves you with only 30-40% of your available processing power. So, plan on using such a system with a powerful processor, ideally a high-end quad-core chip.

Sewell USB External Video Card

If you own a notebook, there is a pretty good chance that your laptop does not come with DVI output. It is a sad reality, but the majority of consumer notebooks feature only an old analog D-SUB connection and connecting your laptop to anything bigger than a 22″ display usually results in a terrible picture.

usbdisplaylink3
Sewell’s compact, $130 USB external video card.

Sewell offers an USB External Video Card, a small USB box that features a mini-USB connector on one side and a DVI connector on the other. Inside the box, you will find a DP-160 chip and a clock generator on the top and a single 16 MB EtronTech chip clocked at 250 MHz DDR (500 MT/s) at the bottom.

Working with this card was a true pleasure: Plug the USB cable into one side and the DVI cable into the other. Windows and Mac OS X recognize the device, but you have to have a driver CD available or download the latest driver software. This is less practical than the LCD display, which only required connecting the display with the computer. This is somewhat of a convenience drawback, especially if you consider that Sewell is asking for $130 for this part – quite a bit for a plastic box with a PCB in it. It works great, but it is simply overpriced. You can’t charge a premium without providing that premium feeling.

usbdisplaylink4
This is how Device Manager looks like – you get a virtual graphics card and, consequently, virtual monitors.

If we put that aside, the experience with the device was flawless. Owners of a Macbook Air can use this part to get a second or third monitor. And what is even more interesting: Our screenshot was taken on a Dell 2407WFP-HC display in its native resolution: The DP-160 supports 24″ native resolution of 1900 x 1200 pixels, meaning you can plug in one or two Apple Cinema Displays (one via a mini-DVI connector). You can handle displays in the standard Display Properties just like any other display else. During the test period, we had no issues with the product.

Conclusion

After using DisplayLink for several weeks, we got used to extending our notebooks to desktop displays and vice versa. The two Samsung displays are working great together and we found that using USB is more efficient than buying anti-cluttering kits. The removal of DVI, Analog D-SUB, HDMI or DisplayPort cables is something we welcome in a cable-burdened world of computers. Don’t get us wrong, DisplayLink is not without drawbacks. However, these flaws should go away as soon as more bandwidth is offered with USB 3.0.

At the end of the day, we believe that DisplayLink is a promising technology. Without doubt a company to watch.

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Lexicon Is Launching BD-30 Blu-ray Player From Harman

Harman reported by Dvice is working on Lexicon BD-30 the upcoming Blu-ray player that offer less than 5 second of loading times. The player capable to load BD-Live titles not more than 30 seconds. It also able to play DVD as well as SACD, DVD Audio, and Compact Disc, video & audio over USB. It provide Anchor Bay’s VRS technology along with full HD 1080p output, True 24p video, and HDMI. The Lexicon BD-30 will sell with price at $3000.lexicon-bd-30

Key Features

• Complete Media Support: Blu-ray Disc, BonusVIEW, BD-Live™, DVD Up-Conversion, DVD-Audio, SACD, and Additional Media Formats

• Unparalleled Video Quality: VRS™ by Anchor Bay, Full HD 1080p Output, True 24p™ Video, Source Direct Mode, Multiple Zoom Modes, and HDMI

• High Fidelity Audio: Dolby® TrueHD, DTS®-HD, 7.1-Channel Analog Output, Dedicated Stereo Output, and Digital Optical and Coaxial Outputs

• RS232 for use with external control systems

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Monster Finally Cuts HDMI Cables’ Prices

Up until now, Monster, one of the world’s most important manufacturers of connectivity solutions and cabling, had some pretty high price points as far as HDMI cables were concerned, so high that pretty much everyone complained about it and a lot of people went for products developed by the company’s competitors. And probably due to the poor sales in this area, Monster has finally decided to cut prices down a bit, reaching a much more affordable point.

Hence, from now on, its entry-level 1-meter length of Monster Basic for HDMI cable has been reduced in price to $29.00 (a 10-dollar cut). In addition, Monster announced that it would also begin shipping a 2-meter length of Basic and 4-meter Basic for HDMI cable in May priced at $39.95 and $59.95, respectively.

The reasons why Monster has decided to go ahead with this price cut can be very easily deduced from the statement made by Noel Lee, Head of Monster, who declared that “As prices on HDTVs, entry-level DVD and Blu-ray players and other high-definition home entertainment components come down, consumers have been asking for a lower priced Monster HDMI cable. We understand that not all of our customers want or need the highest performance speed-rated cables, but would still like to purchase a product that still offers the Monster brand name and quality. Our new lower priced Monster Basic for HDMI cables not only offer a quality alternative to little-known or unknown brand HDMI cables being advertised on the Internet, they also provide our customers with a budget-priced option that’s ideal for many non-critical applications that don’t call for speed-rated cables.”
Monster Basic for HDMI products feature advanced connector and cable construction that optimizes digital signal transfer for the sharp picture and rich color from all high definition components, as well as pure digital surround sound. Additionally, for eco-conscious consumers, Monster Basic for HDMI cables feature the company’s most environmentally friendly disposable packaging, made out of recycled brown paper. Always a good idea to keep “green” fans close, right, Monster?

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MiniHDMI Might Soon Be Mainstream

You have probably never thought about an HDMI-enabled mobile phone, have you? Since the HDMI connector has a pretty large size, even in its “micro” form. However, what is impossible today may soon become possible thanks to a new prototype HDMI connector called the “mini HDMI,” a connector that measures 0.25in by 0.1in, unlike the normal HDMI connector that is 0.55in wide and 0.16in tall.

The prototype has not been confirmed yet, even if it is believed that the next revision of HDMI will also include it. What’s interesting is that, although it is so small in size, it still retains its two rows, 19 pins format. Just imagine, streaming HD video directly from your mobile phone to an HDMI-able TV or monitor.

As connectors such as HDMI and USB become smaller or faster (and sometimes both), I am more and more impatient to see how exactly they will be implemented in real-life gadgets and where technology will be heading in the near future. “Nano” is no longer a technology belonging to science fiction books and movies, it is becoming reality. We might soon be streaming movies from our mobile phones, downloading data with 200 MB/s via high-speed Internet connections and copying large files in a matter of seconds using a USB connection.

Sounds so good that it gets your head spinning just thinking about the possibilities, right? Yeah, mine as well. By the way, in case you aren’t familiar with HDMI, let me give you a quick briefing regarding its use. High-Definition Multimedia Interface, or HDMI is an audio/video compact interface that transmits uncompressed digital data from devices such as the PlayStation 3 console to an HDMI-enabled TV or monitor.

The result is a clearer, crisper high-definition image. Now, you can understand why I am so excited about a simple connector.

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WiGig Alliance Makes Push for HD Specification

The Wireless Gigabit Alliance (WiGig), an organization formed in May to develop an industry specification for high-definition wireless data sent over the 60-GHz band, is on a mission to create “wireless homes” and eliminate the need for HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface) cables. The technology is progressing quickly and a specification is targeted for late this year, making WiGig’s vision only a few months away from reality. “[We] envision a global wireless ecosystem of extremely high performance consumer electronics, handheld devices, and personal computers that work together seamlessly to connect people to the information and content that matters to them,” said Mark Grodzinsky, the WiGig marketing chair.

WiGig, however, is a late entry among several groups working toward an uncompressed wireless solution for high-definition content. The Wireless Home Digital Interface (WHDI) is in development as the next step for high-definition television and other displays, although it will operate in the more constricted 5-GHz band. Operating in the same 60-GHz space as WiGig is Wireless HD, a specification that came out in January 2008 and has already been implemented in some devices.

Both WiGig and Wireless HD offer high-speed transfer rates at greater than 1 Gbyte per second, connecting a multitude of devices, including game consoles, cameras, and mobile phones, in a single room. Reports about WiGig’s arrival were quick to call it a Wireless HD competitor. However, insiders with both organizations don’t see it that way. Instead, they say the two technologies will eventually work side by side, offering similar but different functions.

“The industry wants a gigabit-speed technology that can be used across multiple applications on many different platforms,” Grodzinsky said in an e-mail. “The WiGig specification achieves this goal, and has the support of major players from each of these segments, to ensure we keep to our mission.”

Grodzinsky sees the industry as a whole looking for a broader solution set, but he also sees “a set of consumer electronics customers that will only require the wireless HDMI functionality that WiHD provides. Therefore, we do not expect that WiGig and WiHD will be competing for sockets, but rather will both serve their customers side by side in the marketplace.”

John Marshall, chair of the Wireless HD consortium, noted that his technology already has plenty of momentum in the 60-GHz space. The group is currently developing its next-generation specification, version 1.1, and nearly 60 companies have signed up as promoters and adopters. Chipset maker SiBeam is driving much of the development.

Some of the adopters, such as Toshiba and Samsung, have signed up for both WiGig and Wireless HD, and Marshall says the situation indicates how the industry sees the future of wireless. “I think that the promoters of WiGig and the promoters of Wireless HD don’t see a competitive dynamic,” he said.

The Wireless HD consortium also has a coexistence subcommittee to ensure that there is no interference with the technologies, a problem that has appeared often in WiFi.

“Really, what you’re looking at with WiGig is very high speed data sync. What you’re looking at with Wireless HD is a wireless communication platform for audio-video data entertainment with multimedia,” Marshall said. “Take for example a phone. If you’ve got data that I want to move back and forth on that phone, you’re going to consider a WiGig solution. If you’re going to consider whether that phone is a mutimedia device, then you’re going to think of a Wireless HD solution. With WiGig you’re going to move data very fast. With Wireless HD, you can move data fast but you can also stream it to a TV.”

Another factor that must be considered for WiGig to move forward is the IEEE standards committee, which currently has a working group for 802.11ad in the 60-GHz band. According to Grodzinsky, the WiGig Alliance plans to contribute to the standard, which isn’t expected to arrive until at least 2012.

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USB 3.0 will be in PCs by Christmas

New standard will blow away slowcoach USB 2.0

USB3pichdWe knew the super-fast next-generation USB standard would be coming along sometime in the future, but we hadn’t guessed that it might be just a few weeks away.

According to the New York Times, the hardware needed to mass-produce USB 3.0 chipsets is ready and production will begin in earnest in as little as two months.

September, say sources

Citing sources in Japan, the NYT says NEC will be pumping out SuperSpeed USB 3.0 interfaces from September and that PCs with the new connector will be available before the end of the year.

That promises data transfers of up to 5Gbps, which will be more than enough to handle streaming high-definition video, and to sound a death knell for good old USB 2.0

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Silicon Image helps push the 1.4 HDMI to the mass

SUNNYVALE Calif., July 22, 2009 – Silicon Image®, Inc. (NASDAQ: SIMG), a leader in semiconductors and intellectual property for the secure distribution, presentation and storage of high-definition (HD) content, today announced that it is expanding its market-leading family of HDMI® semiconductor intellectual property (IP) cores to include transmitter and receiver IP cores that incorporate features of the recently announced HDMI Specification Version 1.4. The new IP cores will support 3D over HDMI, HDMI Ethernet Channel, as well as Audio Return Channel capabilities to offer an enhanced entertainment experience that brings 3D functionality to the home theatre and simplifies device connectivity.

Adding HDMI Ethernet Channel functionality allows manufacturers to consolidate the transmission of HD video, audio, data and control into a single HDMI cable for high-speed, bi-directional communication. An HDMI Ethernet Channel-enabled device can send and receive data via 100 Mbps Ethernet over an HDMI cable by utilizing the Silicon Image IP core and the customer’s own Ethernet transceiver. The Audio Return Channel enables a TV to send audio streams to an HDMI attached audio/video receiver for audio processing and playback from the speaker system.

Silicon Image transmitter and receiver IP cores incorporating HDMI 1.4 features are also backward compatible with HDMI 1.3 and previous versions of the HDMI specification.The IP cores support full 48-bit Deep Color™ (16 bits per pixel), an HDMI 1.3 feature anticipated for use in high-end audio/video receiver and Blu-ray Disc™ player applications for rendering trillions of colors in stunning detail.

“With the introduction of the new IP cores, Silicon Image continues to demonstrate its HDMI technology leadership,” said, director of business development at Silicon Image, Inc. “The new HDMI 1.4 features such as 3D over HDMI and HDMI Ethernet Channel have the potential to significantly transform consumer electronics by enabling exceptional connectivity for new personal entertainment technologies like LiquidHD™ for home theatre applications.”

Silicon Image’s LiquidHD technology is a suite of protocols that runs over standard IP networks such as those that include HDMI Ethernet Channel functionality. Designed to quickly and easily connect TVs, consumer electronics devices, personal computers, portable media devices, and home theatre into a seamless network, LiquidHD technology lets consumers enjoy their digital content from any LiquidHD-enabled source device on any LiquidHD-enabled display in the home. For more information about LiquidHD technology please visit http://www.liquidhd.com/.

Silicon Image is the leading supplier of HDMI-based IP cores to semiconductor companies seeking to integrate the latest HDMI technology innovations into complex System-on-Chip (SoC) devices. The IP portfolio targets consumer electronics applications that require the interchange of video, audio, data and control information. In addition to its broad offering of HDMI technology solutions, Silicon Image also offers silicon proven IP cores for 12 mega pixel mobile phone camera applications, Serial ATA storage, and high-definition MPEG / H.264 / VC-1 video decoder applications.

Additional information on Silicon Image’s IP core product portfolio can be found at http://www.siliconimage.com/iplicensing/index.aspx or obtained by contacting Ron Richter at (408) 962-4259 or ron.richter@siliconimage.com

About Silicon Image, Inc.
Silicon Image, Inc. is a leading provider of semiconductor and intellectual property products for the secure distribution, presentation and storage of high-definition content. With a rich history of technology innovation that includes creating industry standards such as DVI and HDMI, the company’s solutions facilitate the use of digital content amongst consumer electronics, personal computer (PC) and storage devices, with the goal to securely deliver digital content anytime, anywhere and on any device. Founded in 1995, the company is headquartered in Sunnyvale, California, with regional engineering and sales offices in China, Germany, Japan, Korea, Taiwan and the United Kingdom. For more information, please visit http://www.siliconimage.com

Forward-Looking Statements
This news release contains forward-looking statements within the meaning of federal securities laws and regulations, including, but not limited to, statements regarding Silicon Image’s HDMI® semiconductor IP core portfolio and the, performance, functionality, features and benefits of Silicon Image’s HDMI 1.4 compliant IP core technology. These forward-looking statements involve risks and uncertainties, including those described from time to time in Silicon Image’s filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), which could cause the actual results to differ materially from those anticipated by these forward-looking statements. Silicon Image assumes no obligation to update any forward-looking statement.

Silicon Image, the Silicon Image logo and LiquidHD are trademarks, registered trademarks or service marks of Silicon Image, Inc. in the United States and/or other countries. HDMI, the HDMI logo, and High-Definition Multimedia Interface are trademarks or registered trademarks of HDMI Licensing, LLC in the United States and/or other countries. All other trademarks and registered trademarks are the property of their respective owners in the United States and/or other countries.

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400 Disc Blu-Ray Players by SONY

sonybluray400hdFor those looking for a simple and efficient way to organize their massive DVD collections, the search is over.

Sony’s new MegaChangers, announced in a press release as coming this August, are capable of storage and playback up up to 400 Blu-Ray Discs.

The more economic BDP-CX960, retailing around $800, features full 1080/60p HD playback, 24p True Cinema output and Precision Cinema HD Upscale technology. Additionally, an Ethernet port will allow the players xross media bar, via Gracenote, to display information about discs as you scroll through. You’ll be able to pull up such things as the film’s cast, director, and various other details for most films.

The BDP-CX7000ES, a part of Sony’s Elevated Standard line, takes all the features of the CX960 and adds significantly to them with features like the HD Reality Enhancer and Super Bit Mapping technologies. At retail for around $1900, the CX7000ES also has the benefit of 7.1 analog outputs and a design meant to easily integrate with third part automation control systems.

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Short Introduction of Blu-ray Disc

 

Blu-ray Disc
Reverse side of a Blu-ray Disc
Media type High-density optical disc
Encoding MPEG-2, H.264/MPEG-4 AVC, and VC-1
Capacity 25 GB (single-layer)
50 GB (dual-layer)
Block size 64kb ECC
Read mechanism 405 nm laser:
1× at 36 Mbit/s (4.5 MByte/s)
2× at 72 Mbit/s (9 MByte/s)
4× at 144 Mbit/s (18 MByte/s)
6× at 216 Mbit/s(27 MByte/s)
8× at 288 Mbit/s (36 MByte/s)
12× at 432 Mbit/s (54 MByte/s)
Usage Data storage
High-definition video
High-definition audio
PlayStation 3 games

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Asus M3A78-EMH HDMI Motherboard Review

I typically do not think of integrated graphics on a motherboard and Asus at the same time.  In fact, looking back at the number of reviews that I have done over the years, I am not sure that I even had one board that was in this category.  That does not mean that they have not made one, it just means that they are not usually the boards that anyone wants to look at from Asus.  Most end users would typically equate the name Asus with high end performance boards.  Asus is also known to be one of the first to market with new boards that are based on new chipsets.  With all that in mind, we do have a motherboard that is targeted to the budget and HTPC crowd.  The Asus M3A78-EMH HDMI is based on the 780G/SB700 chipsets and is a socket AM2+ board, so it supports (in theory) AMD’s Phenom line of processors.  This is not the first AMD 780G motherboard that Legit Reviews has gotten to look as we have already taken a look at the ECS A780GM-A and Gigabyte MA78GM-S2H motherboards.

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