Now we move onto the board itself, This is the first board we have been sent from ZOTAC so we weren't sure what to expect. While the box size did tell us it would be micro-ATX, we didn't know just how ZOTAC would have laid the board out.
The board's layout does leave a bit to be desired. First off, the power connectors; the 24-pin one gets placed on the left of the board between the CPU and the rear I/O ports. This is definitely the worst place you can think of putting one of these connectors, as there's too much obstruction around the CPU area. The 4-pin connector is located sensibly between the CPU area and the rear I/O, as close as possible to the I/O connectors and well away from the CPU.
The IDE connector is on the upper right side of the board behind the four colour coded DDR2 memory slots. The FDD connector in white sits even further up. The SATA ports sit just in front and below the IDE connector; six of them in total which means ZOTAC has gone and used all six supported by the GeForce MCP.
Moving along to the CPU area, ZOTAC has done a good job keeping it clean of components to allow for large aftermarket heatsinks to be installed. Our OCZ Vanquisher fits without a single problem; install and removal was easy as. As for the CPU itself, the power is fed through a 3-phase voltage system. While enough to keep the CPU running, it leaves no head room for overclocking. ZOTAC also hasn't bothered to swap over to solid state ferrite chokes and capacitors, they are still of the older variety. Hopefully we will see this change very soon.
The rear I/O ports included on the board are nothing spectacular; nothing new here. We are disappointed that the board lacks native HDMI on its onboard graphics, meaning you have to sacrifice the DVI port if you want HDMI. For those who have HDMI TVs and a LCD with DVI, you're not going to be able to run both at the same time, sorry to say.
Lastly, we come down to the expansion slots. While there is a GPU provided by the GeForce 8300 chipset, for any real gaming you're going to need a discrete graphics system. To this end, a single PCI Express x16 slot supporting PCI-E 2.0 specs is included along with a single PCI Express x1 slot supporting PCI-E 2.0 making up the total PCI-E expansion possibilities. The two legacy PCI slots that are included support PCI 2.2 specs and are all bus masters.
The GeForce 8300 chipset supports NVIDIA's own Hybrid SLI and Hybrid Power system to allow for an energy saving while supposedly giving the system a boost. With selected NVIDIA cores you can put them into the PCI-E slot and have the onboard GPU running when doing 2D applications like Windows as well as low 3D applications. When more power is needed, the discrete GPU is enabled and combines the power of the IGP and the discrete to increase system performance.
That is the theory. However, while we haven't had the chance to see this in action, we have seen some sites reporting performance hits using the Hybrid SLI due to the system memory being used for the IGP's frame buffer, this lowering the overall accessible memory and system bandwidth.