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MSI IM-945GSE-A Mini-ITX Fanless Atom Motherboard - The Motherboard

Taking a break from the desktop side of things, MSI sends us their industrial Atom motherboard. We check it out today.

| Editorials in Motherboards | Posted: Dec 3, 2008 5:00 am
TweakTown Rating: 82%      Manufacturer: MSI

The Board

 

MSI IM-945GSE-A Mini-ITX Fanless Atom Motherboard

 

The Mini-ITX format doesn't allow for a huge array of features and that's mainly because of its extremely small size. However, there is quite a lot to be found on the MSI board. First off, the PCB is of the 17x17cm Mini-ITX standard, so it will fit into just about any Mini-ITX standard case. MSI hasn't gone for a special coloured PCB and the older generic green is used, so this isn't a dressed up unit; what you see is what you get.

 

The 20-pin ITX power connector is placed on the far left side of the board along with the IDE port located at the bottom left. The two SATA ports that the board is equipped with are located just above the expansion slot. While the ICH7DM that the board is equipped with supports six SATA ports, as it's based on the Mini-ITX standard, two is more than enough; one for a HDD and one for an ATAPI DVD unit.

 

MSI IM-945GSE-A Mini-ITX Fanless Atom Motherboard

 

At the top of the board MSI has placed the single memory slot. To keep things as compact as possible, a single 200-pin DDR2 SO-DIMM slot is used for the system memory and this gives you a total system memory size of 2GB using today's standard SO-DIMM. Just to the left of the DDR2 memory slot there is a single mini-PCIe slot; this is the same as you get in laptops and is extremely helpful as you can use this to plug in a laptop wireless mini-PCIe card, leaving the single expansion slot free for other devices.

 

The CPU that powers the show is Intel's new pride and joy for the power conscious market, the Atom N270. This CPU is definitely not for everyday desktop users. Compared to the Core 2 or Phenom processors, it's a lot slower and despite having Hyper Threading, it's not able to keep up with any real programs like Paint Shop or video editing tasks. However, it's able to do your basic web browsing and video playback.

 

Backing up the N270 is the Intel 945GCM chipset. This is the only chipset that Intel is allowing Atom to be paired up with. This chipset is old compared to the 3 and 4 series chipset and it lacks any real 3D acceleration on the IGP, so it's really just a basic system.

 

MSI IM-945GSE-A Mini-ITX Fanless Atom Motherboard

 

Now we turn our attention to the rear I/O. MSI has gone almost legacy free here; there is no PS/2 ports, so if you want to use a keyboard and mouse it's got to be USB based. Why we say almost legacy free is that a single Serial port is included. Since this board is industrial based, it's aimed for POS machines that still use COM ports for connecting certain devices. While Intel is against people using DVI video ports on Atom based boards, MSI has ignored any complaints Intel has and gives you CRT and DVI ports. So if you have a TV or LCD that supports DVI, you can connect it up and this also plays well for the car PCs which are now using DVI ports to connect 7 and 10" touch screens.

 

MSI IM-945GSE-A Mini-ITX Fanless Atom Motherboard

 

Apart from the Mini-PCIe slot at the top left of the board, MSI has a single PCI slot for expansion. Since Intel is using ICH7 Southbridge's on the Atom based system, we would prefer to see a PCIe x1 or x4 slot, or even a x16 since it has this option through the Northbridge.

 

Additional features include HD audio provided by an Alcatel HD audio controller chip, however, it's limited to 5.1 sound since the rear I/O has to share audio ports with the Line in and Mic ports. Two Ethernet chips from Marvell supply the board with Dual Gigabit Ethernet compatibility. Unfortunately there is no FireWire controller on the board, so if you want digital FireWire connectivity you're going to need to put a FireWire card in the PCI slot, removing any other expansion options.

 

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