Moving onto the board itself and we see the micro ATX familiarity we are accustom to now with the AMD platform. While there are enthusiast boards out there, the majority of them are not going Micro ATX as AMD's place has now been settled for the time being.
As for the layout, it's quite good for the micro ATX design. The 24-pin power connector along with the single IDE channel the board supports reside behind the four DDR2 memory slots; these slots are colour coded in red for channel A and yellow for channel B. A maximum of 8GB of memory can be run on this motherboard comprising 4 x2GB sticks of a max of 1066MHz.
The 4/8 pin aux power port is located below the CPU retention mechanism towards the left side of the board, requiring some cable routing around the CPU which is not the most ideal setup. The NVIDIA GeForce 8200 MCP setup requires only passive cooling, to which a large silver heatsink is installed.
The MCP78 series is a whole new generation of chipset from NVIDIA, not a patched up one like the 780i. MCP78 has native PCI Express 2.0 support for its graphics slot and its x1 slots, making it the first to have full native PCI-E 2.0 support. Add to this a six port SATA controller incorporated to support ATAPI DVD and SATA HDDs in any combination, as well as NVIDIA's RAID system, and you get yourself a good setup here. Rather than doing away with IDE like Intel has, NVIDIA still keeps IDE on its chipset, so a third party chipset is not required and no extra cost is added to the board.
NVIDIA's main focus here with the new GeForce 8200 is Hybrid SLI. This is a new design that has been thought up to combine the power of a discrete graphics card with the extra unused power of the onboard GPU. You will require a second NVIDIA GeForce based graphics card (most likely an 8 series or newer) installed into the PCI Express graphics slot. Your monitor cable is then connected to the motherboard monitor displays.
When the system is idle the discrete GPU is shut down which allows for better power savings as well as moving all the desktop rendering to the onboard GPU, thus reducing the need for the heavy usage on the external GPU. If you start to play 3D games or any other graphics intense applications, the discrete GPU is enabled via the SMBus and voila, extra power is added to the fray. The new GPU on the MCP78 is based around the DX10 supporting GeForce 8 family with SM4.0 support.
To give the CPU its power, Palit have given the board a 4-phase voltage regulation system which is more than enough to run the current generation of Athlon 64s out there, and even better for the Phenom CPU's now starting to emerge. As for the area around the CPU, since solid state capacitors are used the space is good for even the largest heatsinks out there, making this the ideal board for a totally silent or fanless setup.
The rear I/O of the board is extremely good; there are two VGA ports, one DVI-D and one CRT, so the flexibility is certainly there. The disappointing part of this board is the fact that it doesn't have HDMI which the GeForce 8200 onboard GPU does support. This moves it out of the running for a Digital Home setup, unless of course you get a graphics card with HDMI onboard, then you're set.
Lastly we come to the expansion slots that the board comes with. Being Micro ATX based there are a limited number of possibilities. First off you have an Orange PCI Express x16 slot that is PCI-E 2.0 compliant. This is designed to work with any graphics card, however if you want to use Hybrid SLI you will need certain NVIDIA cards to make that possible. We didn't have time to test this at this point; however, we have every intention of coming back to it in another article. A single PCI Express x1 slot that is also 2.0 compliant and two PCI slots make up the remaining expansion possibilities of the board.
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