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ViiV a-la ASUS, Core Duo N4L-VM DH Motherboard

By: Cameron Johnson | Editorials in Motherboards | Posted: May 19, 2006 4:00 am
TweakTown Rating: 8.5%Manufacturer: ASUS

The Motherboard Continued


The heart and soul of the board is an Intel I945GM with ICH7-MDH 2 chip solution. The I945GM chipset is used mostly in Notebooks as it gives the ability to use the integrated GMA950 based controller for cheaper laptops. This chipset is used here to give the board Speedstep power savings available when the Core Duo CPU is used.


While being a mobile based chipset, Intel has given it quite a bit of grunt. Not only does it have a built-in graphics card, but it also supports a full speed PCI Express x16 graphics interface for adding in your own graphics card should you wish to go down this path. Added to this is a Dual Channel DDR-2 memory controller. Intel has gone all out now on its products to support DDR-2 over DDR, in fact none of the new chipsets (including Intel Mobile Chipsets) use DDR anymore. The Northbridge is cooled by a large passive heatsink - ASUS's goal is to have all of their boards passively cooled from now on (not including the CPU, of course).


The ICH7-M DH is a variation of the ICH7-M chipset. It supports all the same features but with Dolby Digital Certification for the Sound System, which is needed for the ViiV validation. Unfortunately, being a mobile version Southbridge it does have a few limitations such as only supporting two SATA ports. That said all the major features such as HD Audio, 6 PCI Express x1 channels and 6 PCI master addresses are all there to give expansion possibilities.



Now we take a look at what ASUS gives for connectivity at the back of the unit. Here is a rather different layout. You have 2 PS/2 ports stacked on top of each other, next is an e.SATA port. This port will come in handy for future use as it will allow you to connect next generation e.SATA enclosures to the system. Beside this we have a Toslink and a RCA SPDIF ports for connecting digital audio equipment to the system. Above the 2 SPDIF ports is a single VGA port that runs off the Intel GMA950 graphics controller, if you don't have a video card in the PCI Express x16 port you will need to use this for graphics. Next is a 2 USB stack with a single Firewire port above, beside that another USB 2.0 stack and the Gigabit LAN connector and lastly is the 6 Analogue audio ports for up to 7.1 audio output.



Being Micro ATX based, you can't expect a huge amount of expansion slots although you do get a few. First is a PCI Express x16 slot that acts as either a discrete graphics slot or a bridge slot. In discrete mode, you plug a PCI Express graphics card into the slot and the onboard graphics disables itself. In bridge mode, you place a DVI riser card into the slot. This DVI port then runs off the Intel GMA950 to give you a DVI port for dual monitor support. You don't have to make any selection between Discrete and Bridged modes - when the card is inserted into the slot, the mode is automatically selected.


Apart from the single PCI Express x16 slot there is a single PCI Express x1 slot and 2 PCI legacy slots, which is good for adding in TV tuners for Windows XP Media Center Edition.



Next on the list of features is a JMicron JMB363 Controller chip. We have seen JMicron chips before; this is the latest one out. This chip has a built in 2 port SATA-II controller and a single Parallel ATA controller. Only the 2 SATA ports are used, one is located just behind the DIMM sockets and the other channel is routed to the e.SATA port. The chipset itself is tied into on of the 6 PCI Express x1 lanes that the Southbridge supports.



Lastly to get ViiV certification, you need to have an Intel Pro100 or Pro1000 Ethernet controller. ASUS has put an Intel Pro1000MT chip that connects into the PCI Express x1 bus of the Southbridge. This then gives you Gigabit Ethernet compliance, a great bonus.

ASUS N4L-VM DH Motherboard


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