With more home computers making their way into the living room, consumers are demanding quiet systems that don’t spoil the relaxed atmosphere. Trying to address this point, AOpen has produced a motherboard that should become very popular with anyone looking to build a low noise PC.
The cryptically named i855GMEm-LFS is a micro ATX motherboard based on the Intel 855GME chipset, which you would normally find in a laptop. In turn this means that the i855GMEm-LFS motherboard has to be used with a Pentium M processor.
The Pentium M is a low power chip, since it was designed for use in mobile computers. Consequently, the Pentium M produces less heat and therefore needs a smaller cooler with a relatively quiet fan. You won’t get the performance that you would from one of the latest desktop processors, but that’s a compromise you’ll have to make if you want a very quiet machine – unless you have enough money for a Hush PC. The Pentium M processors are however faster than the low clock speeds suggests, as the design is quite different from a Pentium 4.
You should be able to purchase a Pentium M CPU from several online retailers, but there is one downside to this setup, the processors are close to twice the price of a midrange Pentium 4 chip and the top of the range Pentium Ms cost well over £400. Expect to pay in the region of £180 for a 1.6GHz part, which sounds awfully expensive when you can get a 3GHz Pentium 4 for around £120. This aside AOpen has created a very interesting board, although AOpen is not the only manufacturer to have such a product in its line-up.
The i855GMEm-LFS might be a small motherboard but it’s packed with features that you wouldn’t expect to see on such a miniature platform. As the i855GME chipset only supports single channel memory there are only two memory slots and the board accepts up to 2GB of PC2100 or PC2700 DDR SDRAM. You also get integrated graphics, which will share anything from 4 to 32MB of system memory. This is fine for general Windows usage, but it lacks any real 3D performance.
This is not too much of a problem as there is an AGP slot, so if you plan to play the occasional game you can install your choice of 3D card to boost the performance. There are also three PCI slots in case you want to add some extra peripherals. Personally, I can see this board as a very good base for a home theatre PC, so a TV tuner card would be one obvious upgrade.
As the i855GME chipset doesn’t support SATA natively AOpen has fitted a Promise RAID controller, so you could have a RAID 0 or 1 configuration as long as you’re willing to have two hard drives in your PC. On top of this there is an Agere FireWire controller that adds two FireWire ports, but there is no bracket with any connectors, so unless your case has a front mounted FireWire connector, you won’t really get much use from this, unless you can lay your hands on a suitable bracket.
Amazingly, you also get two Marvell Gigabit Ethernet controllers onboard, although I’m not quite sure why AOpen decided to fit dual Gigabit Ethernet on an mATX board, but I guess if you really need a small and quiet server, with lightning fast networking, this feature would come in handy.