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You also get on-board Realtek 5.1-channel AC97 audio, which does the job, but there’s no comparison to the latest HD audio solutions on the current crop of desktop boards. The remaining connectors on the I/O panel consist of two PS/2 ports, a serial and a parallel port, a D-SUB connector for the onboard graphics and four USB 2.0 ports.
General board layout is good, although the front audio connectors are at the rear of the board which means that you need to get a very long cable if your case has ports at the front. The same applies for the FireWire ports only in opposite - the headers are at the very front of the motherboard, so even if you find a rear bracket, you’ll have the cable draped across the board. The only other minor issue is that the memory slots are very close to the AGP slot, which means that you might have to remove your graphics card if you want to add more memory at a later stage – an annoyance, but not a major problem.
We don’t have any sound measurement equipment in the labs, but subjectively, it’s safe to say that this board is very quiet. The supplied CPU cooler is a low profile unit and it doesn’t even have a copper insert which is common place on pretty much all CPU coolers these days. The fan operates at a very low speed and you can control this further in the BIOS - AOpen’s SilentTek options give you far more advanced controls over the fan speeds than you would find on most other motherboards.
In terms of raw performance the i855GMEm-LFS won’t come anywhere close to a Pentium 4 desktop system, but this isn’t really the idea behind it. Although we only managed to get hold of a 1.6GHz Pentium M 725 processor with 2MB of cache to test it with, the motherboard will accept any Pentium M processor on a 400MHz bus.
The overall SYSMark 2004 score of 132 is hardly impressive, but there were no problems running the benchmark, which is always a good sign with new hardware. The PCMark 2004 scores were similar to those of notebooks we have tested in the past; with the only real difference being that the hard drive scores were much higher due to a desktop hard drive being used. The poor integrated 3D score proved that you won’t be able to play any recent games unless you install an AGP card. Throwing a GeForce 6600GT card into the mix, showed that you can expect numbers that aren’t miles away from those you’d get from a mid-range desktop PC.
The i855GMEm-LFS is an interesting board and I would think that it represents the beginning of a new trend; a trend that will become even more popular once Intel launches a PCI Express chipset for the Pentium M processor. Of course, the downside is the price you will have to pay for the processor and it doesn’t help that AOpen is expecting a not insignificant £144.85 for this board – considering that you can get an nForce 4 SLI board for less than this, you’re paying dearly for the sound of silence.
The i855GMEm-LFS is the first in what will surely be a line of Pentium M based desktop products. There’s definitely a strong appeal for a small, low noise, low power machine, but you’ll need deep pockets.