If you're looking to build a media centre system, or HTPC as they like to call them in the US, you've generally had to use a dedicated graphics card if you wanted to hook up to a display digitally. Intel, for its own reasons has never offered integrated solution with DVI. AMD though, has stepped up with a solution and the first example we've got our hands on it the MSI K9AGM2-FIH.
Based on the AMD 690G, it's the first chipset to appear from AMD since the merger with ATI. It’s designed for the AM2 socket CPU and not surprisingly then it features integrated ATI graphics, complete with AVIVO quality. What’s more it features an HDMI socket with HDCP compliancy. Combined with the small micro ATX form factor you’re looking at a very nice solution for a media centre system. MSI also has the K9AGM2-F/L, a micro ATX board based on the 690V chipset, which is the same but omits the HDMI and DVI support. MSI will also have regular ATX versions with and without HDMI – the K9AG Neo2-Digital, and the K9AG Neo-F respectively.
The suitability of this board for a media centre system is apparent when you look at the motherboard itself, with both the North Bridge and the SB600 South Bridge passively cooled. This means that aside from your case fan, CPU fan and hard disk, you’ll have no noise, which is nice. The North Bridge fan does have a rather tall passive heat sink, but it should not cause any fitment issues and is rather fetchingly adorned with the AMD logo. There are only two DIMM sockets on the board, but that should be absolutely fine for a board of this nature.
There are four SATA 150 ports on the board, and in the box you'll find a SATA cable, a SATA to Molex power connector, an EIDE cable, a back IO shield and a driver disk. Looking round the back you’ll find a PS/2 and keyboard connector on the far left. Moving inwards you’ll find a mixture of very old, very new, and kind of in-between technologies, these being a parallel port, an HDMI socket, and a VGA connector. I actually find it surprising that parallel is still included on brand new motherboards as I can’t think of any use aside from connecting old printers. In a sense it’s a shame the space couldn’t have been taken up by a DVI connector instead, especially as the chipset itself is capable of simultaneous output of both HDMI and DVI.
While the lack of DVI means that you can’t hook up digitally to many LCD displays, the HDMI connector means you can hook a system based on this motherboard to an HDMI equipped LCD or plasma TV. What’s great about having HDMI and audio on an integrated chipset such as this is that it can carry the audio from the sound chip without any external cables, as opposed to machines with discrete sound cards. It all helps make a simpler, tidier system that’s easier to set up.