- Review Price: £150.00
It wasn’t long ago that we took our first look at the AOpen i915GMm-HFS which was the first Pentium M board based on the new 915GM chipset to arrive at TrustedReviews. The attraction of running a Pentium M in a desktop PC is that it offers much of the performance you need for everyday applications with the potential for a virtually noise free system. The downside is that only a limited number of chips are available and they tend to be on the expensive side.
Now MSI is following suit with the 915GM Speedster-FA4, a much simpler board but also a lot more affordable. Unlike the AOpen board, which was designed with multimedia in mind, the 915GM Speedster was designed by MSI’s server group, which explains some of the differences between the two boards.
Let’s start with the similarities. The Speedster has two DDR and two DDR2 memory slots and also has a single x16 PCI Express slot alongside one x1 PCI Express slot and two PCI slots. Of course both boards share the same chipset – the Intel 915GM – which is home to the integrated graphics. However, this is where things start to differ, as the Speedster has only got a D-Sub connector with no support for DVI or any kind of TV output. You could get an Advanced Digital Display 2 (ADD2) adapter card that would add these features; this is a riser card that goes into the x16 PCI Express slot to give you additional display options. MSI has yet to announce the availability of such a product in Europe though.
As this board has both server and workstation heritage it has dual Gigabit PCI Express Ethernet controllers. This might seem like overkill, but Gigabit switches are now available at reasonable prices. The Speedster shares its audio controller with the i915GMm-HFS, a Realtek ALC880 Intel High Definition codec with support for 7.1-channel sound. An optical S/PDIF is also part of the package, but there’s no coaxial output. Nor is there a digital input.
The remaining ports around the back consists of two PS/2 ports, a serial port, a parallel port, the D-Sub connector and four USB 2.0 ports; a slightly more traditional setup than that of the i915GMm-HFS. A further four USB 2.0 ports can be attached via two headers on the bottom of the board, alongside two FireWire 400 ports, again via two headers.
A total of four SATA ports, a single IDE and a floppy drive make up drive connectivity. This should be plenty for a small board as this, since the small cases this is most likely to go in won’t have room for four hard drives. Note that the Intel ICH6 only supports SATA and not SATA-II, so if this is a concern you might want to consider a different board.
A bracket is supplied with four USB 2.0 ports, while another bracket hosts four-pin and an eight-pin FireWire 400 ports. You also get a SATA power splitter for two SATA drives and two SATA cables. An IDE and floppy cable round off the supplied peripherals.
The Speedster has the same memory limitations as the i915GMm-HFS, in as much as it can be fitted with either DDR 333MHz memory or DDR2 400 or 533MHz modules.
Seeing as the chipset is designed for a Pentium M, a notebook chip a fan isn’t required much of the time. MSI has designed the Speedster with passive cooling in mind and the 915GM chipset has a massive heatsink fitted. The ICH6 is covered by a much smaller heatsink, but it should still do the job just fine.
One improvement over the AOpen i915GMm-HFS is the CPU cooler, as MSI has gone for a standard Pentium 4 Socket-478 mounting bracket and used a modified low-profile server type heatsink. This isn’t passive and has a rather large 60mm fan fitted. During use this is noisier than the AOpen cooler, but in its favour it also stopped more frequently. You can’t switch it off entirely but the frequency with which it comes on can be adjusted in the BIOS. In fact, during testing the CPU heatsink didn’t even get warm to the touch so as long as you’re using this board in a case with good airflow you should be able to remove the fan altogether, though that would be at your own risk. A quick note on the retention brackets for the cooler; these require the grips to point inwards or they’ll block the power connector.
A single fan header is available apart from the one needed for the CPU cooler. It’s a limitation but most likely more than enough for most mATX cases. There are a few peculiarities about the Speedster however. The first one is a jumper that enables you to change the power provided to the integrated graphics controller. By increasing this from 1.05V to 1.5V MSI claims that you get better graphics performance – presumably in 3D applications. Then there is a set of three jumpers that has to be configured correctly depending on the type of CPU you have. This could be tricky as MSI only lists the Intel code names in the manual, not the specific CPU models.
Another sign of the server department’s involvement in developing this board is the presence of a 24-pin power connector. By contrast, the AOpen i915GMm-HFS only featured a standard 20-pin ATX connector. In a sense this was an advantage as it gave you a wider choice of PSUs to choose from as only more recent PSUs offer a 24-pin connector, so check before you pair up this board with your PSU. A +12V four-pin connector is also present and needs to be connected for the board to boot.
Using the same 2.13GHz Pentium M 770 as I used to test the i915GMm-HFS with, I was astonished that the Speedster lived up to its name by being four points faster in SYSMark 2004. Oddly enough the score dropped by one point when I added a GeForce 6800GT card, which isn’t usually the case when you add a dedicated graphics card in favour of integrated graphics.
The Speedster continued to outperform the i915GMm-HFS in PCMark 2004. It seems like the extra power to the integrated graphics makes a difference as once again the Speedster is ahead of the i915GMm-HFS.
At £149.99 there is very little between the Speedster and the i915GMm-HFS in terms of cost, but there are different applications for the two boards. The Speedster could be used in an everyday PC as long as you’re willing to sacrifice some performance compared to more conventional processors in order to get the benefits of a low noise system.
MSI has brought to market an interesting desktop alternative with the 915GM Speedster-FA4, which offers a full set of features in a small and quiet package.
Score in detail
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