"L'imagination est la seule arme dans la guerre contre la réalité."

For those of us who have not fully embraced the French language, this quote by the French philosopher Jules de Gaultier translates into, "Imagination is the one weapon in the war against reality." A very fitting quote when realizing the imagination involved on AOpen's behalf in designing and then bringing to market a performance oriented desktop board that utilizes the current star of Intel's microprocessor lineup, the Core Duo. Our reality has been living with the minimalist number of Mobile on Desktop products available for Intel users wishing to break free of the NetBurst architecture since the introduction of the Pentium-M product line.

While the Intel Pentium-M series started off with a bang in the notebook sector with the release of the Banias (130nm) product family a few years ago, this processor series did not fare well against its Pentium 4 and AMD Athlon64 competitors when utilized in desktop boards based upon the Intel 855GME chipset, an i865/875 derivative, which featured a single-channel DDR333 memory controller, AGP4x, and PATA drive support. However, the chips did bring the promise of a low noise and low power consumption processor to the desktop and was an HTPC builder's dream choice for a silent PC, a total reversal of the Prescott family traits. The Banias based processors just did not have the clock speeds, chipset support, memory bandwidth, or architecture improvements at the time to effectively compete on the desktop even with their considerable noise level and power consumption advantages. In fact, Intel was dead set against the idea of utilizing mobile processors on the desktop so the availability of boards was further limited, a very misguided idea as it turns out.

Intel continued development on the Pentium-M series and released its second generation product family called Dothan a couple of years ago. Dothan represented the move to the 90nm process, L2 cache increased from 1MB to 2MB, clock speeds increased up to 33%, and minor architecture improvements in the areas of Micro Ops Fusion, Local Branch Prediction, Integer Division, and Register Accesses were included. Although the Dothan series were still limited in overall system performance by the Intel 855GME equipped boards at launch, Asus released a unique socket 479 to socket 478 adapter in early 2005 that allowed the use of non-low voltage Banias and Dothan processors in certain socket 478 motherboards based upon the Intel 865/875 chipset family. This adaptor card allowed the Pentium-M series to take advantage of a mature desktop platform, increased memory bandwidth, and allowed the user to overclock the processor.

The test results with the adapter card were impressive at the time with certain benchmark scores equaling or surpassing the Pentium 4 and Athlon64 competition, but floating point and SSE performance continued to be an issue in video encoding and some 3D rendering tasks. The availability of the Intel 915GM chipset later in the year featuring PCI Express, SATA support, HD Audio, Dual-Channel 533MHz DDR2 support or Single-Channel DDR333, and Gigabit LAN meant the Dothan finally had a fairly competitive platform to showcase its performance enhancements and abilities against the desktop processors. However, Pentium-M desktop board availability continued to be limited with the focus being on micro-ATX designs designed for HTPC or SFF users, certainly nothing targeted to the performance oriented enthusiast crowd. Further information about the Pentium-M along with test results using the ASUS adapter can be found in our Intel's Pentium M on the Desktop and Intel's Pentium M Desktop Part II.



Intel's development cycles continued in earnest on the Pentium-M series resulting in the Yonah family of products and a name change to the Core Duo/Solo series. These Core series processors include a move to the 65nm process, dual-core capability in the Duo models, thermal enhancements, Smart Cache implementation on the Duo, and architectural improvements that include improved floating point performance, SSE/SSE2 Micro Ops Fusion tweaks, support for SSE3 instructions, and SSE decoder throughput enhancements. These changes and additions addressed the floating point, media encoding, and 3D gaming weaknesses of the prior Pentium-M product family while maintaining near equal thermal characteristics. Note that the Core Duo/Solo series, like the Pentium-M series before it, does not support 64-bit extensions.

Intel released the Core Duo and Core Solo products earlier this year with a splash that included almost immediate availability in the revised Apple iMac and MacBook Pro product lines while widespread availability in the Intel PC market space is just now occurring. Along with this impressive rollout comes another core logic update in the form of the Intel 945GM chipset family. This update to the 915GM chipset includes improved power consumption, a move to 667MHz DDR2 memory and front side bus support, improved integrated graphics, a modified 479-pin socket, and the addition of the ICH7MDH Southbridge featuring SATA 3Gb/s support and increased PCI-Express lanes when compared to the previous ICH6M. While the core logic chipset improvement tweaks are certainly welcome, including the 25% increase in front side bus bandwidth, the mobile desktop boards based on this chipset are still mainly targeted at the HTPC and general office application user.

The support and general interest of the motherboard manufacturers in releasing a wider variety of Mobile on Desktop products has greatly increased with the roll out of the current Core series processors. We expect a few of the upcoming 945GM based boards will be more performance oriented for the enthusiast user, but from all indications their roots will still be firmly planted in the mobile design sector. Additional information on Core Duo can be located found in Intel Core Duo (Yonah) Performance Preview - Part II.

This leads us into the main star of today's discussion, the AOpen i975Xa-YDG, so let's take a closer look at its features and performance.

Basic Features
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  • JarredWalton - Thursday, May 04, 2006 - link

    Why did someone mod this post down? I'm serious: if you put an H in brackets, the AT comments engine interprets that as "turn on white text". No insult was intended towards HardOCP; I'm merely pointing out that Frumious' post turned the text white, unintentionally. Thanks for the negative mod points.... :| Reply
  • Frumious1 - Thursday, May 04, 2006 - link

    Anyone else getting white text? What's up with that?

    Test:
    [/font]



    [/link]

    Did that help?
    Reply
  • goinginstyle - Thursday, May 04, 2006 - link

    At least the quote was a bit different this time but still not needed. I thought the article was great and actually one of the best ones I have read lately. It was nice to finally see two like platforms compared against each other with the same cpu speeds and components although AMD2 would have been good to see.
    You really should do more of these comparisons as the reviewing one motherboard against another in the same product family gets boring. You never see much of a variance in the scores so the only question is if it sucks or not. At least this way you review the board and compare it against something you might be thinking about buying if you are a Intel or AMD user. You honestly get to see what works best for you. It was nice to see additional real application benchmarks instead of the same old winstone that or 3dmark this.
    I was disappointed in not seeing any Photoshop benchmarks or something that has to do with graphics, it would round out your audio and video benchmarks nicely. Anyway, keep up the good work and hopefully you can do this same type of article when Conroe gets here against the AMD products.
    In the meantime props to Intel for finally showing some performance improvement without needing a nuclear powerplant for the CPU.
    Reply
  • goinginstyle - Thursday, May 04, 2006 - link

    Any numbers yet? Reply
  • goinginstyle - Thursday, May 04, 2006 - link

    ....and temperature readings??? Reply
  • Gary Key - Thursday, May 04, 2006 - link

    We pulled the charts, the AOpen board uses a thermal sensor instead of the on-chip diode so our numbers are off. Once we decide what number to utilize, these numbers will be posted. If you refer to our Yonah Preview article, the power consumption numbers are listed for the 945GM board. I posted a couple of numbers earlier in this thread with the AOpen board. Thanks.... Reply
  • goinginstyle - Thursday, May 04, 2006 - link

    Thank you for the update and hopefully we can see these numbers soon. Reply
  • BigLan - Thursday, May 04, 2006 - link

    "The rear panel contains the standard PS/2 mouse and keyboard ports, parallel port, LAN port, and 4 USB ports."

    Looking at the picture, I don't see a parallel port there and it's not listed on the specs either. Did you mean a firewire port?

    Also, how useful is the external sata connector? Does the board come with a cable to utilise the power connector?
    Reply
  • Gary Key - Thursday, May 04, 2006 - link

    Sorry about that, yes, it was suppose to be Firewire. I had it corrected on my final draft and missed it twice in the edits.

    AOpen ships an excellent cable that has the drive and power port plugs together. I found the external connector to be very useful during testing on the JMicron chipset. Since I really enjoy HTPC tinkering, it will be of great usefulness for attaching or swapping large PVR drives out without entering the system. The JMicron chipset performed very well in our testing and had no issues handling Seagate's new 750GB drive.
    Reply
  • BigLan - Thursday, May 04, 2006 - link

    Thanks for the reply. Any chance you need an independent review doing on that 750GB drive ;) Reply

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