"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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  • Viditor - Thursday, May 04, 2006 - link

    Premiere Pro 2.0 has a 64 bit version that works very well. It has not yet been "optimized" for 64 bit (meaning that basic functions won't run much faster), but you have access to 4 GB+ of memory (which can be a HUGE help when dealing with very large movie and audio files).
    http://www.adobe.com/products/premiere/pdfs/premie...">Adobe Premiere Pro 2.0 pdf
    Reply
  • Griswold - Thursday, May 04, 2006 - link

    This was obviously a test of a mobile CPU on a desktop platform, so his point is valid. And what does SFF have to do with it? Reply
  • Calin - Thursday, May 04, 2006 - link

    That more than 50% overclock is mind boggling - I hope this will bode well for the soon-to-be released Intel processors. Performance as good as or better than Opteron 175? Looks like Intel already have this side of the market covered. Reply
  • xsilver - Thursday, May 04, 2006 - link

    have intel chipset limitations been discussed on the upcoming conroe?
    wont all conroes be runnning 1066fsb already? meaning there is little headroom left for fsb overclocking unless some serious progress is made on the new chipsets?
    (300ish fsb is the current general limit for intel chipsets right?)
    Reply
  • Gary Key - Thursday, May 04, 2006 - link

    quote:

    That more than 50% overclock is mind boggling - I hope this will bode well for the soon-to-be released Intel processors.


    We felt guilty when raising the voltage up to 1.3875 as temps increased from 25c to 31c, makes you wonder what a really good heatsink/fan will on this board. :) Anyway, I think we reached the limit of our board around 267fsb in further testing with a water cooling unit. I am sure the CPU had more in it as temps were around 26c at load, or maybe not. We spoke with AOpen and it appears the boards will top out around 275FSB at this time, we had an early board and based upon some user experiences the retail boards are doing around 275 at this time. We have a retail board on the way for our HTPC article.
    Reply
  • Griswold - Thursday, May 04, 2006 - link

    What was the ambient (room) temperature? Reply
  • Gary Key - Thursday, May 04, 2006 - link

    quote:

    What was the ambient (room) temperature?


    It varies during the day, variation is 20c~22c. There is a new program out that will measure the Yonah core temperature through the on-chip diode instead of the AOpen thermal sensor. I withheld our temperature and power consumption numbers until we decide which temperature reading to report as another utility in XP gives a slightly different reading also. Power consumption is excellent.

    Our test system (11x255, ~2.8GHz)-

    X1900XT
    idle - 114w
    load - 232w

    X1900 CrossFire (P4 of video cards)
    idle - 139w
    load - 357w
    Reply
  • redbone75 - Thursday, May 04, 2006 - link

    That price is a bit daunting for a mobo. This is where if you absolutely have to build a PC right now I would go with an AMD system b/c you still get stellar performance at a lower price point. The A8R32-MVP is a little under $200, and the Opty 165 still costs less than the Core Duo T2400. So, although this is a great effort from Aopen, I personally would build the AMD system or just wait for Conroe/Merom to launch. Boy, but does this make your mouth water if you choose the latter, doesn't it? Reply
  • dexvx - Sunday, May 07, 2006 - link

    Lol, what happened to the fanboi arguement of saving power for the long term (if you visit the AT forms, its frequently used arguement for not buying a cheap Pentium-D system)? Based on the powerdraw tests from Tech-report.com, you save more power going from a X2 to Yonah than from Pentium-D to X2.

    That Aside, this Aopen board *is* Meron compatible with a bios update. The folks over at xtremesystems.org has confirmed it.
    Reply
  • Schmeh - Thursday, May 04, 2006 - link

    quote:

    or just wait for Conroe/Merom to launch. Boy, but does this make your mouth water if you choose the latter, doesn't it?


    I absolutely agree. I have been putting of upgrading my system for almost a year and I am glad that I did. I can't wait to see what Conroe and Merom have to offer. My only fear is that Intel will overprice them at launch.
    Reply

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