Everybody always wants the fastest, latest and greatest computer. But, with the huge rate of change and rapid price drops going on in the computer industry right now, it's virtually impossible to stay on top without constantly upgrading - a luxury that is not available to most of us. Usually, the only reasonable option is to buy what you can now and upgrade or buy a new system later.

Unfortunately, upgrade road blocks always seem to pop up and, for many older systems, the problem is often finding a motherboard to fit an existing case. Sometimes, the goal is simply to save the cost of a new case, and other times its a matter of already having a really nice AT case that is worth making an effort to keep. The whole market has moved on to support the ATX standard and all those old AT computers are virtually abandoned for upgrades. That's because the majority of sales come from OEM's where ATX is king.

Fortunately, we've still got companies like Shuttle around who produce motherboards using all chipsets, form factors, shapes and sizes - including the virtually forgotten baby AT that was the standard just a few years ago. Shuttle's HOT-685 is an i440BX Socket-370 solution on a baby AT form factor board that tries to provide for the upgraders.

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Motherboard Specifications

CPU Interface Socket-370
Chipset Intel i440BX
L2 Cache N/A (on-chip)
Form Factor Baby AT
Bus Speeds

66 / 75 / 83
100 / 103 / 112 /
124 / 133

Clock Multipliers 3x - 8x
Voltages Supported Auto Detect
Memory Slots 3 168pin DIMM Slots
Expansion Slots

1 AGP Slot
AMR Slots
4 PCI Slots (4 Full Length)
1 ISA Slot (1 Shared / 0 Full Length)

BIOS Award 4.51PG

The Good

Click to enlarge

At first glance, the Shuttle HOT-685 can easily be confused for a microATX board, but the AT power and keyboard connectors clue you in right away that what you're holding is like a blast from the past. However, the only thing old about this board is the form factor, since it features the Intel's latest and greatest i440BX AGPset along with their latest CPU interface, the Socket-370. As a baby AT board, the HOT-685 has great potential as an upgrade solution for many older systems without having to buy a new case.

Fortunately, Shuttle has taken a careful look at the problems with the baby AT form factor such as blocked expansion slots and cable connectors in awkward positions causing cable clutter. Instead, they laid the board out much like a microATX board, but without integrated I/O ports. The CPU is thus placed out of the way of long expansion cards and FDD/HDD connectors are located at the front of the board to minimize cable clutter. Since there isn't quite as much room to the side of the expansion slots on a baby AT board, the DIMM slots had to be turned sideways. Unlike some other AT i440BX boards, this one is tiny and should fit in any AT case just fine. Both AT and ATX power connectors are included as well, in case you want to take advantage of ATX's enhanced power management options.

The 4/1/1 (PCI/ISA/AGP) slot configuration is a compromise that was made in order to create room for the CPU and memory to the side of those expansion slots. It's better than a microATX board, and almost as good as a full ATX board if you're not concerned about ISA slots. Expansion is eased a bit by the inclusion of onboard Forte Media PCI sound. Not the latest and greatest 3D sound solution, but sufficient for most users who just need basic sound functionality. It can be disabled by a simple jumper if so desired. I/O ports are done the traditional AT way - through the use of small ribbon cables that run from the motherboard to the back of the case.

To minimize capacitance issues, the three DIMM slots are flush against the i443BX chip, which features the almost traditional green heatsink mounted by spring clips. Eighteen 1000uF capacitors are placed around the voltage regulator, CPU socket, and DIMM slots to improve stability. A few more are scattered around the board. Three fan connectors are available - located at the front left corner of the board, behind the FDD connector, and behind the DIMM slots. The one behind the DIMM's is tricky to reach, especially in a crowded case.

Overclockers will find the common FSB speeds 66/75/83/100/103/112/133 available via the jumpered setup. A separate jumper for over riding the state of B21 is also available near the DIMM slots and is documented in the manual. Stability at both overclocked and non-overclocked speeds was above average as we've come to expect from Shuttle.

Generally most Socket-370 Celerons won't be able to make the jump to bus speeds 100MHz and above, so they become somewhat useless for most users at this point in time. However, Celerons that officially support 100MHz FSB speeds are coming down the pipes soon from Intel, so the HOT-685 will leave you prepared for a simple CPU swap upgrade.

The BIOS is the standard Award 4.51PG setup. It suggests minimal performance enhancements, such as select CAS 2 Latency, at boot up. Each PCI slot can be assigned a specific IRQ for working out IRQ nightmares in a loaded system. The USB IRQ can be disabled to help things a little further. Unfortunately, the onboard audio IRQ cannot be changed and is shared with the video card.

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