Aopen – i855 GMEm-LFS review

desktop motherboard using mobile Pentium M processors
Photo of Aopen – i855 GMEm-LFS
£155

Desktop processors have been used in notebooks for quite some time, especially in desktop replacement designs, but rarely if ever does the reverse happen, at least not in the consumer market. AOpen’s latest board, the i855 GMEm-LFS, is set to buck that trend.

So why would anyone want to put a mobile CPU in a desktop motherboard? Well, the arrival of Intel’s Dothan mobile chip has caught the imagination of a large number of people because of its architecture.

Built on a 90nm process, Intel has managed to double the L2 cache (up to 2MB) and increase clock rates without increasing power requirements, to give the chips useful per-clock-cycle performance, which is currently Intel’s favorite measurement of performance now the company has stopped talking about the need for speed in raw gigahertz terms.

All of this means that you can have a small motherboard with a relatively powerful processor without the need for large, noisy cooling fans. This makes for a quieter desktop.

The i855 GMEm-LFS uses Intel’s i855 notebook chipset, so its feature set, memory and graphics support are a bit lacking compared to its desktop siblings; just 400MHz FSB, DDR333 memory and AGP 4X support. Nevertheless, the board gave some surprising performance figures when tested.

Built on a mini-ATX PCB, the board is neatly laid out with two DIMM slots, three PCI and one AGP 4X slots and because of the ICH4-M Southbridge’s limited feature set, AOpen has added a Promise SATA controller and dual Marvell Ethernet ports to give the board a bit more desktop flexibility.

AOpen provides a special CPU cooler with the board which is half the height of a normal Intel cooler and runs very quietly. And with a passively cooled Northbridge it’s a quiet platform even if you add a high-end graphics card.

Performance-wise it gave some interesting results. Tested with a 2GHz Pentium M, 1GB of DDR400 (clocked down to DDR333) and an ATI X800XT it gave a Sysmark 04 score of 171; somewhat quicker than was anticipated. But as expected with the AGP 4X bus, the graphics performance, though usable, is nothing to shout about; 3DMark05 score of 2190 and a FarCry frame rate of 57.16, all tested at a resolution of 1,024 x 768.

Because of its combination of performance and quietness the i855 GMEm-LFS would make an ideal basis for a home theatre PC but – and it’s quite a big but – you will need deep pockets as the board is pricey and so is any Pentium M chip to fit in it.

With rumours abounding that Intel’s dual core processors will be using architecture based on mobile chips, the i855 GMEm-LFS gives a glimpse of where motherboard technology may be heading.

Company: Aopen

Contact: 0870 429 3220


Verdict
Despite using notebook technology, AOpen's i855 GMEm-LFS performs better than expected and is a stable and quiet motherboard. But these benefits do come at a price.