Aopen – i945GTm-VHL review

desktop board for mobile Core Duo and Core 2 Duo
Photo of Aopen – i945GTm-VHL
£200

AOpen’s stable of motherboards for mobile CPUs grows ever stronger, the latest addition to the family ranks being this i945GTm-VHL. Like its sibling, the i945GTt-VFA, this board uses SO-DIMM memory modules which are normally to be found lurking in notebooks. It supports the latest Core 2 Duo mobile processors as well as Core Duo/Solo, but it does come with a hefty price tag.

The board also uses the same chipset as the GTt, namely Intel’s i945GT/ ICH7 MDH North- and Southbridge combination. But that’s where the similarity ends, as the GTm-VHL is a standard MicroATX format as opposed to the GTt’s FlexATX layout. Being that much bigger allows the board to be feature-rich while still retaining the low power consumption components of its sibling. Oh, and if you care about labels, it’s also ViiV compliant.

By using the i945GT chipset, AOpen has gone a down a different road to most other manufacturers of mobile-supporting desktop boards, as they usually choose Intel’s i945GM mobile chipset. The GT version of the i945 is just the desktop version of the chipset and differs very little from the mobile version.

Despite its small size, the black PCB is tidily laid out with a Socket 479 at its heart, which uses a laptop-style locking mechanism for the CPU. This is simply a small screw that is turned one way to lock the processor and the other way to release it.

AOpen bundles a quiet, low-profile cooler with the board. Constructed in aluminium, the cooler uses a slim-line 70mm fan for cooling. This spins from as low as 2,200rpm up to its standard 3,000rpm and just for good measure the i945GT Northbridge is passively cooled by a large aluminium heatsink.

The two SO-DIMM slots can support up to 2GB of DDR2 667/533 or 400MHz memory which, although slightly more expensive than standard DIMMs, is just as easy to find and buy.

One glance at the rear I/O panel shows that AOpen has aimed the board at the media centre or home theatre builder. There are both DVI and VGA output ports and an S-Video port, all driven by the integrated Intel GMA950 graphics engine. Also bundled in the box is an adapter that plugs into the S-Video port, on the other end of which is a YPbPr (HDMI) connector so you can plug in your TV.

Joining these ports on the back panel are the outputs for the integrated 8-channel audio (Realtek ALC882D). Also integrated into the board is Gigabit Ethernet.

If you want the flexibility of using an add-in graphics card, there is an x16 PCI-E slot which – strangely – needs you to remove three jumpers before you can use a card, as the motherboard cannot auto-disable the onboard graphics. Along with this slot the board supports a single x1 PCI-E and two standard PCI slots, so you have a little bit of expandability.

If you don’t have to worry about working to a tight budget, then this board would make an ideal platform upon which to build a powerful, feature-rich media centre.

Company: Aopen

Contact: +31 73 645 9516


Verdict
As with many mobile CPU based motherboards, the downside here is cost. The i945GTm-VHL is very expensive, even more so when you take into account the cost of buying a Core Duo or Core 2 Duo processor to put in it.