AOpen i855 GMEm-LFS review

£127
Price when reviewed

The words ‘motherboard’ and ‘legendary’ don’t often appear in the same sentence. But there have been a few boards over the years that people still talk of fondly. These have usually been mavericks of some kind that have let users do things the manufacturers didn’t intend you to do with their hardware. The Abit BP6 is the obvious example: a board released in 1999 that supported dual Socket 370 Celerons, completely contrary to Intel’s market positioning of the lowly processor.

AOpen i855 GMEm-LFS review

And this new board from AOpen looks set to achieve the same cult status. The twist in its tail is that it accepts a Pentium M processor, the chip that powers the majority of notebook PCs. Intel isn’t officially supporting the notion of Pentium Ms on the desktop: as far as it’s concerned the chip is for mobile computing, and transferring it where it isn’t wanted doesn’t tie in with carefully crafted marketing plans. But for the actual consumers who want a relatively fast, power-efficient and, above all, cool – and thus quiet – system, this board is superb.

It isn’t commonly known that Pentium Ms come in standard pinned form rather than a specially manufactured package. In fact, only low-speed ULV (ultra-low voltage) processors come in special packages: standard Pentium Ms simply drop into a 479-pin socket in the same way as desktop processors. Intel’s tacit – if not explicit – non-approval of desktop Pentium Ms was illustrated by its reluctance to supply us a chip for testing: we were eventually kindly supplied one from notebook manufacturer SavRow. We spoke to Intel, and its official position is that, ‘Intel will continue to support its customers as they identify opportunities to extend our architecture and products into new growth market segments’. Putting a Pentium M into one of these boards won’t void its warranty.

At the time of writing, you can buy the chips online from www.savastore.com and www.ebuyer.com. Savastore lists a 1.6GHz Dothan-cored model 725 with 2MB Level 2 cache at £146 exc VAT; the current flagship Model 750 – running at 2GHz – is a heftier £299.

The question of a suitable type of heatsink to use with a Pentium M is thankfully moot: the board comes supplied with one. It’s a low-profile unit, extending just 40mm or so above the board as opposed to the 80mm or more of the average Pentium 4 or Athlon 64 system. Its fan is quiet and can be throttled back in the BIOS to render it barely audible, although it can’t be removed altogether: doing so results in the onboard buzzer emitting a hardwired fan-failure alarm which there’s no way of silencing with the current BIOS revision. The heatsink for the north bridge of the 855 chipset – also as used in notebooks – is passive and thus blissfully silent.

The 855 chipset is the GME variant with an integrated 855 graphics adaptor – also known as Intel Extreme Graphics 2 – simplifying things further. The only potential drawback with this, depending on your intended application, is the fact the graphics connector is a standard VGA analog D-SUB with no digital connector available. But the board does have an AGP 4x slot (the 855 chipset doesn’t support AGP 8x) for an adaptor with DVI output if you need it.

Installing the processor itself is no harder than a standard Pentium 4: simply drop it into the socket. The only non-standard part of the operation is the need to lock it in place with a screwdriver-operated clamping mechanism rather than a lever: but just give it a half-turn with a flat-headed blade and you’re there.

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