Gigabyte GA-8I915G-ZFD review
BTX is hyped as the perfect solution for a quiet high-performance PC. The re-arrangement of the board’s layout, and the standardisation of its core area (socket, chipset and RAM), brings a promise of ever smaller, quieter-running PCs. Intel is keen to get manufacturers to adopt the new form factor, and with Gigabyte already manufacturing boards the change seems inevitable.
The GA-8I915G-YFD micro-BTX form factor has room for two PCI and one PCI Express card, plus PCI Express graphics. There’s no need to use the 16x slot though as there’s Intel GMA 900 integrated graphics on both. The pico-BTX ZFD only has a single PCI card alongside the 16x PCI Express. Considering the amount of integrated controllers in both boards – High Definition 7.1 audio, Intel Matrix Storage and the rest – it’s not a huge problem having limited card slots.
There’s a decent range of I/O ports and connectors, with Gigabit Ethernet, FireWire, four USB 2, serial and parallel on both. The host of headers around the boards allow for even more. The pico-BTX ZFD has two Serial/ATA connectors and only two DDR RAM sockets, while the YFD has four of both.
As the names obtusely imply, both boards are based on the Intel 915G chipset. It’s a solid performer, with the YFD scoring 2.01 overall. That’s about average for a 915 chipset with our standard 3.8GHz Pentium 4 570, 1GB of Crucial DDR PC3200 RAM and Western Digital Raptor hard disk. Naturally, there’s no performance hit from the new layout.
But it’s housing the boards that’s the problem. First, you need a new type of heatsink, something that Intel has christened a Thermal Module. It combines a large fan, along with a substantial conventional heatsink, and wraps it all in plastic ducting. This creates the high-velocity airflow that’s the whole point of BTX. The components are lined up along this; CPU first, then chipset, south bridge and graphics card (which faces into the airflow). Gigabyte has slightly fouled the airflow by placing the Serial/ATA, IDE and power connectors in the air stream. It won’t lead to system instability, but the various cables hinder airflow. Fitting anything in the PCI slot on the ZFD will block the graphics cooling too.
Intel says that its processors will be sold with the choice of standard ATX heatsink or BTX Thermal Module, but if you’ve already got a CPU, you’ll have to buy one. We’re assured that the usual suspects are currently developing them and they’re becoming more common, but they’re not exactly abundant as yet.
The Thermal Module attaches to a moulded piece of metal on the case called a Support and Retention Module (SRM). The SRM lifts the motherboard from the case, allowing under board cooling. The SRM is essential, as the Thermal Module doesn’t attach to the motherboard at all; the sandwiching of the motherboard between the two new modules presses the heatsink to the CPU. The motherboard still screws into the case as normal.
SRMs will come with BTX-compatible cases but, at the time of writing, these aren’t commonly available. And you can’t just make an SRM yourself for your current ATX case. The changed layout necessitates a new case as the motherboard attaches to the ‘wrong’ side of the case (the left as you face the front), so your current case won’t have mountings in the right place.
CoolerMaster makes a convertible midi-tower case, the Stacker. It will take a good hour of screwdriver work to make the conversion though, and it’s not the prettiest thing we’ve seen. See coolermaster to form your own opinion.