DFI 855GME-MGF and Pentium-M Dothan Desktop Performance

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In this our first article of 2005, we're going to take a look back at recent history and examine a driving force in computing technology that was dominant throughout much of 2004.  Intel launched its mobile Centrino technology in mid-2003.  It took a while to ramp up but once this new platform initiative gathered steam, it took off like a rocket for what has been a hugely successful marketing and technology development effort.  The centerpiece of this new architecture was Intel's new Pentium M processor core, then code named "Banias", which has since been enhanced and updated in .09 micron process technology, now known as the "Dothan" Pentium M core.

It's no secret to many, that clock for clock Intel's new Pentium M processors are actually faster than Pentium 4 chips, in many applications.  There are many reasons for this which can be attributed to architectural differences between Intel's P4 desktop chip design and the Pentium M design, including a significantly shorter pipeline along with a larger 2MB of fast, full speed L2 cache.  Of course the Pentium M doesn't scale nearly as high in clock speed as a Pentium 4 but regardless, the overwhelming success and market dominance that Intel has enjoyed this past year in the mobile arena was forged by a processor architecture that will go down as one of Intel's most successful design efforts in many years.

Until now, desktop PC "enthusiasts" haven't had the ability to harness the quiet, power efficient, high performance capabilities of the Pentium M due to the obvious fact that its targeted exclusively for laptop motherboard designs.  However, recently OEMs like AOpen and DFI have come out with desktop micro ATX motherboard designs that give build-it-yourself types, VARs and System Integrators the ability to build full systems based on the Pentium M and Intel's i855 Northbridge and i6300 Southbridge mobile chipset.  In the pages ahead we'll be running a the new DFI 855GME-MGF motherboard, along with a 2GHz Pentium M (highly overclocked as well at 2.5GHz) through their paces versus some of the fastest Pentium 4 and Athlon 64 processors and motherboards on the market.  Read on to see what the Pentium M and this new motherboard from DFI have to offer; cool, quiet high performance computing is not just for laptops anymore.

Specifications of the DFI 855-GME-MGF
Laptop chipset on a desktop motherboard
CPU Support
Intel Pentium M / Celeron M processor
- 400MHz system bus
- Supports 64-bit host data bus and 32-bit addressing
Processor socket: mPGA479M

Chipset
Intel
855GME chipset
- Intel
855GME Graphics Memory Controller Hub (GMCH)
- Intel
6300ESB I/O Controller Hub

Memory
Two 184-pin DDR SDRAM DIMM sockets
2.5V unbuffered PC1600 (DDR200), PC2100 (DDR266) or PC2700 (DDR333)
DDR SDRAM DIMM with ECC support
Supports 128Mbit, 256Mbit and 512Mbit technologies providing maximum capacity
of 1GB with x16 devices and up to 2GB with high density 512Mbit technology

BIOS
Award BIOS
4Mbit flash memory

Graphics
Up to 64MB of dynamic video memory allocation
Display core frequency at 250MHz
Render core frequency at 250MHz
Intel
Dual-Frequency Graphics Technology
Supports 2D graphics engine
Supports 3D graphics engine
Graphics Power Management

Power Management
Supports ACPI STR (Suspend to RAM) function
Wake-On-Events include:
- Wake-On-PS/2 Keyboard/Mouse
- Wake-On-USB Keyboard
- Wake-On-LAN
- Wake-On-Ring
- RTC timer to power-on the system
AC power failure recovery

Hardware Monitor
Monitors CPU/system temperature and overheat alarm
Monitors 5VSB(V)/VBAT(V)/1.5V/3.3V/5V/12V/CPU(V) voltages and failure alarm
Monitors CPU/chassis/2nd fan speed and failure alarm

Audio
Realtek ALC655 6-channel audio
S/PDIF-out interface
Speaker-out jack supports 2W amplifier providing better audio quality
to the headphone or speakers

LAN
RTL8110S Gigabit ethernet controller
Supports 10Mbps, 100Mbps and 1Gbps data transmission


IDE
Supports up to UltraDMA 100Mbps hard drives
Serial ATA with RAID
Supports two Serial ATA interfaces which are compliant with SATA 1.0 specification (1.5Gbps interface)
Supports RAID 0 and RAID 1


IEEE 1394
VIA VT6307
Supports two 100/200/400 Mb/sec ports


AGP
Supports 1.5V AGP 4x data transfers and 2x/4x fast write protocol
(3.3V AGP card is not supported)
AGP 2.0 compliant


Rear Panel I/O Ports
1 mini-DIN-6 PS/2 mouse port
1 mini-DIN-6 PS/2 keyboard port
1 DB-25 parallel port
1 DB-9 serial port
1 DB-15 VGA port
1 IEEE 1394 port
1 RJ45 LAN port
4 USB 2.0/1.1 ports
Mic-in, line-in and speaker-out


I/O Connectors
1 connector for an external serial port
1 connector for 1 external IEEE 1394 port
1 front audio connector for speaker-out and mic-in jacks
1 CD-in internal audio connector
1 S/PDIF-out connector
1 connector for IrDA interface
2 Serial ATA connectors
2 40-pin IDE connectors
1 floppy connector
1 ATX power supply connector
1 front panel connector
3 fan connectors


Expansion Slots
1 AGP 4x slot
1 PCI-X slot
2 PCI slots


Compatibility

PCI 2.2, Intel AGP 2.0, PCI-X 2.2 and AC '97 compliant


PCB
microATX form factor
24.4cm (9.61") x 23cm (9.06")




As you'll note the DFI 855GME-MGF's spec list above is fairly standard in terms of feature set and functionality.  The main architectural differences are that this board supports up to 2GB of standard single channel DDR memory at up to 333MHz officially, although we've proven out stability at PC3200 (DDR400) speeds.  In addition, it only has an AGP4X 1.5V slot and the stock front side bus speed currently is 100MHz.  We took it up to 133MHz without any major issues, but more on that later.   Again, this board is a micro-ATX design so it is somewhat limited in terms of expansion and I/O options.  However, it does carry a host of the latest features for a board of its size.  Next, we'll dig a bit deeper into the design of the board and its componentry.

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