Abit IL-90MV Core 2 Duo Mobile Motherboard - HTPC Ready

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Layout and HD Playback

Board Layout Continued

While the Intel 945G chipset does support PCI Express graphics, Abit decided not to put a full PCI Express x16 expansion slot onboard. This may be a limitation in the eyes of some, as this means you can only upgrade the graphics with a PCI Express x1 card (they are out there, if you look) or an older 32-bit PCI graphics card. However, neither option is good if you're looking for performance. This board certainly isn't designed for the high-end power user or gamer. For home theater users, the onboard Intel GMA950 graphics are plenty good enough to handle the latest high-end digital media. As you can see, the board is equipped with one PCI Express x1 port and two 32-bit PCI slots. Since the motherboard has onboard graphics, sound, and Ethernet, it's fully possible to run this motherboard without any expansion cards installed at all. However, home theater users will likely throw in a TV tuner card into one of the open slots. 

PCIe x1 and 32-bit PCI Slots

SATA and IDE Slots

The Southbridge onboard is the Intel ICH7M, which is the mobile variant of the ICH7 I/O controller hub. ICH7M has a fairly modern feature set, but is lacking in several ways compared to Intel's latest ICH8. The ICH7 supports only two Serial ATA ports, and only at 150 MB/s speeds. Keep in mind, this is a mobile chipset at heart, and this kind of storage connectivity is plenty fine for notebook environments. For a HTPC, this storage limitation may be limiting, although with two SATA ports, you can in theory connect up to 1.5 TB of disk space using 2 x 750 GB Seagate HDD's, and you could always add more with a dedicated SATA PCI controller card. The two onboard RAID ports support RAID 0 and RAID-1 array connectivity, and the board also supports two Ultra ATA/133 devices.

Just north of the Ultra ATA port we can see the power connector, which is a 24-pin ATX connector. This connector is required along with a 4-pin +12V ATX connector for the processor. However, since this board is extremely low power, you can get by with fairly low wattage power supplies and still be fine (we're talking 200W+). In most cases, this motherboard will be using under 100W of power when fully loaded.

As for onboard peripherals, this board is loaded with just about everything one could want for a home theater PC environment. A quick look at the I/O panel shows PS/2 mouse keyboard, HD-15 monitor output, HDMI 1.2 / DVI output, S/PDIF digital audio in/out, 8-channel analog outputs, Firewire 400, USB 2.0 ports, and Gigabit Ethernet. This board is completely free from Serial and Parallel ports, as Abit does not even include the headers for them. Onboard audio is powered by a Realtek ALC882M high-definition audio CODEC, which allows for 8-channel output. Onboard Gigabit Ethernet is powered by an Intel 82573L controller chip. Firewire is controlled by a standard 32-bit PCI chip from Texas Instruments. In addition to the 4 x USB 2.0 and 1 x Firewire port on the I/O panel, Abit also includes pin-outs for another Firewire port and 4 x USB 2.0 ports on the motherboard, for a total of 8 x USB 2.0 ports and 2 x Firewire 400 ports. 

Abit IL-90MV I/O Panel

The big feature for HTPC users is a (gold plated) HDMI output port, as this is the only the second motherboard we've seen to date with this feature. AOpen released a motherboard for mobile Intel processors about a year ago with HDMI output, but it was limited to the Japanese market only. As HDMI now has more mainstream acceptance worldwide, seeing this connector on a motherboard does make sense for HTPC users. HDMI is used on many high-end flat panel displays, as it links together digital video and 7.1 channel digital audio into a single connector. The HDMI port on this motherboard is powered by the Intel GMA950 graphics processor, but has a Silicon Image TDMS PanelLink chip onboard for HDMI output. Abit also bundles an HDMI to DVI adapter cable for those who want to connect directly to DVI displays. There is a BIOS option which allows the user to control which type of output they want to use. 

HDMI to DVI Bundled Cable

Silicon Image TDMS Chip

The big question we had when initially looking at this motherboard was - "Is the Intel GMA950 processor powerful enough to push true HD (1080p) content at full resolution without slowdowns?". Somewhat surprisingly, that answer is a big yes. The Intel GMA950 more or less offloads most (if not all) of the processing onto the main system CPU, so if you have a fast enough processor in the system, you can easily push 1080p content from this motherboard. We loaded our test system with 2.0GHz and 2.33GHz Core 2 Duo (mobile) processors and played back WMV HD 1080p test files on this motherboard. Playback was perfectly smooth and looked beautiful. A quick look at our CPU performance levels throughout the file playback shows that the system only used about 20-30% of the system's CPU resources to push 1080p content, which means one could theoretically go for a lower-powered processor and still be able to run 1080p movie files without slowdowns. 

1080P CPU Utilization - 2.0 GHz Core 2 Duo

1080P CPU Utilization - 2.33 GHz Core 2 Duo

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