Layout and features
Layout and features
A quick look at the 945GT Speedster-A4R micro-ATX-sized motherboard highlights MSI's thinking. It's intending this board to be installed in smaller cases, with HTPC and entertainment-based PCs high on the list of uses, although MSI continually refers to it as a workstation board. The most striking feature is support for mobile Intel CPUs in the mPGA-479M package, with the new 667MHz FSB Core Duo (dual-core, mobile) processors being top of the list. Core Solo and Celeron M (single-core) are supported, too. No current word on Conroe compatibility, however.
The Intel 945GT chipset, on which is board is based, isn't some afterthought that's had Core Duo support grafted to it. Rather, it's been specifically designed for these low-power chips, and it combines Intel Gen 3.5 integrated graphics and a host of display output options. There's also dual-channel DDR2 memory compliance at 667MHz speeds and PCI-Express support. It's coupled with Intel's tried-and-trusted ICH7R southbridge that provides 4 SATA2 ports and high-definition audio as standard.
With space being a premium, MSI runs with 2 DIMM slots that can take a total of 2GBytes of high-speed DDR2 memory. Power ports are intelligently placed around the edges of the board, and a passively-cooled northbridge keeps this a zero-noise motherboard. To the left there are dual Intel PCIe Gigabit controllers, making it a premium mATX offering.
Intel's desktop Pentium Extreme Edition 965 pushes out around 130W TDP. The mobile-orientated Core Duo T2600, though, has a TDP of just 31W, and MSI bundles in a low-profile cooler whose 40mm fan is barely needed. The underside has a shim to stop you crushing the naked Yonah core(s).
The cooler is held in place by pushing two clips on each side. The lower clip, closest to the x16 PCI-Express slot, will make contact with any graphics card that has a brace on the back. It's also an extreme pain to remove a graphics card; the locking mechanism is nigh-on impossible to access. Grrrr.
The ICH7R southbridge offers a number of RAID flavours from its 4 SATA2 ports. There's also HD audio, run via a Realtek ALC880 codec, and more USB ports running off it than you'll probably use. The clear CMOS jumper is located in a decent position, and the motherboard-to-case pins are colour-coded for easy installation.
Just below the second PCI slot is an interesting connector. As it is, the 945GT Speedster-A4R is a regular micro-ATX motherboard. However, for those needing the extra peripheral possibilities opened up by a full-size ATX offering, MSI, novelly, adds in a PCI expansion board.
The expansion board fits into the FINGER1 (snigger) slot and gives you an extra couple of PCI slots, should you need them for older peripherals. TV cards and the like.
The I/O section's quite busy. Outputs are important for a motherboard that's big on multimedia. DVI, VGA, RCA and S-Video are run off the integrated Intel 3.5 Gen graphics. S/PDIF comes in the form of an optical output, and the 5-port speakers setup allows you run 7.1-channel sound through the Azalia HD audio from the southbridge.
Mobile support on the desktop is the MSI 945GT Speedster-A4R's main claim to fame. MSI's engineers have taken the low-power CPU as a base and architected a board that's high on multimedia capabilities. A few layout tweaks wouldn't hurt, and the expansion board is a nice touch. The Speedster-A4R isn't designed as an enthusiast motherboard, so that's why it's devoid of MSI's CoreCell ASIC.
We've seen the expansion board above. Additionally, MSI bundles in a couple of brackets that add 2 USB2.0 and 2 FireWire400 ports (4-pin and 6-pin). A SATA power cable and rounded IDE complete the bundle. Sparse, really.