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Reviewed by: Carl Nelson [02.05.07]
Manufactured by: Abit

 

Finally...

Rant Mode: FINALLY, after how many years of being told that they have a GOOD micro-ATX motherboard, a mobo manufacturer has given us something worth looking at. Let's face it; mATX usually means one thing, and one thing only: CHEAP. They exist in the world of $40-50 motherboards, where everything is integrated - usually with cheap, slow components.

So many times, I have wanted to build a decent HTPC with a mATX motherboard and case. The cases are there, but nearly every single mATX board that has existed in the past 10 years has not met the needs of a good HTPC system.

To make things clear, here are the most basic requirements of a good mATX board, suitable for a good HTPC:

-If using integrated video, it should have DVI output in addition to RGB
-If using integrated audio, it should have digital outputs and inputs on the rear panel
-The chipset should be passively cooled
-It should have at least 2 PCI slots
-It should support the latest CPUs and clock speeds

It really is that simple. But you'd be amazed how hard it is to find a board with good onboard sound that has digital output on the rear panel. Sometimes a board 'supports' optical output, by way of an expensive (or impossible to obtain) PCI header. Shuttle makes SFF systems with these exact needs (and in many cases greatly succeeds in making a great SFF system). Why haven't motherboard makers catered to people who want a high-end motherboard but in a smaller form factor?

DVI out isn't a 'make-or-break' issue because if you are running an HDTV setup, there are currently no integrated video solutions that have what it takes to provide the best quality output (and none feature HDCP for that matter).

So while there are plenty of mATX boards out there, most of them are aimed at the budget PC builder, and lack some (or all) of the required features. That's why I nearly leaped out of my seat when Abit notified us of their NF-M2 nView motherboard.

Abit NF-M2 nView

There you have it, a passively cooled mATX board that supports the latest AM2 processors from AMD, has DVI output and digital audio connectors in the form of TOSLINK Optical.

Let's take a closer look at the specs (as usual, I have formatted this table myself, and did not simply rip the info from Abit's homepage, which doesn't really carry many details).

Abit NF-M2 nView
CPU Support AMD AM2 940 - Athlon 64, X2, FX (2000 MT/s)
Northbridge nvidia GeForce 6150
Southbridge nvidia GeForce 430
Memory Support 4 x DIMM - 8GB Max. DDR2 533/667/800
Storage Support Floppy x 1
DMA/ATA-133 (Ultra) x 2
SATA 300 x 4 (Southbridge)
RAID Support RAID 0, 1, 0+1, 5
Expansion Ports USB2.0 x 8 (4 on rear panel)
Gigabit Ethernet Port x 1
PS/2 Mouse x 1
PS/2 Keyboard x 1
Serial Port x 0
LPT Port x 0
FireWire x 2 (1 on rear panel) (Texas Instruments TSB43AB22/A)
Expansion Slots PCI-E x16 x 1
PCI-E x1 x 1
PCI x 2
Audio 7.1 channel HD audio w/ Realtek ALC883
Digital Output: Optical S/PDIF
Analog Output: 8 Channel (5 ports)
Digital Input: Optical S/PDIF
Analog Input: Mic, Line In (discrete ports)
Video GeForce 6150 Integrated Video
Onboard Outputs: DVI, RGB
TV Output: None
Networking Gigabit Ethernet nForce w/ Realtek RTL8211BL PHY

As you can see, this little mATX board packs most of the features you'd expect to see on a full ATX board. RAID support is excellent, with nvidia's excellent Southbridge. 7.1 HD audio is brought to you by way of Realtek's ALC883 codec, something seen on high end Intel boards. You get both digital output AND input, something a lot of full size motherboards don't even offer. Another nice perk on the audio side are discrete Line In and Microphone ports.

The integrated video can be output through a DVI port, or RGB (or both). Unfortunately, there are no TV outputs, which severely limits the board as an all-in-one solution for people using old SDTV sets.

The rest of the board sports everything you need, and nothing you don't. A single Gigabit ethernet port is plenty for most, as is the single PCI-E X16 port. You get a pair of PCI ports which would be considered insufficient on a larger board, but is perfectly acceptable here.

Features
Abit NF-M2 nView
FSB Speeds FSB 200-400 MHz in 1 MHz increments
PCI-E Speeds 100-145 MHz in 1 MHz increments
CPU Multiplier 4x and up, with 0.5x steps
Memory Multiplier DDR2 400, 533, 667, 800
DIMM Voltage 1.75V to 2.5V in 0.5V increments (except last 3)
CPU Voltage 1.4V to 2.0V in 0.025V increments
Chipset Voltage 1.2V to 1.6V in 0.04V increments (except last 3)
HT Voltage 1.2, 1.22, 1.25, 1.3, 1.35, 1.4V
SB Aux Voltage 1.5V to 1.74V in 0.03V increments (except last 3)
Voltage Monitoring CPU, DDR2, DDR2 VTT, Chipset, ATX 12V, 5V, 3.3V
Temperature Monitoring CPU, System, PWM
Fan Monitoring CPU, System, Aux1, Aux2
CPU Protection Individual Warning and Shutdown Temperatures
Fan Failure CPU, SYS, Aux1

As you'd expect from an Abit board, even this puny mATX board carries some decent settings, including 0.5 multiplier steps and DDR2 voltage up to 2.5V

So the specs stand up quite well. Let's take a closer look at the board itself.

Next Page: (Board Layout)