Pentium M for the Desktop: AOpen i855GMEm-LFS & DFI 855GME-MGF

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February 8, 2005 by Ralf Hutter


DFI 855GME-MGF submitted by DFI

Intel Pentium M755 (Dothan core) courtesy of
Street Price
AOpen ~$250USD; DFI ~$240USD

When Intel launched the Pentium M processor for notebooks, Silent PC enthusiasts clamored that it might be the perfect CPU for a really quiet system. The extremely low power consumption and the ability to dynamically undervolt and underclock depending on CPU load are the sort of things that makes silent PC geeks salivate. However, it seemed like Intel never intended the Pentium M to be used on the desktop, so all we've done for the past 18 months is wait and dream.

Back in 2003, the Pentium M, with its sub-2GHz clock speed and short pipelines would have been the odd man out if Intel had positioned it to compete on the desktop with the P4 Northwood and it's 20-stage pipeline. How could Intel have justified its "higher Megahertz is better" marketing given the incredible performance of the lower speed, high IPC Pentium M? Well, back then they didn't have to, but along came Prescott in 2004.

Intel's move to the 90nm 3+GHz Prescott was a godsend for aftermarket heatsink manufacturers and air conditioning companies. The Prescotts put out over 100W and don't really perform any better than their Northwood predecessors. The increased cooling requirements and sub-par performance of the Prescott haven't earned many fans among gamers and other performance-oriented users, and it certainly hasn't been getting good press among quiet PC users.

The mass market seems relatively unaffected by the Prescott's shortcomings even as the enthusiast segment of the market gravitates to AMD's Athlon 64 as it currently takes top spot for the processor of choice due to its slightly higher performance and lower cooling demands. The latter, especially, is an odd reversal, given AMD's hot chip reputation in the recent past.

There have been some early industrial boards for the Pentium M, but these were not equipped with AGP slots or consumer expected features. They also cost about four times as much as a typical P4 board. Finally, at the end of last year, AOpen and DFI released desktop boards for the Pentium M based on the Intel 855G chipset. These new boards give Intel a new entry in the high performance desktop market, and give the quiet PC crowd a chance to finally see if the Pentium M is all that we've been hoping for.

2.0GHz of Pentium M (Dothan) goodness.

The AOpen and DFI boards differ from earlier industrial Pentium M boards in that they have features like an AGP slot, two DIMM slots, extra PCI slots, onboard S-ATA and Firewire, adjustable BIOS and they're available for end-user purchase through normal retail channels. While neither of these boards are inexpensive, they're priced about 30-50% less than the industrial boards.

SilentPCReview hustled and cajoled to obtain early samples of these new boards, along with a new Pentium M 2.0, Dothan core. They've been in my possession on the test bench and on my desktop since before Christmas. It's been a long haul to this review.

The retail packaging for the P-M boards.

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