AOpen i915GMm-HFS: 2nd Gen Pentium M desktop board

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TEST SETUP

Since the low power Pentium M CPU should let us run a very cool, and therefore very quiet system, we're going to utilize as much quiet hardware as possible. If our goal is to build a fast and extremely quiet system, the ancillary hardware shouldn't drown out the components we're using to cool the CPU. Our test system will be based on the following hardware, all of which is ridiculously quiet:

TEST PLATFORM & PROCEDURE

The Pentium M test platform is an open system not enclosed in a case.

Intel Pentium M 755 - 2.0GHz Dothan core - TDP is 21W, MP is 26.8W.
Mushkin PC3200 Level II - 2 x 512MB DDRAM @ 2-2-2-5, 333MHz
Samsung MP0402H 2.5" 5400rpm, 8MB cache notebook hard drive, decoupled with Sorbothane blocks
Seasonic SuperSilencer 300W (rev A1) PSU modded with 5V Panaflo M1A
Arctic Silver Ceramique Thermal Compound
Two-level metal platform with rubber damping feet. Motherboard on top; other components below.
CPUBurn processor stress software
Speedfan v2.24 software to track CPU temperature and fan speed
Seasonic Power Angel power monitor used to measure system power usage

The board was tested using the quietest components I could round up. I used the onboard graphics, mostly through the DVI output, but I also used the VGA out for a while too. The very quiet 2.5" Samsung HDD was used for the vast majority of the testing, but just for grins I also decided to play with an SATA drive for a while. I used a Samsung SP1614C for that part of the testing. It was set up with a fresh OS install on it.

As per standard practice, prior to all testing, the stock AOpen heatsink was installed on the test system as per the manufacturer's instructions. No thermal tests were run until system stability was assured by running the Prime95 Torture Test (v23.8) for 8 hours and Memtest86 (v3.20) for at least 24 hours. During the thermal testing phase, each test was run for 30 minutes even though all temperatures generally stabilized within 15 to 20 minutes.

Each thermal test was repeated three times on consecutive mornings to check to the consistency of the results. All results were within 1-2°C of each other and the average readings are included in the charts.

Ambient temperature was measured at 71°F (21°C) over the entire series of tests. No tests were run unless the ambient temperature was at that reference level.

* All temperatures in degrees Celsius.
* Diode: Reading from Pentium M 755 CPU diode via Motherboard Monitor. Diode was calibrated on each board using the standard SPCR CPU Diode Calibration method.
* Temp Rise refers to the difference between ambient temperature and the diode reading. .
* °C/W refers to the °C of temperature rise per watt of heat dissipated by the CPU.

SYSTEM BUILD

As motherboards become more full featured, building a system seems to take less and less time. This latest AOpen board was no exception. Using the onboard video meant that I could skip the usual video card (as well as its heat), so the build consisted of the processor, a couple of sticks of memory, the HDD and a floppy drive. Oh, and the Legacy PS/2 keyboard adapter.

This board has native support (via jumpers) for both the earlier 400MHz processors and the newer 533MHz versions. For this review I used my existing 400MHz, 2.0GHz M755 CPU. Its default speed is 100MHz with a multiplier of 20. While experimenting with earlier boards, I found that it will also run fine at 133MHz with a multiplier of 15 (also 2.0GHz), which meant that I could run it on this new board at those same settings. I ran it both ways throughout my testing and experienced no glitches or instability either way.

This board uses the same low-profile CPU socket of as all the previous Pentium M boards that I've used. The heatsink came with a pre applied Thermal Interface pad which I removed and replaced with Arctic Silver Ceramique. Mounting the heatsink was very easy using the supplied bracket (which is positioned underneath the motherboard) and the set of four spring loaded screws.

The low profile mPGA479 socket was a pleasure to use. It's a ZIF socket, just like any other modern socket, but instead of locking via a lever on the side, it locks through the camming action of rotating a little screw 180°. I found this method even easier than using the typical locking lever.

The build went fine with the system system POSTing with no problems on the first boot. Upon booting into the BIOS for the first time I noticed, with some concern, that the CPU temp was being reported as 47°C. This was almost 20°C hotter than I've been used to seeing on my other Pentium M setups. I touched the heatsink and found that it was fairly warm (for just idling) so I made a mental not to keep my eye on this.

I flashed the BIOS to the latest revision (1.04 at the time) and then installed Windows XP SP2. After Windows was installed I loaded the latest Intel chipset drivers and then installed the NIC drivers from the supplied driver disk. I then connected to the internet and installed all the latest OS hotfixes from Microsoft. At this point I did a minor amount of GUI configuration and then installed Speedfan so I could check the odd CPU temperature from within Windows.

Speedfan showed idle an temp of 45°C. A calibrated finger check of the heatsink also showed that it was fairly warm, considering it was just idling. I pulled the heatsink so that I could recheck my mounting procedure, but found nothing wrong. A very careful reinstallation gave me identical load temps. I then uninstalled Speedfan and loaded the AOpen monitoring software. It also reported CPU idle temps in the mid 40°C range. I then ran the Thermal Calibration procedure detailed in this SilentPCReview article. Test results showed that temps were actually being underreported by about 3°C! At this point during a typical system build I normally run stability tests to verify that everything's actually working correctly before proceeding on with the rest of the testing process.

So it was with more than a bit of trepidation that I fired up Prime95 to test for stability within the OS itself. CPU temps rapidly shot up into the high 60°C range, and finally stabilized at around 72°C! I wasn't thrilled to see my $430 CPU running this hot, but a check with Throttlewatch v2.0 showed no throttling, so I let it run for 24 hours. After passing Prime95 with (hot, but) flying colors, I ram Memtest86 for another 24 hours. Everything seemed stable, but darn hot, especially for a CPU that puts out just 20-25W at full load. Just for grins I lowered the default Vcore from 1.324V to 1.100V. This served to lower the Prime95 load temps to a chilly 58°C, a range that I felt much more comfortable with.

CPU temperature not withstanding, everything on the board worked fine. All the Firewire and USB 2.0 ports worked great, at full speed using just the included slipstreamed sp2 drivers. DVI output was nice and crisp on my DVI supported LCD monitor, VGA was softer, as is typical on a DVI LCD monitor. The dual GigE LAN worked flawlessly with the supplied AOpen drives., and fortunately for me, the legacy PS/2 keyboard convertor also worked great.



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