AOpen i915Ga-HFS ATX Pentium M Motherboard

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For a board that costs more than US$200, the feature list for the i915Ga-HFS seems a bit short. As mentioned, the bulk of the features are aimed at the home theater market. No less than five different video-out connectors are included, as well as full 7.1 surround jacks for audio, although the jacks are not the RCA connectors used by most A/V equipment. Surprisingly, S/PDIF audio is only supported through an internal header — for which no external bracket is provided.

The lack of easy S/PDIF support is quite a serious omission, at least in the US or Canada. It’s hard to imagine anyone using a set of computer speakers in a serious home theater system, but it's possible that in Japan, AOpen's primary market for this product, there may be better options than we typically see here. Without S/PDIF it is difficult to hook up an external receiver. Anyone wanting to connect the i915Ga-HFS to an existing speaker system will need to purchase a separate S/PDIF adapter. This could be difficult for an end user, but it would have been easy for AOpen to include with the motherboard.

Luckily, there should be no problem hooking up multiple displays. The following video connections are supported:

  • VGA
  • DVI
  • S-Video (no S-Video to Composite dongle is included)
  • RCA-Component Video
  • D4-Component Video

With the exception of the D4 connector, all of these should be familiar. The D4 connector is a single-plug connector that carries a standard component video signal. It is used only on Japanese A/V equipment, and does not seem to be slated for worldwide adoption.

It is far from clear how well these five connectors function in conjunction with each other. AOpen has helpfully included a table in the manual that is supposed to show what combinations are valid, but the table is either wrong or incomplete, as it conflicts with the textual information. It would appear that a maximum of two independent pictures are supported at any given time, but it’s not clear whether the same picture can appear on multiple displays and, if so, in what configurations.

Lots of Video connectors, but no PS/2 or S/PDIF connectors.

To make room for all of the video connections, almost all of the "legacy" ports have been removed from the rear panel. That means no parallel port, no serial ports... and no PS/2 ports. There is an internal header for a parallel port, but adapters that allow them to be attached to a standard cable can be quite hard to come by. Fortunately, a PCI bracket for a PS/2 keyboard is included, but anyone still using a PS/2 mouse is out of luck — the only PS/2 header is wired for use with just a keyboard.

Another common feature that's missing is RAID support. This is quite odd, as AOpen’s previous i915GMm-HFS did support RAID, despite having only two SATA connectors. It is another feature that may be missed in a home theater PC, since a large amount of video storage is easier to manage as a single RAID 0 array than as multiple volumes across several drives. That said, remote storage is often a more practical solution than trying to jam all that storage into a small HTPC case.

For a full ATX board, the number of expansion slots — 3 PCI plus one 16x PCI Express — is quite limited. What, no 1x PCIe, you say? True, there is a physical slot included on the motherboard, but take a closer look at the photo below. Notice how the bottom edges of the two PCI express slots (black and orange) don't align with each other? What you see here is known in the business as a... mistake. AOpen has admitted bravely in their FAQ for the board that the misalignment makes the slot unusable...

"Q7287: Does i915Ga-HFS support PCIe x1?
No, for some mechanical issue with the PCIe x1 slot on this motherboard, it will not support PCIe x1 devices. We will also cancel the slots in the future. Truly sorry for the confusing."

...and removed the slot from the spec sheet. Hopefully, their quality control has been adjusted to catch future instances as well.

The PCIe 1x slot should be aligned with the 16x slot on the left, not the PCI slot on the right.

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