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Busting into the BIOS
Those used to the cornucopia of tweaking and overclocking options present on most enthusiast-oriented motherboards will have to adjust their expectations when dipping into Micro ATX territory. Micro ATX boards are generally designed with budget systems and mainstream users in mind, and those folks are probably best kept out of the BIOS altogether.

Bus speeds CPU base clock: 200-600MHz in 1MHz increments
PCIe: 100-200MHz in 1MHz increments
DRAM:
400,533, 667, 800,1066MHz
NB link: 200MHz-2.6GHz in 200MHz increments
Bus multipliers NA
Voltages DRAM: 1.8-2.2V in 0.1V increments
Chipset: 1.2-1.35V in 0.05V increments
Monitoring Voltage, fan status, and temperature monitoring
Fan speed control CPU

Zotac at least serves up a few overclocking options, including the ability to set the processor's base clock between 200 and 600MHz in 1MHz increments. A number of memory speed options are available, as well, in addition to control over the PCI Express and HyperTransport links. However, CPU multiplier control isn't available at all, even with unlocked Black Edition processors.


Another limiting factor for overclockers is the complete lack of CPU voltage control. The BIOS does let users manipulate DRAM and chipset voltages, but even those options are relatively limited.


Memory timing control was also missing from the initial BIOS included with our board. Fortunately, Zotac was able to add basic latency controls to a subsequent BIOS release, at our request. We really shouldn't have to ask for such a basic feature, though.


Fan speed control is particularly important for those looking to build quiet home theater PCs, and we're pleased to report that Zotac serves up a handful of processor target temperature options. We'd ideally like to see automatic fan speed control extended to the board's system fan headers, but few boards go that far. Most don't even provide temperature target control.

If you don't want to poke around in the BIOS, Nvidia's excellent System Utility software is fully compatible with the GeForce 8300 chipset. Unfortunately, though, the Zotac board isn't.


The system utility's monitoring capabilities are severely constrained by the board's failure to report voltages, fan speeds, and temperatures.


These missing variables all but ruin the system utility's device rules feature. Tweaking options are also limited by the lack of voltage and fan speed controls. You can, however, adjust the CPU base clock and a handful of memory timings. That's better than nothing, I suppose, but we'd prefer to see Zotac take full advantage of the system utility software that Nvidia makes freely available.

Specifics on specifications
As usual, we've consolidated all of the motherboard's vital specifications in a handy chart. Enjoy.

CPU support Socket AM2+/AM2-based Athlon, Phenom processors
Chipset Nvidia GeForce 8300
Expansion slots 1 PCI Express x16
1 PCI Express x1
2 32-bit/33MHz PCI
Memory 4 240-pin DIMM sockets
Maximum of 8GB of DDR2-667/800/1066 SDRAM
Storage I/O Floppy disk
1 channel ATA/133
6 channels 300MB/s Serial ATA with RAID 0, 1, 0+1, 5 support
Audio 8-channel HD audio via Realtek ALC888 codec
Ports 1 PS/2 keyboard
1 PS/2 mouse
1 VGA
1 DVI
4 USB 2.0 with headers for 8 more
1 RJ45 10/100/1000
1 1394a Firewire via VIA VT6307 with header for 1 more

1 analog front out
1 analog bass/center out
1 analog rear out
1 analog surround out
1 analog line in
1 analog mic in
1 digital coaxial S/PDIF output

With the GeForce 8300 integrating a Gigabit Ethernet controller, only the board's audio and Firewire components require auxiliary peripheral chips. VIA gets the call for the former, while the latter is predictably powered by a Realtek audio codec. The ALC888 isn't the crab's swankiest offering, and unlike some of the company's other codecs, it doesn't support real-time DTS or Dolby Digital Live encoding—features that would be particularly useful for home theater PCs.