Motherboard courtesy of MSI
Micro ATX for enthusiasts?
The G45 Express is likely to be implemented in one of a few flavors. We'll certainly see mainstream models designed primarily for consumer desktops. Versions explicitly crafted for home theater PC applications are also likely, particularly given the chipset's Blu-ray decode and HDMI output capabilities. And since the old adage goes that no one ever got fired for buying Intel (although some should have been during the Prescott era), the G45 will surely make its way into business-oriented motherboards destined for corporate desktops.
MSI's G45M-FIDR is being pushed as a business solution, and it's currently shipping to system integrators. The board should start popping up in retail soon with a suggested price of around $120. That makes the G45M more expensive than most boards based on the 780G and GeForce 8300 chipsets, but there's long been a price premium associated with Intel integrated graphics, rightly or not.
Like most of its counterparts, the G45M is built on a Micro ATX form factor. This doesn't leave much room for extras, and it makes clearance issues harder to avoid. MSI has done a reasonably good job with the board's layout, but there are a couple of quirks worth mentioning. The first of these is the placement of the auxiliary 12V power connector, which sits below the CPU socket, where cabling can interfere with airflow around the processor. We prefer to see 12V connectors tucked out of the way along the top edge of the motherboard where they need not be any further from the CPU socket.
The area around the MSI board's CPU socket certainly isn't crowded. There's plenty of room for larger aftermarket heatsinks, in part thanks to a relatively short passive cooler on the north bridge. You won't find any intricate heatpipe arrays here, folks. Those are far too flashy for what is otherwise a budget motherboard.
Hinting at its business orientation, the G45M-FIDR comes equipped with an ICH10R south bridge, blessing the board's six Serial ATA ports with RAID support. The single IDE channel is backed by an auxiliary JMicron chipa popular solution among motherboard makers looking to offer backward compatibility. JMicron also steps up to provide the silicon behind the FIDR's Firewire ports.
Not that it matters much for this class of motherboard, but it's worth noting that longer, double-wide graphics cards will obscure access to three of the G45M's SATA ports. That still leaves three ports available with a gargantuan graphics card installed, which should be plenty for a Micro ATX LAN gaming rig.
Although it may seem ludicrous to offer more PCI than PCI Express slots on a modern motherboard, that sort of bias makes sense for a board like the G45M. PCIe peripherals may be easier to find these days, but they're by no means common, particularly at the budget end of the spectrum where integrated graphics platforms reside.
The G45M's port cluster offers up a collection of old-school connectivity options punctuated by PS/2 keyboard and mouse ports and even a parallel port. I suppose these throwbacks make sense for corporate environments, but I would have liked to see MSI take better advantage of the G45's robust digital video output capabilities. The board lacks a digital audio output, too, putting users at the mercy of the DAC inside the onboard Realtek audio codec. Realtek also handles networking duties with a RTL8111C Gigabit Ethernet chip that we've actually found to be pretty decent. That's a relief, at least.
A Firewire port predictably makes an appearance in the port cluster, but eSATA is nowhere to be found. To be fair, MSI has a "G45 Digital" board in the works that will directly target home theater PC applications. Let's hope that board has a more current selection of expansion ports.
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