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Albatron's KI51PV-754 motherboard

Hot hatch or pokey Pinto?

Price (Street)$310

THE MINI-ITX FORM FACTOR'S diminutive 17 cm x 17 cm dimensions allow it to squeeze into exotic, small chassis that make Shuttle's XPC systems look portly, but this form factor hasn't exactly caught on among PC enthusiasts. Processor horsepower has always been a problem, and while it would be unfair to expect the performance of a six-liter V8 from a two-door hatchback, you want more than a one-liter four banger under the hood.

Unfortunately, the Mini-ITX world is littered with four bangers, lawn mower engines, and even a few golf cart power plants. VIA's EPIA boards dominate the scene, and they all sport relatively slow processors that can't be upgraded or replaced. Mini-ITX boards with sockets that can accommodate real horsepower are few and far between, and often only available from industrial specialists that don't cater to enthusiasts.

That is until Albatron stepped into the Mini-ITX market.

Albatron's new KI51PV-754 uniquely blends GeForce graphics, nForce core logic, and support for Turion and Athlon 64 processors on a Mini-ITX motherboard. Read on to see if that combination makes this board a hot hatch like the Audi S3 or something that more closely resembles a Yugo.

The specs
Less than 300 square centimeters doesn't leave much room for onboard components, but the KI51PV-754 still manages to host a decent array of integrated peripherals.

CPU supportSocket 754-based Athlon 64, Turion 64, Sempron processors
North bridgeNvidia GeForce 6150
South bridgeNvidia nForce 430
InterconnectHyperTransport (6.4GB/s)
Expansion slots1 32-bit/33MHz PCI
Memory1 184-pin DIMM socket
Maximum of 1GB of DDR333/400 SDRAM
Storage I/OFloppy disk
2 channel ATA/133
4 channels Serial ATA with RAID 0, 1, 0+1, 5 support
Audio6-channel AC'97 audio via nForce 430 and Realtek ALC655 codec
Ports1 PS/2 keyboard
1 PS/2 mouse
1 VGA output
1 DVI output
Header for 1 S-Video output

4 USB 2.0 with headers for 4 more
1 RJ45 10/100 via nForce 430
1 RJ45 10/100/1000 via Marvell 88E8056

1 analog front out
1 analog bass/center out
1 analog rear out
Header for 1 digital S/PDIF output
Bus speedsFSB: 200-450MHz in 1MHz increments
DRAM: 100, 133, 166, 200, 216, 233, 250MHz
Bus multipliersNB to K8: 1x, 2x, 3x, 4x, 5x
NB to SB: 1x, 2x, 3x, 4x, 5x
MonitoringVoltage, fan status, and temperature monitoring
Fan speed controlNone

Most of those features come courtesy of Nvidia's GeForce 6150 north bridge and nForce 430 south bridge combo. The 6150 includes an integrated graphics processor with two DirectX 9, Shader Model 3.0-compliant pixel pipelines running at 475MHz. That's not a lot of pixel-pushing power, but it should be enough for casual gaming at very low resolutions with low in-game detail levels. For Mini-ITX applications, the GeForce 6150's integrated TV encoder and ability to accelerate high definition MPEG2 and WMV9 playback are far more valuable.

Speaking of value, the KI51PV gets plenty of mileage out of its nForce 430 south bridge chip. The chip provides the board with four Serial ATA ports with support for 300MB/s transfer rates and RAID 0, 1, 0+1, and 5 arrays. Unfortunately, though, Albatron cripples the nForce 430's hardware-accelerated Gigabit Ethernet controller with a 10/100 Fast Ethernet PHY. This PHY chip throttles the Nvidia controller's effective bandwidth to 100Mbps, and although that should be plenty for most folks' Internet connections, it's still wasteful.

What's even more puzzling is that Albatron complements the nForce 430's castrated Ethernet with a Gigabit chip from Marvell running at full speed. Notwithanding whether a Mini-ITX board even needs a secondary networking option, it doesn't make sense to add a Gigabit chip to a board whose inherent GigE capabilities have already been crippled.

Confusion continues when we move to audio, where the nForce 430's HD audio capabilities are bypassed in favor of basic AC'97. Albatron says its customers don't require "Azalia" support, but they should, especially when it's already included in the chipset.