Motherboard by Zotac
Your next home theater PC platform?
Our first look at the GeForce 8300 comes courtesy of a motherboard from Zotac. You may not have heard of the company, but it's a subsidiary of industry giant PC Partner and thus rather well connected. Zotac makes graphics cards and motherboards based on Nvidia chips, and those products are available in North America through Newegg. Earlier this year, we gave Zotac's GeForce 8800 GT Amp! Edition an Editor's Choice award in our mid-range graphics card round-up, so expectations are understandably high this time around.
As one might expect, Zotac builds its GeForce 8300 on a Micro ATX form factor. The board pictured below is draped in a blueish turquoise hue, but it's an early sample. Production boards are black, which makes them that little bit more menacing.
Micro ATX real estate doesn't leave a whole lot of room for onboard components, and that may be why Zotac chose less-than-ideal locations for the board's power plugs. Both the primary and auxiliary 12V connectors are mid-way down the board where cabling, particularly from the beefier primary plug, can obstruct airflow between the CPU socket and where most chassis locate their exhaust fans. We think power plugs are best located along the edges of the board where their associated cabling won't get in the way.
Zotac keeps the board's socket area relatively clean, which would leave plenty of clearance for larger aftermarket heatsinks were it not for the close proximity of the DIMM slots. The huge Scythe Ninja we use for heatsink compatibility testing blocks the first slota common problem for many Socket AM2 motherboards.
Speaking of the socket, Zotac says its GeForce 8300 board is compatible with Phenom X4 9850 Black Edition processors. The Black Edition's 125W TDP has proven too high for many Micro ATX motherboards. That's a shame, because with an unlocked multiplier and relatively low price, the 9850 is the most attractive Phenom in AMD's lineup. We can confirm that the Black Edition does indeed work on this board, but under load, there's a definite squeal emanating from the board's power regulation circuitry. After not even an hour crunching Prime95, that circuitry got hot enough to melt a hole in the foam pad we place under mobos during testingnot a good sign. This GeForce 8300 board may be compatible with Black Edition Phenoms, we wouldn't recommend running one.
Zotac hides the GeForce 8300 chip beneath a beefy cooler. The heatsink really doesn't offer that much surface area considering its footprint, though. At least the low-profile design won't interfere with longer expansion cards.
Longer graphics cards will block access to a couple of Serial ATA ports, however. That's to be expected given Micro ATX's diminutive dimensions, and the board does have four more ports tucked nicely out of the way.
The Zotac board's slot stack is pretty standard fare for Micro ATX. PCI Express connectivity is split between an x16 and x1 slot, and Zotac throws in a couple of standard PCI slots for good measure.
Around the outside edge, we find four USB ports, Firewire, Ethernet, and a full suite of analog audio ports. You also get a digital S/PDIF output and both VGA and DVI video output options. There's actually room in the cluster for more ports, but Zotac stops there, denying users a digital audio input, TOS-Link S/PDIF output, and eSATA. HDMI is conspicuously missing from the port cluster, too, but Zotac has that angle covered.
Included with the board is a DVI-to-HDMI adapter that allows users to choose between digital video outputs. The adapter nicely sidesteps the chipset's inability to output DVI and HDMI at the same time, too.