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Albatron's KM18G Pro motherboard

Somewhere between a tower and a cube

Manufacturer Albatron
Model KM18G Pro
Price (street) US$106
Availability Now

OVER THE PAST year, enthusiasts have gone wild for small-form-factor PCs that squeeze high-performance hardware into pint-sized cases. In January, Shuttle's SN41G2 captured the attention of enthusiasts everywhere by packing NVIDIA's potent nForce2 chipset into little more than a breadbox, but the SN41G2's diminutive form factor severely limited the system's upgrade potential and expansion capabilities.

For small-form-factor (SFF) systems, a trade-off between size and expansion and upgrade potential is inevitable, but jumping from a full-size ATX platform to a tiny cube may be too drastic a move for some. Luckily, a sort of middle ground exists: Micro ATX. The Micro ATX standard has actually been around for years, but motherboards have typically been targeted at OEM systems, and they typically haven't been based on high-performance chipsets. Now, it appears that Micro ATX motherboard manufacturers have found NVIDIA's nForce2 chipset too tempting to resist.

Today, we're looking at Albatron's KM18G Pro, a Micro ATX motherboard based on NVIDIA's nForce2 chipset. The KM18G Pro comes decked out with integrated audio, Ethernet, and even video via the nForce2 IGP. Does it have enough power and expandability to bridge the gap between full-tower ATX systems and tiny SFF PCs for performance and feature-hungry enthusiasts? Read on to find out.

The specs
The Micro ATX standard doesn't offer a lot of board real estate to work with. Let's see what Albatron has managed to squeeze onto the board.

CPU support Socket 462-based AMD Athlon XP and Duron processors
Form factor Micro ATX
Chipset NVIDIA nForce2
North bridge nForce2 IGP
South bridge nForce2 MCP
Interconnect Hyper Transport (800MB/s)
PCI slots 3 32-bit/33MHz
AGP slots 1, 2X/4X AGP (1.5V only)
AMR/CNR slots None
Memory 3 184-pin DIMM sockets
Maximum of 3GB of DDR400/333/266 SDRAM
Storage I/O Floppy disk
2 channels ATA/133
Serial ATA None
Legacy ports 1 PS/2 keyboard, 1 PS/2 mouse, Serial and Parallel ports
USB 2 USB 2.0/1.1 ports
2 additional USB 2.0/1.1 ports via PCI expansion header
Firewire None
Audio 6-channel audio via nForce2 MCP/ALC650 codec
analog front, rear, and center output
shared mic and line in inputs
Video nForce2 IGP
Ethernet 10/100 Fast Ethernet via nForce2 MCP
BIOS Award
Bus speeds FSB: 100-200MHz in 1MHz increments
AGP: 66-87MHz, arbitrary 50, 90, 95, 97 or 100MHz
Bus dividers DRAM: FSB*1,1.2,1.33,1.5,1.6,1.66,2, 2.4,2.5,2.66,3,3.33,4
Voltages None
Monitoring Voltage, fan status, and temperature monitoring

What's most notable about the KM18G Pro's feature list is what isn't there. The board gets its audio, Ethernet, and video peripherals from the nForce2 chipset, but that's where the gravy train ends. The board lacks integrated RAID, Serial ATA, and only features four USB ports. The KM18G Pro also doesn't have Firewire ports, though a revision of the board called the KM18G Pro II is available with integrated IEEE 1394 support via NVIDIA's nForce2 MCP-T south bridge.

The KM18G Pro lacks many of the integrated peripherals that enthusiasts are starting to expect in high-end motherboards, and that fact may be off-putting for some. However, the spec makes a lot of sense given the limitations imposed by its Micro ATX form factor. Let's take a closer look at the board.