The success of Shuttle's XPC line has spawned a number of knockoffs from manufacturers like IWill, Jetway, ECS, and even Creative. These cubes have closely followed Shuttle's lead, but they haven't managed to innovate much. Honestly, I think I started getting a little bored of small form factor systems for a while there. Simply adding support for the latest and greatest chipset is progress, but it's nothing much more exciting than the new chipset itself.
Fortunately, MSI has renewed my interest in the small form factor world with the MEGA651, a barebones system that may be a little late to the party, but makes up for it with innovative new features and functionality. Why has the MEGA651 had me practically giggling with glee since it arrived at my door? Read on to find out.
As is customary, we'll get the spec sheet out of the way first. What's the MEGA651 packing under its shiny aluminum skin?
|CPU support||Socket 478-based Intel Pentium 4 processors up to 2.8GHz
(400 or 533MHz bus only)
|North bridge||SiS 651|
|South bridge||SiS 962|
|Interconnect||SiS MuTIOL (1GB/s)|
|PCI slots||1 32-bit/33MHz|
|AGP slots||1, 2X/4X AGP (1.5V only)|
|Memory||2 184-pin DIMM sockets
Maximum of 2GB of DDR333/266/200 SDRAM
|Storage I/O||Floppy disk
2 channels ATA/133
|Legacy ports||1 PS/2 keyboard, 1 PS/2 mouse, Serial and Parallel ports|
|USB||4 USB 2.0/1.1 ports|
|Firewire||2 IEEE 1394 ports via integrated south bridge Firewire controller|
|Audio||6-channel audio via SiS 962/ALC650 south bridge/codec
front, rear, and center output, mic and line in inputs
|Video||SiS 651 integrated|
|Ethernet||10/100 Fast Ethernet via RealTek RTL8101L|
|Bus speeds||FSB: 100 or 133MHz|
|Monitoring||Voltage, fan status, and temperature monitoring|
The MEGA651 is based on SiS's 651 chipset, which is getting a little long in the tooth. To give you an idea how long the chipset has been around, Shuttle actually used the 651 in its SS51G small form factor system, which was released nearly a year ago. The 651 chipset only supports a single channel of DDR333 memory and a 533MHz front-side bus. As far as I'm aware, there's no support for Hyper-Threading, and MSI only lists the MEGA651 as compatible with Pentium 4 processors up to 2.8GHz. Because it only supports a 533MHz front-side bus, the MEGA651 is also incompatible with Intel's latest Pentium 4 "C" processors, which prefer an 800MHz front-side bus.
To its credit, the 651 chipset does offer a much higher bandwidth interconnect between its north and south bridge than even Intel's latest 865 and 875P chipsets. However, unlike Intel's ICH5 south bridge, SiS's 962 doesn't have native support for Serial ATA devices. Serial ATA drives are only starting to hit the market, but for small form factor systems whose cramped internals could really use thinner cables, Serial ATA is perfect.
Because MSI has chosen to differentiate the MEGA651 with features rather than a brand-spanking-new chipset, let's get a quick peek at a system profile: