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Closer Look at Asus M4A88T-I Deluxe

While energy-efficient AMD processors are not very widely spread but pretty common products, we can’t say the same about Asus M4A88T-I Deluxe mainboard. Even without looking at its detailed specifications we can see that the developers have done a very thorough engineering job. They managed to fit almost the entire set of features typical of many full-sized mainboards into the Mini-ITX form-factor. In fact, we have already seen examples like that when we discussed miniature LGA 1156 mainboards from Zotac (Zotac H55-ITX WiFi) and Gigabyte (Gigabyte GA-H55N-USB3). But Asus M4A88T-I Deluxe is a truly unique product because it is the first multi-functional Mini-ITX Socket AM3 platform in the market.

However, a quick look at Asus M4A88T-I Deluxe is enough to see why it is true. Socket AM3 with the retention bracket takes up lion’s share of the PCB making all other components literally huddle in the corners. This is where Asus engineers really performed a feat: they managed to implement the functionality of a full—sized mainboard on a tiny piece of textolite. Asus M4A88T-I Deluxe even has a PCI express 2.0 x16 slot that can accommodate an add-on graphics card or any other devices with PCI Express interface.

There is another unique feature right next to the PCI Express x16 slot: it is a daughter card with a WiFi controller on it. In this case we have an 802.11n solution based on Ralink chipset and radio module. Unfortunately, this card connects to the mainboard via a modified USB port instead of a common connector, so you won’t be able to replace it with anything else without additional modifications.

Asus M4A88T-I Deluxe has very few internal connectors, which are quite numerous on full-size ATX mainboards. They are three SATA-300 ports with RAID support, and two USB 2.0 onboard pin-connectors. However, since Mini-ITX mainboards go into small system cases, this is not a big problem; it is much more important to have diverse external interface connectors instead. And this is where Asus M4A88T-I Deluxe really shines: the back panel of this mainboard has all sorts of connectors and ports and may undoubtedly become an object of envy for some full-size platform developers.

First of all I have to mention that there are two digital connectors for the monitors: Dual-Link DVI-D and HDMI. Asus M4A88T-I Deluxe mainboard is based on AMD 880G chipset that features an integrated Radeon HD 4250 graphics core. In most cases this core can provide sufficient functionality for a compact system: it supports hardware acceleration of HD video playback in popular formats and has 40 shader processors, which ensure that it also copes quite nicely with 3D graphics. By the way, I would like to draw your attention to the fact that this mainboard has only digital monitor outputs, so you won’t be able to connect any analogue displays with D-Sub interface even with a converter.

The mainboard also has an integrated sound card built on ALC889 codec that is why there are three analogue audio-jacks, and an optical and coaxial SPDIF on the mainboard connector panel. There is also a Gigabit network port, a PS/2 port for keyboard or mouse, eSATA port, four USB 2.0 and two USB 3.0 ports (blue connectors). Moreover, you can also find there a pair of antenna connectors for the Wi-Fi controller and a Bluetooth module antenna.

I doubt that you will ever regret having only one expansion card slot if you decide to pick Asus M4A88T-I Deluxe for your system. Everything you might ever need is already onboard. The only thing missing could be Firewire ports, but there are not that many devices using this interface anyway, and they are mostly scanners. Besides, someone may wish that this board had 6-gigabit SATA ports, which is also not an obvious drawback, because only very few premium-class SSDs can in fact utilize the bandwidth exceeding 3 Gbps.

The formal mainboard specifications look as follows:

Overall, Asus engineers have definitely succeeded in designing a small Socket AM3 mainboard with rich functionality. It is for a reason that this mainboard is part of the Deluxe series, which includes only the solutions with the richest functionality and features. However, this is when a logical question pops up: how did they manage to fit all of this onto a Mini-ITX PCB? As soon as you start digging into the technical details, the answer reveals itself. In order to save some space on the PCB, Asus engineers had to implement three solutions that do not leave you that excited anymore.

 
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