Articles: Mainboards

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It’s not a new idea to use a mobile processor in a desktop PC. PC enthusiasts were casting interested looks at mobile processors from the Pentium M series ever since Intel had transferred its desktop CPU series to the NetBurst architecture. As opposed to it, the Pentium M was based on the P6 architecture that had been employed in the highly successful Pentium III CPU series. First experiments of installing the Pentium M on desktop mainboards (made possible by ASUS who introduced a special adapter; read more in our article called Intel Pentium M 780 as Heart of Your Desktop PC, with ASUS CT-479 Adapter) showed that this idea did make sense. Senior Pentium M models had a normal performance even by the standards of desktop computers and were even better than CPUs with the NetBurst architecture in other characteristics, e.g. in heat dissipation. Unfortunately, such systems never achieved the status of a mass-user solution, mostly due to opposition on the Intel side. The company didn’t look favorably at experiments of that kind and made steps so that the adapters and mobile processors were not widely available. Moreover, processor architectures began to progress towards dual-core designs, so the efficiency of using mobile CPUs in desktop computers was put in doubt.

The situation changed this spring when dual-core CPUs conquered the mobile market after their release at the beginning of this year. As a result, Intel produced a new generation of processors for notebooks which met today’s requirements but were still based on the efficient P6 architecture. Another fact confirming the efficiency of this architecture is that Intel’s upcoming processors for all the market segments (Conroe, Merom and Woodcrest) are going to have a core micro-architecture similar to the one the Core Duo and Pentium M have. But until the Conroe is released, the mobile Core Duo may prove to be a lucky choice for a desktop computer.

Some mainboard manufacturers caught at the opportunity and began developing Socket 479 products compatible with the Core Duo. AOpen was the first of them, announcing its Socket 479 i975Xa-YDG mainboard on Intel’s top-end i975X chipset. Unfortunately, they only made an official announcement and issued a few samples. The i975Xa-YDG remained on paper ever after. Yet the Core Duo eventually found its way to desktop computers and it was Intel itself who helped it with its Viiv platform!

The Viiv platform is intended by its developer for use in home multimedia centers, in computers that are to be the entertainment center in the Digital Home. Besides providing opportunities to watch movies and TV, listen to music, work with digital images and play games (arcades, mostly), computers built according to the Viiv concept must have a home-oriented exterior design and provide enough performance, but must not produce much noise. And for these purposes there is nothing better than Intel’s mobile processors! Of course, Viiv computers can also use CPUs of the Pentium D family with the NetBurst architecture, but it is more reasonable and logical, considering the intended applications of the Viiv platform, to use modern dual-core processors of the Core Duo series that have been so successful in notebooks as part of the Centrino Duo platform (read more in our article called Centrino Duo Mobile Platform Review).

Realizing this fact, Intel gave the green light to mainboard manufacturers who were willing to produce Viiv-compatible Socket 479 products. And the result is that there should soon appear desktop mainboards with support for Core Duo processors, and this is not the single thing they will have in common. They are all going to be designed in Micro form-factors and to have an integrated graphics core and enhanced opportunities to connect to external peripheral devices. Although neither of these traits is indeed required from a Viiv-compatible mainboard, yet most manufacturers view the new multimedia platform in exactly this light.

Today you are going to see one a Viiv-ready mainboard ASUS offered for us to test. The N4L-VM DH looks much alike to the typical portrait we’ve drawn in the previous paragraph because it is based on the integrated i945GM chipset. However, we are not as much interested in the Viiv platform as we are in ordinary desktop systems where this mainboard can also be used. So, this review is about how useful the mobile processor Core Duo can be in a normal desktop computer. You’ll see how it copes with typical desktop applications and learn if the Viiv platform deserves any interest from PC enthusiasts.

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