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Can MicroATX Boards Do the Job?

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July 31, 2007 11:19:38 AM

http://www.tomshardware.com/2007/07/31/can_microatx_boards_do_the_job/index.html

Many users will find that low-cost motherboards have everything they need. We took a look at three MicroATX boards for Intel Core 2 processors, and see that they perform alike, but their features and power consumption vary quite a bit.

More about : microatx boards job

July 31, 2007 11:33:24 AM

I use a micro ATX board and it performs just as well as any other board.


The only dislike I have is that its too cramped to fit my 7950GX2 in, a PCI slot gets in the way.
July 31, 2007 11:40:45 AM

Meh, niche market. You're going to compromise somewhere for the convenience of a small board. I'd personally leave MicroATX for the in-car PCs and ultra-portable gaming rigs IMO
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July 31, 2007 1:29:20 PM

I prefer MicroATX. These days, the only compromise is losing a PCI Slot, or something similar. Most people only need 1 or 2 PCI slots anyway. I'll be glad when everything downsizes. I am tired of titantic size cases and graphics cards. There may be a few people who need 10 hard drives and 15 Optical drives etc. Me, 2 hard drives, 2 optical drives max. MicroATX fits my needs. I have had 2 microATX boards (ECS) and both overclocked very well and were very reliable boards)still running today.
July 31, 2007 2:02:11 PM

I use MicroATX and a coolermaster Centurion case for low end builds. They are not for overclockers and lack many amenities but for an inetrnet rig with some word processing duties, doing taxes, editing photos and playing kid's games they are fine. Match it with a Fortron 350 watt PSU and some Corsair Value Select RAM and they can add a vid card later if needed. On some you need to augment the chipset cooling a little bit. I actually superglue some of those Thermaltake heatsinks to the top of the chipset block on certain models.
July 31, 2007 2:12:52 PM

What kind of "amenities" did they lack, curiously?
July 31, 2007 2:22:12 PM

Lame, no overclocking results.
July 31, 2007 2:23:46 PM

Where is the overclocking test? BIOS settings don't usually matter with integrated video, I've got an ECS mobo with BIOS options for all voltages and bus speeds, and lock/unlock options, and it still won't go over 5% OC due to integrated video! It doesn't have to be some 3 week tuning session getting the absolute maximum Mhz out of the chip, just a simple test to see if the integrated video totally chokes at almost no overclock.
July 31, 2007 2:27:51 PM

TSIMonster said:
What kind of "amenities" did they lack, curiously?


You know, no onboard RAID, only 4 SATA ports and 4 internal USB ports, no onboard WiFi, only three fan connectors so you have to get splitters for your neon setup.
July 31, 2007 2:49:13 PM

mr_fnord said:
You know, no onboard RAID, only 4 SATA ports and 4 internal USB ports, no onboard WiFi, only three fan connectors so you have to get splitters for your neon setup.

Ahh yes... neon! The spinning rims of the PC realm!
July 31, 2007 2:53:37 PM

leo2kp said:
Meh, niche market. You're going to compromise somewhere for the convenience of a small board. I'd personally leave MicroATX for the in-car PCs and ultra-portable gaming rigs IMO


Do you mean nano-itx boards? those are what are used for in-car PCs, rather than µATX.

Personally, I find µATX is good for such uses as HTPC systems, light-use computing (i.e. glorified type-writer and office use), etc.

I'm still a bit iffy on using such form factors as SFF for gaming or hardcore usage, such as a storage server, however, they are still fun to tinker with.






July 31, 2007 2:58:42 PM

I agree with mr_fnord, they should have had some overclocking tests.
July 31, 2007 4:45:39 PM

mr_fnord said:
You know, no onboard RAID, only 4 SATA ports and 4 internal USB ports, no onboard WiFi, only three fan connectors so you have to get splitters for your neon setup.


Both of my last 2 mATX boards had onboard RAID. Not too many people need 4+ HDDs (even though my last mATX board had 6 SATA ports) Not many ATX boars have onboard WiFi, and a PCI card is like $10.

lol.
a c 148 V Motherboard
July 31, 2007 5:50:41 PM

My Gigabyte GA-G33M-DS2R has onboard RAID, 6 SATA ports, 8 internal USB ports (plus 4 in the back), and 2x1394a (and another in back). It has parallel, serial, and gigabit LAN in back, and a HDMI_AC header; a few other miscellaneous things too. It only has the one fan header (besides the CPU fan), but why would you plug lights into that anyway? Oh, and it has 2xIDE and a floppy connector, neither of which I am using. I've got 2 SATA drives and an optical drive in my X-QPACK2, and could fit two more in the other 5-1/4" bay and external 3-1/2" bay. It's quiet, and the CPU (e6750 at stock) I don't think I've seen hit 35C on stock cooling.
It has lots of overclocking options too (although I haven't found the RAM timings yet).
July 31, 2007 6:40:39 PM

Quote:
My Gigabyte GA-G33M-DS2R has onboard RAID, 6 SATA ports, 8 internal USB ports (plus 4 in the back), and 2x1394a (and another in back). It has parallel, serial, and gigabit LAN in back, and a HDMI_AC header; a few other miscellaneous things too. It only has the one fan header (besides the CPU fan), but why would you plug lights into that anyway? Oh, and it has 2xIDE and a floppy connector, neither of which I am using. I've got 2 SATA drives and an optical drive in my X-QPACK2, and could fit two more in the other 5-1/4" bay and external 3-1/2" bay. It's quiet, and the CPU (e6750 at stock) I don't think I've seen hit 35C on stock cooling.
It has lots of overclocking options too (although I haven't found the RAM timings yet).


Its a Great board. I just got mine the other day and my Q6600 sound be coming tonight.

But those RAM timings... I think in the BETA BIOS there are RAM timings. Im not 100% sure but i think i read that somewhere.
July 31, 2007 6:42:21 PM

Too bad the article left out the best mATX board period. Even though it is an AMD AM2 board, the ABIT NF-M2 nView is/was the best mATX board hands down. It is also un-fortunate that ABIT discontinued the board, but last time I checked you can still find it for sale at the odd eTailer.

Any mATX board that can host 8HDDs, is capable of populating 8GB of memory, has firewire + 6 USB ports, can overclock better than most of the 'big boys' for under $100 usd cannot be all that bad. Top it off with rock solid stability (read: I have my Opteron 1210/ Corsair XMS2 OC'd, and the system refuses to BSoD, or lock up _period_ ) The board also has onboard video, HD audio, and GbE ethernet, but inparticular, the video is nothing special, and would serve fine for the odd HDPC system. Myself, since I game with this system, I payed extra for a discrete video card. The voltage adjustment ranges are enough to more than fry a given stick of memory, and the overclocking settings in the BIOS are plentyful.

I've had this CPU close to 3Ghz on this motherboard(base CPU frequency is 1.8Ghz), but un-fortunately for me, my choice of cases (Lian Li PC-G50) leaves little room for large heatsinks, so I've had to 'settle' for a 250Mhz 'FSB' or 2.25Ghz overall CPU speed. None the less, the system is completely stable, and handles everything just fine.

The only two gripes I have with this board is that:

1) the system refuses to POST with a USB HDD attached until the device is powered down, and then will fail to boot into WinXP if the device is quickly powered back up. The only fix in either case is to leave the device powered off until you've booted completely into Windows.

2) the Placement of the 1x PCIe slot is in a bad spot, especially when the motherboard is mounted in a reverse ATX layout case. Basically in the reverse ATX configuration, with a Video card in the PCIe 16x slot, you will be traping heat between the two expansion cards. Luckily in my case, since I do not use a power hungry video card, this point is all but rendered moot.

I would really love to find a C2D motherbaord that is similar to this one, but un-fortunatly I have yet to find one.

a c 148 V Motherboard
July 31, 2007 7:04:56 PM

I might need to hit Ctrl-F1 in the BIOS to get to them. I want to make sure my RAM is set to the 4-4-4-12 it supports.
July 31, 2007 7:12:13 PM

The only problem I see is usually the small board goes in a small case which isn't too helpful if you want to wedge in a large vid card or components that give off a lot of heat.
July 31, 2007 8:10:07 PM

i run a msi micro atx board for my gaming system and have had no problems, has all the conectors i need,16xpci-e, 4 sata ports and all the old legacy ports as well. lots of oc options. and if you need more fan header get a fan controller.
July 31, 2007 9:11:14 PM

Why wasnt there any AMD-based comparison or was there simply no interest in that, the article made a very valid point that many people prefer the equivalent AMD systems for HTPC applications, and listed several advantages.. I'm at least interested in a side-by-side with some of the latest chips/hardware.

July 31, 2007 11:04:06 PM

I have been considering micro-ATX for use in our home office which has multiple computers that are often left on overnight (e.g., downloading via bittorrent). The room gets pretty hot, so I was thinking that replacing one or more of the computers (there are 3 - 2 for me, one of which is also a linux fileserver, and one for my wife) with machines with a lower power draw might make a difference.
July 31, 2007 11:47:31 PM

I have a emachine gutted with silverstone 520w(smaller wireing for micro) 165 opty w/gskill tccd on a nf4 micro,kickin a 7600gs w/ audigy2zs...this machine rocks...gaming,dvd burning,pics, tunez(w/z560 logitech)...nice home theater/gamer/workstation.
Micros have everything I could want/need I think...
August 1, 2007 3:11:03 PM

Do any of these Micro-ATX boards support Dolby Digital Live? The way I understand it, the Intel chipset includes the necessary Dolby Digital encoding hardware, but there is a licensing fee to Dolby to turn on this feature in the driver, so a lot of motherboard vendors don't enable it. So just having a the right chipset and an SPDIF output doesn't tell you if you have Dolby Digital Live included with the motherboard.

Background: For those who don't know what I'm talking about, Dolby Digital Live takes the 3D sound channels (Left, Right, Left Surround, Right Surround, Center, and Subwoofer) and intercepts these output streams at the driver layer, then passes the audio data to specialized hardware that encodes up to 6 separate channels into a Dolby Digital bitstream that is then sent to the SPDIF output connector. So you just run 1 digital audio cable out of your computer to your Dolby Digital audio system. The result is SPECTACULAR sound effects in 3D games.

Note that the application layer doesn't know that any of this is happening. The game just sends up to 6 audio streams to the driver and sort of assumes that they are output separately. Since the Dolby Digital encoding takes place below the driver, any game that supports 3D sound effects will work with Dolby Digital Live.
August 2, 2007 4:04:55 AM

Micro ATX gives up too much for my taste. E-SATA, firewire, solid capacitors, etc., etc..

On top of that, we seldom build a system that doesn't use all available PCI slots on a full size board, which makes Micro ATX unrealistic for most people. Add a modem on a Micro ATX and you're done.

But the one thing that I really don't like about this type of review is that they can't possibly cover the reliability factor. 90% of the failed motherboards we get in for repairs are Micro ATX. Pay a little less now and a more later, or pay more for a full size board that'll last.
August 2, 2007 4:08:22 AM

dogman-x said:
Do any of these Micro-ATX boards support Dolby Digital Live?


I believe some ASUS Micro ATX boards support Dolby Digital Live. Check out the specs on the manufacturer web site for any particular board to be sure.

I'm more into music than gaming, and Dolby of any type totally sux for music so I never use it. :) 
a c 148 V Motherboard
August 2, 2007 9:28:30 AM

darklife41 said:
Micro ATX gives up too much for my taste. E-SATA, firewire, solid capacitors, etc., etc..

On top of that, we seldom build a system that doesn't use all available PCI slots on a full size board, which makes Micro ATX unrealistic for most people. Add a modem on a Micro ATX and you're done.

But the one thing that I really don't like about this type of review is that they can't possibly cover the reliability factor. 90% of the failed motherboards we get in for repairs are Micro ATX. Pay a little less now and a more later, or pay more for a full size board that'll last.



The GA-G33M-DS2R has E-SATA (and power for it), 3xfirewire, and solid caps. I haven't needed to add anything else to mine, but both modem and sound card would fit. Those using them for HTPCs might choose sound and tuner. About the only thing I've definitely given up is SLI, which I'd never use anyway. As to reliability, I suspect you're getting in a lot of the cheap pre-builts that all use micro-ATX, have sparklers for PSUs, in poorly ventilated hotboxes, by people who don't use any kind of power / phone line protection. Using a SFF case costs me a Tuniq tower or other large cooler, so far another non-issue.
Rather than saying micro-ATX is "unrealistic for most people," which is simply untrue (most people want web-surfing, e-mailing, word-processing, business-class machines), you might say that M-ATX is not suitable for some enthusiasts.
August 2, 2007 3:12:11 PM

My last ECS board had ESata, and 3 available PCI slots and one PCI 1x. If you need 4 expansion cards... well, why would you? Sound, modem, wifi.... what else?
August 2, 2007 8:20:32 PM

Why didn't you include the Gigabyte GA-G33M-DS2R and the ASUS P5K-VM? Both are higher-quality motherboards than the ones you examined in your article (namely having all-solid caps).
August 4, 2007 9:23:29 AM

Very few of our customers only want internet, word processing and business class machines. And while most of these failed Micro-ATX boards do have cheap PSUs, that's not been the problem and in fact most pre-built systems from the big 3 (Dell, HP, and Gateway) have cheap PSUs whether they are full size boards or Micro-ATX. Very few are also in hot boxes as there's plenty of room for air circulation with a fan or 2 in a mid tower case of any type with Micro-ATX.

My experience is that most people who say they'll never play games on their system, then end up installing games for their kids. Seems everyone is encoding/decoding DVDs, burning movies and MP3s and playing some sort of games on their systems. It doesn't do much good to have a DVD burner if you're not going to use it. So the average system is put through the wringer pretty well.

It's true that the GA-G33M-DS2R has solid capacitors and most of the newer technology is supported, but its also the same price as full size boards with the same options so I don't see the point. I don't see E-SATA listed on the specs either. Anyway I'm hoping Gigabyte can break the trend and provide a good Micro-ATX that doesn't fail after a couple years, but I'm not holding my breath based on past experience.

I'm telling people how it is from a system builider perspective. Micro-ATX boards have a high failure rate compared to full size boards.

The entire idea of Micro-ATX was to provide cheaper motherboards with less options for those who didn't need them. Sure, you can probably pay more for a Micro-ATX that will last, but then why not go with a full size board in the first place for the same price?
August 4, 2007 10:25:40 AM

You might want high quality mATX to put it in a small case, that will not remind one of minicomputers of the 70's and 80's
August 4, 2007 11:09:28 AM

A lot of components have gotten smaller over time. It is only natural that now the motherboard can too without sacrificing a thing. Anyone who thinks otherwise is not familiar with the current generations of MicroAtx motherboards. Consider small form factor (SFF) cases of today can accommodate a MicroAtx motherboard (loaded out with all the same goodies like ESATA, FireWire, 4 dimms, open PCI slots, etc, etc), 8800GTX SLI, water cooling, RAID, *any* ATX power supply, and 2x120mm fans designed in.

A downside of MicroAtx is it may not match overclocking per dollar due solely to a bit less spacing if that is abslutely crucial to you. The upside of MicroAtx is the compact, sexy boxes you can choose from instead of being limited to those giant, clunky towers.
August 4, 2007 3:08:35 PM

Compact, sexy boxes IS THE SH!T! YEAH!
a c 148 V Motherboard
August 4, 2007 3:51:49 PM

My X-QPACK2 is an outstanding design, although perhaps marred by poor QC (bad power switch). My system runs very cool with its front and rear fans, and it fit a Mushkin 550200, which is a little deeper than a standard ATX PSU.
August 4, 2007 8:26:58 PM

I can't speak to history, but I'd have thought that mATX boards would have been created to be smaller first and cheaper second.

One thing that does seem to set them apart is that I think they all have onboard video. This has to drive the price up a little but does save money if you can manage to do without a separate video card.

For instance my Gigabyte GA-G33-DS2R cost $148, but came with everything I wanted in an overclocking motherboard:
1. support for 1066 memory
2. sata raid
3. clock and voltage tweaking
4. firewire
5. esata via slot adapter/header

I don't need the built-in video, but the case I'm eventually going to put it in long-term (Antec NSK2400) will only fit a mATX board.
a c 148 V Motherboard
August 4, 2007 9:10:20 PM

I could have done without the onboard video, but yes, my -ds2r has everything I think I might need.
August 10, 2007 6:04:54 PM

I saw a lot of speak about HTPC, but no specific relevant tests in this regards.

Is there hardware acceleration?
What's the video quality like (cadence, noise, interlace, ...)?
Any issues with the audio on your HDMI or SP-DIF with DVI?
a c 148 V Motherboard
August 10, 2007 6:30:25 PM

Sorry, I have not used those features, and probably won't. I put a 7900GS on mine; it is a general purpose and gamer.
August 21, 2007 3:11:10 AM

Does anybody know why in the power consumption charts for these MB's it should about a 50% increase in consumption at 90 min running
sysmark 2004 compared to at 60 mins? That's just weird. I dont think they are talking about watt-hours. I dont know what the heck that means. anybody?TIA
September 6, 2007 12:59:40 PM

We just our first GA-G33-DS2R in for repairs. So much for the small and sexy case. The board is shot. Sure was a nice looking little case, but provided no air flow. Heat is devastating to any motherboard and the reason we're going with bigger cases all the time instead of smaller ones.
a c 148 V Motherboard
September 6, 2007 2:09:28 PM

Well, the ventilation in the X-QPACK2 is excellent. A sensor sandwiched between my hard drives usually runs around 32C, and the one on the stock Intel cooler is perhaps 31C. Last time I checked, after playing Guild Wars for a few hours, my 7900GS was around 52C.
This case has front and rear [low-speed] fans, and they seem to do a decent job. I don't anticipate my -DS2R croaking from heat.
September 8, 2007 2:49:01 AM

Homerr said:
Lame, no overclocking results.

word. haha. i have the GIGABYTE GA-G33M-DS2R. it rocks. at first it was limited by not having 1:1 ram ratio, but one of the bios updates included it. since then i've not updated the bios for fear of losing it, and i've had overclocks of 490htt http://valid.x86-secret.com/show_oc.php?id=235635. my only real limiting factor is my cpu. i'm using an e6320 that just refuses to go above 2.96GHz (stable that is). i can't wait to get my hands on a Q6600 G0 :D , an e6600 might even do for now ( i sure do miss my e6300 that went 3.6+GHz be a great combo with this board). only boards i've enjoyed oc'n more than this would be my asus p5b deluxe (530htt), and biostar tforce 965p (499htt). i've seen people hit 500, so i'm trying to figure a way to do that. the new asus p5k-vm hits 510, but it's puke color ugly (sorry i'm a little shallow).
and yes, only thing really holding an sff back is worrying about temps due to lack of airflow/space, but squeeze water cooling/peltiers in there or mod a little, and you're set to go. once again though, matx with a buff northbridge would be awesome, say a p965 or p35 (maybe even a 680i SLI!!!)/w no onboard video (it seems like the onboard video is what ALWAYS holds back good overclocks). now that'd rock. true sff enthusiast board (kinda like evga's sli matx board). i bet if one company did it, it oc'd/performed well, they'd sell out. no joke.
many people are sitting on the sff fence because there just isn't enough overclocking potential in them (owned 15+ mobos and have never used more than 2 pci slots). i don't need onboard graphics. i'm a gamer, and onboard will never do if it's the way it's always been. come on, someone give us an matx board that can seriously compete with the atx guys. doh! my post has become a complain about matx manufacturer rant again.... :heink: 

edit: i wouldn't mind paying the same price for an matx board that has the same/better features than an atx board. $140 was a beautiful price for the ds2r. i replaced an asus p5n32e-sli plus with this little thing. no regrets (mainly due to no fsb holes :D ) and matx = awesome portable cases (i own a p180b lovely case, hell on my back though). the way i see it the ds2r doesn't lack anything it doesn't need. i lose a few pci/pcie ports and integrated wifi. like i use them anyways, besides there are great pcie wifi cards or just use a usb wifi stick.
and remember... crossfire can be used with the ds2r, but limited at 4x ;p
one must be very picky about their cases. i've narrowed my choice down to a sugo sg03, sg01, or microfly/xpack, maybe even the lanbox as they are the most affordable with the best airflow (fairly easy to mod also). there are so many bad case designs out there. (ie. the xgene mini seemed like a great sff build with it's double tier setup, but it has a closed front panel so no air can even come in through the bottom vent.)
+ never skimp on the psu (especially if you overclock), i learned the hard way about that. the cost of my psu equals and sometimes costs more than the cpu as it's providing the juice for all components.
only boards that have failed me were... an msi kt3 ultra (bad caps), asus a8nsli premium (oem board). abit fi90hd (horrible board went through 4 of them (bad igp, no boot, instant restarts, etc.) before i decided to give up on c2d matx. but Hooray gigabyte!)

btw darklife41, what matx case was used, and what were the matx boards you speak of that failed all the time? i've had 4 abit fi90hd boards die on me (well 1 didnt work at all and only got to overclock with one), and my experience with the other ones have been good (ie. asrock 945g-dvi, ecs p4m800 m2 pro, and gigabyte ds2r), although i've never owned them for too long, overclock like crazy though.
September 10, 2007 1:41:53 PM

I have built several PCs using the MicroFly cases and they all run very cool.
December 11, 2007 5:08:47 AM

BEWARE of the GIGABYTE GA-G33M-S2H.

It's PCI-E x16 slot only runs at x4 speed! Any PCI-E x16 3D accelerator will be crippled by the reduced bandwidth!
!