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Roundup: Six Core 2 Motherboards Under $100

ECS G45T-M2

Motherboards with integrated graphics offer entry-level buyers a great way to build a system today, with the possibility of upgrading to a discrete graphics card when financial limitations are no longer a major issue. Based on the same technology as its P45 Express device, Intel’s G45 Express northbridge offers the same theoretical performance that its non-integrated counterpart provides. The only notable difference is that the G45 supports onboard graphics, while the P45 supports CrossFire.

Intel charges extra for its latest graphics engine, touting media-centric features such as advanced support for HD video content and full HDMI compliance. Thus, the ECS G45T-M2 is the only G45 product we could obtain for under $100.

Super-value seekers hoping to find integrated graphics and the latest PCIe standard in a full-ATX form factor will be disappointed to see that such motherboards have been priced into the costlier mainstream market, but the smaller micro-ATX size hasn’t kept ECS from building at least some expansion room into its G45T-M2. The motherboard’s four expansion slots are only two less than the average full-ATX competitor, and buyers still get six Serial ATA ports and support for up to four memory modules.

While ECS markets its G45 products towards media centers, a full 16 PCIe 2.0 lanes could make the G45T-M2 a great low-cost choice for compact gaming systems. Two of the SATA ports can be blocked off by long double-width cards, but compact systems are unlikely to have room for more than four SATA drives anyway. From a more value-oriented perspective, budget buyers are unlikely to use expensive cards such as the Radeon HD 4870 X2.

Good layout choices include a 24-pin ATX/EPS power connector at the G45T-M2’s front edge, the PCIe 2.0 x16 expansion slot in the uppermost slot position, and a floppy connector directly behind the floppy bays of most mid-tower and mini-tower cases. Slot positioning is especially critical for low-profile cases that use riser cards, and we can’t dismiss good floppy header placement until the use of Windows XP has diminished much further.

With such a clean layout on a small board, one might wonder what’s missing from the G45T-M2. Other than the bottom slots that would normally be found on a larger board, the only obvious omission is an Ultra ATA controller. There’s simply no reason to use Ultra ATA in new builds, with terabyte-capacity SATA drives priced under $100 and SATA DVD burners available for under $20, but anyone using the G45T-M2 to upgrade an older system might be disappointed.

Size has little to do with our complaints, which include an ATX12V connector located at the opposite corner of the CPU socket, a front-panel audio connector pushed under the bottom PCI slot, and a reduction in CPU power regulation to three phases. The ATX12V cable must be routed around the CPU cooler when using traditional cases or around the graphics card—assuming one is installed—in cases that have the power supply under the motherboard’s bottom edge. Similarly, the audio cable of tower cases that have top-panel ports must also be routed over any installed expansion cards or under the motherboard. Most competitors offer four-phase power regulators, while only ECS uses three-phase power regulation.

ECS G45T-M2 (Revision 1.0A)
NorthbridgeIntel G45 Express
SouthbridgeIntel ICH10
Voltage RegulatorThree Phases
BIOS08015 (08/28/2008)
333.3MHz (FSB1333)333.4 MHz (+0.02%)
Clock GeneratorIDT CV194CPAG
Connectors and Interfaces
Onboard1x PCIe 2.0 x162x PCIe x12x PCI4x USB 2.0 (2 ports per connector)1x SerialPort header1x Floppy6x Serial ATA 3.0Gb/s1x Front Panel Audio1x CD-Audio In1x S/P-DIF Out1x Fan 4 pins (CPU)
IO panel2x PS2 (keyboard + mouse)1x VGA (15-pin Sub-D)1x DVI-D (w/HDMI Adapter)4x USB 2.01x RJ-45 Network6x Analog Audio (7.1 Channel + Mic-In + Line-In)
Mass Storage Controllers
Intel ICH106x SATA 3.0 Gb/s
Network
Realtek RTL8111C PCI-EGigabit LAN Controller
Audio
Realtek ALC888 HDA7.1 + 2 channel Multi-Streaming Output

The G45T-M2 provides most of the features one would expect from a full-sized motherboard in a compact package. Buyers who need an onboard graphics solution will be pleased to find both VGA and HDCP-compliant DVI outputs with an HDMI adapter, and anyone whose display doesn’t support HDMI audio can instead get up to 7.1 surround audio from the full set of analog jacks.

Rated at 97:1 decibels signal-to-noise ratio, the ALC888 audio codec accesses Intel’s ICH10 integrated HD audio feature.

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Realtek’s RTL8111C PCIe audio controller uses a high-bandwidth interface to approach optimal Gigabit Ethernet performance.

Thomas Soderstrom
Thomas Soderstrom is a Senior Staff Editor at Tom's Hardware US. He tests and reviews cases, cooling, memory and motherboards.
  • V3NOM
    interesting, although pretty much anyone building a P775 system these days would spend a bit more than $100... and somethings really weird with this commenting thing cos i can't read what i'm typing... it just ... doesnt fill the box? just when i type something it instantly goes to the left instead of filling the box... but anyway, interesting if a bit useless article.
    Reply
  • cangelini
    FWIW, the issue with text disappearing from the commenting box as you're typing is something I've reported and m waiting for a fix still. Thanks for confirming that it's still an issue.
    Reply
  • rjcorrin
    Yes - everyone has money shooting out of their pantless ass to buy more expensive motherboards. I use a gigabyte Ep35 DS3L and am very happy with it. What is a >$100 board going to give me? Is it just that you want to waste money? I'm guessing you are one of those people who carry a balance on your credit card and lease a Lexus - you debt-carrying phag.
    Reply
  • jsc
    "What is a >$100 board going to give me?

    I have a DS3P becuae i need the exrta SATA ports.
    Reply
  • I run the I.T. department for a couple small businesses, and the sub $100 motherboard is almost essential in today's economy. Sure I could use a $120-$150 motherboard, DDR3, 10000 RPM hard drive, and all kinds of other things, but I would end up with a system that is only marginal faster in business applications for 3+ times the price. Take one of the G3x or G4x motherboards, 2GB DDR2, Intel E7x00 CPU and 80GB+ HDD and you have a system that will meet the needs of a good majority of businesses and home users. I am personally a gamer and can see the value in the higher end components; but there are a lot of other market segments out there where this makes financial sense.
    Reply
  • rjcorrin
    "I have a DS3P becuae i need the exrta SATA ports."
    The DS3L has 4 Sata ports which could easily handle 3 terabytes and a DVD drive. You could have saved money by editing down your porn collection and deleting your stolen .iso's of the entire "Friday the 13th" collection. Then you would have had enough space to install "Mavis Beacon Teaches Touch Typing". That would give you something else to do with your hands during your "adult film" marathons.
    Did you happen to notice that the comment box detects your errors and underlines them in red?
    Reply
  • rjcorrin
    "I have a DS3P becuae i need the exrta SATA ports."
    The DS3L has 4 Sata ports which could easily handle 3 terabytes and a DVD drive. You could have saved money by editing down your porn collection and deleting your stolen .iso's of the entire "Friday the 13th" collection. Then you would have had enough space to install "Mavis Beacon Teaches Touch Typing". That would give you something else to do with your hands during your "adult film" marathons.
    Did you happen to notice that the comment box detects your errors and underlines them in red?
    Reply
  • gaiden2k7
    I got a Gigabyte UD3P for $99 during black friday... would that top this list? :)
    Reply
  • Noya
    I got a Gigabyte UD3P for $84.50 during Black Friday, pwned you ninja gaiden fag.
    Reply
  • malveaux
    Wait, no AMD stuff?

    :(
    Reply