By Kenny Yeo
Core i7 may be the latest thing in town, but it is not for everyone. The hefty cost of the Core i7 platform is such that only the well-off can afford such an upgrade at times as uncertain as now. Fortunately, Intel's wide range of chipsets means that there's something for everyone. And for those seeking to build a budget system or even a modest home theater PC (HTPC), the MSI G45M Digital, featuring Intel's G45 chipset is not to be overlooked.
Being a micro-ATX board, the MSI G45M-Digital does sacrifice a bit on the expansion slots front, but it still gets a PCIe 2.0 x16 slot for a single discrete graphics card and an additional PCIe x1 and two PCI slots. This should be sufficient for most users.
The MSI G45M Digital supports all 45 and 65nm LGA 775 processors (Conroe or later) and even Core 2 Quad processors. Also, it supports up to 1600MHz FSB and can easily take up to 16GB of DDR2 memory by way of its four DIMM slots. Meanwhile, storage is provided for by six SATA 3.0Gbps ports and up to twelve USB 2.0 ports (six at the rear). RAID support is also possible if you happen to have the ICH10R version of this motherboard. All in all, this board has all the necessary ingredients for a fully featured system.
Ideal for HTPCs
Outfitted with Intel's X4500HD integrated GPU that has up to DirectX 10 support, we believe that the G45M Digital will be most appropriate when used as a HTPC. It's considerably less powerful than competing integrated graphics solutions from NVIDIA, but the X4500HD is a direct upgrade of the standard X4500 and comes with full support for 1080p high-definition video playback, including Blu-ray content. Along with its tiny micro-ATX footprint, this makes it ideal for HTPC setups.
While the G45M Digital is not MSI's first board based on the G45 chipset, what sets it aside from the rest is the implementation of several of MSI's proprietary technologies that are normally reserved for its higher end offerings. This means MSI's DrMOS for better cooling, efficiency and overclocking and active phase switching for dynamic power switching according to system load.
To sum things up, the G45M Digital is targeted towards the HTPC segment with its micro-ATX dimensions and multimedia capabilities. While the onboard X4500HD might be somewhat lacking in horsepower when it comes to 3D gaming, it'll do just fine for HD video playback. Budding media centre enthusiasts should therefore have their eyes on this US$130 motherboard. Those with higher aspirations for their PCs may want to take a look at MSI's other HTPC oriented product, the MSI P7NGM-Digital, which is based on the more powerful NVIDIA GeForce 9300 chipset.