Intel recently introduced its Bearlake motherboard chipsets and we have seen a slew of new boards launched by vendors all eager to showcase their latest products. Among the list of new features, highlights include an upgraded FSB of 1333MHz, support for upcoming 45nm processors and DDR3 memory. While most of the attention has understandably been focused on mainstream boards using the P35 Express chipset, the 3-series chipset family is not just about the P35. For those with more specialized needs, there is the business oriented Q35 and for the digital home, Intel has the G33 chipset to fill that void. Today, we have such a media-centric board from Elitegroup (ECS) to illustrate the pros and cons of this chipset, namely the G33T-M2.
The Micro Factor
With its modest microATX dimensions, the ECS G33T-M2 is appropriately designed for those smaller chassis that will have trouble fitting the typical ATX motherboard. Branded system builders like HP have such slim PCs in their lineup while enthusiasts too have a variety of such chassis to choose from the retail DIY scene.
Consumers who go for these chassis are either looking for a small footprint to match their slim LCD panels or intend them to be media hubs or home theater PCs (HTPCs) where size is an important consideration. The Viiv supported G33 chipset on the ECS makes this board a suitable candidate for such media oriented activities especially with its size.
It has been happening for a while now but nowadays, the motherboard is really the mother of all devices, with integrated LAN, audio and graphics among some of the common features found. Since this is a microATX board with limited expansion slots, it's even more pertinent that there are no major features missing.
In the case of the ECS G33T-M2, its G33 chipset natively comes with Intel's Graphics Media Accelerator 3100 (there is only an analog VGA output for this and no DVI-I) for graphics and a Realtek ALC883 high definition audio CODEC to provide the sound. Gigabit LAN is also another standard feature which is included. Although many manufacturers tend to favor simplifying microATX motherboard by featuring only two DIMM slots, the G33T-M2 has a full complement of four DIMM slots, for a possible 8GB memory configuration. Of course, to address that amount of memory, a 64-bit operating system is required.
Obviously, it's possible to have expansion cards and the ECS G33T-M2 has one PCIe x16 slot, one PCIe x1 and two PCI slots for additional add-ons. If it's to fulfill its promise as a media machine, the presence of the two PCI slots should allow for up to two TV tuner cards, which should more than cover the bases for both analog and digital TV.
Standard and Neat Layout
While a couple of tall capacitors dotted this board - ECS does not follow the expensive trend of having all-solid capacitors for a budget board - these do not hinder the installation of the CPU and cooler as there is more than adequate room around the CPU socket. The power, floppy and SATA ports are all located at the edge of the board to save space and it's quite convenient to reach them. ECS did not include any third party storage controllers though, which means that this board only has its native SATA ports and will not support IDE devices out of the box.
The ECS G33T-M2 is pretty standard fare as far as mainstream IGP boards are concerned. Intel's new G33 chipset will tide budget users over for their next upgrade, but the lack of more video output features put a dent in its capabilities as a full-fledged HTPC motherboard. The lack of IDE may also be a stumbling block to some who would have to resort to SATA optical drives. However, it is still a good foundation for a capable media-centric PC and as a bonus, the ECS G33T-M2 can be found at an affordable US$105.