Asus N4L-VM DH - Core Duo for the Desktop Preview
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Core Duo Comes Home
The excitment behind Core Duo (aka. the Yonah processor), the sucessor of the first Pentium M processor, began late last year as Intel shared information on the core at IDF. The idea of getting the incredibly power efficient Pentium M CPUs in a dual core version was very exciting for not only the mobile market, but for a small niche of the desktop enthusiasts as well.
During the first Pentium M wave known as Centrino, there were a handful of desktop parts based on this technology that made it to market. I reviewed three of them personally, including a DFI motherboard, an AOpen SFF case, and an Asus 479-pin motherboard adaptor. They made great performing, quiet systems though the parts were hard to come by and were somewhat expensive.
Today we are looking at the first platform for the Yonah/Core Duo processor, to be released for desktop consumption -- something that may get enthusiasts begging for more!
The Asus N4L-VM DH Motherboard
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The board looks much like any other micro-ATX board you might find for sale online. There are several features on it though that you can only find after further investigation that make it stand out from the pack.
First, we have the CPU socket that supports 479-pin processors -- the formfactor for both Dothan and Yonah processors (Core Solo and Core Duo). The socket itself is a standard ZIF component that uses two simple hooks for heatsink attachement. There isn't a whole lot of room surrounding the socket for extreme cooling solutions, but thankfully the processors run cool and won't need much, as you'll see later.
The front-side bus to the processor can run at either 533 MHz or 667 MHz.
There are two memory slots on the board, one for each of the supported dual channels. Each can support DDR2 memory speeds of 533 MHz and 667 MHz putting it on par with the fastest official memory speeds on the Pentium line of processors. The DIMM slots are spaced well apart from each other so memory heatspreaders won't be an issue at all. While we woulld have liked to see four DIMM slots, the mATX form factor limits what the Asus engineers can do.
The north bridge chipset seen here (with the heatsink removed) is the Intel 945GM that is representative of the top-end for Intel's mobile processors. The heatsink for the north bridge is pretty small and passive, so it won't introduce any additional noise into the system. This north bridge supports the DDR2-667 memory we mentioned above, as well as the integrated Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 950 core.
One area to watch for is the heatsink installation method -- here we see Asus but thermal paste over the thermal pad that already existed on the heatsink. That isn't a very efficient combination and I would recommend removing both and just using some quality thermal grease or paste.
The expansion configuration on the board consists of a single x16 PCI Express slot for an upgraded graphics card, a single x1 PCIe slot and two legacy PCI slots. This layout should allow most enthusiasts to get their faster GPU with a larger cooler (as you really do need it for games!) as well as another sound card if you'd like to disable the on-board 8-channel audio.
The N4L-VM DH has a 24-pin ATX power connector as well as a 4-pin ATX 12V connection. There is only a single IDE channel, supporting two devices along with a standard floppy channel as well. Users with multiple IDE devies may need to consolidate for this board. Here you can also see that the mATX form factor forced Asus to put the connectors pretty close together and those of you with larger fingers might find it a pain to install and remove.
The south bridge is the Intel ICH7-M logic that offers up the two SATA 150 MB/s connections that have the black connectors. There is another storage controller located up by the memory slots from JMicron that adds two SATA-II connections; one for the external SATA support and the other with an internal connector.
Here you can see the connections for the various attachements such as additional Firewire and USB 2.0 connections. For legacy devices, they have Game port, LPT and serial port connections as well.
The external connectors provide a lot of insight into what else the Asus N4L-VM DH motherboard has to offer potential users. There are two PS2 connections along with four USB 2.0 and single Firewire connection. For audio, Asus provided both optical and SPDIF digital output as well as support for all eight channels of analog audio output. The Realtek ALC882M CODEC is HD Audio ready and supports all the jack sensing and retasking features that Intel requires.
The network connection is provided by the Intel 82573L Gigabit LAN controller so you can be sure that the board has the fastest possible conneciton to your home or business network. The VGA output is for the integrated GMA 950 graphics on the 945 north bridge and you also have the option of buying an Asus PCIe riser card that will add DVI output and dual output support.
Next Page - The Heatsink and Final Thoughts
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