Universal abit's been through some rough times but they're bouncing back. Today we take a look at an AM2 board that's designed for HTPC people in mind. Since I've built a few HTPC machines in my days I was pretty interested to see what abit has in store so with that here's my take of the NF-M2 nView motherboard.
The mATX board from universal abit is a socket M2 motherboard that supports AMD AM2 processors. For the northbridge, this board contains the GF6150. The southbridge chipset is the nForce 430 The small size of the mATX lends itself to HTPCs as this motherboard is marketed towards.
The layout of the board is pretty good and contains a lot of features. Something that I really like is that the board has four DIMM slots for memory. That should give you plenty of memory expansion room. They are also color coded so you can easily tell which slots to put your memory in for dual channel access. Area around the CPU isn't bad so you should be able to put on some nice silent coolers. The CPU power connect is nicely placed on near the top outer edge for easy access. So many other boards I've encountered had this connection more in the middle but the NF-M2 nView's CPU power connector sits in an easy to reach area. Color wise, it features a nice mix of blue and black.
There's one PCI-E X16 slot for you to upgrade to another video card as well as one PCI-E X1 and two PCI slots. The PCI-E slot utilizes my favorite current design in a retention clip. The push button clip is located on the outer edge of the PCI-E slot and does not sit underneath the video card like in most motherboards. This makes accessing the clip a lot easier and I was able to easily pop cards in and out of the motherboard without using a pair of tweezers to flip the clip. I hope more motherboards use this new design as it's a lot simpler and easier on the hands than the normal retention clip. With the included sound and GiG-E network card, you can fill up the PCI slots with TV tuner cards. In my setup, I have one Hauppauge dual tuner card as well as ATI's HDTV Wonder for OTA HD TV. With those two in the system, you're pretty much left with nothing left until more products come out using the PCI-E X1 slot. This is a mATX board so real estate is a premium. With that, the two PCI slots should be good for most people who aren't building monster machines such as a Hydra like HTPC.
Besides video, sound is very important when setting up a good HTPC system. For the NF-M2, the motherboard supports 7.1 surround sound. There are both connections via digital S/PDIF and mini jacks giving you the flexbility to connect a few speaker setups to it. If you have, for example, the Logitech Z-5500's then you'll be well off connecting the motherboard to the speakers via the S/PDIF as it's just one cable. Lower end speakers will have the 1/8" plugs that the NF-M2 nView can take advantage as well. Most receivers have S/PDIF connections and this motherboard will accommodate those pretty nicely. I personally have all my HTPC connections to my receiver this way.
If you don't have a video card supporting PureVideo, you can use the onboard video of the NF-M2. While it's nothing that will blow your socks off, the onboard video should be sufficient for most of your video needs. It doesn't have HDCP compatibility so there's one reason you would need different video card down the road but other than that the onboard video will display beautifully on an HD TV while saving you power and sound over plugging in another video card. Less heat generated from an add-on video card equals a cooler HTPC and the NF-M2 onboard video is a great included option. There are two connectors here, one for VGA and one for DVI so that you can get dual monitors out of this one board without an additional video card. If you have a setup like mine, I have a DVI to HDMI connector for my HD TV so using the onboard video with my TV was a snap and I didn't need to put in another video card to keep the power and heat down inside the small case.
For an HTPC, silence is the key and abit has in place a great system to cool the motherboard without fans. Silent OTES is a heatpipe cooling solution where heat from the northbridge is transferred to a large heatsink on the board where it dissipates by using air flow from other components. The heatsink also sits on top of some MOSFETS that it cools as well. The Silent OTES helps keep the motherboard cool and running without the need for a tiny loud fan that's found in a lot of other motherboards. The nForce 430 is also cooled by a nice heatsink and no fan is needed here thus making the system quieter with the exclusion of the fan. It's not connected to the Silent OTES however. I was impressed with the Silent OTES setup and really enjoyed the silence that the motherboard had.
Two CPU fan headers are located above the CPU area and on the edge. There's both a four pin and three pin fan header so you won't need a converter in case your CPU fan's connection takes one or the other. abit was nice enough to provide both of them here. One extra system fan header sits in the middle of the heatpipe area of the Silent OTES unit. It's also of the three pin variety. There are plenty of connections should you want to add a few fans here or there to help cool the system.
Two IDE connectors sit on the right edge of the motherboard if you are looking at it with the rear panel facing to the left. The power connector is also on the right side. Just below the IDE connectors are four SATA 2.0 connectors. The only connector that's a little off is the floppy connector which sits at the bottom of the motherboard underneath one of the PCI slots. I know that the floppy's really not that popular these days and since I haven't used one in a few years other than the occasional need to install a SATA driver during Windows installation that this location isn't too bad for me. Seeing as the real estate on a mATX board is limited, I can also see why abit decided to place the connector here as well. Some of their regular sized ATX boards do have the floppy connector in the same place but I think the room on those boards warrant the move of the floppy connector to the area near the IDE connector. On the NF-M2 board, I find the placement of the floppy connector acceptable as you'll probably use the IDE or SATA connectors more and they are in line of where the optical drives and hard drives are placed when you install it in a case.Front header connectors are located at the bottom left corner of the motherboard which is the normal location for most motherboards. They are color coded so you can easily see what to connect. Two more USB headers are to the left of the front header connectors while one Firewire connector sits above those. For the most part, all your connections are sitting on the outer edge of the motherboard giving you easy access to them and not interfering with internal expansion cards.
The back panel gives you a nice selection of connection options. Since this motherboard has onboard video, the VGA and DVI connectors replace the serial and parallel port connectors. Like the floppy, I think the serial and parallel connectors are almost obsolete so this omission isn't a big deal. An optical S/PDIF in and out sits to the left of the DVI connector giving you two digital connections to connect to your home receiver or computer speaker setup with optical connections. PS/2 connectors for the mouse and keyboard sit to the left of those. Should you need 1/8" plugs for your audio setup, the traditional six plug jack sensing connector sits to the right of the video connectors allowing you to connect up to 7.1 speaker setups using multiple 1/8" plugs. Finally, four USB 2.0 ports, 1 Firewire port, and a Gigabit Ethernet connector round out the back panel. the NF-M2 nView also includes an extra bracket two additional USB plugs and two Firewire connectors of the two connecting standards.
If you want to overclock, the NF-M2 nView has plenty of overclocking features in the BIOS. Below are some pictures of the BIOS overclocking options and you can see abit has provided a lot of options for you to fiddle with.
About the only thing missing on this motherboard that I would've loved to have seen would be their uGuru technology. My main machine uses an abit board with uGuru and it's one of the best features from them. That's not to say you can't monitor a few of the temperatures and fans but there's a few things that uGuru offers that I really come to appreciate. From a high level view, the NF-M2 nView board has all the necessary tools to make it a great HTPC motherboard and there are plenty of overclocking options for those looking for a mATX enthusiast board perhaps for a LAN computer. On paper, this HTPC motherboard would also do well as a main motherboard provided you didn't need a lot of expansion room and SLI or Crossfire setup.
For comparisons sake, I have the ECS KA3 MVP motherboard which is also a socket AM2 motherboard. Seeing as the AMD processors have the memory controller on the chip, I don't forsee much deviation from those scores using the same components.
The test setup consisted of:
- AMD64 X2 3800+
- ATI All-in-Wonder X1900
- 2 GIG Crucial Ballistix PC2-6400 (2 sticks of 1GB each)
- Seagate 160GIG 7200RPM HDD
- Windows XP w/ Service Pack 2
- Catalyst 6.7 drivers
is the worldwide standard in advanced 3D game performance benchmarking. A fundamental tool for every company in the PC industry as well as PC users and gamers, 3DMark06 uses advanced real-time 3D game workloads to measure PC performance using a suite of DirectX 9 3D graphics tests, CPU tests, and 3D feature tests. 3DMark06 tests include all new HDR/SM3.0 graphics tests, SM2.0 graphics tests, AI and physics driven single and multiple cores or processor CPU tests and a collection of comprehensive feature tests to reliably measure next generation gaming performance today. We tested at the standard 1280x1024 resolution.
PC Mark 05
is the latest version of the popular PCMark series. PCMark05 is an application-based benchmark and a premium tool for measuring overall PC performance. It will run through a series of tests from memory to CPU.
is Raven Software's true sequel to the id classic. The game uses an improved Doom 3
engine for some great graphics. For the test we ran a demo featuring a few enemies and some squad mates. The resolution was set at 640x480.
This old classic from Epic still looks great in today's age. We ran Unreal Tournament 2004
at the lowest settings at 640x480 to take the video card out of it as much as possible.
Valve's game uses their own Source engine to produce some impressive results especially giving us such features as HDR and some great physics. The Lost Coast demo was used in the benchmark and the resolution was set at 640x480.
Prey has been in development for many years but the folks at Human Head finally released the game this year. The game utilizes the Doom 3
engine like Quake 4
and features the really cool Portal technology to garner some interesting game play aspects. A demo was ran at 640x480 for this test.
As you can see, there isn't much change in terms of benchmarks. Performance is in line with what I was expecting. For stability, I ran 3DMark06 as well as Prime for long periods of time. The NF-M2 nView had no problems keeping stable and I was able to go through all my tests without any issues. I wasn't able to overclock my CPU much but reports from various users have this board as a great overclocker. That's a pretty nice accomplishment seeing as this is not really an enthusiast board and people are getting some great yields in overclocking their setup. The lack of overclocking on my setup is not surprising as my setup hasn't been conducive to overclocking on other motherboards as well.For an HTPC motherboard, the NF-M2 nView is a great buy. Considering you get many enthusiasts options in the overclocking department for a board that is advertised to be an HTPC product, it's a very feature rich product for its class. universal abit has had a few rough times in the recent past but I think they are turning it around and the NF-M2 motherboard is a great product whether you want it for an HTPC, LAN box, or even for your main machine. Seeing as I only have a video card and sound card as my expansion items, the NF-M2 is more than enough for me to use as a main computer while being able to put the items in a small case. The Silent OTES works great keeping the motherboard cool and keeping it quiet. There are many features here that make this a great HTPC motherboard with silent features as well as the onboard 7.1 audio with digital connections. Seeing as a lot of HTPC's are on 24/7, the stability in the motherboard allowed me to keep the computer on and not worry about missing a recorded show. The abit NF-M2 nView isn't too expensive either and if you're looking too build an AMD system using a socket AM2, then this motherboard should definitely be on your list to check out.