AOpen i855GMEm-LFS desktop Pentium M mobo

Perfect for DIY living room PCs?

Review With more computers making their way into the living room, consumers are demanding quiet systems that don't spoil the relaxed atmosphere. Trying to address this point, AOpen has produced a motherboard that should become very popular with anyone looking to build a low-noise PC, writes Lars-Goran Nilsson.

The cryptically named i855GMEm-LFS is a micro-ATX motherboard based on the Intel 855GME chipset, which you would normally find in a laptop. In turn, this means that the i855GMEm-LFS motherboard has to be used with a Pentium M processor.

AOpen i855GMEm-LFS desktop Pentium M mobo

The Pentium M is a low-power chip designed for use in mobile computers. Consequently, the Pentium M produces less heat and therefore needs a smaller cooler with a relatively quiet fan. You won't get the performance that you would from one of the latest desktop processors, but that's a compromise you'll have to make if you want a very quiet machine - unless you have enough money for a Hush PC. The Pentium M processors are, however, faster than the low clock speeds suggests, as the design is quite different from a Pentium 4.

You should be able to purchase a Pentium M CPU from several online retailers, but there's one downside to this setup: the processors are close to twice the price of a mid-range Pentium 4 chip and the top of the range Pentium Ms cost well over £400. Expect to pay in the region of £180 for a 1.6GHz part, which sounds awfully expensive when you can get a 3GHz Pentium 4 for around £120. This aside, AOpen has created a very interesting board, although AOpen is not the only manufacturer to have such a product in its line-up.

The i855GMEm-LFS might be a small motherboard but it's packed with features that you wouldn't expect to see on such a miniature platform. As the i855GME chipset only supports single-channel memory there are only two DIMM slots and the board accepts up to 2GB of PC2100 or PC2700 DDR SDRAM. You also get integrated graphics, which will share anything from 4-32MB of system memory. This is fine for general Windows usage, but it lacks any real 3D performance.

This is not too much of a problem as there is an AGP slot, so if you plan to play the occasional game you can install your choice of 3D card to boost the performance. There are also three PCI slots in case you want to add some extra peripherals. Personally, I can see this board as a very good base for a home theatre PC, so a TV tuner card would be one obvious upgrade.