Saying the board is tailored for the needs of a Media Center is something of an understatement. Offsetting the cost of the expensive and somewhat scarcely available Pentium M's, for multiple outputs to your TV/LCD/Plasma/Projector you are almost completely covered with YPrPb component, DVI, VGA and S-Video, although us Europeans will miss some form of RBG output for SCART. Don't expect to play modern 3D games with the on-board video though - that is what your PCI-Express x16 slot is for. Pop in something powerful from your favourite graphics card company and you’ve now also got a kick-ass gaming rig too.
Not wanting to leave you cold on those long winter nights, AOpen take a step into the past as they include a couple of jumpers on the board to select between 400MHz and 533MHz bus CPUs as well as four sets of jumpers for selecting PCI-Express x16 or onboard video instead.
The inclusion of extra SATA ports means you have the option of extensive disk arrays to store all your media, without buying extra PCI cards. The lack of wi-fi networking seems an unfortunate oversight: they have the Pentium M CPU socket and the mobile chipset, all they need is to integrate a wireless LAN into the board and you have a Centrino setup. Not only that, but it adds options for your Media Center – more people have wireless than a second home network and would prefer less wires routed around their living room.
The back I/O panel contains four USB2.0 ports with motherboard pins for another four, and two Gigabit Ethernet sockets, further boosting connectivity. You will notice this board is lacking the traditional pair of PS2 ports - AOpen clearly believe many people will be using USB for keyboard and mouse, but if you're using an older PS2 keyboard, you can plug in either a full size or low profile backing plate adapter which attaches to a header on the motherboard.
The only option for mice is USB, which is not unreasonable in 2005. You can buy a new USB mouse for next to nothing these days, and you could probably chuck in a new USB keyboard for the same price as a PS2 to USB adapter anyway. For a micro ATX motherboard, it's packed with all the connectivity you'd ever require for a normal home or small office user.
High Definition sound in a Media Center not only makes sense but it saves you money on buying a soundcard. Sure, you can go buy your Creative X-Fi or Audigy for EAX if you want that, but for 8 channel HD audio playback in movies or music it will suit most people. Unfortunately, the drivers provided don't offer any Dolby options like Dolby Live or Virtual Surround technologies, but you do get optical S/PDIF in and out using the provided adapters as well as six 3.5mm audio jacks for analogue outputs.
The black micro ATX board is well laid out; with different sets of connectors coloured differently from each other to aid the user during installation. For example, the native SATA ports are red whilst the Silicon Image SATA2 ports are both black, and the DDR slots are blue compared to DDR2 which are in black. A mini floppy connector is used because of the limited space, but an appropriate cable adapter is provided in the box.
The front panel pins are colour co-ordinated to provide ease of identification when plugging in your power/reset switches and LEDs.