Zotac GeForce 9300 (MCP7a) motherboard

October 15, 2008 | 14:06

Tags: #9300 #atx #benchmark #board #dvi #geforce #hd #hdhqv #hdmi #hqv #htpc #igp #matx #mcp #mcp7a #mgpu #micro #motherboard #performance #result #review #score

Companies: #intel #nvidia #test #zotac

Board Layout

Zotac's corporate colours certainly permeate the design in its black PCB, orange, white and blue colour scheme. It certainly looks pretty good and the placement of components is very good indeed. We'd have liked the SATA ports at 90 degrees to the board, but at least they don't get in the way of anything facing outwards.

The memory slots are placed a bit too low making DIMM removal a bit of a pain when a graphics card is installed, however the four slots are a benefit to easily upgrade.

Zotac includes a single PCI-Express 2.0 x16 slot for graphics, then one x1 and two PCI slots for expansion with other peripheral cards. Should a double slot card be used in the x16 this still leaves a PCI and PCI-Express x1 available.

The 24-pin ATX socket is sat right up at the top of the board along with the four-pin socket and thinking about it this makes for a better position should you use a "desktop" style HTPC case with the PSU sitting to the right hand side of the CPU socket. This keeps the power cables neatly away to one side.

Zotac GeForce 9300 (MCP7a) motherboard Board Layout
Zotac GeForce 9300 (MCP7a) motherboard Board Layout

Zotac includes both basic power and reset buttons for ease of use to make sure everything works right, as well as a two digit diagnostic LED POST readout to diagnose boot problems. The manual doesn't include a translation list of code value to actual English though, so unless you know them in the first place it's Google time.

The pin-outs are pretty well placed along the bottom of the board, however only the Firewire pin-outs are colour coded whereas the USB, front audio, RS232 serial and most importantly the front panel pin-outs are all in black.

Firewire comes from the VIA VT6307 PCI controller, rather than the newer VT6308P PCI-Express one, although more importantly the Realtek 8111C PCI-Express chipset handles the single Gigabit Ethernet connection. There's no wireless included but that's to be expected anyway, although any further network connection has to use USB or the peripheral slots.

Zotac GeForce 9300 (MCP7a) motherboard Board Layout Zotac GeForce 9300 (MCP7a) motherboard Board Layout
Click to enlarge

Zotac includes the Realtek ALC888 HD audio codec onboard that can provide decent 7.1 channel audio. It's better than the vanilla ALC883, but not as good as the premium ALC885/889a that also include content protection for Blu-ray movies, providing the software can handle it (none do at the moment, as far as we know). Nvidia's GeForce MCP7a does include 7.1 channel LPCM HD audio support over HDMI 1.3 without any need for an extra TDMS like Intel's G45, so this could certainly perk the interest of some HTPC enthusiasts. Coupled with dual digital outputs - a first for integrated video - there's a product niche for specific solutions that require a digital output and a TV, or dual displays without having to resort to the slightly fuzzier VGA output.

Only the CPU socket gets solid aluminium capped capacitors, and while the simple four phase power uses old style MOSFETs at least the chokes are environmentally sealed. The rest of the board doesn't have quite the labour of love though, with other coils being left exposed and capacitors resorting to the old school types consisting of Panasonic and Tempo which are decent brands out of Japan and Taiwan, and LeIon (OEM) that we can't pass comment on.

Without extra power phases for the MCP and memory, and a basic four phase on the CPU, don't expect anything special in terms of overclocking here, but like many other inexpensive IGP boards they seem to be locked into a design strategy where the target market is expected to use lower performance components. To some degree, we don't object to this assessment, but it does contrast with Zotac's market position in the graphics arena as a premium product member.

Zotac GeForce 9300 (MCP7a) motherboard Board Layout Zotac GeForce 9300 (MCP7a) motherboard Board Layout
Click to enlarge

With just a single 65nm fabbed chipset stuck in the middle, there's very little cooling needed and just one small 40x40x25mm aluminium heatsink is all that Zotac uses to cool Nvidia's new product. You'd think the tiny little fan would be a deal breaker for anyone looking to have a quiet system but the bonus is that it's super quiet, and even the tiny little whirr it does emit is easily shut in any case. In fact, we could even get away without the fan on - even when overclocking the GPU in game for about an hour or so. We can only assume the fan is included for small, hot cases and low airflow environments, but if you've got a breeze running through the case or from the CPU heatsink, we're pretty sure it can be unplugged.
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