MSI K8NGM2-FID - $78.99 Newegg
Before you can select the right motherboard, you first have to determine which chipset serves your needs best. Since we’re building an HTPC and not a decked-out gaming rig, obviously a high-end chipset like NVIDIA’s nForce4 SLI or ATI’s Xpress 3200 would be overkill, unless you plan on using your HTPC for some serious dual-GPU gaming.
With this in mind NVIDIA’s GeForce 6150 chipset was the most obvious choice. The 6150 chipset supports all of the key storage and connectivity features found in NVIDIA’s higher-end chipsets, such as Gigabit Ethernet networking and support for 3Gb/sec Serial ATA with native command queuing (NCQ). Up to four SATA drives are supported natively by the chipset. The GeForce 6150’s integrated GPU also boasts support for NVIDIA’s PureVideo technology, offering some H.264 decode acceleration functionality as well as MPEG-2 and WMV hardware acceleration. The GPU also supports upscaling, allowing you to upscale your DVDs to HD resolutions, and spatial temporal de-interlacing of standard definition content, all while also supporting NVIDIA’s nView dual-display technology.
Another very important aspect of the GeForce 6150 chipset is that it does all this without generating a lot of heat. As a result, motherboard manufacturers are able to cool the North Bridge and South Bridge of the chipset with passive cooling, no exotic heatsink/fan units are needed nor are heatpipes. This is particularly important in an HTPC, where low noise isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity.
Based on this, we chose MSI’s K8NGM2-FID (MS-7207) GeForce 6150 motherboard. The K8NGM2-FID comes the closest to exposing the full potential of NVIDIA’s GeForce 6150 chipset. Not only does the motherboard provide both VGA and DVI outputs on the backplate of the motherboard, it’s also got lots of connectivity options as well, supporting up to four USB ports out of the box (unfortunately MSI doesn’t ship the board with a USB bracket), four Serial ATA drives, IEEE-1394 Firewire, and interestingly enough, both component video out and SPDIF cables.
By including both component video and DVI connectivity options, MSI’s K8NGM2-FID offers end users a couple of different ways to hook up the HTPC to their HDTV, and with the VGA output, you can still drive a separate display with minimal hassle. On the back of the component video header you’ll also find an S-Video output, allowing those of you with standard definition TVs with another way to hook your TV up to your HTPC.
In addition to providing a wide range of connectivity options, MSI’s K8NGM2-FID is also extremely stable and delivers good overall performance. Keep in mind that it’s a micro-ATX motherboard, so your expansion options are limited to just two PCI slots and one PCI Express slot (in addition to the x16 PCI Express graphics slot) but with 7.1 audio, networking, and storage duties already integrated onboard, there isn’t much need for anything else, while the micro-ATX form factor ensures that the K8NGM2-FID is compatible with a wide range of HTPC cases.
It’s because of all this that the K8NGM2-FID has proven to be extremely popular among the HTPC crowd. On Newegg 100 out of 111 user reviews are positive, with only five votes for average, four for poor, and two for very poor, making it one of the highest rated GeForce 6150 boards on Newegg.
With the debut of AMD’s new AM2 socket last week, a Socket AM2 motherboard would be the obvious alternative to the K8NGM2-FID. However keep in mind that most of the early AM2 motherboards on the market right now are based on NVIDIA’s nForce5 series chipsets, which include the 550, 570, and 590 SLI. None of these chipsets have the integrated capabilities of NVIDIA’s GeForce 6150 chipset and most of them are full-sized ATX cases. Therefore, the ideal AM2 HTPC motherboard doesn’t quite exist yet.