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ECS 945G-M3 Viiv ECS 945G-M3 Viiv: HTPC enthusiasts will certainly take interest in ECS' latest Viiv motherboard. Being a mATX board will also make finding a HTPC friendly chassis a little easier.
Date: Spetember 5, 2005
Manufacturer: ECS
Written By: Brook Moore
Price:

Intel launched the 945G Viiv™ chipset with consumer entertainment in mind. They wanted to bring a motherboard to the marketplace with integrated graphics that could perform well enough for the average user and then some.

ECS has previously launched 2 motherboards based on this chipset, the 945G-M3(1.0a) and the 945G-M3(1.0b). The current release, the 945G-M3(1.0b)Viiv™ has the ICH7DH (DH standing for Digital Home) SouthBridge that supports Viiv. Technically, they are basically the same board, I am hard pressed to find the differences beyond the DH. With that said, lets look over the specifications of the M3(1.0b)Viiv™.

Specifications

Form factor
mATX
Chipset
Intel 945PL / ICH7-DH
CPU
LGA775 supporting the Intel Pentium 4 / EE / D / Celeron
FSB

1066/800/533

BIOS
Phoenix / Award
Memory
2 DDR2 DIMMS / Max 2GB / Dual Channel capable
PCIe
1– x16 / 1 – x1
NIC
Intel Pro/1000 PL (Low Power) / (Website reports Realtek 8110S)
IDE
ICH7-DH - 1x ATA133 / 4x SATA-II
Audio
Realtek ALC880 HD 8-Channel CODEC with S/PDIF Optical/Copper
Ports
4x USB 2.0 (4 rear) / PS2 (2) / 2x IEEE-1394a-2000 (1 rear / 1 headers)
Misc
Integrated Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 950 (GMA-950) / Intel Viiv

While Intel has not positioned this to be a high end enthusiasts chipset, they have done a fairly nice job in delivering HD Audio with the support of pretty much any Intel Pentium 4 Socket 775 CPU, including the latest EM64T and 1066MHz FSB, with exception of the latest Core 2 Duo. With all of that considered, it is amazing to me there was no thought of including any type of Home Theater support, without adding an entirely new graphics solution (using the x16 slot). I understand an HTPC might not be Intel's version of “Consumer Entertainment”, however, I have many friends who would beg to differ.

ECS have done a nice job of putting this micro together; the board is somewhat tight but they have managed to keep North and South bridge cooling solutions fan-less, something I like to see. The layout is not sloppy by any means, making the overall aesthetics pleasing to the eye.

The ECS motherboard arrived as expected, well packaged with standard marketing fair pasted on the outside, hopefully giving you a good indication of what you are purchasing.

Opening the package let's take stock of what comes as “extra” with the motherboard itself:

1 SATA cable (with included Molex to SATA power converter)
1 IDE Ribbon cables
1 Floppy ribbon cable
1 Driver CD
1 Manual

A somewhat disappointing list of goodies, minimalist is a better description.

Looking over the included software, the Motherboard Support CD has the Intel / Realtek drivers as well as a few utilities:

DivX (interesting inclusion)
DPU (Data Processing Utility), a file recovery program
IIT (I'm In Touch), a remote PC connection program
Pro-Magic Plus, a System Restore program
Adobe Reader 7.0
Show Shifter, a video playback manipulation program
Intel Viiv
AMIFlash / AWDFlash / WinFlash
Yahoo Tool Bar

The included software is actually quite nice; DivX and Showshifter are welcome additions as is the thought of IIT for remotely controlling your media PC from another location.

The manual suppled with the 945G-M3 is similar to other manuals I have from many different motherboard manufacturers. Well thought out and easy to follow. There is no color once you flip the cover, this is unfortunate as I have seen some of ECS manual's with a nice color layout that is helpful. Of course if the lack of color in the manual and the reduction of extras in the package is reflected in the price, then we won't complain too much.

The motherboard is ECS Purple in color. A glance at the layout and you notice, as I mentioned earlier, there are no fans. Everything appears to be color coded to help you locate connectors and risers, with exception of course to the FP connector, which you must reference the manual for.

As to “Consumer Entertainment”, once you get past the S/PDIF headers, you are done with any type of Home Theater PC support out of the box. The video connection is of the old Blue Analog variety, even a simple DVI connection here would have been a major step up, as several newer Large LCD's / Plasma / DLP Projections are carrying that connector now and an adapter included for Analog would have covered both situations.

The socket used on the ECS 945G-M3 is of course of the LGA775 format and is located on the right rear quadrant as with most solutions today. There appears to be ample room surrounding the socket retention mechanism (notice I have already removed Intel's spec'd mechanism in preparation for a water block) for most HS/Fan combinations. Also in this area is the 4 pin 12V-Aux power connector.

Moving to the left rear of the motherboard we see the x16, an x1 and 2 PCI slots. When using PCIe graphics, as you can imagine, the x1 slot is unusable. In the far left corner is the AuxIn / Audio Front Panel risers, just above those is the S/PDIF riser, next is the BIOS Flash Protect then the IEE-1394a riser.

Moving to the Left Front section of the motherboard we see our Front Panel connector, USB risers. Also in this section are your 4 SATA-II connectors, when you take into consideration the intended market, this should be ample hard drive support (6 including the IDE interfaces).

Finally the Right Front section of the board where we connect our 24 pin main power, memory slots, IDE connector as well as an IR header. We also have the Floppy connector here, although the actual use of this connector is becoming less and less. The memory slots are not required to be color coded for Dual Memory as there are only 2. The design, however, nicely separates them enough for sufficient air flow to minimize heat build up.

The Rear I/O Panel for the ECS 945G-M3 features (from left to right) 2 PS2 ports for your mouse and keyboard, LPT, RS-232 (surprise) / Analog VGA, 1394a, 4 USB slots, 10/100/1000 RJ45 and the 6 connector Audio panel.

Installing the ECS 945G-M3 shouldn't be an issue. I actually installed it into my test bench so it was all of a 5 minute affair, your time may vary :). Also note that initially I am not installing a graphics card, that makes it all that much easier. I was required to reference the manual a few times during install to see where FP connections were and the like, for the most part, everything went smooth.

Now that everything is connected nicely, lets boot her up.

NEXT

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