With the appearance of large HDTV sets in the living room, the processing requirements of media centre PCs are changing. Decoding HD video requires a Micro-ATX system that can keep up with the latest hardware developments, just as standard-sized PCs do. AMD's new CPUs need an AM2 motherboard, which are a rare breed in the Micro-ATX format.
In order to fill this gap, MSI now offers the K9NGM2: it's based on Nvidia's C51PV chipset, which combines the Nforce 430 with an embedded GeForce 6150 VGA controller. There's both a D-Sub and a DVI output, so you should have no problems getting a digital image on your TV. For gaming, it's better to make use of the PCI Express x16 slot and install a faster card, since the onboard GeForce has to share its video memory with the main CPU.
A component and S-Video bracket is included, as well as built-in 7.1 audio, so no further hardware is needed to make this board the foundation of a media centre PC.
MSI has crammed many useful features into the small space, but at the expense of tidiness. The four-pin PSU connector is squeezed tight up against the CPU fan header, with the remaining connectors crowding the memory slots. The packed board design and a passively cooled south bridge both contribute to some signifi cant heat generation.
When a video card with a large heatsink and fan is fitted, it's quite likely that the top PCI slot will be obscured, rendering it useless. Odd-shaped cards may also have problems with the three capacitors right above the same PCI slot.
By the time we finished testing, we were satisfied with the performance of the board. However, the board didn't correctly register the initial set of DDR2 667MHz sticks we used, and configured them at 300MHz. Putting in faster DDR2 800MHz memory solved the problem, but a BIOS update is a must.
The fact that there's no option in the BIOS to set the memory speed manually highlights the lack of overclocking capability in the board.
The K9NGM2 comes at a competitive price, especially since you won't need to buy any addon cards to create a quality media centre PC. Its onboard 3D graphics also mean it handles less demanding games without additional outlay. Orestis Bastounis