Asus N4L-VM DH review

An expensive, yet worthy contender

The Asus N4L-VM DH is a step closer to the dream of the perfect media center PC

TechRadar Verdict

While an expensive investment, the Asus N4L-VM DH is a strong performer


  • +

    Socket 479 (Core Solo/Duo), Realtek ALC882M 8-channel


  • -

    1x UDMA 100

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Centrino represented a major breakthrough for the mobile market, but the moment it was released our attention focused specifically on the potential of the Pentium M. It was great for laptops, but as processor fans were getting louder, the fantasy of a near silent yet powerful processor had us clambering to get this chip into our desktops.

And while the Pentium M saw support from a smattering of motherboards, we're far more hopeful for the future of this platform based on its predecessor, the Core Duo. This motherboard from Asus isn't the most feature-rich offering but the attention grabbing inclusions make for a compelling whole. A badge on the box gives away the main pull: Viiv support.

If you want to build a media centre PC, then Intel is hoping this micro ATX solution will appeal above normal motherboards. This also makes sense of the inclusion of integrated graphics, Dolby Master Studio supporting eight-channel audio and IEEE1394 support.

The driver installation routine resembles any normal motherboard although - somewhat surprisingly for what's potentially a consumer platform - there's no one-click install button. Two entries on the list elevate this board to the full Viiv dream: Intel's Quick Resume Technology driver and the rather vague-sounding Intel Viiv Software.

After installing the Quick Resume Technology driver, a new panel appears in the Power Options Properties dialog. This feature, that Intel terms 'Away', is responsible for the much derided instant on/off technology, which effectively turns the screen and speakers off, but leaves the machine running at full pelt.

You'll need to install Windows Media Center to use the second entry, which checks your machine is indeed a Viiv system - affording access to certain Viiv-specific content when Viiv 1.5 is launched later this year. Key to this platform is the processor, and Core Duo is just as impressive a solution on the desktop as it is at roaming in laptops; the same core forms the basis of Intel's next generation chips.

Performance parameters

Low operating temperatures combined with strong performance make this a great processor whether you're looking to build a near-silent media centre, powerful gaming machine or video editing workstation. To test this motherboard we used a 2.16GHz T2600 Core Duo in combination with 1GB of RAM and a 300GB SATA hard drive.

This is a fairly respectable core configuration, but nothing too over the top. The resultant SYSmark 2004 score of 255 really is something special though, not too far off the best score we've ever seen, which was derived from an FX-60 powered system. Intel's GMA 950 graphics subsystem isn't a gaming powerhouse, lacking the raw grunt to really push polygons around at speed.

It does support DX9 though, so given a little tweaking you should be able to cajole less exacting games to run at the lower resolutions. Don't get your hopes too high for the latest games though - Doom 3 may look great at slideshow speeds of 800x600, but no amount of tweaking will render a convincing gaming experience.

Integrated graphics have now advanced sufficiently to handle 2D work flawlessly, and the Asus is no exception. There's only a VGA connector present though, so connecting this machine to your TV isn't going to be easy, and the lack of a DVI connector makes TFT output less than optimal.

If you're going to use this motherboard as the basis of a media centre machine - and let's face it, that's its main purpose - then power consumption is a pivotal criteria as such machines are generally left on for long periods of time. Under standard operating conditions, Windows draws 70W rising to 85W when under full load. Slip the machine into Standby mode and it consumes just 4W.

If there's a problem with this motherboard, and the platform itself, it would have to be that Core Duos aren't readily available. And if you do manage to track down such a chip, you can expect to pay a healthy ransom for such quiet power - the T2600 used for testing will set you back over £500. The motherboard isn't cheap either, but there's little competition in the current market. If you can afford both components though, this holds the promise of the perfect machine ... at least until Conroe is released later this year.