SHUTTLE MICRO-ATX MN31N MOTHERBOARD
I was just looking back through some of Hexus' motherboard reviews over the last 18 months or so. Motherboards, it seems, were largely differentiated on the basis of features. You'd have the basic, vanilla version of a motherboard and a deluxe version touting high-speed connectivity, RAID, and premium on-board sound. That's generally the case today, however integration seem to be the name of the game.
Where previously one would need additional controllers for, say, USB2.0 and Firewire, we're now seeing chipsets' south bridges becoming ever more integrated. Perhaps no chipset illustrates this point more at the present time than the impressive nForce2 from NVIDIA. With blistering performance and, amongst other features, integrated USB2.0, Firewire, an upgraded APU, and 10/100 LAN (up to 2), the need for multiple discrete controllers is no longer necessary.
Further, the nForce2's north bridge arrives in two flavours; one with integrated graphics and one without (IGP and SPP respectively). The IGP version uses an integrated NVIDIA GeForce4 MX-class of GPU. As integrated video uses system memory, NVIDIA's dual 64-bit memory channels, with the ability to output up to 5.4 GB/s at 166FSB, can better service both the CPU and integrated video than would be the case in a single-channel environment.
The nForce2 platform gives rise to a number of possible options. With the level of integration on offer, it seems like a perfect candidate for producing a high-performance, relatively low cost integrated package. Shuttle's own nForce2-based SFF PC is a case in point.
The bulk of most motherboard manufacturer's sales are derived from the OEM or system integrator sectors. With clients placing orders for thousands of boards at a time, it's a sector that any self-respecting motherboard manufacturer can ill-afford to ignore. Total system cost, as always, is always near the top of the their list of priorities. What would be better than to have a feature-laden, high-performance motherboard in the cheaper micro-ATX form factor ?. The smaller form factor would require a smaller case and perhaps a smaller PSU.
Shuttle have cottoned on to this fact with the release of the MN31B micro-ATX-sized motherboard featuring the nForce2 IGP N.B and MCP-T and S.B. Who needs 6-PCI slots with this level of integration ?.