Jetway NC98-525-LF Review (Page 3 of 12)

Page 3 - A Closer Look, Board Layout, Test System

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As with our other previously reviewed Jetway motherboards, the company continues to take a no-frills approach to building and implementing the NC98-525-LF, with a traditional green colored circuit board that measures in at 17cm by 17cm in standard mITX fashion. Unlike other Atom based motherboards we have seen from Jetway, such as the NC96FL-510-LF and NC94FL-510-LF, the Jetway NC98-525-LF uses 100% solid state capacitors. The usage of solid state capacitors is truly welcome, as this will provide excellent reliability over the long haul. A large aluminum heatsink located to the right center of the motherboard provides cooling for the Intel Atom D525 processor as well as its NM10 chipset; while the smaller heatsink to the left cools down the included NVIDIA Proton GPU. No addition cooling such as a fan is included out of the box.

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The bottom right corner of our motherboard are four Serial ATA ports, compared to the standard two found on other Intel Atom boards provided natively by the NM10 chipset. Jetway was able to bring us two additional ports by using a JMicron JMB362 SATA controller on the PCI Express interface. All four ports are located adjacent to each other for maximum convenience. Intel's Matrix Storage Technology is not supported on the NM10 chipset, but the JMicron controller allows for RAID 0, 1 and JBOD configurations. Two USB headers are also located near the edge for three additional USB devices. Standard case connectors can also be found in this location, while the CMOS battery is installed vertically next to the DDR2 slots to conserve space on the motherboard, as shown in our photo above. A 4-pin Molex power connector is to be used in conjunction with an included cable to provide power to two internal SATA and one floppy disk drive, since the motherboard uses a 12V power input directly from a DC power supply. Of course, if you plan on building a NAS with this motherboard, stringing four desktop hard drives through a single Molex might be pushing the limit. Laptop hard drives should be fine due to lower power consumption, but you are going to lose out on performance and capacity. That's not to mention that it doesn't really make sense to me to have only two SATA power connectors when the motherboard features four SATA ports.

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Located on the top right corner next to the aluminum heatsink are the two DIMM sockets, which run virtually all the way down to the bottom right of the Jetway NC98-525-LF motherboard. Although there are two DIMM slots, it is only possible to run the ram in single channel mode due to chipset limitations of the Intel NM10. Installed memory is designed to run at DDR2-667 to DDR2-800 (PC2-5300 to PC2-6400) with up to 8GB capacity. A single 3-pin fan connector is located in this area as well to enable installation of case fans or a third party heatsink that includes a fan for additional cooling. Underneath the heatsink, lies the Intel Atom D525 processor. While the big heatsink is more than adequate to cool the Intel Atom processor, you will still need some airflow over it for it to work properly.

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In the bottom left corner of the Jetway NC98-525-LF is the mini-PCIe slot, for deploying components such as internal wireless cards. There are no other expansion slots other than this, because the NM10 chipset provides only four PCI-Express lanes (Which are all used -- JMicron SATA controller, mini-PCIe, Gigabit LAN, and NVIDIA Proton), and even if they included a PCI slot, it isn't all that useful anyway. Unlike the Jetway NC94 and NC96, the NC98 does not include an internal speaker, so you'll need to use the one that comes with your chassis for POST beeps. The 9-pin audio connector adjacent to the mini-PCIe slot provides front panel audio support. A Realtek RTL8111DL chip found here powers Jetway NC98-525-LF's Gigabit Ethernet port.

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Finally, onto the bottom right of our motherboard, we come to the glory point (So to speak) of this product, compared to other Intel Atom based boards we have reviewed in the past -- that, of course, being the 'next-generation ION' embedded graphics. Since Intel no longer allows third parties to create chipsets for their processors, NVIDIA has then resorted to providing superior onboard graphics only. Meanwhile, 512MB of dedicated GDDR3 memory can be seen in our photo above by four separate Elpida EDU1032AABG GDDR3 chips. Located underneath the smaller heatsink, situated above the Elpida memory modules is the NVIDIA Proton embedded graphics chip. An additional 3-pin fan connector can also found in this area.

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Thanks to the NVIDIA Proton on the Jetway NC98-525-LF, the user is finally no longer limited to analog video output only on the back panel. From the top, we have the standard pair of PS/2 input ports for keyboard and mouse, HDMI port, DVI port, VGA port, four USB 2.0 ports, Gigabit LAN, three 3.5mm audio jacks, and DC 12V power input. Video is provided by the NVIDIA Proton graphics chip, which adds support for both an HDMI port and DVI port, making this an excellent choice for an HTPC build in addition to its superior hardware decoding performance. Intel's NM10 chipset provide native support for up to eight USB 2.0 ports, and the Jetway NC98-525-LF has seven of them -- four external ones as presented, plus three more internal headers -- but personally I would like to see more external USB ports over the PS/2 connectors (Keeping in mind of course, some commercial applications do require legacy PS/2 connectors over USB based solutions). The 3.5mm audio jacks are powered by the Realtek's ALC662 audio codec for up to 6-channel output, where two of the jacks can be configured for multichannel output on top of the stock line-in and microphone inputs. It probably won't be a big issue even when configured for multichannel output though, since most chassis has front panel input jacks anyway.

Test System

Thanks to some excellent innovation by our Editor-in-Chief Jonathan Kwan, he thought it would be nice to add a fan into our case. Surprisingly, some zip ties in our much bigger Thermaltake case with the not-needed ATX power supply removed came in handy, as we managed to air-mount a 120mm fan above the motherboard for additional cooling.

We benchmarked the Jetway NC98-525-LF motherboard with the following system configuration:

CPU: Intel Atom D525 (Embedded - 9*200, 1.80GHz, 1MB L2, 45nm Pineview, Hyper-Threading enabled)
CPU Cooling Integrated (Motherboard)
Graphics: NVIDIA GT218/ION 2/Proton
Memory: Kingston Value Ram PC2-6400 1x2GB @ DDR2-800 5-5-5-18 CR2
Chassis: Thermaltake Element Q
Power: 60W DC
Sound: Realtek ALC662 (Integrated)
Optical Drive: Asus 24X SATA DVD Writer
Hard Drive: Western Digital Raptor 36GB 10000RPM SATA
Operating System: Microsoft Windows 7 Professional x64

Important note: We are using the Jetway NC84E-LF as a reference in our benchmarks. We are not directly comparing the two, because the results were obtained cross-platform with different motherboards and different processors.

Page Index
1. Introduction, Features, and Specifications
2. Bundle, Chipset, BIOS
3. A Closer Look, Board Layout, Test System
4. Benchmark: EVEREST CPU
5. Benchmark: EVEREST FPU
6. Benchmark: EVEREST Memory
7. Benchmark: PCMark Vantage
8. Benchmark: 3DMark06 Professional
9. Benchmark: PassMark PerformanceTest 7.0
10. Benchmark: SuperPI 1M, Cinebench R11.5
11. Onboard Sound Frequency Analysis
12. Power Consumption and Conclusion