Microsoft, Intel and AMD are all getting into the home
entertainment industry. If you've been thinking about a digital Home Theatre,
you'll be happy to hear that it's easier to do now than ever. With all the
options when it comes to motherboards, videocards and cases, it's almost like
being a kid in a candy store!
ASRock has put together a pretty nice integrated
MicroATX motherboard in its ALiveNF7G-HDready. Based around nVIDIA's GeForce
7050PV and nForce 630A chipset, the motherboard supports all of AMD's Socket AM2
We were pleasantly
surprised at the overclocking ability of the ASRock ALiveNF7G-HDready. It's not
designed to be an overclocker's motherboard but if you feel bored one day and
want to push, you could probably squeeze out 312 MHz like PCSTATS did.
The ALiveNF7G-HDready motherboard has a decent number of
integrated peripherals which include 2x IEEE 1394a ports, Gigabit networking and
an Intel Azalia compatible High Definition 7.1 channel audio controller, not to
mention Geforce 7050 integrated graphics.
All this and the ASRock ALiveNF7G-HDready motherboard
retails for $99 CDN ($93 USD, £46 GBP), Quite a
steal. The board will also support a PCI Express x16 videocard, a
necessity if gaming is in the your cards.
The ASRock ALiveNF7G-HDready's good points include two
video output options on the rear I/O (analog and DVI). If you need a low cost
workstation PC, this platform does support dual monitors. Get yourself a DVI to
HDMI converter and you've got a machine that is capable of outputting HDCP
enabled high definition movies to your HDTV. We would have liked to see ASRock
include other video output options like S-Video, composite, Component Output or
even HDMI too. So as a HTPC motherboard the results are a little mixed... it can
fulfills the task, but lacks some of the core media standards to be really
versatile in that regard with external displays.
On the other hand, when playing back HD content on your
computer monitor, the ASRock ALiveNF7G-HDready handled the load well. PCSTATS
tested this by watching the Blu-Ray movie, The League of Extraordinary
Gentlemen. CPU usage with PureVideo enabled hovered around 55%, and to our
surprise disabling PureVideo resulted in lower CPU usage by the system, down to
50% on average. In any case both situations give sufficient CPU
resources to background tasks so you can run things in the background while
you're watching a movie. It should be noted that the HD movie played back
smoothly, and that we followed ASRocks guidelines by installing a minimum 2GB of
RAM and a CPU about as powerful as a Athlon64 X2 5200+ processor.
Application benchmark performance of the ASRock
motherboard is good overall. If you're a 3D gamer, the onboard GeForce 7050
videocard is not powerful enough to play modern games. Get yourself a stand
alone videocard like the GeForce 8800GTS 320MB, or ATI equivalent.
The ASRock ALiveNF7G-HDready is a good platform for
workstation needs, with HD content viewing on the PC entirely accessible. As a
HTPC, the board lacks sufficient connectors to really make it on its
own. The DirectX 9.0C onboard Geforce 7050 videocard is
compatible the demands of Microsoft Windows Vista's AeroGlass feature, just slap
in a processor, some memory and viola you've got yourself a decent workstation
Ultimately, ASRock's ALiveNF7G-HDready is a well rounded
integrated MicroATX motherboard that should serve the needs of users on a
budget. We like that its integrated videocard can handle H.264 playback smoothly
(with minimum RAM/CPU levels met), but were really left wishing it had some
dedicated HDTV video output connections... Finding the motherboard may be
difficult, but if you end up snatching one up, on the whole it's a nice solution
to build up from.
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