First impressions: Intel D945GCLF2, aka the dual-core Atom desktop board

I was never able to get my mother in law’s computer to misbehave, but my son was. He’d crawl up to it, press whatever buttons he could find, and invariably it would reboot and give beep codes.

Intel's dual-core Atom boardSo I decided the best bet would be to drop in a new system board. I went against all my usual practices and bought an Intel. Further research showed the stock board was made by MSI. I’ve never had good luck with MSI boards, although I know they’re popular. This one lasted five years, which is five years longer than the other two MSI boards I’ve seen. I was able to find an exact replacement, but the $70 price scared me off. Especially without knowing whether it was the board or CPU that was bad. With an Award BIOS, beep codes generally mean bad memory (a memory tester vindicated that), a bad CPU, or bad motherboard. Not very specific.

I wanted something reliable, cheap, and no slower than what she had. With an unlimited budget, I’d buy an Asus board, since I have a 6-year-old Asus board in the basement that’s still humming like new. Gatermann ran an Asus P55T2P4 for 10 years before it died, and I’ve seen lots of other Asus boards reach old age. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find an Asus motherboard/CPU combo for less than $100.

So I went with Intel’s desktop dual-core Atom board by default. Intel motherboards are as unexciting as they come, and I hate monopolies, but the board has a 3-year warranty and I know from my experience supporting Micron desktop PCs with Intel boards in them that it’ll last at least that long.

I had to change the ATX backplate, but I was glad to find the Compaq front-panel connector had the same pinout as this Intel board. Removing the old backplate was the hardest part of the installation, as the board mounts with just four screws.

I entered the BIOS on powerup and was disappointed to see I couldn’t disable the onboard video. I really wanted to plug a video card into the lone PCI slot and disable the onboard video to save some memory and bandwidth. I also found enabling USB boot was clunky, but other than that, the BIOS was predictable.

The board itself runs extremely cool. The power supply fan doesn’t blow out hot air or even warm air–it’s cool.

You have to slipstream SP2 or SP3 to install Windows XP on this board. I haven’t done that yet, so I don’t know yet how well it runs XP. But being a dual-core, 1.6 GHz CPU, it should be OK. When XP was introduced, 1.6 GHz single-core CPUs were mainstream. It may not keep up with the old 2.1 GHz AMD Athlon XP the system came with, but without all the crapware Compaq loads at the factory, I’ll bet the system will be faster than it ever was even if the new CPU isn’t quite as fast as the old one.

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