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

I finally got Windows XP installed on what’s going to be my mother in law’s dual-core Intel Atom computer. I’ve spent some more time with it, and it’s a good board, as long as you’re willing to live with its limitations.First of all, if your Windows CD doesn’t include SP3 (or possibly SP2), slipstream it. SP1 or earlier won’t boot on this board. I used nlite to slipstream SP3 and all the updates. A good way to download all the updates easily is to use CTupdate. Since installing updates can take nearly as long as installing the OS itself, it’s nice to have a CD that’s completely up to date. And while you’re at it, you can remove some useless Windows components like Windows Messenger and MSN Explorer.

Intel's dual-core Atom boardSince I don’t play 3D games and my mother in law doesn’t either, I have no idea what the gaming performance of this machine is, but I doubt it’s very good. That’s fine; it’s not what this board is designed for.

For productivity apps, it’s a perfectly reasonable PC. I can switch back and forth between my 2 GHz P4 and this Atom and not feel like I’m missing anything.

Due to the D945CLF2‘s size, it has some limitations. It only has two SATA and one PATA connectors. Hooking up her PATA hard drive and CD-RW got interesting. I managed to do it, but it isn’t pretty. If I’d known this was going to turn into a system rebuild, I would have bought a SATA hard drive instead of the PATA drive I got. If you’re thinking of one of these boards to upgrade an old PC, keep that in mind, especially if the 3.5″ bays aren’t very close to the 5.25″ bays.

There’s only one PCI slot. That’s less of a problem than it sounds like, as it has onboard video, audio, gigabit Ethernet, and lots of USB ports. But if you want to add a TV tuner or Firewire ports, you can only choose one or the other.

There’s also only one memory slot, and it can only take 2 GB. So there’s no dual-channel memory, although the chipset and BIOS support it. The CPU is AMD64 compatible, but the main reason people go 64-bit is to be able to run 4 GB of memory or more. It would have been nice if Intel could have crammed one more memory slot in there somehow.

Nvidia is talking about releasing a chipset for the Atom that will give better performance than Intel’s. Intel pairs the Atom with a very old chipset, and Nvidia says they can make it perform better. Intel doesn’t want the Atom to compete with the Celeron, so they’re not making performance a top priority. Even still, it’s not bad. I would imagine Nvidia could make it an even nicer setup.

But at any rate, this is a nice board. It’s reliable, cheap, and fast enough. If I decide to modernize any of my computers in the next year, I would consider one of these. They run cool and quiet and consume very little power. Lately I’ve been a big proponent of buying off-lease 2 GHz P4s, but I think an Atom rig is also worth considering. It’ll cost a little more, but its power usage is so low, it’s likely to more than make up the difference over the course of its lifetime.

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