For a quiet media centre or a silent PC, an inexpensive AMD-based system is still an attractive option and Gigabyte's MA69GM-S2H motherboard reinforces that fact. It has a micro-ATX form factor, so it can be installed in a mini-tower ATX case or even in some home-theatre-style cases, and it has all the functionality that's required of a media centre PC.
It can be furnished with an AM2 socket-based AMD CPU and DDR2 RAM, and it has a PCI Express slot for a graphics card. However, it comes with an integrated ATI Radeon X1250 graphics chip, which relies on 128MB of main memory to store graphics data. This solution is ideal if a quiet system is sought, but it may not be a powerful enough option for everyone's needs.
We tested the board using an AMD Athlon 64 X2 5000+ CPU, 1GB of DDR2 800MHz RAM and a 500GB Western Digital Hard drive. WorldBench 6 recorded a score of 79, which is better than we expected considering the integrated graphics. For watching movies and ripping and listening to music, the configuration we used was more than ample, but it struggled to display a free-to-air high definition digital TV signal; stuttering was evident when we maximised the window on our 22in LCD screen (at a resolution of 1680 x 1050) -- standard definition channels didn't stutter. Once we installed a GeForce 7600GT-based graphics card, we were able to watch high definition shows smoothly in full-screen mode.
As for installation, the board has a simple layout, with one PCI Express x4 slot located above the PCI Express x16 slots, and two PCI slots underneath that. There's plenty of room between these slots, the CPU socket and the memory slots. The board's AMD690 chipset (which houses the Radeon graphics chip, too) is passively cooled, but it does get very hot when the integrated graphics are in use. The only problem we have with the board is with its Serial ATA ports, which are located right on the edge of the board and face forward, rather than upward. It makes it tricky to plug in drives once they're installed, especially if drives are placed near these ports. These ports may also prohibit the board from being used in some home theatre-style cases.
Those of you after a silent system will appreciate the integrated graphics and the dynamic fan control for the CPU. The board kept our CPU fan spinning at an inaudible level except when the processing load was full.
For connectivity, the HDMI port on the rear panel can be used to neatly hook up a video and audio signal, but DVI and D-Sub video and optical and analogue audio ports are also available (it also comes with a TV-Out bracket for Component and S-Video connections). The rear port cluster lacks legacy ports apart from PS/2, which makes it look rather sparse. It has gigabit Ethernet, four USB 2.0 ports and a FireWire port, and more of the latter two types of ports reside as pin-headers on the motherboard (for connecting to the ports at the front of a case, for example).