If there was a purpose to all things in God's Green Earth, the AMD 690G chipset is all about entertainment. As the first consumer IGP chipset to support HD decoding through ATI's AVIVO technology and HDMI, the AMD 690G has been implemented in new generation HTPC ready motherboards such as the Sapphire Pure Innovation HDMI and ASUS M2A-VM HDMI. These boards deliver cost effectiveness and high performance entertainment value in a small package. In an effort to bring true bargain entertainment onto the table, MSI decided on a more minimalist approach for their version of the AMD 690G, the MSI K9AGM2-FIH motherboard.
Like all 690G motherboards, the MSI K9AGM2-FIH is built on a mATX PCB to better accommodate small form factor and HTPC chassis designs. Combining the AMD 690G Northbridge with the SB600 Southbridge, the K9AGM2-FIH has most of what the chipset has to offer. It supports all current AMD Socket AM2 processors, up to the latest dual core Athlon 64 X2s and a maximum configuration of 4GB of DDR2-800. However, do note that the board only has two DIMM slots instead of the usual four; so think twice before making your memory purchases. Two 1GB sticks and you will not be able to upgrade further, but one 2GB stick means no dual channel mode, which will affect graphics performance of the IGP as well.
Graphics-wise, the Radeon X1250 is a DirectX 9 part with ATI AVIVO technology for HD video decoding of MPEG2 and WMV formats, but not H.264. The board comes with a HDMI connector complete with HDCP compliance supporting all the way up to 1080p resolutions. Of course, the actual output performance will really depend on what you're playing because of the decoder limitations of the IGP, but then again, a PCIe x16 slot means that you can upgrade the board to a full proper graphics card at your whim.
The board's 8-channel audio is controlled by Realtek's ALC888 HD Audio CODEC and can be pumped through the usual analog output jacks or via the HDMI port.
Other features of the K9AGM2-FIH include one FireWire-400 (VIA VT6308P) port, one PCI Express Gigabit LAN (Realtek RTL8111b) port, ten USB 2.0, four SATA 3.0Gbps ports (RAID 0, 1, 0+1 supported), two PCI, one PCIe x1 and one PCIe x16 expansion slots.
Now, it may look like the MSI K9AGM2-FIH is a pretty well put together motherboard, but compared to the likes of say the Sapphire PURE Innovation HDMI or ASUS M2A-VM HDMI, the board lacks certain features that should have been a standard bundle for any entertainment motherboard. Other than the standard VGA and native HDMI output, MSI doesn't provide any other video connection options like the Sapphire or ASUS mentioned before. There are also no ready S/PDIF connectors onboard as well. These exclusions limit the board's connectivity functionality outside of HDMI.
The K9AGM2-FIH is a very straight forward install and forget board. There are no tweaks in its BIOS worth mentioning and zero overclocking options, which is expected. However, we were a little concerned about the amount of heat generated from the Northbridge with the small heatsink used by MSI. This never became a problem in our labs, but in a cramped HTPC casing, it may be a challenge to balance sufficient cooling with silent computing.
A quick check shows that the board going for and affordable US$75. The AMD 690G chipset, multi-channel HD Audio and HDMI connectivity guarantees that it will still be relevant in today's market for entry-level HD capable machines, but we would have liked higher consumer equipment integration with additional audio/visual connectors bundled with the board. That would have put it on the same playing field as the Sapphire PURE Innovation HDMI and ASUS M2A-VM HDMI. As it stands, the MSI K9AGM2-FIH is an average HD capable HTPC motherboard at best.