The nForce2 IGP
At the heart of the MEGA-180 is NVIDIA’s nForce2 chipset. In order to provide built-in graphics functionality, MSI relies on the IGP variant of nForce2, which features integrated Crush 18G graphics.
The integrated graphics found inside nForce2 IGP is based on a derivative of NVIDIA’s GeForce4 MX graphics core. In case you’re not familiar with this chip, it sports DirectX 7 level functionality and a dual-pixel pipeline architecture while the IGP’s graphics core operates at 200MHz. Performance-wise, the nForce2 IGP falls somewhere in between the super low-end GeForce4 MX 420 and GeForce4 MX 440 in overall performance, so practically any discrete graphics card in the $50-$100 price range should be more than capable of outperforming it, but it’s more than adequate for 2D tasks and handling some 3D.
One particularly cool feature of the nForce2 IGP is that its graphics core is capable of driving dual VGA displays, the first in any system chipset. MSI provides two VGA connectors on the back of the MEGA 180 for this purpose. In addition, for hooking the MEGA 180 up to a television, an S-Video Out is also located on the back of the MEGA’s chassis.
Unfortunately, the nForce2 IGP is officially limited to bus speeds of 333MHz (NVIDIA didn’t add support for 400MHz to the IGP), so the MEGA 180 doesn’t officially support AMD’s Athlon XP 3200+. Instead, the highest processor support is the Athlon XP 3000+. (To MSI’s credit, they have left the door open to Athlon XP 3200+ via jumper, but this is officially considered overclocking.) The nForce2 IGP MSI uses also lacks other goodies that have recently been added to newer nForce2 variants such as native Gigabit Ethernet and Firewall support.
South Bridge and other features
MSI has elected to pair the nForce2 IGP North Bridge with NVIDIA’s MCP-T South Bridge. MCP-T is NVIDIA’s midrange offering, providing Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. MSI equips the MEGA 180 with an optical input and output for maximum flexibility. Unfortunately, due to its age, the MCP-T lacks native Serial ATA support, and MSI has elected not to integrate an external Serial ATA controller to provide this functionality, so the MEGA 180 relies on conventional parallel ATA hard drives. This does put the MEGA 180 at a disadvantage to Biostar’s iDEQ 200N, which does provide Serial ATA capability, but matches the capabilities of Shuttle’s popular XPC line, which don’t offer Serial ATA support.
Rounding out the feature set of the MEGA 180 are 10/100 Ethernet networking, support for up to 2GB of DDR333 memory (via the North Bridge’s dual-channel memory controller), integrated 56K modem, and IEEE-1394 Firewire support.
Front panel I/O
The back panel
MSI provides a wealth of connectivity options on the MEGA 180. Besides the aforementioned dual VGA and S-Video out, the front panel provides one mic input, a headphone jack, both 4-pin (mini-1394) and 6-pin IEE-1394, two USB 2.0 ports, and a SPDIF input. The panel itself is hidden behind a door, ensuring that the front of the MEGA 180 remains uncluttered. The door is opened via button rather than by hand, after all, you wouldn’t want to get your messy fingerprints all over the MEGA 180’s shiny mirror finish! Just press the button for the front panel door and the door will swing down, revealing the ports.
The rear panel of the MEGA 180 is equipped with a parallel port, PS/2 ports, mic, line-in, and line-out jacks, two USB ports, LAN and modem connections, and a SPDIF output.