GIGABYTE MotherboardMy wife’s five-year-old nephew is a natural computer wiz. He’s mastered iOS and even knows how to navigate his way through Windows and OS X with relative ease. It won’t be long before he’s writing blog posts and sharing his photographic skills on Google+.

He started school this year, and we want to do something for him that will give him a leg up as he begins a long career as a student. Being only five, he’s just now beginning to grasp reading and understanding the words he sees on the computer. Learning games are abundant on Windows, OS X, and Linux, and my wife and I have decided that perhaps he could make good use of a computer of his very own so he isn’t competing for computer time with his parents, cousins, aunts and uncles, and anyone else who might need to look something up on the family computer.

When AMD offered to send me one of its APUs and a motherboard to review, it seemed like a perfect opportunity to build something that would fit the bill. After all, he doesn’t need the world’s fastest or most powerful system. He just needs something that will play his very basic games, run learning software, and play movies on DVD.

As the first part of this series, we’ll take a look at the motherboard sent by AMD. With this and the processor out of the way, we’ll open the rest of the system build to you, the reader. The budget is currently $200, and we need to secure a case, power supply, RAM, and a hard drive. If we can make the system from stem to stern for under $150, I’ll give something special away to a random contributor to the project.

Let’s get down to the first component, shall we?

Gigabyte A75M-S2V

The Gigabyte A75M-S2V is an FM-1 socket microATX motherboard that delivers a pretty fierce bang for your buck. It features the AMD A75 chipset and supports A series and E2 series processors compatible with the FM-1 socket. In my case, I’ll be pairing it to an AMD A8-3870k APU, which we’ll discuss in the next article of the series.

The motherboard itself is small enough to put inside a compact media center PC, yet feature-rich enough to work well in a variety of applications suited to the power user.

Here are some of the specs worth noting.

  • APU: AMD A series and E2 series processors
  • Chipset: AMD A75 chipset
  • Storage: 6 x SATA 6 Gb/s connectors supporting up to 6 SATA 6 Gb/s devices
  • RAM: DDR3 2400 (OC)/1866/1600/1333/1066 MHz memory modules (up to 32 GB)
  • Video: DVI-D port, supporting a maximum resolution of 1920×1200 and D-Sub port
  • Expansion: PCI Express x16 (16x and 4x), PCI Express x1, PCI
  • Ethernet: Realtek RTL8111E chip (10/100/1000 Mbit)
  • USB: 6x USB 2.0 and 4x USB 3.0
  • Form: Micro ATX Form Factor; 24.4 cm x 21.0 cm
  • Graphics (on-board): D-Sub and DVI-D

The board itself runs about $80 on Amazon and doesn’t come with much else than some instruction books, a back plate, and a SATA cable. Its relatively small size makes it a versatile choice for anyone interested in building a socket FM-1 media center PC or small workstation.

What I like about this particular board is its interesting power management system. Each USB port is on its own circuit, so unused ports are less prone to causing problems. The board also provides a boost of power (up to 3x standard) if a port has a particularly high draw from the device. Four USB 2.0 and two USB 3.0 ports on the back with an additional two and two on an optional front panel makes it a great choice for users with a lot of USB devices and not a lot of room for an external hub.

Six SATA connections is also quite a lot for such a small board. I can see someone making a storage server with integrated RAID very easy with the A75M-S2V.

It’s a solid choice to kick off this budget PC build. In what case would you put it?