Of all of the technologies VIA introduced over the years, I never expected a form factor to be its lasting legacy on the PC industry. The most ubiquitous of VIA’s technologies were its chipsets which are all but gone now - used only by VIA for the most part. VIA’s form factor however, lives on.

The form factor is ITX. Originally introduced by VIA to accompany its line of low-power microprocessors, long before Atom, ITX was designed to deliver much smaller computers than what was defined by the micro-ATX spec.


From front to back: Mini-ITX, micro-ATX, ATX

Intel was actually first to market a mini-ITX Atom based motherboard: the D945GCLF. Based on a single-core Atom 230 running at 1.6GHz, the D945GCLF is a relatively simple motherboard.


Intel's first desktop Atom board

It has a single DDR2 DIMM slot supporting up to 2GB of memory (DDR2-400 or 533 only). There’s no support for a modern day GPU, there’s only an old 32-bit PCI slot on the motherboard. You get two SATA and one PATA connector on board, four USB, no DVI/HDMI output (only VGA) and a standard set of three analog audio ports.


The tall heatsink in the back is for the chipset, the small one is all you need for the CPU

As its name implies the D945GCLF uses Intel’s 945G chipset and correspondingly slow graphics. However if you don’t need a ton of performance, Intel’s desktop Atom solution is quite attractive as it sells for under $70 - CPU included (it’s soldered onto the board).

With the quiet introduction of the dual-core Atom, Intel released the D945GCLF2. Nearly identical to its single core predecessor, the D945GCLF2 uses a larger heatsink on the CPU and a smaller one on the GMCH (although it is still cooled by a fan). The board also uses a 24-pin ATX power connector instead of a 20-pin connector, adds S-Video out and a Gigabit Ethernet port (the D945GCLF only has a 10/100 port).


The dual core D945GCLF2 adds a second core to the Atom platform.


Bland ports on the D945GCLF2

The biggest difference is obviously the inclusion of the Atom 330 processor, which is simply two Atom 230 die on a single package - both running at 1.6GHz:


A dual core Atom 330

The faster CPU raises the total price up to $80, still very affordable.


The 45nm Atom processor runs significantly cooler than the 945 GMCH on the board (center chip).

The Intel desktop Atom boards both work just fine but they’re a bit boring. They are reminiscent of Intel’s older motherboards, before it took competition from the tweakable Taiwanese motherboards seriously.

Zotac is the first manufacturer to produce a mini-ITX motherboard based on NVIDIA’s Ion platform. Take Intel’s Atom processor, pair it up with NVIDIA’s Ion chipset (which is basically a GeForce 9300 chipset) and you have the Ion platform.

 

The Zotac Ion Up Close
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  • bobvodka - Wednesday, May 13, 2009 - link

    While I know it's only at the RC stage, it might be intresting to see how this plays with Win7, if only as a nod to the future and with regards to how it performs against XP Reply
  • lemon8h8ead - Wednesday, May 13, 2009 - link

    Thanks for a good job in optimizing control over the environment. It is not easy to create apples-to-apples tests.

    I would have been interested in seeing the same H/W configurations running one of the popular Linux distros (E.g. Ubuntu). It has been my observation that the Linux kernel multithreads more efficiently than Windows but those were purely compute-bound applications that I was comparing and the benchmarks are 8 years old on very dated H/W platforms (obsolete). I realize that both Windows and Linux kernels have improved vastly since then.

    Is your HTPC speced out here anywhere? Just curious.
    Reply
  • sysdump - Wednesday, May 13, 2009 - link

    I want to see HD H264 content decoded using CUDA! To see if it can handle non DXVA compatible videos. Reply
  • mvrx - Wednesday, May 13, 2009 - link

    I've been using an Atom 330 system as a DD-WRT router.. cost me only $150 and is probably 15x faster than any Dlink or linksys on the market.. People really need to pay attention to this possibility. Reply
  • mindless1 - Wednesday, May 13, 2009 - link

    Presumably you're comparing against Dlink and Linksys consumer grade routers, that are meant for light use. In such a scenario why would it need to be 15X faster and had you done latency tests that quantify the difference? Checking latency on a router running DD-WRT I find the router latency insignificant compared to the rest of the nodes along a typical connection, and that when the router is even doing QOS concurrent to P2P transfers.

    I'd think a board like this to be quite overkill for mere routing, it might be nice though to have a few more features possible like DNS caching, web proxy, advanced firewall rules, web/mail server.
    Reply
  • JoKeRr - Wednesday, May 13, 2009 - link

    For $80 with 3 SATA ports and add in some ram and 3 hard disks, this will make a decent NAS file server with linux installed.

    I use a PS3 in the living room, it used to be a old mac mini. Right now I definitely miss the iPhone remote with iTune in the mac mini. PS3 is great for movies, but for not so with web content. I use PS3 media server to stream movies from my PC to the PS3, it also performs transcoding on the content that PS3 doesn't recognize (mkv). My desktop is P4 3.0C overclocked to 3.5GHz, and it has no problem transcoding mkv movies in 720p resolution (max bit rate I saw was around 15Mbps), I would really like to know how the dual core atom performs on the transcoding front with PS3 media server. If it works well, it will be a very nice compliment to the PS3 system.

    Thank you!
    Reply
  • NullSubroutine - Saturday, May 16, 2009 - link

    I thought I'd like to throw out that that with MKV files you can mux them (like with tsMuxer) to MT2S files which can then be renamed to MP4 to play on PS3.

    Muxing takes less than a minute usually and doesn't convert the video just takes it out of the MKV container file.

    It may be easier to do this with your files than have them transcode on the fly.
    Reply
  • ViRGE - Tuesday, May 12, 2009 - link

    If only it had component out. The HDMI port is nice, but I had a RP-CRT; I'd love to replace my HTPC box with something like this, but the lack of component out is a killer. Reply
  • moozoo - Tuesday, May 12, 2009 - link

    I believe the ION platform supports CUDA.

    Please run some CUDA benchmarks and those H264 video encodings using BadaBOOM on this motherboard.

    The ION chipset (MCP79) has very low latency between the GPU and the main memory. This makes it possible to perform audio functions on the GPU.
    See http://forums.nvidia.com/index.php?showtopic=92290">http://forums.nvidia.com/index.php?showtopic=92290
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, May 12, 2009 - link

    From the conclusion:

    "I did try some CUDA applications on the Zotac Ion board and they were definitely faster than using the CPU alone. While our x264 test managed around 12 fps on the Zotac Ion, using Badaboom I was able to encode at just under 20 fps."
    Reply

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