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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  • nubie - Tuesday, May 12, 2009 - link

    Assuming the price is under $180 for the LGA 775 board that would be my choice.

    You can passively cool a Celeron 420, 430 or 440 and pick one up for $25-30 on ebay. The Conroe-L will absolutely murder the Atom for any gaming or encoding, and most of them will bump to 1066 without a voltage increase.

    The 775 board is $139 with free shipping.
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N8...">http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N8...

    Throw an e5200 or Celeron DualCore at it and just laugh at the Ion platform trying to keep up.

    Don't forget the PCI-e 2.0 x16 slot so you can game too if you want.

    My choice is pretty clear, forget ION for the desktop unless you really need one of the features (DC power, ultra-low consumption, just can't afford the extra $20-40) the LGA 775 is the better choice for future-proofing an ITX platform. And chances are you have the CPU and heatsink laying around (I know I do.)

    If they can get a 32nm Desktop processor at 15-20 watts (for the CPU) instead of that Atom I would love to see it.
    Reply
  • strikeback03 - Wednesday, May 13, 2009 - link

    I'm not sure I would call anything on LGA 775 future-proofing, as all the processors we are going to see for that socket are now out. So yes performance would be better than Ion, but it would still be a system with almost no room to upgrade. Reply
  • nubie - Thursday, May 14, 2009 - link

    I meant future-proofing as in "allowing the platform to remain viable into the foreseeable future." And in comparison with the Atom board it is infinitely future-proof (X16 PCI-e 2.0 and an LGA socket will do that.)

    You can't argue that a 3.0ghz Quad core won't work adequately for the next 5 years on any conceivable OS, whereas this Atom processor is struggling even now.

    Not to mention the PCI-e 2.0 x16 slot, what happens when the 9300 doesn't cut it anymore? The Atom platform has no room for upgrade.

    If they cost the same when you outfit the LGA 775 motherboard with a Celeron (and the celeron is much faster), with the option down the road of a dual or quad core and any video card you want, I would say in comparison to the Atom board it is future-proofing.
    Reply
  • strikeback03 - Thursday, May 14, 2009 - link

    If power consumption is a concern though, you won't ever be using a Penryn quad-core. Due to the memory controller it is highly unlikely any motherboards from the Penryn era will be usable with future processors, so for low power usage an Atom board now and something else low power in a year or two is more likely the way to go. Reply
  • dEad0r - Tuesday, May 12, 2009 - link

    Why are there different versions of that platform?
    Today Computerbase released their review of the "Zotac IONITX-A", which features the same CPU, but offers the faster Nvidia 9400 graphics card onboard.
    So all the gaming benchmarks should be way better.

    http://www.computerbase.de/artikel/hardware/mainbo...">http://www.computerbase.de/artikel/hard...dia_ion/...


    As you can see, for World in Conflict, Doom 3, F.E.A.R. and Company of Heroes are fully playable at 1024x768 1xAA/1xAF, as the ION gives us ~30 fps in those tests.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, May 12, 2009 - link

    Don't get too carried away: the 9400 runs at 580/1400MHz core/shader clocks while the 9300 runs at 450/1200MHz core/shader clocks. Assuming games aren't bottlenecked by memory bandwidth, the 9400 is about 20% faster - so it could equal the X800 XT.

    Those benchmarks you link show the GeForce 9400 as being around six times faster than the 945G chipset, which is quite similar to the results Anand shows in WoW. I'm guessing that the details are set to low or medium in order to get many of those games to 5-6FPS with the GMA 950.
    Reply
  • Pirks - Tuesday, May 12, 2009 - link

    when you have this: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N8...">http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N8... Reply
  • sprockkets - Tuesday, May 12, 2009 - link

    Because that board is crap compared to the Intel LGA board in the article.

    It lacks a x16 pci-e slot, wifi isn't built in, needs laptop ram and has no optical or coax audio out. Plus, Linux easily supports PureVideo; no such tech I know of for Ati. While this does feature more SATA ports, I can live without that.

    And you rather pay $20 more for that?
    Reply
  • Visual - Wednesday, May 13, 2009 - link

    dude, the atom mini itx boards also don't have pci-express 16x. intels have a pci just like this amd, the ion one has mini-pci-e which is just 1x and it is ment to be used with the bundled wireless card - it will be quite hard to find other devices for it.
    where did you get that 16x from?
    Reply
  • sprockkets - Thursday, May 14, 2009 - link

    Are you capable of looking at the specs yourself of the LGA board in the article?

    Or, look here: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N8...">http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N8...

    I accept your apology Pirks.
    Reply

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