March 13, 2008 |
There has been some comment in the Mini-ITX blogosphere in the last day or two over some new Mini-ITX motherboards which were unveiled by Intel at CeBit: the DQ45EK which apparently uses the Q45 chipset and the DG45FC which uses the G45 chipset.
The DQ45EK board looks to have an LGA-755 CPU socket; 2x DVI ports; 2x DDR2 DIMM slots; 4x SATA 2.0; 1x LAN; 3x Audio; 6x USB 2.0 and 1x eSATA port.
The DG45FC board with a G45 chipset has X4500HD integrated graphics, supporting High Def H264 and VC-1 decoding in hardware.
This one has an Intel G45 + ICH10-R chipset; LGA-755 socket supporting 65W FMB Intel Core 2 CPUs (Wolfdale and Conroe); Dual output through 1x DVI-I and 1x HDMI ports; 2x Dual Channel DDR2 800/667 DIMM slots; 4x SATA 2.0; 1x 82567LM Gigabit LAN; 5x Audio & S/PDIF out (10 channel audio with Dolby HT); 6x USB 2.0 + 4x USB 2.0 headers on the board; a PCIe x1 Slot and 1x eSATA port.
While Intel has dabbled in the Mini-ITX world before now with the “Little Valley” boards, these new boards were much more serious and high end.
According to Mini-ITX.com, Intel is also planning a new series of boards based on the Atom processor called “Little Falls”. These would be the first Intel Mini-ITX boards to use an Intel chipset. The Little Valley boards used a chipset from SiS.
The Atom brand incorporates the 45nm CPUs previously codenamed Silverthorne (slower, very low power consumption) and the tweaked and Silverthorne-derived Diamondville (faster, slightly higher power consumption). A dual core Diamondville is due in Q3 this year - this will be incorporated into “Little Falls 2″, a few months after the first board.
What is interesting to my mind is that this is further evidence that the previously niche world of Mini-ITX is fast becoming a lot more mainstream which potentially can only be good in the long run in terms of innovation, price, competition etc.
As a relatively recent convert to Mini-ITX (so far I have built three new systems around Mini-ITX boards in the last year or so), I cannot see myself ever buying or building an ATX-style desktop or tower system ever again. Mini-ITX systems do not have to be only for specialised or embedded systems, they can, with the right board and CPU, run Vista or be used as servers or development machines; so why does anyone need a full size ATX tower any more?
Some have described the VIA EPIA boards, from the company which pioneered the Mini-ITX architecture, as underpowered and see this move by Intel as a threat to VIA.
It is true that most of the VIA boards are underpowered, compared to the latest Intel offerings above, but many of the VIA boards are designed for specific roles, such as kiosk applications, set top Boxes or digital signage. I use a board with a VIA CPU and chipset and it is certainly a lot slower than my other two Mini-ITX boxes; but that is not significant as all I want it to do is act as a Domain and DHCP controller in my network. It does not need a lot of power for that role.
However, my database server runs on a Jetway board which uses the VIA chipset and CPU and it does the job very well. It also uses a lot less power than the desktop ATX Pentium IV which used to run my databases.
At the end of the day, it’s all about matching the board to the job it is to perform.