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Mini-ITX: Two Cases And Four Motherboards Compared

Mini-ITX: Two Cases And Four Motherboards Compared
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Alright, so maybe this story's front page lead exaggerates a little bit. Not everyone is as sensitive to power consumption as the hardware industry might lead us to believe. Power consumption is only one of several key points that influence the buying decision. Fortunately, progress has given us not only more efficient products but also many small form factor (SFF) designs that are very powerful and even smaller than previous generations. With two small form factor enclosures and four integrated motherboard solutions in-hand, we got a good idea of where today’s diminutive-footprint market is at.

Is Small Beautiful?

This certainly is a matter of taste and personal preference. A huge gaming system with a tricked-out case may be considered just as cool as a sleek, stylish, small form factor PC. One might be regarded as beautiful for its dominating presence and the other for its humble minimalism. Either way, you cannot deny that a compact system capable of doing virtually anything you want is indeed attractive. If the PC is small enough, you might not even need a dedicated HTPC system in your living room. You could just carry the box from the one place to the next and have everything on it ready to go.

Limits to Smaller Designs

Since a mini-ITX configuration, which is the most popular form factor for ultra-small PCs, only offers limited space, manufacturers obviously can’t provide as many features or as much connectivity compared to larger boards. Forget about multiple expansion slots, multi-card graphics subsystems, flexible storage interfaces, and an array of memory slots. These just don’t fit when you go ultra-small.

In the same context, it’s important to realize that overclocking features might still be available, but also much more limited due to space constraints for powerful voltage regulators and high-capacity cooling. In a nutshell, it may be technically possible to overclock a small form factor system, but overclocking features and margins suffer from physical confinement of components.

Does Small Equal Power Saving?

This is indeed a statement most people would tend to support, although size has little direct relation with efficiency. Yes, small form factor systems may tend to be easier on power consumption due to the more limited number of components. But a clean and efficient layout is still more important than size reduction. Most of the systems in this review use little power, but they don’t reach new records on efficiency.

One thing is for sure, though. Since only one out of the four mini-ITX motherboards reviewed here offer a PCI Express x16 slot, it seems extremely unlikely that the other three will ever be equipped with a power-hungry graphics card. As a result, all systems running on integrated graphics are relatively power-light anyway.

Processors: Everything Goes

We have good news when it comes to processor support: between the platforms in this article, we have support for almost every available processor in the existing AMD and Intel lineups, meaning you can choose fast quad-cores models should you need the speed. We went for the fastest available dual-core processors--AMD's Phenom II X2 550 and Intel’s Core 2 Duo E8600--since they deliver the best performance at relatively low power consumption, and probably make the most sense for small systems today.

Display all 38 comments.
Top Comments
  • 15 Hide
    HalfHuman , December 4, 2009 6:33 AM
    this is an article that i do not really see what is trying to achieve. you compare a intel dual core @3.3ghz with and amd x2 550. x2 550 is actually not the most efficient value cpu that amd has to offer. you can actually find a lot less power hungry dual cores and triple or quad cores from amd. it depends on the purpose of the machine. also i don't see anybody using a velociraptor in a system like these. you did not specify what you want to achieve... htpc? home server? light destop system? powerful desktop system? the purpose of this article somehow eludes my comprehension.
Other Comments
  • 5 Hide
    zsxking , December 4, 2009 5:47 AM
    For HTPC build, I wonder Zotac Gefore 9300 ITX + Intel Celeron E3200 will be a better choice in terms of performance/price and power efficiency.

    Celeron E3200 should be powerful enough to play HD video and flash even without the help of GPU acceleration.
  • 15 Hide
    HalfHuman , December 4, 2009 6:33 AM
    this is an article that i do not really see what is trying to achieve. you compare a intel dual core @3.3ghz with and amd x2 550. x2 550 is actually not the most efficient value cpu that amd has to offer. you can actually find a lot less power hungry dual cores and triple or quad cores from amd. it depends on the purpose of the machine. also i don't see anybody using a velociraptor in a system like these. you did not specify what you want to achieve... htpc? home server? light destop system? powerful desktop system? the purpose of this article somehow eludes my comprehension.
  • 1 Hide
    archange , December 4, 2009 9:19 AM
    Been keeping an eye on mITX boards for some time now, due to my interest in home servers and HTPCs. I also helped a friend of mine build a car PC recently, an idea that has been fascinating me for some time now. He ended up opting for an Atom 330 Gigabyte board, due to power and price considerations.

    My eye has been on the Zotac as well. My wife needs a new HTPC anyway :)  and an HD 5770 would fit nicely on it.
    If only they were more affordable, 'cause right now, a micro ATX solution proves more powerful while cheaper.
  • -1 Hide
    Anonymous , December 4, 2009 10:58 AM
    Antec's Dimension 96mm X 222mm X 328mm
  • -2 Hide
    Anonymous , December 4, 2009 11:23 AM
    Does anyone know for sure if the Zotac 8200 board will take the 'new' Athlon X4 605e 45w CPu, its AMDs new quad efficiency CPU. I cannot find anywhere including zotac website if their 8200 boards supports this new CPU?
  • -1 Hide
    fatkid35 , December 4, 2009 2:26 PM
    all this will mean little when dfi unleashes it's lga 1156 p55 based mini itx board in Q1 2010. that thing will friggin rock! i have the zotac 9300 board and it's awesome but the new dfi board will be even better.
  • 1 Hide
    nafhan , December 4, 2009 2:30 PM
    I don't think you'd have a problem with a 605e 45w processor on the 8200 board.

    The below processor compatibility doc from Zotac specifically states "supported processor wattage up to 65W" and it lists other Phenom II based quad cores. This includes the Phenom II X4 900e, which is a 65w part.

    http://www.zotac.com/httpdocs/brochures/cpumemorylist/ZOTAC%20GeForce%208200%20-%20ITX%20WiFi.txt
  • -4 Hide
    myriad46 , December 4, 2009 3:00 PM
    HalfHumanthis is an article that i do not really see what is trying to achieve. you compare a intel dual core @3.3ghz with and amd x2 550. x2 550 is actually not the most efficient value cpu that amd has to offer. you can actually find a lot less power hungry dual cores and triple or quad cores from amd. it depends on the purpose of the machine. also i don't see anybody using a velociraptor in a system like these. you did not specify what you want to achieve... htpc? home server? light destop system? powerful desktop system? the purpose of this article somehow eludes my comprehension.


    Then, obviously it wasn't written, specifically for you. Really...I don't really see what your post is trying to achieve...
  • 8 Hide
    pepperman , December 4, 2009 3:16 PM
    How does comparing a $140 mobo + $270 cpu (total=$410) to a
    $130 mobo + $270 cpu (total=$400) to a $100 mobo + $102 cpu (total=$202) even work?

    This review doesn't accurately show anything, except that the Core 2 Duo 8600 is indeed faster than the Phenom II 550 (this has been known for quite some time). For all we know, the better graphics may be due to the faster cpus powering them.

    This review would have worked better if cpus of the same price range were used, such as the Phenom II 550 against a Pentium Dual Core E6500 ($95) or a Core 2 Duo E7400 ($117).
  • -5 Hide
    bunz_of_steel , December 4, 2009 4:02 PM
    They all SUK! None of them have 802.11n so right away I wouldn't buy one of these yesteryear technology item
  • 5 Hide
    starralazn , December 4, 2009 4:23 PM
    true, the comparison of intel dual core processors to amd dual core processors would be an accurate comparison, as compared to a comparison of intel dual core vs amd trip or even quad core, but the price difference is to great to merit a dual core to dual core comparison.

    the intel core 2 duo is more than 2x the price of the phenom II x2 at retail pricing. so maybe a better processor choice would be more appropriate..
  • 4 Hide
    gsacks , December 4, 2009 4:52 PM
    For anyone interested in some real-world info:
    I have the Zotac 9300 board (rev 1.1), and a Pentium (core 2) 6300 65w CPU in my HTPC with an older ITX case that is similar in dimensions to the Sugo case, using a PicoPSU and external 105w power brick, I also have the largest CPU fan/heatsink I could find that would fit in my case, and it is the only fan in the case. Runs nearly silent almost all of the time, is on 24/7 and handles streaming video from Netflix(PlayOn)/Hulu/Youtube/Etc..., or off of my network server with absolutely no problem, as well as local DVD. (Running XBMC on top of Ubuntu 9.04) I can't comment on Blu-ray playback, since it isn't supported under Linux, but I expect it would work just fine in Windows. I was skeptical of the Zotac brand, but the board is built very well, and the documentation is actually pretty good. I have had this system for about 6 months.
  • 0 Hide
    mlcloud , December 4, 2009 5:03 PM
    Erm, right, go through each comment and down their ratings by one.

    I figured some troll would do that eventually, but this is just ugly.
  • 3 Hide
    shady28 , December 4, 2009 6:19 PM
    I think the author missed the point in this review. mITX is mostly for HTPC - where are the benchmarks on video playback, ability to keep up with HD content? Flash benchmarks would be good too and some kind of look at usability with Netflix and Hulu. ie, things that are important to someone building an HTPC??

    All the testing really shows is that an e8600 is faster than an amd x2 550 albeit at twice the price. But what I really want to know is what the difference is when doing HTPC functions? I don't see that here except possibly by inference, so this article becomes fairly useless.
  • 5 Hide
    smleth , December 4, 2009 8:24 PM
    I can say I am disappointed by this review. 3 Variants of Intel motherboard against 1 AMD, and none with an AMD chipset at that.

    What about J&W MINIX 780G-SP128MB (AM2+) Running an AMD Radeon™ HD 3200 or J&W A785GMT-Extreme (AM3) Running an AMD Radeon™ HD 4200.

    I sense so bias opinion here.
  • 3 Hide
    JohnnyLucky , December 4, 2009 8:30 PM
    I would have been interested in seeing video and audio playback results in this review since it was mostly about home theater pc's in a small form factor.
  • -2 Hide
    JohnnyLucky , December 4, 2009 8:31 PM
    I would have been interested in seeing video and audio playback results in this review since it was mostly about home theater pc's in a small form factor.
  • 0 Hide
    Summer Leigh Castle , December 4, 2009 8:50 PM
    I don't understand the usage of the E8600 @ 2x the price of the 550. Was this a mITX comparison or a CPU comparison?
  • -1 Hide
    chowmanga , December 4, 2009 9:19 PM
    HalfHumanthis is an article that i do not really see what is trying to achieve. you compare a intel dual core @3.3ghz with and amd x2 550. x2 550 is actually not the most efficient value cpu that amd has to offer. you can actually find a lot less power hungry dual cores and triple or quad cores from amd. it depends on the purpose of the machine. also i don't see anybody using a velociraptor in a system like these. you did not specify what you want to achieve... htpc? home server? light destop system? powerful desktop system? the purpose of this article somehow eludes my comprehension.


    I think the authors made their processor choices in order to highlight the fact that intel is the best solution if you want absolute performance and amd would be for those who might be more budget oriented. Maybe they chose dual cores from both for some sort of apples to apples comparison. This is a case and motherboard review after all.

    This article is not a buyers guide, but rather a hardware review. They chose high end components like the velociraptor you mentioned in order to see if any bottlenecks occur in the system. Its the same idea when they use an overclocked i7 to 4.1ghz in graphics card reviews.
  • 2 Hide
    didymus03 , December 4, 2009 9:36 PM
    I also don't understand using parts from such different segments in the price range. One could throw in a Phenom II 955 BE AND a Radeon HD 4670 dedicated card for the price of the E8600. 98% of the people putting together a system like this are more than somewhat interested in what they can get for the money. In general these kinds of reviews disappoint me. It's like comparing a Porsche and a generic sedan because they both have 6 cylinder engines...
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