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So, What About Intel?

Nvidia's Ion: Lending Atom Some Wings
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The Intel D945GCLF uses a more classic designThe Intel D945GCLF uses a more classic design

In order to evaluate the wisdom of matching a chipset like the 9400M with a processor as… well, “mobile” as the Atom, we compared it with the only competing platform on the market: the Intel reference platform.

To accomplish this, we dug out our D945GCLF motherboard. It is also compact, being a mini-ITX format board. But next to the Ion, it starts looking huge. Its design is much more classic—there’s no daughterboard connected via PCI Express, and everything is on the same PCB. What’s “everything”? An Atom 230 processor (the same as in the Ion), an Intel 945GC chipset, the ICH7 southbridge, and a few ports and extension slots.

VGA, serial, parallel, and PS/2 ports... Welcome to the past!VGA, serial, parallel, and PS/2 ports... Welcome to the past!

One of the interesting differences between the platforms is their cooling systems. There’s a minuscule passive heatsink on the CPU, but a there’s a large heatsink (with a fan) on the chipset. This is the first sign that something’s not quite right with the chipset, but we’ll come back to that later.

Next to these three main ICs is a standard DDR2 DIMM slot (maximum 2 GB), but also two internal SATA ports, one IDE connector, one PCI slot, a parallel port, a serial port (yep, you heard right), a VGA port, two PS/2 ports, three analog audio jacks, a 100 Mbps Ethernet port, and four USB 2.0 ports. There are also connectors on the card for two additional USB ports.

So the Intel reference board is no slouch. But its connectivity shows the age of its supporting core logic—instead of eSATA and HDMI, you get VGA and serial connectivity.

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