Kabini Appeals To Low-Cost, Low-Power
Does anyone remember VIA’s C3 processor, introduced more than a decade ago? Designed mostly for x86-based Internet appliances and kiosks, the mini-ITX platform it popularized was admired by builders who just wanted something smaller. After several generations of improvement, VIA's boards achieved some degree of mediocrity. In reality, though, compact dimensions, modest heat, and conservative power consumption were the only reasons anyone voluntarily chose those slow, expensive configurations. Sounds pretty industrial, right? There were even inventive technologists who used the C3 to experiment with automotive entertainment.
Eventually, the mini-ITX form factor went in an entirely different direction as enthusiasts attempted to copy Shuttle’s portable gaming cubes. Meanwhile, low-power platforms like Intel's Atom continued to take over the roles formerly targeted by the original C3-based mini-ITX platform.
And then there's AMD. In case you missed our look at the company's most recent introduction on the processor side, check out AMD Athlon 5350 And AM1 Platform Review: Kabini In A Socket. And if you're not familiar with Kabini, the APU architecture that drops into AM1, give AMD's Kabini: Jaguar And GCN Come Together In A 15 W APU a read.
While everyone else was running around soldering CPUs onto motherboards, AMD took notice of the enthusiast backlash and retained its upgradeable ZIF socket. On paper, that means you may have an upgrade path, providing the next generation of entry-level APUs is still AM1-compatible.
Motherboard makers have to appreciate the socketed configuration because it frees them up to design a wider range of products without outfitting each with different soldered-down processors.
Supporting a single PCIe 2.0 x4 slot and four additional x1 devices, that kind of flexibility could be important to some buyers. Even more important to AMD and its partners on the motherboard side is that those interfaces are built into the Kabini APU, without the need for the extra FCH (Fusion Controller Hub, or AMD's name for the southbridge component) found on its higher-end Kaveri platform. AMD’s Kabini–based Socket FS1b processors really are the SoC (System on a Chip) design that companies like Cyrix could have only dreamed about.
|AM1 Motherboard Features|
|Asus AM1I-A||Gigabyte AM1M-S2H||MSI AM1I|
|Chipset||K16 IMC||K16 IMC||K16 IMC|
|Voltage Regulator||Two Phases||Two Phases||Three Phases|
|BIOS||0505 (04/15/2014)||F1 (01/27/2014)||V10.0 (02/21/2014)|
|100.0 MHz BCLK||99.98 (-0.02%)||99.80 (-0.20%)||99.80 (-0.20%)|
|I/O Panel Connectors|
|Digital Audio Out||HDMI-only||HDMI-only||HDMI-only|
|Digital Audio In||None||None||None|
|Video Out||VGA, DVI-D, HDMI||VGA, HDMI||HDMI, VGA, DVI-D|
|Other Devices||9-Pin Serial Com Port||None||None|
|PCIe 3.0 x16||None||None||None|
|PCIe 2.0 x16||1 x Open-Ended PCIe x4||1 (4-Lanes)||1 (4-Lanes)|
|PCIe 2.0 x1||None||2||1 x Mini-PCIe|
|USB 2.0||2 (4-ports)||3 (6-ports)||2 (4-ports)|
|SATA 6.0 Gb/s||2||2||2|
|S/PDIF I/O||None||Output Only||None|
|Other Devices||Serial Com, LPT Printer||Serial Com, LPT Printer||Serial Com|
|Mass Storage Controllers|
|Chipset SATA||2 x SATA 6Gb/s||2 x SATA 6Gb/s||2 x SATA 6Gb/s|
|Chipset RAID Modes||None||None||None|
|Primary LAN||RTL8111GR PCIe||RTL8111F PCIe||RTL8111G PCIe|
|HD Audio Codec||ALC887||ALC887||ALC887|
|Warranty||Three Years||Three Years||Three Years|
Reminiscing about mini-ITX's history becomes even more relevant as we look at the legacy features enabled by all three boards. Asus even includes a nine-pin serial port on the AM1I-A's I/O panel, making it a more-suitable replacement for legacy manufacturing PLCs. And those printer port break-out headers certainly come in handy when your 20-year-old PoS software still uses a parallel port dongle for authentication.