Aaeon, a leading maker of embedded and commercial systems, has quietly unveiled a rather unique 3.5-inch single-board computer (SBC) that supports socketed Intel's Comet Lake processors. The SBC is designed mainly for embedded applications, but with some luck and DIY skills, you could use it to build an ultra-compact form-factor (UCFF) desktop with up to eight high-performance cores as well as advanced media playback capabilities.
Aaeon's Gene-CML5 subcompact motherboard is based on Intel's Q470E/H420E/Q470 chipset (depending on the SKU) and comes with an LGA 1200 socket that can support various Comet Lake processors with two, four, or eight cores as well as a 35W TDP (i.e., up to Core i7-10700TE with eight cores clocked at 2.0 GHz ~ 4.40 GHz).
For some reason, the manufacturer decided not to officially support 10-core CPUs with a 35W TDP, perhaps because the bundled cooling system cannot handle it. The motherboard has two slots for up to 64 GB of DDR4-2933 memory, an M.2-2280 slot for an SSD featuring a PCIe 3.0 x4 or SATA interface, and two SATA ports.
For DIY enthusiasts, it is not going to be easy to find a proper chassis for a 3.5-inch motherboard, but there are companies like Supermicro that offer them, so it is doable.
Intel designed its Comet Lake processors primarily with high-performance systems in mind, so these CPUs are widely used on Intel's gaming platforms for desktops and notebooks. Meanwhile, the family also includes low-power T and low-power TE SKUs for UCFF and low-power embedded applications, respectively. So far, we have not heard of many UCFF LGA 1200 systems in general, so Aaeon might be the first company to offer a 3.5-inch SBC that can handle an eight-core socketed Comet Lake processor. It is noteworthy that the company has not made any formal announcements about the product — LinuxGizmos found this board in an ad.
Not many embedded systems can benefit from an eight-core CPU today, but a lot of new applications are emerging, so some of them might take advantage of the combination of performance offered by Intel's Comet Lake and the diminutive system size enabled by the Aaeon Gene-CML5. PC makers who have access to custom PC cases can also use the SBC to build tiny systems that boast up to eight cores and potential upgradeability.
The miniature 3.5-inch Gene-CML5 SBC — which measures 146×101.7mm — has an essential choice of connectivity that includes two GbE ports (managed by Intel controllers with or without vPro), three display outputs (one DisplayPort++ with MST support, one D-Sub, one LVDS header), two USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A connectors, four USB 2.0 ports using an onboard header, two internal RS-232/422/485 headers, a header for audio in/audio out jacks, and a PCIe 3.0 x4 through Flexible Printed Circuit interface (on Q470/Q470E SKUs only).
Of course, since the Gen-CML5 SBC is aimed at embedded and commercial applications, the board is equipped with a TPM module, a watchdog timer, and other perks. As for operating temperatures, the SBC can function in a 0°C ~ 60°C(32°F ~ 122°F) range, so it is not suitable for industrial or outdoor applications.