Zotac ION-ITX-F Wi-Fi Dual Core 1.6GHz Atom N330 Mini-ITX Motherboard with PCI Express x16 With Windows 7 Home Premium
After putting a power meter on my home entertainment system realised that my equipment was using a lot of power 350 watts at peak. So thought I would do some investigation into a recent low power mini-itx board from Zotac. I chose this one because it was dual core and it has a pci-express card on it which is good for a cable tuner I am looking at to use in it for when I am in the USA.
Ordered the board from mini-itx.com as they are the only people I could find doing this board. It came and everything looked fine except that the fan isnt fitted and there are no holes for it on the cpu heat sink. After talking with mini-itx they told me to screw it to the heatsink even though it doesnt have any predetermined holes. I also noticed that the manuals that came with it – the quick installation and the main manual werent for this board. Which was a great start.
I had already converted my old system from Vista to Windows 7. I then put the new Atom board into my case and started it up. Immediately I was getting checksum errors and just stalled. I was like oh dear must be memory related so twiddled about a bit with the memory until I found the culprit. From going from 1 board to the other, one stick of my 2Gb DDR2 had decided to die.
Not a real problem as really 2Gb of memory should be ok for what that board needs to do. So once over that everything came up fine. I use this as my media center so mainly playing music and watching tv (SD & HD blu-ray).
Initial reaction was that its great. So lets put it through its paces, watching blu-ray with fast moving action – didnt phase it at all everything was running fine at 17% cpu and wattage was about 270 watts so it was already saving me about 70 watts of power. I then decided to get it to record two tv stations and watch a recorded program at the same time.
It did this as well although cpu was about going from about 50 to 75%. And when navigating through the menu it was a bit sluggish although livable. All in all it is great because it will save me money and the Windows 7 media center is a little better than the old Vista one.
FURTHER UPDATE: having recently bought UP on blu-ray I have noticed something that is important for this board. Some of the later blu-ray’s are recorded in MPEG4 – I have tested UP and The Taking Of Pelham 123, they are both recorded in MPEG4 unlike I Am Legend which is VC1.
MPEG4 is currently running at around 47% cpu usage which is fine on its own but if (like I was at the time of trying to play UP) you are recording tv at the same time its just a bit too much for the little NVIDIA ION board which then runs at 100% and frames and audio drop on the play back of the blu-ray movie. Its a shame because its a great board and just what I want when the machine is on all the time but its a trade off between performance and cost of running the equipment.
Overall I am still impressed even though there are these obvious trade offs.