Zotac ION-ITX-F Wi-Fi Dual Core 1.6GHz Atom N330 Mini-ITX Motherboard with PCI Express x16 With Windows 7 Home Premium

Posted by Paul Farrow - Under: Hardware, Microsoft Windows, Mini-ITX, Windows 7


Originally uploaded by paulfarrow

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.


Originally uploaded by paulfarrow

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.

#Rackmax #SATA Enclosure With A Silicon Image SiI3114 PCI SATA Raid Card

Posted by Paul Farrow - Under: Hardware, Linux, Mini-ITX

Last week I bought a Rackmax 4 x 3.5 Sata Enclosure from Linitx.  It has four drives but fits inside 3 x 5.25 external slots.  Initial inspection was that its well made and rugged.  Only niggle I had was that the two power molex sockets on the back are quite close together and because of this you cant use sata to molex power converters in it or not the ones I have cause the sata moulding touches and pushes the plug out of the socket.

There were no other problems, I housed it in an Antec mini tower just fine.  Kept the fan on the back which is a little noisy but not too bad, it seems noisy because the motherboard is fanless and the Antec case has a 120 mm fan which together is basically silent and this fan is the only thing in the tower making any noise.  Now I put disks a couple of old 250Gb Samsung Spinpoint SATA II drives in it which just happened to be laying around in my office and bought a couple of 1TB Samsung Spintpoint SATA II drives from Ebuyer.  Mounted the drives and put them in the Rackmax enclosure.  Powered it up and all the lights came on and went off but one of the drives in the Rackmax enclosure had a solid yellow light on which I think signals a problem.  I swapped them around and another light came on a different drive !!! wierd so I just put it down to the fact that the enclosure wasnt configured properly yet with the motherboard.

Ok so while I bought the terabyte drives I also bought a 4 port sata raid card from Linitx, it was only a cheapy and just thought its bound to be fine with Linux.  Linitx are a very reputable dealer who specialise in small form factor motherboards and embedded systems.  So got it slotted into my fanless VIA EK8000 board and plugged the drives up.  Powered it up and it just halts on when it is declaring what SATA drives it has on itself.  MMM I thought to myself wonder if its all SATA drives or what?!  So I unplugged the drives and powered it up and went through no problem.  So then I thought perhaps its a size thing so just plugged up one of the 250Gb drives and powered it up.  The system booted fine.  So tried again with the terabyte drive and low and behold it just halts before it even gets to the Linux boot up.  Ok so looked up the model of SATA card I have and it is the Silicon Image Sil3114 PCI SATA Raid Card.

Now some people on the web are saying it is because it cant negotiate the lower 1.5Gbps speed with the SATA II drives and to set your drives to the lower speed.  So thought ok that sounds feasible and set about lowering the speed from SATA II to SATA I on my Samsung drives.  Now Samsung have a utility that does this for you.  Downloaded it off their website and tried it.  The ramdrive they have wont load on anything other than a proper Intel processor.  It wouldnt load on my VIA C7 board or my Atom board.  Therefore I had to break apart my desktop just to be able to flash the drives – it was a real ROYAL pain.  Did all that put my desktop back together and still had a problem arrrhghghghghghg.  Ok so now I thought it has to be a BIOS problem on the SATA Raid card.  Low and behold the BIOS on the card was at 5.0.37 and the latest update was at 5.4 something.  Gosh that was like 4 years out of date !!!  So now did I have to break open my desktop just to flash the BIOS.  No after reading up on the flash utility etc I realised that it can be flashed in windows from the device manager.  So opened my Atom machine running Windows 7 (purely because it has an easy access case) and put the card in there.  I then downloaded the latest drivers for the card via Windows Update and went into the device manager and right clicked on the device and there is a tab called flash bios.  Clicked there browsed to the image and flashed it.  Couldnt have been simpler.   I took the binary prefixed with the letter R.

Threw the card back into the VIA board booted with the terabyte drives in it and it came up fine.  Just wish I had done that first rather than thinking it was because my drives needed to be downgraded.

And its all running very smoothly now.