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5 Atom Mini-ITX Boards Reviewed
Posted on Sept 23, 2008 Go to:

Video Playback

We can divide the boards into 4 groups for the purposes of our video playback tests: The D945GCL, GC230D and JNC91 which all have identical 1.6GHz Atom 230s and 945GC Chipsets; The MSI board which has a slightly different N270 CPU and 945GSE chipset; The D945GCLF2 which has the 945GC but a Dual Core Atom 330; And the special case of the GC230D overclocked to 2.0GHz.

DVDs, DivX and XviDs

All the boards could playback any DVD, DivX or Xvid movie we threw at them, at any resolution, however tightly encoded.

This is great news - the vast majority of content available and most commonly used is already covered. Streaming video from websites works fine as do downloads from BBC iPlayer and other such services.

720p Video

We decided to move onto something slightly trickier but gaining in popularity - 720p and 1080p video. Our playback codec of choice was ffdshow. 720p videos are generally encoded with an x264 MPEG4 codec or similar, and require either a reasonably powerful CPU to decode or a graphics chipset specifically designed for the task. Traditionally this has been the domain of socket boards in the Mini-ITX world, which have (until recently) been quite expensive.

720p QuickTime (Windows)

We downloaded several movies trailers in 720p QuickTime format and were pleasantly surprised with the results. All the boards apart from the MSI played back the videos with no jumps, skips or loss of sync. We played at 1920 x 1200 resolution many times over and couldn't find any fault with the picture. The MSI had problems with all the 720p tests - but we're pretty sure this was partly because we didn't have the correct graphics driver for the 945GSE chipset.

720p H264/AVC (Windows MediaPlayer)

All the 1.6GHz boards struggled a little with some of our test files, dropping frames or losing sync occasionally. The overclocked GC230D was fine, as was the Dual Core D945GCLF2. We had better results running Ubuntu with the 1.6GHz boards, but didn't have time to purse this avenue. It was a close run thing with the 1.6GHz boards bouncing around the 100% CPU mark. A different choice of codec or player might just tip the balance, but we would rather everything played right out of the box. Verdict: borderline, but there may be hope...

1080p QuickTime (Windows)

For fits and giggles we tried some 1080p Quicktime video. The 1.6GHz boards actually had a good stab at these, sometimes but not always losing sync. The overclocked GC230D got very close perhaps dropping the occasional frame, but the D945GCLF2 performed admirably with flawless playback and just 60% CPU utilisation. After some perusal of the task manager we deduced that Quicktime spreads the load better amongst multiple CPUs (remember the single core boards work as 2 CPUs due to Hyper Threading), and perhaps the QuickTime player and compression algorithm is more suited to lower power machines. There's hope for 720p H264 playback on those 1.6GHz machines yet - perhaps we just need the right video player.

Final Thoughts -->

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