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Nehemiah M10000 Review
Posted on May 19, 2003

Mini-ITX Cases and Systems

Mini-ITX has encouraged innovation from increasing numbers of case and system manufacturers. Home-built cases show a degree of thought - often producting visionary designs which would be dismissed by beige box makers. Many appear on our pages (if you have a project or news story, send it in!). Here's a few of them:

The Mini-Box M-100
Hush Silent Mini-ITX PC
Spherical Case from Japan

The "ToAsTOr"
The "Pictureframe PC"
The "E.T.PC"

The "Commodore ITX-64"
The "SpaceCase"
"The Clock"

Conclusion

The Nehemiah M10000 is a very welcome speedbump to previous EPIA Ms. The full speed FPU and SSE instructions give it that extra boost needed to playback any media type we could find - without optimisations or quality tradeoffs.

Although we have benchmarked the Nehemiah as fully as possible (and gained some useful comparisons with earlier EPIAs), it must be remembered that this is not everything that the EPIA is about. In use, all the EPIAs are nippier than their benchmarks would suggest, due to their supporting chipsets. EPIA Ms (of which the Nehemiah M10000 is of course the current ruler) are powerful multimedia playback machines. An EPIA M in a low profile case looks great next to a TV, where a regular PC or even Cube SFFPC will look out of place, overpowered and overpriced for the task. Add a PVR card and you have a perfect HTPC.

As an inexpensive upgrade path for ageing x86 machines, EPIAs are ideal - schools, libraries and internet cafes can benefit from low noise and low power consumption machines. Under Linux, even the EPIA 5000 can perform tasks such as file serving with ease all at the cost of a SCSI card. EPIAs have accidentally gained a following in the modding community (witness the many projects on this site). Although such mods probably represent a small proportion of sales, they show the versatility that this form factor has, and the enthusiasm of its owners. No other manufacturer offers a range of mainstream low noise motherboards at this size and price with these facilities. Other manufacturers will be watching with interest.

Next Generations of Mini-ITX

VIA has squeezed a lot out of their CLE266 chipset whilst sticking true to their EPIA ideals. Future C3 revisions will have 200MHz FSB support, allowing faster memory and therefore performance improvements without drastically increasing power consumption. The replacement to the CLE266, the CM400 should be out of the blocks by the end of the year - this will feature a new Unichrome2 graphics core and 8x V-link bus to connect newer South bridges. We would expect to see this on future EPIAs, along with a new TV-Out chip. For the Eden platform, VIA plans to produce a 1GHz Nehemiah Eden by next year running at below 10W.

Prototypes of future boards have demonstrated enhanced audio functionality, compact flash booting and multiple ethernet ports. There have even been rumours of P4 based EPIAs from VIA - but this would not be practical without significant power and heat reductions. VIA's recent agreement with Intel means this probably will never happen, and instead VIA will pursue its own chip designs. In the meantime however, board manufacturers have warmed to the Mini-ITX form factor and already produce P4 Mini-ITX boards. These have a valid place in the market, but have all the power, cost and heat problems associated with powerful processors. Clock speed is not the only measure of performance. If VIA can continue to provide grunt through their supporting chipsets to match these boards for the majority of tasks at a much lower price, their lower power consumption EPIAs will continue to have their place in this market too. However a large portion of their target market is integrated systems and embedded PCs, and VIA will continue to support these customers. The small computer enthusiast market (that this site represents) is just a part of the whole EPIA picture.

The Eden platform is on solid ground - no other embedded platform has emerged that can match the price and performance that Eden Mini-ITX boards provide. We saw several Eden clones and devices at CeBit 2003 aimed at the networking, embedded and industrial PC markets. As long as these boards still use VIA chips and processors, VIA will be happy.

Here's our unreasonable wishlist for future EPIAs: Better, more controllable, TV output with support for more resolutions and component video output, two angled DIMM slots, 4 x Serial ATA ports and a RAID controller, lose the IDE sockets and parallel ports, add another ethernet port or two, Open Source Linux support from the start, reduced fan noise with innovative cooling solutions (a chat with Zalman?), hardware MPEG4 decoding for DivX playback, video input and hardware MPEG2 encoding for PVRs, dedicated graphics memory on board, 21st century standard 3D graphics, improved RAM support, Envy 7.1 digital sound, Dolby decoding (and a THX logo would impress the HTPC market), TOSlink digital audio socket, breakout cable for audio connectors to save space, Firewire on the back panel, MPEG1-4 playback in BIOS - all running in silence at 20W and under $150. Perhaps next year...

More Nehemiah M10000 Reviews

Tech-Report.com, 27 May 2003

EnvyNews.com, 19 May 2003



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