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 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.
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...
Nehemiah M10000 Reviews
27 May 2003
19 May 2003