There are many mini ITX motherboards out on the market, but unfortunately most of them use the Intel Atom processor.
The Atom processor is a fine unit, with lots of power, as it frequently can outdo a Pentium 4 on many benchmarks, and it is very frugal with energy, meaning it puts out very little heat. The biggest problem is the fact that all of the motherboards that have an Atom processor are using chipsets that are not really designed for such low power use, and are frequently using much more power than the CPU. The favorite of many manufacturers is the Intel 945G chipset, which has to be used with a fan, as it dissipates a good deal of heat, which generally looks odd when the CPU unit runs with passive cooling, but the adjoining chipset must use a fan.
Now the 945G chipset also has video, but the video is very anemic, and unable to do 1080p, for HDTV usage, in most all circumstances. When it can be coerced into doing high resolution (not 1080p), it runs out of gas and stutters if you move the mouse in the middle of the action.
The solution for that is the AMD 880G chipset, which has not had use on mini ITX motherboards until now. The 880G is very powerful, includes a great deal of connectivity options, and is energy efficient. The included Radeon 4200 graphics can handle 1080p over the included HDMI connector easily, leaving the CPU some power for other things being done while a movie is being watched.
Zotac, not usually known for their motherboards, has made a reputation with its line of decently priced nVidia video cards, and has recently made a few mini ITX motherboards using chips from the Intel side of the street. They have had a few very minor problems, such as incomplete shutting down in sleep, or inability to recover from sleep, but otherwise have been solid performers, as reviewed by AnandTech.
The Zotac M880GITX-A-E is a very impressive part –
Experience a perfect synergy of performance and energy-efficiency with the ZOTAC M880GITX WiFi platform featuring AMD® Vision™ technology. The ZOTAC M880G-ITX WiFi combines the power of a AMD® Turion™ II Neo K625 dual-core processor with a ATI Radeon™ HD 4200 series graphics processor to deliver stunning high-definition video playback, excellent multi-tasking performance and superior energy-efficiency in a mini-ITX form factor.
ATI Avivo™ HD technology delivers full-hardware decode of Blu-ray high-definition content for flawless playback and vivid visuals with the ZOTAC M880GITX WiFi. Expansion with the ZOTAC M880G-ITX WiFi is plentiful with one PCI Express x1 slot, 6 SATA 6.0 Gb/s, 2 USB 3.0 ports and up to 6 USB 2.0 ports.
The board is also available without the processor for those who like to roll-their-own, and put a little more punch in than the Turion II processor has. The Turion processor is powerful enough for HTPC duties, and will function properly in the smallest of cases. The form factor is not so small as to invite a comparison with a Mac Mini, but a very small PC can be built that will do nicely in a college dorm room, or on the bookshelf of a teen’s room.
The 2 USB 3.0 ports will allow a couple of USB 2.0 hubs to be hung off of them and a great many peripherals run with no slowing – or a new USB 3.0 hard drive to be used as an extender for an HTPC’s stores of media.
With 802.11n wi-fi built in, using diversity antennas, the unit could function nicely as a media server in a totally wireless house, or simply an add-on for the family that wants another PC to use that doubles as a file server.
The unit uses DDR3 so there need be no concerns about high priced memory. With 6 total SATA ports, use as a file server would be simple, and nothing extra would need be added. With a gigabit NIC in addition to the 11n wi-fi, the unit could ostensibly function as a very nice Smoothwall firewall, or, if you set your sights a little higher, a custom Linux firewall with storage for your hungry network.
A very nice motherboard for a few different uses.
The only bad thing is that the prices have not been announced just yet, but since the other Zotac products are middle of the road in price with upper middle performance, the chances are good that this will be your best bet if you are in the market for a small great performing motherboard.