Beyond Atom: Exploring Performance ITX Solutions

Article Index

Conclusion

Performance Analysis:
The two ITX motherboards we put through our obstacle course of benchmarks, the Intel DG41MJ and Zotac GF9300-D-E, were both excellent performers. In general, they performed every bit as well as typical full-size ATX models. They both also support the full range of Core 2 series products which means you can have a full-power rig in a ITX form factor without much effort. We performed our tests with one of the lowest powered quad-cores offered by Intel, the Core 2 Q8200S. Despite this, the two motherboards still mopped the floor with Atom and Ion in every test. Even a cheaper Core 2 Duo or Core 2 derived Pentium model wouldn't have any trouble completely trumping Atom.  This isn't surprising however, the current Atom implementation, Ion-infused or otherwise, is built for netbook purposes, rather than an HTPC.

While both of the motherboards we look at in this article were designed for Intel processors, high performance AMD ITX motherboards definitely do exist. There are several quality ITX motherboards designed for AMD processors using both NVIDIA as well as AMD's own chipsets. Boards such as the J&W MINIX 780G, offers the same level of performance and features as the Zotac GF9300-D-E we looked at, except they're built for AMD processors. There are also many options available if you are looking for something similar to the Intel DG41MJ we looked at.

As we've seen, there is a whole different level of performance to be had in the same tiny ITX footprint. The Intel Atom may now be to most ubiquitous SFF platform, but it certainly isn't the only one and it's in no way the best, at least in terms of overall performance. In this article, we've given you a quick peek at what the modern ITX form factor has to offer. It is a far cry from the costly, under-performing, fully integrated ITX platforms of old. With the current availability of very high density storage, excellent mid-range video cards, low-power processors and now high performance ITX motherboards, it's now possible and even easy, to pack a full scale gaming rig into a ITX case for roughly the same budget as a typical mid-range tower.

However, as we've mentioned, ITX and SFF in general still suffers from one unavoidable short coming, the lack of space and expandability. You simply can't shove a storage server into a ITX case, there just isn't space. However for typical usage scenarios, ITX may just be a viable, perhaps even ideal alternative to the same old tower.


  

Silverstone SG05: The SG05 is an excellent chassis and in many ways represents an innovation in ITX chassis design. In the SG05, Silverstone has designed a tiny ITX case that will not only fit a full-height dual-slot video card, but keep it cool and happy too. The SG05 offers excellent thermal design for a ITX case. Despite only having a single 120mm case fan, the SG05 delivers good cooling for both the processor and video card. The included 300W power supply is also quite good.  With an 80 PLUS rating and a single quite 80mm cooling fan, the little SFX unit should deliver plenty of power for just about anything you can manage to fit inside the SG05. At a street price of $99 at the time of this publication, the SG05 is also relatively affordable.

Overall, we really liked the Silverstone SG05. While it can be used for just about any type of ITX based build, it especially shines when equipped with a gaming oriented setup with a beefy dual-slot video card. The Silverstone SG05 is an excellent representative of the potential available in the ITX form factor. It would be an excellent pick for any mini-ITX build and we think it should be your first pick for an ITX gaming rig.

 

  • Great Build Quality
  • Excellent Configuration
  • Dual-slot Graphics Support
  • Good Power Supply
  • Good Cooling
  • Only Supports Slim Optical Drives
  • Only Space For A Single 3.5" Drive

 


Intel DG41MJ: While it isn't the most feature-packed or flashy motherboard you'll ever see, the DG41MJ is solid. It doesn't have the PCI-E x16 slot of the Zotac, and for some people the conventional PCI slot may be limiting, but the board has performance in gobs and any processor-centric build would work wonderfully with the DG41MJ. It's also well suited for HTPC where the PCI slot can be put to good use with a tuner card. The integrated x4500 is barely of use for gaming except in legacy titles or casual online play, but it can stand its own ground in multimedia and handles HD video decoding without any issue.

In terms of performance, it was every bit as good as the Zotac GF9300-D-E we checked out in all of the general performance tests. In several cases, such as with memory bandwidth, the DG41MJ actually pulled ahead by a notable amount. At a current street price of $87, it's also much more affordable. Overall, the DG41MJ is an excellent choice for non-gaming setups.

 

  • Great Value
  • Great Performance
  • Quad-Core Support
  • Conventional PCI slot

 


Zotac GF9300-D-E:
If you thought the Intel DG41MJ was a bit on the mundane side, or if you are interested in a gaming-capable setup, then the GF9300-D-E is a great choice. The GF9300-D-E offers a huge number of features, the most notable, and likely the most important for many users, is the PCI-E x16 slot. With a larger case that supports full-height expansion cards like the Silverstone SG05, you can put together a full power gaming rig with basically no compromise on the graphics front.

The GF9300-D-E also supports Hybrid SLI which will come in handy in low-profile cases where you won't be able to fit a decent graphics chip. Low-profile graphics cards do exist, but they are on the low-end of the performance spectrum. Hybrid SLI will give these setups a considerable boost.

The GF9300-D-E is certainly not a one-trick pony either. Thanks in part to the included 802.11b/g Wi-FI daughter card, the GeForce 9300 chipset, the Zotac comes with an impressive array of integrated features which will come in handy in any build. The only down-side is the relatively higher $140 street price. At a $50 premium over the Intel DG41MJ, it won't be the the most cost-efficienct choice for every situation. However, as a premium high performance ITX motherboard, the Zotac GF9300-D-E absolutely shines.


 

  • Good Performance
  • PCI-E x16 Slot
  • Quad-Core Support
  • Hybrid SLI
  • 802.11b/g Wi-Fi Daughter Card
  • HDMI Output

 

  • Pricey

 


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