Beyond Atom: Exploring Performance ITX Solutions

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Intel DG41MJ motherboard

While several manufacturers currently offer mini-ITX flavors of several Intel chipsets, Intel has their own in-house line of products which currently includes a fairly sizable line-up of mini-ITX motherboards available for both the Atom platform, as well as LGA775 processors like the Core 2 series. These products are aimed at system integrators rather than end-consumers, but many hardware shops both online and off will often stock them so they are fair game for home builders.

The current Intel mini-ITX line-up includes several boards based on the G4x and Q4x chipset series. For the uninitiated, the G4x chipsets are based on the P4x series (flagshipped by the P45 Express) with the addition of an Integrated Graphics Processor (IGP). The Q4x series is similar to the G4x, except it is aimed at business and server applications and includes Intel's vPro technology. 

For the purposes of our look into performance ITX, we've obtained a Intel DG41MJ board, Intel's mini-ITX board based on the G41 Express chipset. This is an excellent little motherboard that is packed with integrated features in a small, low-power and energy efficient package. The DG41MJ is a good example of a modern low-cost ITX solution.

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Intel DG41MJ Motherboard
Specifications & Features
Processor and Chipset
Based on Intel G41 Express chipset
Intel ICH7 southbridge
Supports Intel Core 2 Processors (65W TDP dual & quad)

2 x DIMM (Max. 8 GB combined)
Support DDR2 667/800 MHz
Non-ECC, Un-buffered Memory
Dual channel memory architecture
Expansion Slot
1 x Conventional PCI slot
3 x SATA 3Gb/s ports
Integrated Realtek ALC888VC audio codec
6-channel audio (5.1)

Integrated Realtek RTL 8111D LAN
Supports 10Mb/s, 100Mb/s and 1000Mb/s
Internal IO
ATX 24-pin power connector
ATX 4-pin 12V CPU power connector
2 x FAN connectors
1 x CD-in connector
1 x Front panel audio connector
1 x Front panel header
1 x Chassis intrusion switch connector
2 x USB 2.0 front-panel connectors
3 x Serial ATA II connectors
1 x Serial port header

Back Panel I/O
4 x USB 2.0/1.1 ports
1 x PS/2 Keyboard
1 x RJ45 LAN jack
1 x Legacy Parallel Connector
1 x VGA-out Connector
1 x DVI-out Connector
6 -Channel Audio I/O (3 connectors)

2 x SATA data cables
1 x Molex-to-SATA power adapter
1 x IO shield
Mini-ITX Form Factor
6.7 inch x 6.7 inch (17.02 cm x 17.02 cm)

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Compared to the currently available crop of ATX motherboards, the Intel DG41MJ is pretty tame and a bit on the outdated side. With only a conventional PCI slot, this isn't exactly a made-for-gaming board. However, when compared to your typical 945G-based Atom board, the DG41MJ is a performance monster, especially when equipped with a Core 2 Quad processor.

Oddly, the DG41MJ spec sheet claims it's only compatible with 65W Core 2 Quads and not conventional 95W models. While this is understandable in light of the severe cooling restrictions of most ITX setups, we don't believe it is a limitation inherent in the hardware and it would probably accept a 95W model if you absolutely insisted.

The DG41MJ comes with a small bundle with just three cables and the I/O shield. You get two SATA cables and a molex-to-SATA power cable, and that's it. Granted you aren't likely to need much more so the sparse bundle shouldn't be much of a hinderance. Also included is a quick setup guide, driver disc and a large board diagram sticker for attachment to the inside surface of your chassis, for easy access.

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