Beyond Atom: Exploring Performance ITX Solutions

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Intel DG41MJ Layout & Features

The Intel DG41MJ is a very simple looking board. Despite having nearly all the same components of a typical ATX board crammed into a tiny mini-ITX square, the board still manages to look a bit on the sparse side. The magenta parallel port connector and green PCB give the board an overall retro look.

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The layout of an ITX board is quite different than your typical ATX model. Not only do the various components need to fit into a much smaller space, but the geometric restrictions on the location of various system components also differ greatly from ITX to ATX. For instance, in a typical ATX chassis, the hard drives are generally located in the bottom-front corner, which is why ATX boards generally have their primary storage ports located on the bottom-right edge of the board. In an ITX chassis, on the other hand, the hard drives are often located nearly directly above the motherboard, due to space restrictions. For this reason, the SATA slots on the DG41MJ are well-placed near the bottom-middle of the board.

Cooling is provided by a single passive heatsink situated above the G41 northbridge. During testing, the heatsink didn't get very hot and was generally safe to touch so it appears cooling is adequate. The ICH7 southbridge is located between the northbridge and the rear I/O. It's left to fend for itself with no cooling other than the open air. The chip did get pretty toasty and was hot to the touch, but nothing to worry about. An advantage of the sparse cooling on the DG41MJ is it leaves more space for the CPU cooler. There is plenty of space around the CPU socket, though you will likely be limited in height by your chassis.

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Probably the most noticeable difference between ITX and ATX is the number of expansion slots available. The mini-ITX form factor only has space for a single expansion slot. This makes for some tough decisions when it comes time to choose what will occupy the solitary slot. The DG41MJ is equipped with a conventional PCI slot which restricts your decision a bit more since PCI-E cards of any type are out of the question. However, many cards are still available for conventional PCI and the most important ones for likely ITX builds, like DVR and tuner cards for HTPC builds, are still offered for vanilla PCI.

In terms of features, the DG41MJ weighs in on the light side. While legacy I/O is present, there are no legacy storage options. Three internal SATA connectors are available but you won't find IDE or FDD support here. Only three SATA connectors may seem limiting, but it shouldn't be an issue since ITX chassis often only have space for a single drive anyway.

Overall the layout of the board is fairly good, though this is harder to determine with ITX, as opposed to ATX boards, since ITX chassis differ so greatly in layout.

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