Beyond Atom: Exploring Performance ITX Solutions

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Zotac GF9300-D-E Layout & Features

The Zotac GF9300-D-E looks like a typical enthusiast ATX board that's been chopped in half. With its black PCB and orange highlights, the board has an unmistakable "high-end" look.

Other than the color scheme, the most significant difference between the GF9300-D-E's construction and the Intel DG41MJ, is the use of solid capacitors. The Zotac also sports a much larger heatsink, though it is still passively cooled.

The layout of the GF9300-D-E is similar to the DG41MJ. The board has two internal SATA ports which are located near the bottom-middle of the board. An additional eSATA port can be found on the rear I/O. Moving the third SATA port to the rear I/O is a good decision since it allows for easy storage expansion through the use of external drives. It's unlikely that you'll miss having the third SATA port internally since many ITX chassis only have enough space for a drive or two.

The GF9300-D-E offers a much more robust rear I/O choices than the DG41MJ. While it lacks a parallel port, it gains two more USB ports (6 total), S/PDIF coaxial and S/PDIF optical outputs. The integrated GF9300-D-E also has access to a HDMI-out port which would come in handy for HTPC setups.

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The presence of a PCI-E x16 slot offers much more flexibility than the conventional PCI slot found on the DG41MJ. Not only can you use a discrete video card for gaming-oriented builds, but you can also plug in auxiliary PCI-E x1 or x4 cards for HTPC setups. The board also has 3 internal USB headers for use with front-panel I/O, allowing for a total of 6 additional USB ports.

The GF9300-D-E comes with a small WiFi daughter card that connects to the board with a small bracket. The bracket is installed with two screws and connects directly with the PCB. Once installed, the daughter card is positioned so the antenna occupies a spot on the rear I/O. We've seen similar arrangements with several high-end ATX boards. In practice it provides convenient support for 802.11 wireless without taking up an expansion slot. The WiFi unit supplied with the GF9300-D-E supports 802.11b/g.

Overall, the Zotac GF9300-D-E appears to be a well constructed and laid out motherboard. As we mentioned earlier, it is harder to evaluate the layout of a ITX board vs an ATX board since ITX chassis vary in configuration so greatly. While a board may be a perfect fit for a certain chassis, it might be a terrible match for another chassis which has a significantly different configuration.

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