Jun 05 2012

News - BitFenix Prodigy Mini-ITX Case Reviewed

Mini-ITX always seems to be right on the cusp of bursting into the mainstream. Low-power and cool running processors abound and many of the major manufacturers are offering compelling mini-ITX motherboards, but for those of us that like to roll our own systems, the biggest challenge in selecting components for a mini-ITX build is often in selecting the right case. Mini-ITX cases tend be studies in trade=offs. Go too small and give up too much choice in expandability and drive slots, but go big and give up the space-saving advantage of the form factor; not to mention that mini-ITX cases often seem to be grouped into just two groups: cheap but low-quality or high-quality but expensive. However, we might finally be seeing some manufacturers finding that "just-right" sweet spot. The SilverStone FT03 Mini is certainly one contender, and now comes the BitFenix Prodigy. There might still be some rought edges, but it sound like the Prodigy may just be the Goldilocks mini-ITX case, offering configurations that allow it to serve in home server, HTPC, or gaming desktop roles all without breaking the bank.

BirFenix Prodigy

There's also been a slow trickle of new mini-ITX enclosures designed to support that kind of hardware, but even these enclosures have had their limits unless you were willing to spend through the nose on a Lian Li case. That changes today with the BitFenix Prodigy, a $79, full-frills mini-ITX enclosure designed for maximum performance in minimum space. If you're looking to build a powerful mini-ITX system with a single graphics card, this may very well be the case you've been waiting for.


May 28 2012

News - SilverStone FT03 Mini PC Case Reviewed

SilverStone FT03 Mini

Every so often, a case manufacturer decides to try to break the mold and release something new and different. Such efforts tend to result in, at best, niche products, but occasionally the result is so eye-catching, that I can't help but root for it. SilverStone's FT03 was one such case. The first time I saw a picture of the FT03 in all it's monolithic glory, I was smitten. Well, SilverStone is back at it and have followed up on the FT03 with a pint-sized version for Mini-ITX motherboards. The FT03 Mini is tall for a Mini-ITX case, but retains the striking profile of its big brother and is evidently is even easier to work in and offers superior cooling capabilities. I'm still not completely sold on the top-mounted USB ports, but otherwise it might make a fine HTPC case for those who like to build HTPC systems with a distinctive flair.

The FT03 Mini is the FT03 condensed further still, swapping out Micro-ATX for Mini-ITX and requiring an SFX form factor power supply in the process. Users who didn't care for the look of the FT03 aren't going to find anything new here, but people who dug on the FT03 are bound to find a lot to like.


Feb 24 2012

News - VIA QuadCore EPIA-M900 Mini-ITX: Announced and Hands-On


VIA has announced a pair of new mini-ITX boards, the EPIA-M900 and EPIA-M910, aimed at digital signage and consumer media applications. The new boards can be outfitted with the VIA Nano X2 processor, but are also the first to support VIA's QuadCore processors. Both boards pair the processor with the VX900 chipset that we most recently saw VIA using on their Nano X2-powered VE-900 boards.

Remember the QuadCore CPU Via introduced last spring? We've been waiting for the chip to pop up in actual products, and now it has. Via's new EPIA-M900 and EPIA-M910 Mini-ITX boards are available with the quad-core CPU.

Tech Report

The VIA QuadCore comes in three different speed points. At the high-end is the L4800E running at a base clock speed of 1.46GHz, while at the low-end VIA offers the U4650E with a base clock speed of 1.0GHz. Sitting right in the middle is the L4700E which our friends at VR-Zone got to spend some time with on one of the new EPIA-M900 boards. There does seem to be promise here, but like most of VIA's recent offerings, I suspect the QuadCore processor and the new EPIA motherboards don't offer quite enough performance for most living room HTPCs.

The EPIA-M900 can also be equipped with an S3 graphics card as per the one we were demoed and this allows for up to four 1080p displays to be connected. The system could even handle four 1080p video streams simultaneously, although this did slow down the system to a crawl, but at least the videos appeared to play just fine without any stuttering.


Feb 18 2012

News - J&W Announces New Cedar Trail Motherboards, Barebones

J&W's MINIX line of mini-ITX motherboards have consistently targeted the higher end of the market with unique features and a focus on quality components. My first experience with their boards was the fantastic MINIX 780G-SP128MB, a mini-ITX gem that made its way into several HTPC and home server builds I assisted with. J&W looks set to continue the trend of quality craftsmanship with the release of the MINIX D2700-DC and MINIX D2500-DC. Both Cedar Trail-based boards will be passively cooled, include USB 3.0, and feature all-solid capacitor designs. J&W is also prepping a barebones kit based on the new boards. No word on pricing or specific release dates just yet, but evidently the D2700-DC is expected out first. Atom processors may not be as popular for HTPC builds as they once were, but J&W's new boards may be worth a look for those interested in going low-powered and silent.


Luckily, J&W spared no expense and both boards feature an all-solid capacitor design, with two USB 3.0 ports courtesy of a Renesas controllers and HDMI. They also feature 5.1 audio, VGA, Broadcom dual-gigabit LAN, one PCIe x1 slot and two DDR3 SO-DIMM sockets for up to 8GB of DDR3 1066, although Intel only recommends 4GB.


Feb 17 2012

News - AMD FM1 Socket Mini-ITX Motherboard Roundup

ASUS F1A75-I Deluxe

Intel may have been hogging the CPU limelight over the last few years, but AMD has been toiling away on its own processors and taking full advantage of their purchase of ATI several years ago to pump out competitive processors with superior graphics capabilities. Indeed, for a small form factor HTPC that will be completely dependent on its integrated graphics unit, AMD's recent Llano processors are particularly compelling. At the same time, AMD has been more aggressive in adding new technologies and features to their motherboard chipsets, allowing manufacturers to pack a ton of attractive features into even the smallest boards as the motherboards in this roundup demonstrate. It may be hard to tap into the full performance opportunities of SATA 6.0 in an HTPC, but I still find it rather interesting to see an entire collection of motherboards sporting nothing but SATA 6.0 for hard drive connections.

Hybrid AMD processors from A8, A6, A4 or E2 families suit perfectly for Mini-ITX computer systems. Let’s see what platforms are currently available from the leading mainboard makers in this field. Today we are going to check out ASRock A75M-ITX, ASUS F1A75-I Deluxe, Gigabyte A75N-USB3 and Zotac A75-ITX WiFi.

X-bit Labs

Jan 12 2012

News - Zotac Announces D2700-ITX WiFi Supreme Motherboard

Zotac kicked off CES by showing some barebones HTPC love with the new Zbox lineup, but today Zotac gave some DIY HTPC love with the announcement of the D2700-ITX WiFi Supreme. Like most of Zotac's mini-ITX motherboards, the diminutive board is packed to the gills with features and connectivity options. As you may have guessed from the name, the D2700-ITX WiFi Supreme is running an Intel Atom D2700 Cedar Trail processor, but it also running an Nvidia GeForce GT 250 for the GPU. Hopefully it will make for a potent combination. We'll let you know if we hear anything more about pricing or availability.

Zotac D2700-ITX WiFi Supreme

The little board also has a pair of DDR3-1066 RAM slots that support up 4GB of RAM. Connectivity includes HDMI, DVI, and DisplayPort. The board also has dual USB 3.0 port, a combo mini-PCIe/mSATA slot used by the Wi-Fi module, and Gigabit Ethernet connectivity. The chipset on the board is the Intel NM10. Pricing and availability are unknown.


Jan 05 2012

News - Lian-Li PC-TU200 Mini-ITX Case Reviewed

Lian-Li PC-TU200

The Lian-Li PC-TU200 is getting another run around the block, this time by our friends over at ThinkComputers. The PC-TU200 may be a mini-ITX case, but seeing it in video gives some context to just how large the case is. There is no doubt that this is a slick looking case, but with space for 4 hard drives and a full-height 5.25" bay, this is still a good size case for working inside. I also like the looks of the latching system for the side panels. I wouldn't mind seeing some other chassis manufacturers try something similar if it means we can get some more inventive aesthetics designs as Lian-Li has attempted here with the rivets and corner covers.

 It fits Mini-ITX and Mini-DTX motherboards, has internal USB 3.0 and eSATA compatibility, a large 140mm intake fan, room for both 3.5-inch and 2.5-inch hard drives, a really cool side panel release system and even a handle on top for easy transportation.  The case I’m talking about is the PC-TU200 from Lian Li. 


Dec 24 2011

News - Zotac Z68ITX-B-E WiFi Supreme Motherboard Reviewed

Zotac X68ITX-B-EZotac makes a number of mini-ITX motherboards and has established a reputation for stacking a lot features on their little boards. They make two different Z68 Mini-ITX boards, the Z68ITX-A-E, for which we saw a review a while back, and the Z68ITX-B-E. The Z68ITX-B-E adds a couple of different features, in particular the built-in discrete Nvidia Geforce GT430 GPU. Intel has made great strides with their integrated graphics performance, but the GT430 is still a nice step up for those looking for some extra graphics horsepower. It's also a nice option to have for those looking to utilize LAV CUVID as their decoder.

Today we are going to take a look at a motherboard that is perfect for a small form factor or media center application.  The board is the Zotac Z68-ITX WiFi Supreme and it features support for second generation Intel Core processors, discrete NvidiaGeForce GT 430 graphics processor, support for DDR3 memory, USB 3.0, SATA 6GB/s support and of course built-in WiFi. 


Dec 20 2011

News - SilverStone Sugo SG08 Reviewed

SilverStone Sugo SG08

SilverStone's Sugo line of cases is all about trying to perfect the small form factor PC, and the Sugo SG08 is their latest stab at striking the perfect balance between minuscule footprint and powerhouse performance. The 180mm fan providing positive pressure flow sounds great, as does the space for a full-size video card, though I honestly can't look at these sort of mini-ITX cube cases without thinking about building a silent, low-power HTPC. I also like to see SilverStone leading the trend in adopting USB 3.0 ports up front.

An interesting feature of the SG08 is its ability to support video cards up to 12.2 inches long which is more than enough space for the GTX 580 we are showing here.  Once the card has been installed you can work on routing cables and finding the best path for everything.  


Dec 07 2011

News - VIA Writes the Book on Mini-ITX

VIA Technologies developed the Mini-ITX format 10 years ago and it quickly became the preferred platform for modders the world over. In celebration of the 10 year anniversary of the launch of the platform, VIA has self-published an e-book titled "Small is Beautiful: 10 Years of Mini-ITX" detailing the development of the platform and highlighting some of the best Mini-ITX mods of the last 10 years. Flipping through the virtual pages was a trip down memory lane. I was a huge fan of the Humidor PC and the Millennium Falcon PC, the latter of which was also the PC that introduced my kids to the concept of modding. My most rewarding computer build was my first Mini-ITX system that I built into the drawer space of a cabinet desk. I've never really done a whole lot of other modding, but every so often I get an itch to mod my primary HTPC into a "hiding in plain sight" system similar to some of the ones highlighted in VIA's e-book. Anyone have a fantastic Mini-ITX or HTPC mod to share?

It's hard to believe, but it's been a whole decade since VIA created the Mini-ITX form factor with the launch of its Mini-ITX VT6010. The rest is ongoing history, but what's really cool is how VIA is celebrating the occasion.


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