First look: Intel DH61AG Thin Mini-ITX Media Series Motherboard
Over the last several weeks we had the pleasure of testing the new Intel Mini-ITX Media Series Motherboard, dubbed the DH61AG. This is what I consider to be the first truly HTPC-centric motherboard. Since the first integrated graphics processing unit (iGPU) with HDMI output was introduced we have heard boards coined as the “the perfect HTPC board” or “HTPC nirvana.” Is the DH61AG the real thing? Before we get into that let us give you a first look through a few unique features of the DH61AG and why I am excited about it. In typical Missing Remote fashion, we will publish a full review as soon as possible. (See Intel DH61AG Media Series Mini-ITX Motherboard and Core i5-2390T)
|Form Factor:||Thin Mini-ITX \ Mini-ITX|
|CPU Support:||Intel Core i7, Intel Core i5, Intel Core i3, Intel Pentium, Intel Celeron, and Intel Xeon processors in an LGA1155 socket with up to 65 W TDP|
|Memory Support:||Two 204-pin DDR3 SDRAM SO-DIMM sockets - 16 GB Max|
|External Connectors:||2 x USB 3.0, 2 x USB 2.0, 1 x eSATA, 1 x DVI, 1 x HDMI 1.4, 1 x TOSLINK (shared w/ 3.5 mm audio), 2 x 3.5mm audio, 19 V power connector|
|Internal Connectors:||1 x CIR input, 1 x HTPC Header, 2 x SATA, 2 x 4-pin PWM fan, 3 x USB 2.0, 1x LVDS, 1x eDP, 1x Stereo speaker header, 1x HD audio header, 1x SPDIF header (doubles as DMIC header), 1x Analog surround sound header. 1x Internal 1 x 2 Power Connector|
|Power Supply Connectors|
- An external power supply connected via the back panel
- An internal power supply connected via an on-board 1 x 2 Power Connector
|Expansion:||1 x PCI-e x4, 1x Full Mini-PCIe, 1x Half Mini-PCIe,|
|LAN:||Gigabit (10/100/1000 Mbits/s) LAN subsystem using the Intel 82579V Gigabit|
Unique feature set vs other Mini-ITX Motherboards
Thin Mini-ITX Form Factor
The DH61AG is designed to have a total height of less than 20mm with a half height I/O shield, compared to a standard full height (44.45mm) I/O shield. This includes all back panel I/O ports, internal connectors, memory, and factory-installed thermal solutions. The good news is that the form factor is based on an addendum to the Mini-ITX standard rather than creating a whole new one where you would need to purchase more new hardware which would make adoption more difficult (see: BTX :-P), see http://www.formfactors.org/developer%5Cspecs%5CMini_ITX_Spec_V2_0.pdf for those interested.
Note: The DH61AG comes with an I/O shield that first the Thin Mini-ITX standard for upcoming chassis along with the traditional 44.45mm height I/O shield.
What I am excited about is a new set of HTPC chassis built around this new thin Mini-ITX standard. While it does present a challenge in terms of heat sinks, new designs and additional components, hopefully we will see a new sleuth of slick 1U A\V chassis similar to the HD-PLEX H.5S shown below.
The below is a comparison of the DH57JG Mini-ITX and the DH61AG Half Mini-ITX to give you a good idea of the size, or lack there of.
One of the most interesting items on the DH61AG is the HTPC Header. In addition to the Intel CIR the DH61AG is the first Intel Media Series board with an extra on-board header that provides functionality for a Recording LED and HDMI CEC.
The Recording LED, as the name implies, allows you and OEMs to attach and control a LED, which you can then control via HTPC software. Our own Andrew van Til has already updated his LcdWriter (x86, x64) to add support for this very feature.
What I am very excited for is the HDMI-CEC (Consumer Electronics Control). Similar to the Intel CIR, a 3rd party PCB board will be available in the near future to allow you to send and receive HDMI-CEC commands. What does this mean? If you have a universal remote control you are happy with maybe nothing. But for the rest of you, you will be able to control your AVR or HDTV from the HTPC.
To be fair there are two solutions for this already--the Rainshadow Technology HDMI-CEC to USB bride ($99) and the Kwikwai HDMI CEC bridge (~$400). Both work very well and I can highly recommend them from personal usage but they are an extra device, require an additional HDMI cable (or very specific cards and soldering skills) and higher power consumption.
On-board 19 V DC power input connector
The DH61AG has two on-board 19 V DC power input connectors: 1- an external power supply connected via the back panel; 2- an internal power supply connected via an internal 1 x 2 power connector.
This opens the door for HTPC friendly, efficient power supplies we typically see with laptops and more traditional CE devices. Again, we have a few good choices here as well in the form of a picoPSU (a small DC-DC ATX power supply) offered by companies such as Mini-Box but I’m excited about the simplicity this offers,
The below table courtesy of Intel’s Technical Product Specification gives you a good idea of what type of power supply is needed for various configurations.
Full sized mini-PCIe slot
While not fully unique, the on-board mini-PCIe is more commonly found on laptop or network appliance boards. Having it on this thin Mini-ITX board, used in conjunction with a micro-SATA (mSATA) SSD drive--such as the Intel 310 Solid State Drive (SSD)--leads to a small footprint, low power HTPC.
For instance, I have several small form factor (SFF) chassis that only fit a single 2.5” drive and have previously had to choose between the performance of a solid state drive and not be able to watch\record Live TV, or a traditional larger hard drive. Neither excited me and I generally went with a hybrid hard drive as a compromise. With the mini-PCIe \ mSATA slot on the DH61AG you can have a SSD and data drive in the same chassis which was not previously possible.
Check back with us soon for our full review to see if DH61AG lives up to its H67 brethren. I for one am excited to see where it leads us.