The launch of Intel Atom processors boosted significantly the popularity of nettop computers. A lot of users were ready to switch to these compact and quiet systems that were designed to fit seamlessly into the living-room environment and didn’t take up much space. Of course, Intel Atom based systems cannot boast outstanding performance, but in many cases performance is not the No. 1 priority, especially if the computer is not used for 3D gaming or multimedia content processing and mostly serves as a “window into the Web” and an intelligent typewriter. In other words, Atom’s success in desktop systems proved that many users are ready to sacrifice high performance for the sake of “home-friendly” exterior.
However, dedicated computer enthusiasts do not take Atom seriously, of course. The performance of this processor is comparable with that of Celeron D from 2006-2007. But miniature nettop systems really get them thinking about making their powerful systems smaller in size. Certainly, if you replace the traditional massive steel casket on top of your desk or under it with a small and neat box you will not only make your place look better but also will free some additional space. Luckily, those who would like to have a small box deliver sufficiently high performance have a solution to go with: Mini-ITX platforms without embedded Atom processors but equipped with traditional CPU sockets that could take in the same contemporary processors as are currently used in the desktop systems. Quite a few mainboard manufacturers offer products like that today, and the number of models to choose from keeps growing, as it is very promising market.
However, it is important to keep in mind that it is still impossible to build a full analogue of a large high-performance desktop computer in a Mini-ITX form-factor. First, small system cases set serious restrictions when it comes to cooling systems, which means that far not any CPU or graphics card may be chosen for a Mini-ITX platform. Second, processors with low power consumption and heat dissipation are usually used in systems like that. These two factors determine mostly the base features of currently available Mini-ITX mainboards. In fact, there are two mainboard modifications that are available from most makers today: LGA775 mainboards based on integrated Intel or Nvidia chipsets, and LGA1156 mainboards based on Intel H57/H55 chipsets. These two platforms are especially suitable for Mini-ITX form-factor because value and mainstream LGA1156 and LGA775 processors boast considerably lower power consumption and heat dissipation than all other contemporary solutions.
Even though the solutions built around Intel processors dominate the market of miniature platforms, this uniformity is often disturbed by very successful offerings from Intel’s primary competitor. These AMD’s attempts to win a piece of the market use special energy-efficient CPU series, which are not so widely spread, but are indeed out there. There are a few modifications boasting low power-consumption among AMD Athlon II CPUs, which can be used in miniature computer systems. There are special Socket AM3 mainboards designed specifically for systems like that, even though they are not very numerous. For example, we have already reviewed Sapphire IPC-AM3DD785G Mini-ITX mainboard, which turned out a very interesting solution for a tiny system case when paired with an energy-efficient Athlon II X2 processor.
But today we are going to tell you about a different option for a Mini-ITX platform built from AMD components. We managed to get our hands on three energy-efficient Athlon II processors with two, three and four cores as well as a unique Mini-ITX Socket AM3 mainboard from Asus based on the AMD 880G chipset – Asus M4A88T-I Deluxe. Using all these components we managed to put together a high-performance miniature computer system, which seemed capable of competing successfully against LGA1156 systems of similar size. In fact, our today’s review is going to talk about the suitability of AMD components for fast, but at the same time small, quiet and energy-efficient computers.