Over the past few years home computer systems have been spreading out very rapidly. Not so long ago it was considered normal to have only one computer system within a single household. Today we can state that having several computer systems per person has become quite common. True, besides a primary computer system for leisure and entertainment, any technologically educated user tries to get also a personal notebook computer (and maybe also a netbook). Besides, users like that often equip their place with such specific systems as a home file server or a multimedia center. The expansion of the natural habitat of computer systems affects the structure of the computer components market. Before people used to look for universality and performance in the first place and these solutions made the biggest part of any manufacturer’s product range. Today, compact size and power-efficiency become just as important. As a result, the products range not just according to their price and performance, but there are also a lot of solutions targeted for some specific application fields and offering unique and sometimes unexpected combinations of features.
Namely, speaking of mainboards to be discussed in our today’s article, we can say that there is the whole class of solutions with compact size being their key distinguishing feature. And we are not going to talk about the well-known Micro-ATX form-factor that can barely surprise anyone these days, but about much more miniature solutions. Mini-ITX form-factor is one of the most popular today. It defines the mainboard PCB size as 170x170mm. On the one hand, this format allows building very compact computer systems that can go very nicely with any computer electronics devices, and on the other hand, you can still use regular widespread desktop components in them. This combination of qualities makes Mini-ITX almost ideal mainboard form-factor for Home Theater PC systems (HTPC). Moreover, since Mini-ITX doesn’t impose any serious limitations, except the ability to accommodate several expansion cards at the same time, these small mainboards may become a perfect choice for traditional mainstream and budget desktop systems.
Since we came to speak about Mini-ITX solutions, we have to say right away that they can be divided into two principally different classes. The first one includes the boards designed for nettops and similar computer systems. Systems like that are not very fast that is why mainboards of this type usually come with an integrated energy-efficient processor, such as Intel Atom or VIA Nano. The major advantage of mainboards like that is maximum integration, low power consumption and heat dissipation as well as low cost. We have already discussed a few solutions like that in our article called “The Battle of Low-Power Processors: Best Choice for a Nettop”, so today we are going to focus on the second type of Mini-ITX platforms. They include mainboards that can boast pretty “grown-up” specifications despite their small size. They are equipped with a traditional CPU socket that allows using high-performance desktop processors and have much more features for expansion.
Today we will try to show that small size doesn’t necessarily mean low-performance. Contemporary miniature mainboards can be very powerful. A couple of boards we are going to discuss within this review should become a vivid illustration of what Mini-ITX platforms are capable of. Two solutions from Intel and Zotac that got our attention are built around high-end integrated chipsets: Intel G45 Express and Nvidia GeForce 9300. Teamed up with a high-speed CPU, these mainboards may become a good basis for a high-performance but compact platform.