Our test session showed that Mini-ITX mainboards are an extremely attractive option for home computer systems. They are pretty power-efficient and remarkably small, but at the same time powerful enough for most applications run on a home multimedia and entertainment centers. Therefore, the LGA775 mainboards tested today should be assigned to a completely different category than Mini-ITX solutions on Intel ATOM and VIA Nano, which we have already discussed before. True, Intel DG45FC and Zotac GeForce 9300-ITX WiFi have nothing in common with nettops. They boast much higher performance and much richer functionality. Of course, they are not as universal as full-size mainboards. Namely, it is hard to build a high-performance system on a Mini-ITX board, but they work just fine for a bunch of other things, such as home theater PCs, for instance.
Both mainboards tested within our today’s review performed very well: Intel DG45FC and Zotac GeForce 9300-ITX WiFi easily cope with all sorts of workload including HD video playback. Intel G45 Express and Nvidia GeForce 9300 chipsets they are based on have integrated hardware tools for video decoding that guarantee flawless playback with minimal CPU utilization. This is why these mainboards may be used for HTPC systems that can do much more than just playback movies.
As for more specific recommendations, we can conclude the following. Zotac mainboard on Nvidia GeForce 9300 performed a little better in most tests. It was not only power-efficient, but also ensured acceptable performance in previous-generation games running in not very high resolutions. This way, Zotac GeForce 9300-ITX WiFi will suit fine not only for HD video playback but also for a few other interactive activities. However, if you are still trying to put together an HTPC with gaming functionality, then maybe you should first check out the recommended graphics accelerators for it. Even though integrated graphics made a significant leap forward over the past few years, it is still not the best gaming choice out there.
Zotac GeForce 9300-ITX WiFi also appeals to us due to its expansion capabilities. The manufacturer bundles this board with a wireless 802.11b/g network controller and the board itself has a PCI Express x16 slot that allows improving the graphics performance of this platform if necessary. However, unfortunately, this mainboard on Nvidia chipset has one very frustrating weakness: memory subsystem performance. This is the reason why it was defeated by the other testing participant, Intel DG45FC, in a number of computational benchmarks.
Intel platform, however, is attractive not only due to high memory subsystem performance. It is cheaper, it is wider available in retail, plus it comes with an impressive software bundle. Moreover, the use of a CPU and chipset from the same manufacturer is a good guarantee against any possible compatibility issues.
However, the most important result of our today’s test session is proof of the fact that we absolutely can build a compact high-performance system from the components available in the today’s market. Although we wish there was bigger and better choice of Mini-ITX system cases, you already can find an inexpensive solution that will look fir for a living-room environment. Moreover, since the leading component makers take active part in promoting Mini-ITX platforms and solutions, we have every reason to hope that things will eventually change for the better.