Zotac GeForce 9300-ITX WiFi
Our story about the existing Mini-ITX platform would be totally incomplete if we only discussed the solutions based on Intel G45 Expresws chipset. The thing is that Intel is not the only one offering integrated core logic sets for CPUs with Core microarchitecture. Nvidia does that, too. You don’t often see Nvidia chipsets in contemporary mainboards; however, they are quite popular in then mobile solutions market. Compact platforms find themselves between desktop and mobile solutions and Nvidia works very hard to promote their chipsets in this particular market segment. There are a few mainboard makers helping them here, Zotac being one of the most aggressive ones lately. They designed one of the most popular Mini-ITX mainboards based on Nvidia GeForce 9300 chipset.
Although it is the first time we mention GeForce 9300 name in our articles, our regular readers should already be familiar with this core logic set from the Nvidia ION platforms that we have already mentioned many times on our site. This compact concept PC based on Intel Atom processor uses GeForce 9400 chipset that differs from GeForce 9300 only by the graphics core frequency. Everything else about these two solutions is absolutely identical. So, Nvidia GeForce 9300 is a single-chip integrated chipset supporting LGA775 processors, DDR2 or DDR3 SDRAM, PCI Express bus and all major interfaces. If we leave out the graphics core, the functionality of this chipset will be practically the same as that of just discussed Intel G45 Express: just like the competitor from Intel, GeForce 9300 supports Gigabit network, 12 USB 2.0 ports and 6 SATA-300 ports.
Identical features and functionality make Zotac GeForce 9300-ITX WiFi mainboard very similar to Intel DG45FC we have just discussed.
However, the form-factor is yet another important reason for similarity between the two LGA775 Mini-ITX mainboards: it simply doesn’t let the engineers show all they can do farcing them to use the same typical layout. As a result, the top part of Zotac GeForce 9300-ITX WiFi PCB is occupied by the processor socket, the chipset is at the bottom, the right and lower edge of the PCB are given away to expansion slots. However, if you take a closer look at the Zotac board you will notice some unique peculiarities even when it comes to CPU support. The thing is that Zotac GeForce 9300-ITX WiFi is equipped with a more powerful processor voltage regulator than Intel DG45FC that consists of four phases. As a result, the board is formally compatible with a much broader range of CPUs with maximum calculated TDP approaching 95W. In other words, the above mentioned mainboard may work with any CPUs on Core microarchitecture supporting up to 1333MHz bus except the solutions from Core 2 Extreme series.
Zotac engineers provided their mainboard with two DDR2 DIMM slots. The board formally supports DDR2-667 and DDR2-800 SDRAM; however, in reality GeForce 9300 chipset boasts a very rich set of memory frequency dividers, which allows not only to clock the memory in a much broader range, but also to overclock it independently of the CPU bus. The board supports maximum 8GB of system RAM.
The interesting peculiarity of Zotac GeForce 9300-ITX WiFi mainboard is the PCI Express x16 slot for external graphics accelerator. If the card is a GeForce, the board will be able to employ Hybrid SLI and HybridPower technologies by combining the integrated and the add-on GPU or by switching between them to achieve the most optimal balance between performance and power consumption. This way, even despite its small size, the Zotac board may become part of a high-performance system equipped with a high-end CPU and high-performance graphics accelerator. However, in this case you will have to sacrifice another great advantage of this solution - compact size, because the high-end graphics card as well as the cooler for your high-performance processor will not fit into any Mini-ITX system case.
The core logic chip is located between the processor socket and PCI Express x16 slot. Although GeForce 9300 is a single-chip core logic set, it occupies almost the same space as both Intel G45 Express chips on Intel DG45FC mainboard. The thing is that GeForce 9300 aluminum heatsink is of “double” size. They went for the heatsink of this size trying to make sure that the chipset will work in the most favorable thermal conditions even though its heat dissipation is claimed to be no more than 25W, according to the official specifications.
Besides microchips and slots Zotac GeForce 9300-ITX WiFi mainboard features three pin-connectors for six USB 2.0 ports and a serial port connector. Besides, there are two standard SATA-300 ports that support RAID 0 and RAID 1 arrays. Other ports are laid out on the back panel. Among them are PS/2 keyboard connector, 6 USB 2.0 ports, one eSATA port and RJ-45 network connector.
There are three analogue audio connectors nearby together with an optical and coaxial SPDIF Outs. They are implemented via a pretty ordinary six-channel Realtek ALC662 codec that also supports all important technologies, such as Dolby Digital Live, DTS CONNECT and Dolby Home Theater, which you may need if you decide to use Zotac GeForce 9300-ITX WiFi as a basis for a fully-functional home theater.
The back panel also carries three different connectors for monitors and TV sets: D-Sub, Dual-Link DVI and HDMI 1.3 (with audio support). The mainboard allows connecting two display devices at a time with the maximum resolution of 2560x1600 supported by the integrated graphics core. However, high video resolutions are not the only advantage of the integrated GeForce 9300 chipset. The biggest plus of this integrated Nvidia solution is very good 3D performance (for an integrated GPU). It is achieved due to 16 unified shader processors working at 1.2GHz. The resterization unit including 4 ROP is 450MHz. Since GeForce 9300 is DirectX 10 compatible, its potential is more than enough for acceptable performance in many contemporary games. The GPU built into GeForce 9300 core logic set has only one serious drawback: it uses part of the system memory for its video needs slowing it down because of certain architectural peculiarities.