Articles: Mainboards

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Compact desktop systems in Mini-ITX form-factor become more and more popular. Systems like that have several advantages important for integration of computers into our living-room environment. And it is not only about the size. Yes, Mini-ITX form-factor allows saving some space due to its compact size. But besides that, computers using this form-factor boast home-friendly design, do not generate much noise and save power. As for the performance provided by these systems, in most cases it is sufficient to replace full-size computer systems with their compact analogues or to introduce small versatile computers in those spheres of life, where only specialized devices have been used before.

The launch of energy-efficient Intel Atom and AMD Zacate processors became a catalyst to this phenomenon, and even though platforms built around them do not boast the performance typical of the desktop systems, they are still fast enough for internet surfing or HD video playback. The introduction of these processors jump-started the spreading of miniature computer systems aka nettops positioned primarily for home users working mostly with online content. Besides that, the hardware HD video decoding support introduced in Intel Atom and AMD Zacate processors made them suitable for HTPC segment, where computer systems come to replace multimedia players. This is where Mini-ITX systems are dominating. Also, Mini-ITX computers are aggressively moving into home-server segment.

The advantages of compact form-factor are obvious, but in many cases small size limits the performance, because it doesn’t allow using complex cooling systems, powerful PSUs and top-of-the-line components. However, this problem becomes less and less acute. It happens mostly due to the fact that new processor generations with remarkable performance and heat dissipation ration start appearing in the market. The launch of LGA1155 Sandy Bridge CPU was a tremendous step in this direction. It brought high-performance desktop products with heat dissipation typical of a mobile solution – of 35, 45 or 65 W. These processors breathed life into the new kind of systems, which have the same performance and functionality as the regular desktops, but are built in small Mini-ITX cases.

It is not surprising at all that Mini-ITX systems with LGA1155 processors turned out extremely popular. Many mainboard makers saw their potential right away and quickly began production of corresponding platforms. And these platforms happened to be totally up to the task, as their functionality was just as good as that of the full-size solutions. However, Mini-ITX LGA1155 platforms do have certain unique peculiarities anyway.

The manufacturers usually pick Intel H67 Express for typical compact LGA1155 platforms. This chipset supports the same external interfaces as the top Intel Z68 Express, i.e. it allows using the Intel HD Graphics graphics core integrated into Sandy Bridge processors. However, there exist certain overclocking limitations: Intel H67 doesn’t allow adjusting the processor clock frequency multiplier even if there is an unlocked K-series CPU in the system. However, overclocking usually requires advanced cooling, which is difficult to implement inside a Mini-ITX system case. Therefore, Intel H67 seems to be a reasonable base for compact high-performance systems.

A typical compact mainboards for LGA1155 form-factor not only allows using integrated graphics, but can also take in an external graphics accelerator. That is why there is always a PCI Express 2.0 x16 slot. Moreover, many mainboard makers provide their products with additional mini-PCI Express slots that can be used for extra expansion cards, such as Wi-Fi, TV-tuner cards, SSD, etc. As for the interfaces originally supported on miniature mainboards, among them certainly are SATA-600 and USB 3.0. In other words, if you have a Mini-ITX LGA1155 mainboard, you can build a pretty up-to-date high-performance universal platform with minimum compromises. That is why this particular topic is extremely interesting and deserves a close look.

Today we are going to talk about eight different Mini-ITX LGA1155 platforms from the leading mainboard makers. All of them are based on Intel H67 Express chipset and offer similar functions. However, we will do our best to find out which mainboard of the eight boasts the best combination of practical features.

Technical Specifications Comparison

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