Articles: Mainboards

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Nvidia ION System

There is nothing impressive about the design of this system. It is a plain painted rectangular metal box with a bunch of connectors on the sides and a shaped vent hole at the top. However, no one expected a prototype to be too sophisticated anyway. The main goal of this box is to demonstrate the hardware potential of the platform that is why the only parameter of this system case that should matter to us is its size.


And it is a truly compact solution, its overall volume doesn’t exceed half a liter. However, Nvidia ION uses an external power supply unit, but even despite that the system is astonishingly small. Nvidia engineers managed to make this innovative nettop system so tiny due to a Pico-ITX mainboard measuring only 72 x 100 mm.

This mainboard features a full set of basic components necessary for proper system operation. There is Intel Atom CPU and a single-chip Nvidia GeForce 9400 chipset soldered to one side of the PCB. The reverse side carries a DDR3 SO-DIMM slot for system RAM.

All external devices connectors are laid out on the front of the PCB. There is also an internal Serial ATA port and a number of external connectors including DVI and HDMI ports, USB port and RJ-45 gigabit network connector.

In fact, these features are already enough for a fully-functional system, but Nvidia engineers decided to expand the supported interfaces range and for that they bundled this board with an additional daughter card. It can be installed into a special connector on the back side of the PCB and carries additional Serial ATA, USB 2.0 and eSATA ports together with analogue and digital audio connectors. There are also a few LEDs, Power On button and a power supply connector there.

Overall, Nvidia ION reference design offers a pretty sufficient number of interfaces, including the following:

  • 2 onboard SATA ports;
  • 2 eSATA ports;
  • 7 USB 2.0 ports;
  • 1 Gigabit Ethernet port;
  • 6 analogue audio connectors;
  • Digital S/PDIF audio Out;
  • HDMI Out;
  • DVI Dual Link Out;
  • D-Sub Out.

Note that the daughter card is a little larger than the actual mainboard because it carries so many different ports and connectors. It is the size of this card that determines the size of the system case, which turns out a little larger than you would imagine a case should be for a Pico-ITX mainboard.

The mainboard and daughter card are sandwiched together inside the system case, one above the other. The 2.5-inch hard disk drive is mounted right beneath them.

There is a single heatsink with a fan on top. It cools the chipset and the CPU.

The cooling system is a little larger than we would normally see on Intel Atom mainboards based on Intel 945GC. However, it is not because of the higher heat dissipation of the GeForce 9400 chipset, but because of smaller case size used for Nvidia ION platform.

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