Articles: Mainboards

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PCB Design and Functionality

We are eager to put up with a lot of things for the sake of compact size mini-ITX mainboards have to offer such as certain inconveniences in the components layout as well as missing features. However, in case of Zotac Z68-ITX WiFi mainboard we could apply the same strict criteria that we use for full-size mainboards and still be more than happy with the outcome.

To save some space the developers usually implement four-pin ATX12V processor power connector, but here we see an eight-pin one. Significantly simplified processor voltage regulator circuitry is another popular and justified feature of many mini-ITX mainboards, but here we have a fully-functional eight-phase one, which is built with DrMOS transistors and tantalum capacitors! Moreover, the heating components are topped with a heatsink, which is designed in such a way that it reaches the mainboard back panel and therefore can dissipate some of the heat outside the system case. It is connected with a heatpipes to the chipset heatsink and both heatsinks are securely screwed on to the board PCB.

This tiny mainboard also had enough room not only for Power On and Reset buttons, but even for a two-digit POST-code indicator. The Clear CMOS button for resetting the BIOS settings is available on the mainboard back panel together with two USB 3.0 ports. Besides that, there is another internal USB 3.0 pin-connector, which allows adding two more ports to the system case front or back panel.

The complete list of ports and connectors on the mainboard back panel looks as follows:

  • Four USB 2.0 ports, four more USB ports are available as two onboard pin-connectors;
  • Clear CMOS button and two ports for Wi-Fi antennas;
  • PS/2 connector for keyboard or mouse;
  • Two USB 3.0 ports (blue connectors) implemented via VIA VL800 controller, which also provides an internal pin-connector for two more USB 3.0 ports;
  • Two local network ports (network adapters are built on Gigabit Realtek RTL8111E controllers);
  • Mini-DisplayPort and two HDMI video outs;
  • Optical S/PDIF, and five analogue audio-jacks provided by eight-channel Realtek ALC892 codec.

I have never seen two Gigabit networks controllers on a tiny mini-ITX mainboard! But do not forget that besides them, there is also a wireless 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi module – AzureWave AR5B95. Another unique feature of this mainboard is that besides a PCI Express 2.0 x16 slot for an add-on graphics accelerator, it also has a combination slot that can accommodate a mini-PCI Express or an mSATA card, depending on the switch position.

Unbelievable, but I even found a COM port! The board is also equipped with two four-pin fan connectors that allow adjusting their rotation speed as necessary.

I was completely blown away by the superior functionality of the small Zotac Z68-ITX WiFi mainboard, which you don’t often see even on some full-size products in bright boxes loaded with all sorts of logos.

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