Hands on with VIA’s new quad core mini-ITX motherboard
All the way back in May of last year, VIA announced its first quad core CPU, simply named QuadCore which was known as the L4700. Now the company has announced its first mini-ITX motherboards based on its QuadCore processor, albeit this time we’re talking about an E-series – or embedded series – processor on the new EPIA-M900 and EPIA-M910 motherboards.
All the way back in May of last year, VIA announced its first quad core CPU, simply named QuadCore which was known as the L4700. Now the company has announced its first mini-ITX motherboards based on its QuadCore processor, albeit this time we're talking about an E-series – or embedded series – processor on the new EPIA-M900 and EPIA-M910 motherboards.
VR-Zone got a quick hands on with the EPIA-M900 the other day which features a slightly different design than your average mini-ITX motherboard by offering a pair of expansion slots while maintaining the 170x170mm form factor. But more on that a little bit later, let's take a look at the new QuadCore processors first, as VIA has three new models.
First up we have the U4650E which can be passively cooled despite its fairly high 18W TDP. It's clocked at a mere 1GHz, but has a turbo mode that takes it to 1.2GHz. Each CPU core has 1MB of L2 cache and the processor has a bus speed of 800MHz. Next up is the L4700E, a 1.2GHz part with a turbo mode that takes it to 1.46GHz. This was in fact the model we were shown by via and although not recommended unless the chassis airflow is good, even this model can be passively cooled despite its 27.5W TDP. Lastly we have the L4800E, a 1.46GHz part that will operate at 1.6GHz in turbo mode, but here we have a TDP of 45W which is as much as Intel's quad core mobile processors. The L4700E and L4800E both operate at a bus speed of 1066MHz.
As for the new motherboards, the EPIA-M900 will be available with the U4650E or the L4700E, whereas the EPIA-M900 will only be available with the U4650E. The EPIA-M900 sports as we mentioned a pair of expansion slots, namely a x16 PCI Express slot – with eight lanes of bandwidth – and a PCI slot. The problem here is that you wouldn't be able to use the PCI Express slot in a regular mini-ITX chassis which is a shame. The board also has two SO-DIMM slots, two SATA ports, headers for four USB 2.0 ports and three serial ports. Around the back things are pretty basic with four USB 2.0 ports, a serial port, Gigabit Ethernet, three jacks for 5.1-channel audio, an HDMI port and a D-sub connector.
As for the EPIA-M910, we're looking at a fairly different board design, as here we're talking about a board that can run of a 12V power supply, although a SKU with a standard ATX power connector is also available. VIA decided to go with a pair of standard DIMMs for this board and it also has a typical industrial PC style expansion slot layout with a PCI Express x1 slot located right behind the PCI slot to allow for a riser card to be use with both expansion slots. Here we also find LVDS connectors, support for six serial ports via pin-headers and various other connectors used in the embedded motherboard market. Around the back the EPIA-M910 has another pair of serial ports, four USB 2.0 ports, a pair of Gigabit Ethernet ports, three jacks for 5.1-channel audio, a pair of PS/2 ports and an HDMI and D-sub connector.
The EPIA-M900 can also be equipped with an S3 graphics card as per the one we were demoed and this allows for up to four 1080p displays to be connected. The system could even handle four 1080p video streams simultaneously, although this did slow down the system to a crawl, but at least the videos appeared to play just fine without any stuttering. From a consumer perspective neither board is all that interesting, but at least it goes to show that VIA is still busy making use of its x86 license. What VIA serious needs is a node shrink on its processors to something like 32 or 28nm as this would help to reduce the TDP radically. In our opinion the 45W TDP part just isn't competitive and in as much as VIA offers a low power quad core solution, the 1.46GHz model isn't likely to be the most popular alternative for VIA's partners.