We won't say that the mini-ITX board that held the dual-core Atom 330 fits perfectly on our palm, but it was quite close. Not that we were overly impressed since the Zotac GeForce 9300-ITX WiFi that we saw recently could do the same and with a more modern and complete feature set to say the least. For instance, there's only one DIMM slot on this Intel board compared to two on the Zotac.
While we understand that the Intel D945GCLF2 kit is catered more for the OEM business, we can't help but to compare against a somewhat equivalent retail solution. Of course both products are targeted at different price points and there's always a tradeoff with feature creep equating to higher costs. We'll discuss more on this point later in the article.
Unlike the Zotac, this Intel mini-ITX motherboard is based on the familiar 945GC chipset, with a ICH7 Southbridge that provides for its two SATA 3.0Gbps ports and an IDE interface. This combination has proved to be adequate at simple computing tasks like office productivity applications, basic photo editing, browsing the Internet and checking emails.
But as we had experienced with numerous entry level notebooks, the Intel integrated graphics on board this chipset, the GMA 950, is far from being a speed demon. That puts most games and smooth high definition video playback off the menu. Does the presence of a dual-core Intel Atom help to alleviate this issue?
That's something which we intend to find out during the course of our testing. Before that, what's so different with the dual-core Atom 330 from the more common single core N270 preferred by notebook vendors? As it turns out, it's just like having another CPU core. The L2 cache gets doubled to 1MB from 512KB, but the CPU frequency remains at 1.6GHz. The front side bus frequency too is the same, as is the HyperThreading feature found on most Atom processors. So it's effectively like sticking an Atom N270 besides another on a package and calling it a day.
For those concerned with the power draw however, the Atom 330 is rated at 8W TDP, roughly twice that of its single-core Atom 230 model (used in nettops). That's however still a bit higher than the Atom N270 (rated at 2.5W maximum TDP) used for the sub-notebook category.
Probably as a result of its older chipset, the Intel D945GCLF2 motherboard kit has quite the support for older technologies like serial and parallel ports. None of the newer video output formats like HDMI or even Component are found. An S-Video output means you can connect it directly to most televisions. HD audio is present in the form of the older Realtek ALC662 chip, which only supports up to 5.1 channels.
With the exception of a slightly noisier fan, we can't say that this mini-ITX board gets anything wrong. No doubt the features may be older or less than what we would have liked but from the quantity of USB and SATA ports to the Gigabit LAN controller, this kit is exactly what it claims to be: a small, low-cost, self contained system.