The DIY Zotac Ion Motherboard Kit

The Zotac Ion

The Zotac Ion

Since we have covered the NVIDIA Ion and its chipset in some detail, we won't be repeating that. You can read about it in our related articles links below. The Zotac Ion motherboard is exactly like that and comes with a dual-core Intel Atom 330 processor in our case. The single core variant is naturally supported, but that's sold as another model since Atom processors aren't seated on ZIF or LGA sockets and are in fact soldered on the board.

Video outputs are as generous as the other Ion machines we have seen, from analog output to DVI to HDMI, making it highly suited for home theater PC setups, as NVIDIA has intended. The graphics memory is shared with the system and one can allocate up to 512MB of frame buffer. Again, nothing new here.

The Zotac comes with a rear I/O panel to be proud of. Optical, coaxial S/PDIF, three different video outputs, eSATA, Gigabit LAN and even a wireless antenna (the red covered bit). The only compromise is probably in the audio jacks, which is not a big deal given the digital audio options. A DC-in completes the setup.

It has two DIMM slots supporting up to DDR2-800 memory in dual channel mode, though the system FSB tops out at 533MHz due to the Atom processor. Thanks to the two slots, 4GB of memory is supported, so a 64-bit operating system is viable too.

However what's different from normal motherboard kits is that the Zotac Ion uses an external DC adaptor for power (provided in the package) and there are no ATX power connectors on board. Thus there should be no power supply installation issues even if you adopt an extremely slim chassis.

Our passive version of the Zotac Ion came with a huge one-piece heatsink that covers both the processor and the chipset. The temperature was measured at around 58 degrees Celsius at peak. The two DIMM slots also support up to 4GB of DDR2-800 memory. Meanwhile, the white DC power visible on the right is used to power the SATA devices (e.g. hard drives).

A WiFi module from AzureWave takes up the single mini PCI Express slot for wireless connectivity, a rather important requirement for this class of devices. The Zotac also supports up to three SATA 3.0Gbps ports, with an additional eSATA at the rear.

There's room for three SATA ports, not including the eSATA port at the rear I/O panel. All SATA ports are 3.0Gbps capable and since the board has no IDE capabilities, you may end up using one of the SATA ports for an optical drive. The board also has options for a Gigabit Ethernet and a wireless connection (via a WiFi module installed in the Mini PCI Express slot) and in our review unit, both options are present.

Since we didn't have a SATA optical drive at hand, we wished that there had been an IDE connector here but of course, it's just where the power connector would have been if not for the external 90W power adapter included.

As one would expect from such a small mini-ITX board, there are no expansion options besides the mini PCI Express slot and the onboard SATA ports. HD audio is covered by the usual Realtek HD audio CODEC, with NVIDIA's chipset having support for lossless HD audio streams through HDMI (LPCM audio support). If you choose that option, you'll need to install the appropriate driver found on the Zotac driver CD and configure that in the operating system's audio controls.

An external 90W power adapter is included (rated at 19V) so that one can fit this mini-ITX board in any fashion of slim chassis without due concern about the power supply.

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