Intel ATOM 230 versus VIA Nano L2100 – Battle of the Mini-ITX Platforms

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The Via Nano Reference Motherboard

To test the new VIA Nano processor, we received a mini-ITX reference platform from the folks at VIA Technologies that was originally designed for the C7 core. The board is pin-compatible with the C7 and the Nano, so VIA was able to update the BIOS and use the existing board. The motherboard says EPIA-SN on it, but VIA told us to ignore that and just refer to it as a reference platform so no one gets confused down the road.

VIA Nano EPIA-SN

Unlike the Intel BOXD945GCLF motherboard there is only one power connection on the VIA Nano reference motherboard – a 20-pin ATX power connector. I used a 24-pin power supply connector on this board as well and it worked with no problems at all, so you don’t have to have a 20-pin power supply to get it running. The large active cooled heatsink is used to cool both the VIA CN896 north bridge chip and the VIA Nano processor. Our test system uses the Nano L2100 processor which operates at 1.8 GHz on an 800 MHz front-side bus with a max TDP of 25 watts. The board features two 667MHz DDR2 DIMM slots, but they are only operate in single channel.

VIA Nano EPIA-SN

The rear I/O  connections on the VIA reference board include the standard PS/2 connections, four USB 2.0 ports, serial output, dual NICs and VGA output to use in conjunction with the integrated S3 graphics core on the north bridge. The audio connections are further down to the right and supports 6-channels thanks to the VIA Vinyl software.  

VIA Nano EPIA-SN

For a mini-ITX motherboard this reference board packs some serious muscle that the Intel BOXD945GCLF can’t come close to touching. For starters there are two 667MHz DDR2 DIMM slots and four SATA headers, which is double the number that the Intel BOXD945GCLF motherboard has to offer. The board also features a single PCI Express x16 slot for graphics or any other add-in PCIe based card. This is nice and will allow for discrete graphics to easily be added if one wants to go that route.  Just to the right of the four SATA headers is the CMOS battery, CMOS clear jumper and a removable CMOS chip. The small passive heatsink to the left of the SATA headers is for the VIA 82375 south bridge that is located underneath.

VIA Nano EPIA-SN

Flipping the motherboard over we have some interesting integrated slots that are worth talking about. One slot is a mini-PC slot and the other is for a CompactFlash memory card. As you can see from the image above I placed a Kingston Ultimate 8GB CompactFlash module in the integrated CompactFlash slot. This CompactFlash slot can be used like a solid-state drive of sorts and is bootable. With CompactFlash cards with densities of 32GB for under $100 this is something that will appeal to many.

VIA Nano EPIA-SN

Here is the money shot with the VIA CN896 north bridge chip and the VIA Nano L2100 processor sitting next to a US Quarter to give you an idea how big they are. As you can see the VIA Nano L2100 processor has a much larger die than the Intel Atom 230 processor that we saw next to a quarter on the previous page. The VIA CN896 chipset is the largest chipset on the board and handles the integrated graphics since it contains the Chrome9 HC graphics, which supports the Microsoft DX9 feature set.

The current VIA EPIA SN Mini-ITX board with VIA Nano processor will never be commercially available as it is a reference platform, which is only being made available to media for testing purposes. For this reason we will not be taking a look at the BIOS.

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