Friday, February 24, 2012

VIA EPIA motherboards: Quad-core solution in mini-ITX form factor

Remember VIA? The only other company that provides x86-compatible microprocessors and platforms except Intel and AMD? Yes, although VIA is no longer considered to be a force in the mainstream PC (desktop/laptop) arena, it has managed to survive in other market segments like the embedded devices. Many tend to forget that the viability of x86 based solutions extends beyond performance computing and that there is large market of industry specific devices, namely- digital signage, kiosk, sales automation and media application devices etc. VIA is a major player in this market and delivers efficient, affordable products. VIA technology's latest offerings are two new mini-ITX mainboards, named EPIA-M900 and EPIA-M910 respectively, which are additions to the already existing EPIA series of mainboards. Mini-ITX is an Interesting choice for form factor as this is not your usual ATX or micro-ATX motherboard, but looking at the targeted market of embedded sectors- this pretty much makes sense. More interestingly VIA offers a choice of combining its own quad-core E-series processors, which scale up to 1.46+ GHz and have 4MB L2 cache, with these boards.

These new motherboard-CPU combo comes with VIA VX900H Media System Processor which seems to have enough graphics horsepower to meet today's requirements such as running HD videos. Features like on board HDMI and VGA ports, dual gigabit LAN/Ethernet, hardware media acceleration are all present too along with enough USB 2.0 (eight in total) ports. These boards supports up to 8GB DDR3 RAM and also come with a PCIe x16 slot for add-on cards. So from a feature point of view, this platform seems to be quite foolproof, at least for the purpose it's assigned to.
The strength of these new solutions lies in their efficiency and compactness. The embedded sector is all about energy efficiency and performance comes second here, unlike the mainstream market. The mini ITX form factor would help reduce the overall size of the systems built on these new motherboards while the quad-core CPU should provide enough processing power. As a matter of fact, some experts believe a quadcore would be overkill for some applications, but in that case VIA has a dual-core variant of its Nano CPU to offer. The TDP rating of 27.5W also complements the energy efficiency of this new platform.

Overall these are very good products, it seems. Efficient, compact and feature laden - these CPU/Mainboard combos should be good choice for aforementioned embedded uses. Even an HTPC is not out of question! From my personal experience, it is not always easy to get a VIA based system- availability being the issue most of the time, but on general VIA makes very reliable CPUs and hopefully would carry on doing so.

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