What about VIA?Currently Pingu is running quietly and efficiently on a VIA EPIA LN10000EG mini-itx fanless motherboard. I tend to plug in a quiet case fan in the summer months, but the rest of the time the only fan running is in the 1U compact power supply ( which I swapped out for a quiet version sourced from QuietPC ). It sits inconspicuously on the floor in the lounge and needs to remain as silent as possible. So it made sense to start the search for a new fanless system board with VIA.
I've always been a fan of the mini-itx.com site, both for its news articles and its fine (if slightly pricey) store. But these days there's no sign of the humble VIA series of systemboards, it's mostly full-on desktop machines (for socket 1150 cpus) or one of the many flavours of intel Atom board. Certainly there's not much that runs fanless with more than two SATA sockets, or has IDE (don't laugh) sockets.
I checked next on LinITX (which is my alternative source for Pingu upgrade parts) and did at least find they stocked the VIA VE-900 1.4GHz Nano X2, but at 1.4Ghz I didn't feel is was much of a step-up from my 1Ghz C7 (nor would it make those "Can't keep up" errors go away),... and with only two SATA's was a deal-killer.
That left me with a real dilemma,.. I had to learn about the opposition
Splitting the ATOMNaturally Intel's offering was the next place to start looking (they are well known for power saving features in their latest chips) but with all those model numbers I really didnt know where to start. I knew that the minecraft server couldn't use dual cores, and that I needed something running at about 2.5Ghz to really do it justice, so it was looking unlikely that an atom powered board would do a great job. But you could at least get fanless systems at the lower end of the spectrum and it would be better than the VE-900. I was starting to think that my requirements were way too ambitious!
Not wanting to make any hasty decisions, I decided to sleep on it.
Is Ebuyer Reading my Mind?The next day I received one of the weekly special offer emails from ebuyer and amongst the usual dross of cheap laptops, portable disks and remote control helicopters they had a Gigabyte E350N dual core mini-itx board for about 45 quid. Initially I dismissed it, but on reflection I figured it was such a good price that I should at least investigate it. Mini-itx.com were stocking them in their store so it couldn't be rubbish and then I found a few good reviews:
I'd never heard of an APU before but if you read between the lines of AMD's advertising blurb it's a low power dual core cpu + gpu. It certainly looked very interesting (1.6Ghz processor with integrated AMD Radeon HD 6310 and four sata ports) but it still wasn't quite powerful enough, and more importantly is used too much power on idle. It could at least be under-clocked and being only a 18 watt TDP design you could just about run it with the cpu fan unplugged.
It was something to think about, but it wasn't shouting "BUY ME!"
Time to be IDLETom's Hardware article and the reader comments highlighted the fact that even when doing nothing these boards were using 33 watts of power. So the CPU might be efficient, but the system board had supporting chips and circuits that were far from sipping the power. I wasn't surprised to read that Atom boards also had this problem. One by one the doors were closing!
By now I was pretty hacked off, and after reading that an intel i3 board could use less power under idle than an Atom one I decided to forget all-in-one boards and concentrate my search in that area.
Here's were I stumbled into my biggest gripe with tech articles on the web!!.. how many times do you get most of the way through (thinking that you've just gained some really useful information) just to find out that it was written in 2009? It got to the stage that I wouldn't commit to reading anything unless I could find a date. And then anything older than a year would also be discarded.
So I spent a few more days procrastinating and bumbling from technical review to review, filling my lunch times and evenings with endless google searches. The more I searched, the more uncertain about what to buy I became. This was getting hopeless!