VIA EPIA-M Platform

Author
Aron Schatz
Posted
March 2, 2003
Views
29125
Mini-ITX is a very small form factor. VIA tries to fit a multimedia system into a motherboard that is a bit bigger than a jewel case. The performance is another story, though.

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<B>Introduction</B>:

Since the first introduction of the Eden platform, I have always been intrigued by what the little mini-ITX system can do. Recently, VIA has launched their M series of EPIA board specifically target for multimedia applications such as streaming audo and dvd watching. This product remains a mystery, though. VIA can do so much better and hopefully they will with the C3-2 CPU. Read on.

<B>Box</B>:

<center>EPIA Box</center>

The reason everyone reads my reviews is because of this section right here. I'm not joking... (...,.....). Yeah, anyway, if you wanted to pick this buy this thing, you'd realize just how small it is. When I got it, I didn't really expect it to be THAT small, but I was surprised. Again, let's see what on the inside of the box.

<a href="http://www.viavpsd.com/product/epia_m_spec.jsp?motherboardId=81">Go here for the full specs on the motherboard</a>.

<B>Parts</B>:

<center>EPIA Parts</center>

Here we have all of the parts that came in my box. We've got a nice expanded port option bracket that gives an extra 2 USB 2.0 ports and 2 firewire ports. The manual is good, and VIA didn't skimp on the backplate nor the IDE cables. What they did skimp on was the driver CD! I was pretty pissed when I didn't get it, I really didn't want to waste a CDR just to get the network card working to get the rest of the drivers. I hope that everyone else got driver CDs though.

<center>EPIA Usb</center>

This is the bracket up close. I like how it gives you an extra 2 USB 2.0 ports as well as firewire. I don't have any firewire products, but I do have many USB things. I'm glad to see a 'multimedia' motherboard have enough ports for my devices.

<center>EPIA Board</center>

Here we have the board in all its tiny splender. As you can see, there is a bunch of stuff going on with this board in such a tight area. The thing with the fan on it is the embedded 933Mhz C3 CPU. The other silver heatsink is on the northbridge. You get a single DDR Ram slot and a single PCI slot. The board has pretty much everything on it, which is a good and bad thing. The good side is that nothing is needed to make the system work, the bad thing is that most of the included stuff isn't 'mainstream' enough to be really practical. You still have the standard dual IDE ports and a single floppy connection. There are a bunch of extra headers for USB and firewire on the board, which you'll use for the extra bracket. This board is basically all VIA, except for the LAN.

<center>EPIA Ports</center>

You get an impressive array of ports to do what you like with. Lan, video, S-video out, TV out, sound, 2 USB 2.0, and the normal dual PS/2 ports. A parrallel and serial ports are also included. That's more ports than you see on full sized boards.

<center>EPIA Pepsi EPIA uATX</center>

Here we have a size comparison of the boards. The first one is with a can of Diet Pepsi, which I drank right after. And the next one is with a normal Micro ATX board. The EPIA even dwarfs the uATX board.

That's what the parts have to offer, so let's get down to the testing.
Page 2
<B>Testing</B>:

<center>EPIA Testing</center>

Here is my little test setup, the components are pretty standard. If you didn't know already, this unit is no speed demon at all. I testing alot more than just raw speed to really get a feel for what the board can do.

<B>Synthetic tests</B>:

<center>EPIA 3Dmark</center>

A nice 409 3Dmarks using a 32MB frame buffer, you can go up to 64MB, but it made no difference (I got 408 with it). There is the problem with this board, the integrated graphics are horrible for 3D. That leaves gaming out unless you hook this thing up with a good PCI video card, remember, no AGP slot here.

<center>EPIA CPU Arithmetic</center>

Performance in arithmetic scores put it at around a P2 350, pretty sad for a 933Mhz, 133Mhz FSB, CPU. After this, I actually thought of the board as being an embedded solution, it gives you enough performance for the space... I guess.

<center>EPIA CPU Multimedia</center>

The multimedia scores are better only because the CPU can do 3DNow!, and AMD instruction set. Even so, a K6-3 450 is a bit faster, only because the floating point of the C3 is bad. Again, we aren't really looking for a speed king here.

<center>EPIA Cache

EPIA Memory</center>

Here is another huge problem with the board. The internal cache speed of the CPU is very slow. Beyond that, the DDR Memory support is wasted totally on this CPU. Answer me this, how can you pair up DDR Ram with a SDR CPU? Yeah, that's what I thought. The CPU is the bottleneck in this system for the memory subsystem.

<B>Other Testing</B>:

I wanted to test more than just the normal slew of benchmarking, so I loading up some MP3s. A normal good bitrate MP3 will take around 10% CPU utilization, which is pretty high, but fine for this type of system. It didn't strain playing it at all. I also loaded up a DVD movie, which didn't sweat it at all given the fact that it has a hardware MPEG 2 decoder chip. Divx also played fine, running at 40% utilization. While this system may not have as much beef as a large one, you can still do browsing and mutlimedia functions with it. I also tried the TV out of the board on my TV. It works fine, but once the BIOS hands over control to the OS, you'll lose the picture, which is annoying if you only have a TV. You'll need to set the TV mode in the drivers before hand. The sound is 6 channels (5.1), but I couldn't test that, I only have 2.1 setups.

<B>Conclusion</B>:

This platform is a mixed bag. It is perfect if you need an extremely quiet solution and not a bunch of speed. When I say quiet, the CPU fan is BEARLY noticeable. And I had it opened up on the table. This board is not for people that want to do CPU intestive tasks, no gaming will be on this system. If you want a good, small multimedia board, this baby will fit the niche just fine. Just make sure you know what it can and can't do. The big this is the small size, you can make some unique system setups with it, and I hope to do that soon... (Actually, smartass will) It costs around $140 from various vendors.

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