One of the most recent examples of PCs leaving its image of the big beige box is the HTPC (Home Theater Personal Computer), which is essentially a computer dedicated to manage living room entertainment. Before the HTPC, the TV, hi-fi system, VCR, gaming console, DVD player and various other home entertainment devices, all acted alone. The HTPC should not only be able to simplify things but it can also improve the experience with vast amounts of storage, versatility, and loads of power. The biggest challenge set for the HTPC then is to blend and be able to fit in with the rest of your home entertainment devices.
The form factor for a HTPC is somewhat of a concern, as a standard ATX system is obviously going to be quite large; several times bigger than even the biggest standalone DVD players. For those building an affordable HTPC, the microATX format makes the most sense, as motherboards are cheap and can support Intel or AMD processors. There are however even smaller, less conventional motherboard formats available. Enter the Mini-ITX form-factor, measuring just 17x17cm (versus microATX's 24x24). This format was created by VIA Technologies in 2001, and was designed to be passively cooled using low power consumption chipset architectures.
Almost 6 years later however, the Mini-ITX has failed to crack the mainstream market for a couple of good reasons... The large majority of Mini-ITX motherboards are VIA built boards featuring their own chipsets and processors. While these Mini-ITX systems consume very little power and produce very little heat, they are also incredibly slow by today's system standards. Furthermore, specialized Mini-ITX cases are also typically quite expensive, as manufacturers are not shipping significant volumes of them. So in a nutshell, the Mini-ITX may be small, but they are usually grossly overpriced, slow and availability of certain parts is also quite bad.
Currently the cream of the crop in the Mini-ITX world is the VIA EPIA-EN15000G featuring a 1.5GHz VIA C7 nanoBGA2 Embedded Processor. This board and processor combo costs roughly $240. The board supports six USB 2.0 ports, two SATA150 ports and a single 10/100 LAN controller. So all in all, the EPIA-EN15000G is fairly well equipped for a motherboard that leaves a tiny 17cm x 17cm footprint. However, given the limited performance abilities of this option I would personally give it a miss.
But my dream of owning a powerful Mini-ITX computer is still alive thanks to motherboard maker Albatron. They have taken a 17cm x 17cm piece of PCB board and slapped a Socket 754 connector onto it, four SATA300 ports, support for eight USB 2.0 ports, dual LAN controllers including a Gigabit LAN port along with many other essential features. Utilizing the Nvidia GeForce 6150 chipset allows the Albatron KI51PV-754 to support VGA and DVI out. Unfortunately, there are some obvious limitations to the KI51PV-754 such as its processor, memory and add-in graphics card support. Furthermore, the KI51PV-754 is also very expensive, retailing for an incredible $310.
Lets find out if the KI51PV-754 can overcome these issues...