It's been three years since we last exclusively reviewed a Mini-ITX motherboard. We examined the single-core Intel Atom 230-based Gigabyte GC230D in September 2008 and before that, it was the Socket 754-toting Albatron KI51PV-754 in October 2006. Needless to say, the market has changed substantially in that time. Hell, Albatron doesn't even sell motherboards anymore.
The Mini-ITX form factor was developed by VIA in 2001 to promote its C3 processor, but technology has come a long way in the last decade. CPUs are smaller, cooler, and faster than ever before, and desktop chassis makers have embraced the ultra-compact market. Through such advancements, the Mini-ITX platform is no longer limited to anemic low-end solutions.
Today we're looking at a new breed of Mini-ITX motherboards from Asrock called the Z68M-ITX/HT and A75M-ITX. The former is an Intel Z68 board that supports Intel's second-generation Core processors (Sandy Bridge), while the latter utilizes AMD A75's chipset to support Socket FM1 processors, namely the new Fusion A-series desktop APUs.
Both boards are affordable at $120 and $95, yet they seem like a suitable foundation for an entry-level enthusiast machine or HTPC. The A75M-ITX can be armed with the $140 AMD A8-3850 or the $120 A6-3650 -- we chose the former for testing.
The LGA1155 platform is much more developed, so the Z68M-ITX/HT motherboard can be paired with a broader selection of processors. The Core i3 family starts at $125 for the i3-2100 or $140 for the i3-2120, while the Core i5 spans from $185 to $210 and the i7s are $300 to $315.
In addition to comparing Asrock's boards, we thought we'd spice things up by selecting Intel's $140 Core i3. In other words, this review will also serve as a comparison for the Core i3-2120 and AMD's A8-3850. Let's move on then.