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Via Launches a New Mini-ITX System 162

Posted by timothy
from the no-kiddin'-why-back-in-the-day dept.
primesuspect writes "Coming in close to the 10th anniversary of the format and billed as a 'motherboard for digital home media DIY enthusiasts,' VIA have paired their Nano X2 1.4ghz dual-core CPU with their VX900 chipset to produce an intriguing addition to their mini-ITX lineup." Mini-ITX, to my pleasure, has never gone completely away: witness the (slow, but not stopped) flow of news at Mini-ITX.com.
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Via Launches a New Mini-ITX System

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  • What chipset problems have already been identified? What else is likely to go wrong?

    I keep thinking of building a "media center[sic]" computer with TV card but there always seems to be some horrible flaw in any setup I consider. Is there an exception yet?

    • by owlstead (636356)

      Maybe because you responded so fast, but as long as you don't show a list of features you require, you are not going to get much useful response.

      They have just brought this one to the market, it is unlikely to feature a full set of bugs. That said, the VIA chipsets have always had quite a strong feature set. It amazed me that the Atom boards did trash the VIA EPIA in sales. The VIA EPIA chipset especially was way way way better than what the Intel chipsets had to offer (and then came nVidia, of course.)

      The

      • by billcopc (196330)

        Atom trashed EPIA because it was:

        1. cheaper
        2. faster
        3. properly supported by the manufacturer

        My first and immediate thought upon reading the title was "why would VIA even bother in a post-Atom world ?". If I want a cheap build, I go with a standard Intel Atom board. If I want rich features, I spring an extra $50 for an ION board. VIA's offering probably sits somewhere in-between, but given the company's history, they would practically have to give them away for me to even look twice.

        • Re:VIA? fantastic! (Score:5, Interesting)

          by hairyfeet (841228) <bassbeast1968.gmail@com> on Monday November 14, 2011 @11:22PM (#38055544) Journal

          Uhhh...dude? Why would you go with Atom when you can have a Brazos board for the same price and have a BETTER CPU and GPU? i've have built a few brazos HTPCs as well as sold Brazos netbooks and all in ones (I was so impressed with the netbooks I sold my MSI Wind and got a EEE Brazos for myself) and frankly Brazos stomps the living shit out of Atom.

          With atom you are limited to 2Gb whereas Brazos will take 8Gb (great for video buffering BTW, watching HD video with 8Gb on my netbook is sweet!) and Intel still hasn't made a decent GPU for Atom and cut their noses off to spite their face by cutting out nvidia from making new ION whereas with Brazos you have a Radeon HD6250 built in that accelerates ALL the major formats including DivX and flash as well as H.26x, max wattage is only 18w for the dual core 1.6GHz so no real need for fans and the Brazos is an out of order CPU instead of the crappy in order you get with Atom.

          So if you were building an HTPC while saddle it with a craptastic Atom when you can get a nice brazos board for $80 after rebate [tigerdirect.com] and it even comes with a PCIe X16 in case you want more performance later or want to go hybrid crossfire.

          I have to agree on Via though, never have seen their drivers be anything but flaky and their boards iffy. they just don't seem to be well engineered and tend to screw up more, at least from what I've seen.

          • by rev0lt (1950662)
            Most modern atom boards do support 4G of ram, while you're right about better performance, it comes at a price - requires active cooling (haven't seen a cheap board without it), and the cpu has a higher TDP - in fact, if you do need performance, you get a better deal (performance per watt) with an intel core i3. I agree that the GPU is somewhat crappy, but many atom applications are business-oriented and not consumer oriented. No need for divx on a POS or on a gateway. Btw, I do have a single-core atom (210
            • by hairyfeet (841228)

              While your points are valid, the discussion was on HTPCs NOT office boxes so hardware acceleration is VERY much a point in this case. BTW they do have a completely passive Brazos board on the same site for a whole $20 more after MIR but since we are talking about an HTPC I didn't think a single mini fan was really gonna matter. I can tell you that fan is probably the same size as the one on my EEE and even with only one earbud in and watching HD video honestly I can't hear the thing over ambient sounds in t

    • Re:VIA? fantastic! (Score:5, Interesting)

      by vlm (69642) on Monday November 14, 2011 @05:16PM (#38052510)

      What chipset problems have already been identified? What else is likely to go wrong?

      I keep thinking of building a "media center[sic]" computer with TV card but there always seems to be some horrible flaw in any setup I consider. Is there an exception yet?

      I'm guessing the VIA failmode is it doesn't support VDPAU. VDPAU offloads video codec decoding to the video card, so probably a pentium-75 could play 1080p as long as its got a good enough card.

      Get a zotac zbox with nvidia onboard card. Talk about a boring install, compared to ye olden days. Open the box, stick in a small silent SSD (I'm using less than 4 gigs at this time). I believe I stuck 2 gigs ram in there too. Set up for Debian netboot, which in my case was enable ethernet boot on the zbox, add it's mac to DHCP and friends, boot and install plain vanilla Debian. Reconfigure the zbox to stop netbooting and boot off its internal drive. Install NVIDIA drivers, add the debian multimedia repository, apt-get install the stuff you need for a mythtv FE, modify the files necessary to auto-log-you-in-and-dump-you-into-mythtv and you're done. Configure mythtv in "config" "setup" "tv" and have it use vdpau for all playback. I believe I burned about two hours on it from cutting the cardboard box open to watching TV recordings. It helps that I've automated all the system-wide config work in Puppet, I had to manually install the nvidia drivers but stuff like my ratpoison and autologin and all that was all handled by the Puppet. This was circa 6 months ago times may have changed.

      • by vlm (69642)

        Oh I forgot a step, ssh in remotely and "alsamixer" to turn the volume up on the PCM and main / front / whatever audio output. I'm using SPDIF optical out and outta the box that was muted. No problemo, turn it on in alsamixer, and configure mythtv I think in the "general" menu to output sound out the spdif.

        I found if I enable "upconversion" to 5.1 sound the upconverter gets wildly freaked out probably for about 5 seconds every hour, just enough to really annoy me, so I don't upconvert.

      • I'm guessing the VIA failmode is it doesn't support VDPAU. VDPAU offloads video codec decoding to the video card, so probably a pentium-75 could play 1080p as long as its got a good enough card.

        No NVIDIA GPU, but it does have this (FTA):

        ...and the VX900 “Media System Processor” features the ChromotionHD 2.0 video engine, offering hardware acceleration for VC1, H.264, MPEG-2 and WMV9 HD formats at up to 1080p.

        Not sure what the state of that chipset being supported in Linux is, though.

        • by vlm (69642)

          Not sure what the state of that chipset being supported in Linux is, though.

          Also not "just" linux but the unique intersection of the driver, the kernel, the OS install, the mythtv distribution...

          I donno if "VX900 .... ChromotionHD 2.0 video engine" is old and common enough that even Debian Stable works with it, or if you're going to be compiling.

          There is a wide range from "install stable and it just works" to "welcome to kernel level debugging" although both are theoretically "linux supported"

          • By "supported in Linux", I mean there exists a kernel driver for it (whether it's built-in, or you'd have to roll your own kernel to include support for it). Once you're at that point, I'm sure it's somewhat trivial for the developers of XBMC, MythTV, etc to include support for it.
            • by jedidiah (1196)

              Supported by Linux? Does it even work well enough in Windows that those guys would be interested in using it. Otherwise, really robust Linux support is kind of a moot point. If it can't deliver, then it doesn't matter really.

            • There are varying degrees of support. 2D works? 3D works? Video decoding offload works? Audio over HDMI works? In the past, Via has claimed 'support' meaning 2D worked, half of the other features worked but may cause kernel panics, the other half didn't work at all.
      • Not only does it not support VDPAU. But is that a PCI slot I see?

        DDR3, 2 sata ports and a PCI SLOT! WTF is wrong with you.

      • Get a zotac zbox with nvidia onboard card.

        Yawn... yeah, wake me up when someone finally starts selling the pico-ITX nVidia ION reference design
        http://www.anandtech.com/print/2688 [anandtech.com]

        I did replace my tower Linux server with one of those Zotac mini-ITX IONs in a shoebox PC last year. Thanks to the GPU, I can even use it to do some light web browsing, and view videos like you say.

        Too bad Intel dorked up ION2, with the 1x PCIe GPU bottleneck.

        I've played with the fit-PC too, but with the crap Intel GPU with proprietary driver binary blobs, it's pretty usel

        • by wagnerrp (1305589)
          To be fair, Intel's graphics drivers are all open source. The fit-PCs use a PowerVR graphics core, rebranded as a GMA500.
      • by hairyfeet (841228)

        If that is boring I'd hate to see the interesting!

        Here is how easy it is to setup an an HTPC in Windows 7 HP. Step 1.-Install Win 7 HP, the worst question it'll ask you is whether you are at home or at work, not a problem. Step 2.-(Optional) You can install the graphics drivers if you wish to be fiddly or tweak, otherwise the ones from Windows Update work just fine, as do the drivers for everything else. Step 3.- Fire up Windows Media Center, enable Internet TV (Optional) otherwise just answer a couple of q

    • by Lumpy (12016)

      If you get a nano ITX board with an ion chipset you will be fine if you use a good Media Center OS like linux+XBMC. if you are looking at a bloated setup that runs windows 7, then you need a lot more horsepower.

      But I have a 15 watt setup that is fanless and as small as a Generation 1 AppleTV that plays 1080p with HDMI out and toslink to the stereo so I get 7.1 audio. I run XBMC live and it boots in 6 seconds with a SSD for the boot drive.

    • by hairyfeet (841228)
      Try the new AMD Brazos chips, I've built a few using Brazos board and they make really nice low power HTPCs. The only thing it won't excel at is transcoding but if you are actually transcoding on an HTPC you shouldn't be using the mini boards as you'll need a larger case to deal with the heat.
  • Excess ports (Score:2, Insightful)

    It looks good, but it would be nice to see the legacy ports ditched (serial, PS2 and VGA) and focus on current connectors. It would be nice to see display port or mini display port on there.

    • by slaker (53818)

      RS232 is still handy for some home AV applications. Older TVs and projectors are more likely to have VGA than either DVI or HDMI, and I don't see a problem with a dedicated port for a keyboard and mouse, especially given how common PS/2 devices are.

      • There are plenty of cheap adapters for ps2 and serial that work over USB. For those of us without weird needs, more USB ports would be welcome. HDMI and DVI with a VGA adapter would be useful.

        • by hairyfeet (841228)

          Haven't tried those USB to PS2 adapters have you? they suck, they really really REALLY suck. I have yet to find one that will actually work on both the keyboard and mouse, not for an older B&W G3 Mac I have sitting in the closet because my KVM is PS2, nor for those damned Dell cheapos that cross my desk that have USB only. Its gotten to the point I just hook the VGA to the KVM and keep a USB keyboard and mouse spare handy for dealing with the Dells.

          BTW OT but if anybody has managed to get a G3 to work

        • There are plenty of cheap adapters for ps2 and serial that work over USB.

          You mean sort of work, sometimes, if the wind's blowing in the right direction.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Telvin_3d (855514)

        especially given how common PS/2 devices are.

        How common they are? You can't even buy them anymore. They are not made. That you have boxes of them that you can't bring yourself to throw away does not make them common.

        • by slaker (53818)

          You can't? I buy them pretty regularly. If you build and sell systems, there's still a price premium for USB vs. PS/2 input devices. I'd rather buy a quality Logitech keyboard with a PS/2 plug on the end than some crappy generic that just happens to be USB. The sets I'm using these days have a PS/2 keyboard and a USB mouse and I think I pay under $75 for a box of 10 new ones.

        • by RyuuzakiTetsuya (195424) <taiki.cox@net> on Monday November 14, 2011 @06:35PM (#38053456)

          Can I mod +0? +1 for insightful and -1 for "Dick"?

      • by tlhIngan (30335)

        RS232 is still handy for some home AV applications

        Actually, it's handy for most high-end AV applications. Most of the AV switchers, high end AV receivers, and TVs and such have RS-232 inputs so they can be controlled by commands.

        The reason for this is so home-control systems like Crestons and such can control and set up the devices as necessary. So they have a boatload of RS-232 ports to control devices with.

        For lesser home theatres, you use a Harmony.

    • Please keep the vga or at least a dvi so and route a vga though that. A lot of people have older hdtv's without hdcp so vga is the best option for 1080i if you have to deal with drm.

      • by Ltap (1572175)
        The solution to that problem is to avoid DRM.
      • by wagnerrp (1305589)
        If you are using content with the ICT enabled, and a system that supports ICT, you're going to have the same quality issues with VGA as you would HDMI.
        • The only content I have the cares is wmc and the only reason I'm running that is for cablecard support with hd homerun prime. ICT seems to be a blueray thing, ripping bluerays is pretty straight forward, happens as soon as I put it in the drive. I've yet to find a good solution for loss less cable tv. They realy needed to keep that firewire requirement.

    • by vlm (69642)

      It would be nice to see the legacy ports ditched ... VGA) and focus on current connectors.

      Why? My less than a month old new 1080p high def monitor only has VGA input. No displayport or mini-displayport or DVI input. Well I guess I could try the HDMI input...

      • by wagnerrp (1305589)
        DVI ouptuts work just fine with HDMI inputs.
        • DVI ouptuts work just fine with HDMI inputs.

          Unless your TV's HDMI input doesn't have a corresponding analog audio input next to it. Fortunately, the HDMI 2 input on my 32" Vizio does have stereo audio in, for I guess precisely this reason.

          • by wagnerrp (1305589)
            Most televisions will accept analog audio from an HDMI input. The problem is that some TVs will not allow you manually manage this input, and will switch to it depending on whether the HDMI signal carries audio. Some DVI outputs are actually using HDMI capable TMDS transmitters, and potentially sending an empty audio stream to the TV over the DVI output. In the past, I have had to force-feed the nVidia X11 drivers a forged EDID block to make it think the television did not have audio capability, so it di
    • by naasking (94116)

      Seriously. Ditch the old computer ports and put in some composite and component video ports. Every motherboard for "media centers" lack these basic video connectors.

      • VGA is component. It's RGB and not YPbPr, but it's still component. It's been on every PC since the 1990s, and nowadays it's on every TV too. I guess they omit composite because the chipset would have to downscale everything to 480i, but there are $40 VGA-to-composite adapters on sewelldirect.com.
    • Re:Excess ports (Score:5, Informative)

      by LWATCDR (28044) on Monday November 14, 2011 @06:08PM (#38053134) Homepage Journal

      A lot of ITX stuff is used in industry.
      PS/2 KVMs are cheap and common as dirt. RS-232 can go much farther than USB and is also super common. Some machine tools still run DOS it is realtime and makes sense for some dedicated controllers and use the Centronics port to interface to hardware.

      Imagine that you have a perfectly good $20,000 CNC machine that has a blown controller.... Nice to have a simple pop in replacement. It is all about the market you are in. You still see RS-232, PS/2, and VGA on server motherboards a lot for the same reason.

      Actually the only thing I would rather see is the serial port be brought out to an internal header like the printer port is.
      Here is a link to how to build your own IR receiver to use with LIRC http://www.lirc.org/receivers.html [lirc.org]
      And one for transmitters as well http://www.lirc.org/transmitters.html [lirc.org]

      • Re:Excess ports (Score:4, Informative)

        by DesScorp (410532) <DesScorp@[ ]il.com ['Gma' in gap]> on Monday November 14, 2011 @07:00PM (#38053660) Homepage Journal

        You still see RS-232, PS/2, and VGA on server motherboards a lot for the same reason.

        We just put in a bunch of new equipment for airline shared use situations. Almost all the peripherals... keyboard, card swipers, boarding pass readers, printers, etc... run on serial connections. Even after all these years, RS-232 is the go-to connection for stuff that has to be up 24/7.As the vendor put it "Hey, it's a clean technology, it works, and airlines will keep using it until someone comes up with something better". You could say the same thing about VGA and PS2 connections. Businesses don't like change when it comes to their gear.

        • by bored (40072)

          Its the KISS principal (something that many people on this board fail to understand). RS232 is so simple the entire hardware/software interface can be implemented in a handful of gates, and a few dozen lines of code. Plus, the PC 8250 interfaces one of the few things you can actually depend on when the proverbial crap hits the fan. Both windows and linux kernel debuggers run over RS232. There have been numerous attempts at making ethernet, firewire, usb interfaces, but invariably they die and boring old RS2

      • If you dig down into the hardware, are those 232 ports actually implemented as a USB-232 converter?

        I was shocked that my Dell i5 came with a native DB-9 232 port on the MB - it looks like the real deal in the drivers section of Windows... I'm thrilled to have it, but shocked that Dell would spend the extra $0.15 for the DB-9 connector.

        • by yuhong (1378501)

          I see no reason it wouldn't be native, as all that legacy stuff is rolled into a single Super I/O chip connected to the LPC bus that is software compatible with the ISA bus and has been for a decade.

    • by mirix (1649853)

      So you're the bastard that's been taking away my serial port. argh.

  • Both the CPU and chipset are not socketed. If the CPU fails, you're out the entire board, unless you have truly l33t skills and equipment handy. That makes the motherboard an even bigger single point of failure.

    • Yes but at $89, that is cheaper to replace it twice in a few years than replace the chip in an AMD or Intel board.
      • Re:Not socketed (Score:4, Informative)

        by Rockoon (1252108) on Monday November 14, 2011 @07:42PM (#38054122)
        $85 AMD E-350 APU+MOBO, MINI ITX [newegg.com]

        So it looks like AMD offers comparable solutions. Intel probably not.
        • by CAIMLAS (41445)

          1) Foxconn branded equipment is some of the worst out there. I find this incredibly odd, since they make so much shit for other companies, you'd thinkt hey'd be able to steal something decent every now and then.
          2) I bought this board, as well as the Asus and Asrock variants. I've had nothing but problems with them in ways I've never seen before in Linux (crashing storage drivers, odd VT bugs). They have some of the absolute worst performance I've ever seen in Windows.
          3) The power budget on these isn't all t

    • by owlstead (636356)

      Yeah, I've got tons of those lying around here. All processor/chipset failures. Seriously, it would be more practical to put the high powered capacitors in sockets if you are worying about that kind of thing.

      There will be more processors that die because they were not connected properly to motherboards or fans than any other reason. And if it breaks, anybody but the real enthousiast will toss away the broken motherboard anyway.

    • by ledow (319597)

      Just what the hell do you do to destroy a low-power CPU in an embedded device and not take the motherboard with it?

      -- Someone who's managed many thousands of machines over the last 15 years and NEVER, repeat NEVER, had to replace a CPU on its own (whether for faults or upgrades). I can count the instances I've had to change a motherboard on my fingers, too, and mostly because of crappy capacitors and faulty external ports. And every time, it was age that killed it and it wasn't anywhere near practical to

      • by owlstead (636356)

        I posted a negative review as well, but there is one thing to be said about failing motherboards: most of the time the enclosures of mini-itx systems are of course tiny. So tiny that you must test the enclosure with the motherboard to see if it works. You can get new motherboards (if you are lucky, this is one of the few *new* ITX boards from VIA in a while), but there is a serious chance that it simply won't fit. And with ITX, the enclosure may be *more expensive* than the whole motherboard + CPU.

    • by slaker (53818)

      Most mini-ITX stuff is cheap enough to just toss if there's a problem. I have a few dual core Atom ITX systems out in the world. I paid $50 for the boards with CPU. Intel branded boards, even. There's nothing else with a reasonably current CPU available at that price point and if I bought one now I'm sure I'd get an incrementally faster Atom anyway. It's not worth getting bent out of shape.

      • by owlstead (636356)

        The problem with mini-itx is that you might have to literally bend something out of shape to fit the new board into the same slot that the old one occupied ;)

    • The whole board is $89! That is less than one would pay for a CPU alone a couple of years ago.
      So if a part of it breaks, you replace it with the cheap "motherboard of the day".
      ...and part of the reason for the low price is that the chips are not socketed.
    • by naasking (94116)

      The motherboard is always the point of failure in my experience. I've never wrecked a CPU. I suppose it's possible with overheating, but that's pretty much it.

      • by atamido (1020905)

        The motherboard is always the point of failure in my experience. I've never wrecked a CPU. I suppose it's possible with overheating, but that's pretty much it.

        I've seen exactly one CPU die in the thousands of systems I've had to deal with over the years. I believe it was a Dell Optiplex 620. Everything else in the system had been replaced, but when we replaced the CPU the system started working. Myself and the technician they sent out were both shocked, having never seen the CPU actually be the cause. So, it can happen, it's just incredibly rare.

  • ...for some raspberry pi.
  • by hawguy (1600213) on Monday November 14, 2011 @05:26PM (#38052664)

    Are there any good, cheap, low-power Mini-ITX motherboard that have 4 (or 6) SATA ports instead of just 2? I've already filled my PCI slot, and I'd like to add some more SATA drives to make a RAID-5 array. As I understand it, I can't just hook up a SATA port multiplier to any old SATA port, the SATA controller has to support it.

  • by Lussarn (105276) on Monday November 14, 2011 @05:48PM (#38052950)

    This chipset/cpu doesn't seem to bring anything which NVidia Ion 2 can't already do. Ion 2 coupled with a low powered Atom plays anything video using pretty much zero CPU, and it even bitstreams Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD MA to the receiver, on Linux and Windows. And it's proven and stable. NVidia know this stuff, VIA need to do better. I use a cheap ASUS S1-AT5NM10E (Shity name, good computer) for playback. Even my netbook have Ion 2 (Asus 1015PN), it also plays any video out there. So what will this bring we don't already have?

    • by CAIMLAS (41445)

      Look at the power numbers. You're not gaining much, if anything, by going mini-ITX. If you need more than 2 drives, you're going to need a larger chassis anyway - in which case the a mini-itx will barely fill much of the tower/chassis.

  • Granted, It's not x86, and the cpu is significantly slower, but with h.264 accelerated decoding, HDMI, small footprint, low cost ($25/$35 for the board!), a focus on Linux support (and therefore, hopefully, robust drivers), and boot from SD, the Raspberry Pi should be able to put a serious dent into Via's HTPC market. It has a LOT of potential, and this is only a 1st gen device.

  • As it happens I was recently looking at some mini-ITX options, but for doing a DIY home ADSL router.

    My router was giving issues and restarting, so was thinking I might need a new one and was most frustrated to see that when it comes to consumer routers, it's typically hit and miss in terms of reliability, so was thinking of maybe building my own.

    My conclusion was that while one could do it with these, they are completely overkill for such an application as they're more geared towards HTPC systems.

    Neverthele

C makes it easy for you to shoot yourself in the foot. C++ makes that harder, but when you do, it blows away your whole leg. -- Bjarne Stroustrup

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