VIA has a long history of making chipsets for AMD, and more recently, for Intel as well. They aren't just about chipsets though, as they also produce controllers for sound, and networking, and with some key acquisitions, graphics and processors. Of course, with their hands in all these markets, it would make sense to take a stab at the platform market.
The (VEPD) was jointly created by the original VIA platform division, as well as the central processor and embedded R&D department this past October. The goal was to develop technologies for complete platform solutions. Today, we're going to look at their latest creation, the VIA EPIA CL10000 Mini-ITX motherboard.
|VIA EPIA CL-Series Specifications
|The ultimate dual LAN platform for low profile, low power and small systems targeted at always-on home, office and commercial networking applications.
- VIA C3 (tm)/Eden (tm) processor
- VIA CLE266 North Bridge
- VIA VT8235 South Bridge
- 1 DDR266 DIMM socket
- Up to 1GB memory size
|Back Panel I/O
||- 2 RJ-45 LAN port
- 1 PS2 mouse port
- 1 PS2 keyboard port
- 1 Parallel port
- 1 Serial port (COM PORT)
- 4 USB 2.0 ports
- 1 VGA port
- 3 Audio jacks: line-out, line-in and mic-in
|Onboard I/O Connectors
||- 1 USB connector for 2 additional USB 2.0 ports
- Front-panel audio connectors (mic-in and line-out)
- CD Audio-in connector
- 1 Buzzer
- SIR connector
- CIR connector (Switchable for KB/MS)
- Wake-on-LAN- CPU/Sys FAN/Fan 3
- System intrusion connector (Optional)
- 1 Connector for LVDS module (Optional)
- 3 COM port pin headers
- Integrated VIA Unichrome 2D/3D graphics with MPEG-2 decoder, featuring motion compensation and duo-view support
- 1 PCI
- 2 X UltraDMA 133/100/66 Connector
- 1 x FDD Connector
- VIA VT6105 LOM
- VT6103 10/100 Base -T 10/100 Fast Ethernet Controller
- VIA VT1612A 2 channel AC97 Codec
- Award BIOS
- 2/4Mbit flash memory
|System Monitoring & Management
- CPU voltage monitoring
- Wake-on-LAN, Keyboard
- Power-on, Timer-Power-on
- System power management
- AC power failure recovery
- Mini-ITX (4 layer)
- 17 cm x 17 cm
As we can see from the specifications, the only things you need for a fully operational setup are memory, a hard drive, optical drive and case. Everything else, including the processor, is integrated into the motherboard.
Everything comes neatly packed in a box that is smaller than most video cards. Inside, you'll find the motherboard packed into an anti-static bag, driver CD, a manual, a rear IO panel, and an IDE and floppy cable.
The VIA EPIA CL10000 Mini-ITX Motherboard
For those of you who are familiar with the EPIA line of motherboards, you're probably aware that they are based on the Mini-ITX form factor. In otherwords, they are tiny. You modding potential is almost limitless as I've seen these EPIA boards stuffed into some interesting case mods. The second pic on the right gives you some perspective of how small the board really is.
Compared to their previous model, the M9000, you can see that the form factor hasn't changed, and still measures 17cm x 17cm. There are just a few changes, notably the faster C3 processor, and dual-LAN.
The EPIA M9000 included a 933Mhz C3 EBGA core processor. The major weakness of the CPU was the weak floating point unit (FPU) which only ran at 466MHz. The CL10000, on the otherhand, uses a Nehemiah core processor running at 1GHz. The three major changes from the M9000 are the faster clock speed, a full speed FPU, and support for SSE.
The VIA CLE266 Northbridge acts like most others, handling the CPU and memory interface. It also has a 128-bit 2D engine, a 3D engine, and does MPEG-2 decoding. The last bit is probably one of the more important features as one of the CL10000's potential duties could be a HTPC, and given the relatively slow processor in the age of 2GHz and up, the MPEG-2 decoding will offload this task from the CPU. The VIA VT8235 Southbridge handles the Ethernet, USB, sound, PCI and provides ATA133 support.
One feature of the CL10000 is that it is based on VIA's low power platform initiative. Rather than having the CPU handle the various tasks that a user may put it through, the work is shared across all the components on the motherboard. In otherwords, VIA carefully chose the parts it needed to optimize the work each part needs to do. The end result is less active cooling is needed, therefore, you have a quieter PC.
Given the small size of the EPIA CL10000, VIA still did a fairly good job at laying out the motherboard. Because the C3 processor does not draw as much power as a typical AMD or Intel CPU, you won't find an AUX12V connection, as the standard ATX power connection is all that is required. You still have two IDE connections, with support of four IDE devices, as well a floppy connection.
There is only one ram slot, which may pose a problem depending on what you intend to use the EPIA for. 256MB sticks are fairly common, but if you intend to run Win2k/XP, it's going to be tough. 512MB sticks (and larger) are more expensive, but it's something I would lean towards unless you're sticking with Windows 98, and doing nothing more than web surfing and word processing. PC2100 is supported, but faster sticks should work (we used PC3200 for testing), but at slower speeds.
Pictured from left to right are the VT1211, VT1612A, VT6103 and the VT6105
The VT1211 is a full function Super I/O chip, and it is responsible for hardware monitoring, floppy controller, and handling legacy connections such as the serial ports.
The VIA VT1612A Audio Codec conforms to the AC'97 2.2 specifications. Although the VIA VT8235 supports six channel sound, the VT1612A limits you to two channel, which I find a bit strange as the motherboard is well suited towards building a HTPC.
10/100 networking is served courtesy of the VIA VT6103 controller. The VT6105 is also a 10/100 Ethernet controller which has advanced management and power conservation features. In full duplex mode, the chip is capable of 200Mbps, and optimizes data transfer between the chip and the PCI bus. This will alieviate some congestion problems that are typical of PCI based networking solutions.
Peripheral expansion will be a weak area for the CL10000. With only one PCI slot, there won't be much you can do if you wanted to add functionality. One obvious addition may be a TV tuner card, or perhaps a PCI video card with a TV tuner such as the AIW VE. A sound card is certainly an option, or perhaps another disk controller, but in anycase, whatever you choose, you can only choose one. Granted, I doubt power users are going to pickup an EPIA for a LAN party rig, and with the number of integrated peripherals, there is not much needed to have a functional PC.
The rear IO contains all the external connection options for the CL10000. You have your legacy PS/2 and serial/parallel connections, as well as four USB slots. There are two 10/100 connections, which can allow you to use the CL10000 as a firewall or router.