Commell's P4 Mini-ITX board

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Sept 16, 2003 -- by Mike Chin

Product Commell LV-670M & LV-670 Mini-ITX integrated motherboard
Manufacturer Commell Systems Corporation
Prices - Direct from Commell
LV-670M US$225
LV-670 US$175
LV-670M + P4-M-2.2 US$475
LV-670M + P4-M-2.4 US$525

The Commell P4-based Mini-ITX motherboards came to light back in April when Commell first released info about their LV-670 boards. There are two now versions: the LV-670 for standard desktop P4s and the LV-670M for Mobile P4-Ms. The latter is a reduced power dissipation P4 for use in notebooks. The concept is simple: Put the power of an Intel P4 in the Mini-ITX package for those who feel the VIA processors don't compute hard and fast enough.

Commell's LV-670M-P22: with Mobile P4-2.2 & U1 copper cooler

VIA's original concept for the Mini-ITX platform was to embed a low power consumption CPU to a fully integrated miniature-size motherboard to enable PCs that are inexpensive, small, quiet and cool enough to go just about anywhere. It seems to have been perfect strategy to best utilize the existing technology of VIA's C3, which was adapted for their M-ITX boards. While the C3 is an efficient and cool running processor, it does not have the sheer number-crunching power of the Intel and AMD processors, particularly when it comes to floating point performance, a parameter that's key for gamers and imaging. But now that Small Form Factor (SFF) PCs are all the rage, Commell's P4 Mini-ITX makes some sense.

Commell is not the only one marrying the P4 to Mini-ITX. A company called Lippert markets a M-ITX board that uses a 1.6GHz Pentium M (Banias) processor. VIA appear to have been involved with a similar project, but as their P4 mainboard has been sold to FIC, it is probably FIC who have taken over the project Epiacenter reported on in early August.

Can a P4-based Mini-ITX board can stay true to VIA's original vision of a high efficiency, cool running, low power consumption, easy-to-quiet, inexpensive mini PC? The quick answer to this question is: Not likely.

Currently, the least power-hungry P4 appears to be a P4-2.0-533MHz bus, with a "Thermal Design Power" of 52.4W. Mobile P4s are for notebooks and less widely available to the consumer. The bottom of Commell web page for the LV-670M shows an option with the P4-M-2.2, which may be about the least power hungry P4-M right now. Intel rates the TDP of this processor at 35W.

Intel CPU power dissipation numbers are a far cry from the VIA Nehemiah-core C3. The 1Ghz C3 is rated for just 11W Typical Power (similar to Intel's TDP) and 15W maximum. The respective numbers for the yet unreleased 1.4Ghz model are still low, just 18W and 24W.

One of the samples provided by Commell is the LV-670M-P22, which is a LV-670M complete with P4-M-2.2 and a low-profile 1U all-copper heatsink fan. This CPU has about 3 times the power dissipation of the VIA EPIA M10000 Mini-ITX motherboard (1 Ghz Nehemiah-core C3 CPU), which is also on hand for comparison. The computing power of the P4-M is at least double that of the C3-1.0 in every area area of performance, however, and likely 3 times or more in some areas.

So now that basic power dissipation data is on the table, we have a handle on how these P4 M-ITX integrated motherboards might be best assessed.

This article will attempt to answer the following questions about Commell's P4 M-ITX initiatives:

1) What is the intended function of these boards? Who will use them and in what applications?

2) Do boards run efficiently enough to be cooled quietly in a Mini-ITX PC case? Is this just a matter of which CPU is chosen?

3) What is the performance advantage of the Commell P4 M-ITX?

3) Do these boards offer a viable, different and useful alternative for small PC buyers? The point is, there are already VIA M-ITX boards as well as micro-ATX / SFF motherboards and barebone systems from Shuttle, Biostar, ECS, FIC, Asus and many others. It seems that virtually every motherboard maker is making SFF barebone systems. The market for SFF PCs may be strongest in Asia and Europe, but it is also catching on in the US & Canada. Where does the Commell P4 M-ITX fit in this rapidly populating landscape?

The focus of this article will be mostly on the Commell LV-670M-P22 because of the Mobile P4-M's lower power dissipation makes it more attractive for SPCR readers. A P4-1.8 will also be installed on the LV-670 as a check and confirmation about heat issues, but the primary testing will be done on the Mobile P4 board.

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