Review: VIA's Small & Quiet Eden Platform

CPUs|Motherboards
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May 20, 2002 - by Mike Chin

Silent PC Review's first "official" review: The EPIA-5000, one of the all-integrated Mini-ITX motherboards in the recently launched small and quiet Eden platform by VIA.

Most visitors to Silent PC Review know that we manage to report a steady trickle of news relevant to silent computing. Alas, it's not often that we have big news about big initiatives from big players in the PC industry. It is sad to say, but PC noise seems to rank lower than the color of a printed circuit board for most PC companies. At least, this is the way it looks in the US or Canada, save a few minor exceptions such as Compaq's new 28-dBA Evo D500 Ultra-slim Desktop line and the new iMac, which has a cooling fan but is still supposed to be quieter than the usual beige box computer.

In other places in the world, there appears to be more interest and development in this arena. Europe is the place of origin of ISO 7779, the current accepted standard for PC noise testing. It is also the home of some small but innovative quiet PC pioneers such as Captech, Signum-Data, QuietPC.com and Noise Control. The higher awareness about noise may have to do with the enlightened environmentalism shown by many European governments and perhaps the limited working and living spaces in European cities.

Certainly, limited space also appears to be a big factor in Japanese corporate concern about PC size and noise. In a recent C/NET report about new, all-in-one, compact PC from NEC based on a notebook CPU from Transmeta, John Spooner wrote:

Because of space constraints in Japanese offices, which place workers into much closer proximity than in typical North American offices, many Japanese companies seek out all-in-one-style compact desktops or ultra-portable notebooks. The fad toward smaller machines is slowly catching on in the United States as well; many analysts attribute growing notebook sales to the rise in smaller yet more powerful machines.

Interestingly, both the Compaq and iMac models mentioned previously are also small form factor PCs. Is this a trend? Certainly looks like the start of something. VIA is betting on it.

Eden 1500 - VIA press photo

The Taiwanese maker of chipsets, the C3 CPU, and multimedia / communications chips introduced the Mini-ITX form factor last November. In December, they followed up with the release of the Eden Embedded System Platform, combining an ultra low power processor with highly integrated North Bridge and South Bridge chipset options. In early April, VIA announced availability of its EPIA Mini-ITX mainboard. Their press release quoted Richard Brown, Director of International Marketing:

"The response since we introduced the Mini-ITX reference design in November 2001 has been phenomenal; our customers have been pushing us to start production as early as possible. Unlike previous ultra-compact platforms for small footprint designs, the EPIA mainboard is based on industry standard x86 components, which has obvious cost benefits and makes integration and design of devices so much easier for System Integrators and OEMs."

A tiny quiet platform based on standard components sounds very interesting, very friendly. Let's have a close look at this new EPIA Mini-ITX motherboard so kindly provided by VIA, shall we?

TINY FORM FACTOR: 17 x 17cm

The VIA EPIA Mini-ITX motherboard is available with a choice of two embedded processors. The EPIA-800 features a 800 MHz C3 (Ezra core) with an operating core voltage of 1.35V. VIA says it is suitable for compact systems running more multimedia applications. The EPIA-5000 Mini-ITX is equipped with the Eden ESP 5000, essentially a 533 MHz Samuel 2 core C3 running at 1.2V, which VIA says is suitable for fanless systems with low heat and ultra-low power requirements.

Measuring just 6.75"(17 cm) square and under 1 lb. (400 grams), the EPIA-5000 sample we received is something of a marvel in integrated computer miniaturization.

The photo below compares the EPIA-5000 to an AMD Athlon socket-A motherboard (ATX) with the additional peripherals for the same functionality: video, network and sound cards, plus CPU, heatsink and fan. All these are part and parcel of this little board, which features an embedded CPU and heatsink that does not require a cooling fan.

That's right: no cooling fan. The embedded C3 variant CPU with a small permanently attached heatsink does not require a fan.

This is not to suggest that the performance of the EPIA-5000 is on par with the AMD-based motherboard on the right, but to show its diminutive size and full integration of features. Simply add memory, drives and a power supply in a case and you have a system ready to accept any OS of your choice.

Suggested retail price for the EPIA with the VIA Eden ESP processor is US$99 and the C3 EBGA version is US$109. These prices will naturally vary depending on quantity.



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