VIA EPIA EN12000E: Today's most efficient CPU & mainboard

CPUs|Motherboards
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May 28, 2006 by Devon Cooke

Product
VIA EPIA EN12000E
Mini-ITX Mainboard with embedded 1.2 GHz VIA Eden processor
Manufacturer
VIA Technologies, Inc.
Market Price
~US$270

Few people are aware that there is an alternative to the mainstream processors made by Intel and AMD. VIA sells a number of x86 processors, called C3, Eden, and C7. Why aren't they better known? The main reason is performance. No matter what benchmark is used, VIA's processors take a beating compared to even low-end offerings from Intel and AMD.

On the other hand, even the lowest-performance offerings from Intel and AMD are overkill for many — perhaps most — computing tasks, which is why VIA's offerings are viable at all. Performance alone is no longer king, and performance-per-watt is increasingly important. In this arena, VIA is a pace or two ahead of both of the big boys. The original C3 processor was designed with power efficiency as a primary design goal.

VIA's power-miserly approach has continued with the Eden and the latest C7 processors. The Eden is designed with a thermal envelope of just 7.5 watts — which only Intel's limited edition Ultra Low Voltage processors can match. By comparison, both the Pentium M and the Turion 64 are designed with a thermal envelope of around 30 watts.

VIA processors are most commonly embedded in a Mini-ITX motherboard. VIA's own series is called EPIA, but other manufacturers also make VIA-processor embedded M-ITX motherboards. SPCR has looked at several EPIA boards in the past. Both SPCR and EPIA have evolved considerably since the last review in 2003, so it's time to take another look. VIA was kind enough to supply a sample of the EPIA EN12000E, a fully passive board featuring a VIA Eden processor clocked at 1.2 GHz. A more powerful version with a 1.5 GHz C7 processor is also available, but it is less suitable for a low noise system as it requires active cooling. We're told that the cores of these processors is identical; the clock speed is the only difference. (Then why call them by different names?)

The low power consumption and small footprint of the EPIA makes it a good candidate for a home theater PC or any other application where space and power are limited. VIA knows its market and has integrated just about everything an A/V nut could want into the constraints of the tiny 17cm × 17cm Mini-ITX form factor. The result is a system that promises to be small, silent and power efficient. The big question mark is performance: Is it fast enough to work flawlessly in a "digital" home?


The EPIA is only a little larger than the CD that its drivers come on.

SPECIFICATIONS

The EN-series is built around DDR2 memory and a host of other updates designed to improve performance. It comes with integrated graphics, and can support simultaneous TV output via composite or S-Video. With an appropriate add-in card, it can drive a separate DVI monitor, and component video output can be added with a simple adapter. The component outputs are capable of driving a 720P or 1080i HD signal. Only two output devices can be driven simultaneously.

Perhaps to make up for the performance of the processor, hardware MPEG 2 decoding is a feature of the integrated graphics. This should guarantee that DVDs play back properly, but it does little to ensure that more Internet friendly formats — typically based on MPEG 4 — are decoded adequately.

On the audio side of things, S/PDIF is available through the same jack as composite video — a jumper on the board selects between the two. If the composite jack is needed, there is an internal header that can connect to an appropriate adapter. Three 1/8" mini jacks support 5.1 channels of analog sound, which should satisfy those who don't use S/PDIF.

Moving away from A/V connections, there are ports for two SATA devices and two IDE channels. Only a single stick of DDR2 RAM is supported (Max. 1 GB), and even that is limited to 533 MHz modules. Support for higher speed RAM seemed spotty at best; the EN12000E would not boot or boot inconsistently with 800 MHz memory installed. Only a single PCI slot is included, so a PCI-splitter is needed to connect more than one extra card. AGP and PCI Express are not supported at all, so upgrading the integrated graphics is not an option.

VIA EPIA EN12000E Specifications (from VIA's product page)
Model Name (Processor)
• 1.5GHz VIA C7 nanoBGA2 Processor (VIA EPIA EN15000)
• 1.2GHz VIA Eden nanoBGA2 Processor (VIA EPIA EN12000E)
Chipset
• VIA CN700 North Bridge
• VIA VT8237R-series South Bridge
System Memory
• 1 DDRII 400/533 DIMM socket
• Up to 1GB memory size
VGA
• Integrated VIA UniChrome™ Pro AGP graphics with MPEG-2 acceleration
Expansion Slots
• 1 PCI
Onboard IDE
• 2 UltraDMA 133/100/66 Connectors
Onboard LAN
• VIA VT6122 GLAN Controller
Onboard Audio
• VIA VT1618 8 channel AC'97 Codec
Onboard TV Out
• VIA VT1625M HDTV Encoder
Back Panel I/O
• 1 PS2 mouse port
• 1 PS2 keyboard port
• 1 Serial port
• 1 VGA port
• 1 RJ45 port
• 4 USB 2.0 ports
• 1 RCA port (S/PDIF or TV out)
• 1 S-Video port
• 3 Audio jacks: line-out, line-in and mic-in (Horizontal, Smart 5.1 Support)
Onboard I/O Connectors
• 1 USB connector for 2 additional USB 2.0 ports
• 1 1394 connector for 1 1394 port
• 2 SATA Connectors
• 1 LPC connector
• 1 Front-panel audio connector (Mic and Line Out)
• 1 Serial port connector for a second com port
• 1 CIR connector (Switchable for KB/MS)
• 1 SIR pin header (IrDA 1.0)
• 2 Fan connectors: CPU/Sys FAN
• 1 SMBUS connector
• 1 S/PDIF in connector
• 1 S/PDIF out connector
• 1 LVDS/TTL/DVI module connector (an add-on card is required)
• 1 Component (YPbPr) video pin header
• ATX Power connector
BIOS
• Award BIOS
• LPC 4/8Mbit flash memory
Operating System
• Windows 2000/XP, Linux, Win CE, XPe
Software Application
• VIA FliteDeck™ Utility
• MissionControl-H/W Monitoring, Remote SNMP Management
• FlashPort-Live BIOS Flash
• SysProbe-Live DMI Browser
System Monitoring & Management
• CPU temperature reading, CPU voltage monitoring
• Wake-on-LAN, Keyboard-Power-on, Timer-Power-on, Watch Dog Timer, FAN control
• System power management, AC power failure recovery
Operating Temperature
• 0~50°C
Operating Humidity
• 0% ~ 95% (relative humidity; non-condensing)
Form Factor
• Mini-ITX (6 layers)
• 17 cm x 17 cm



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