Intel D201GLY2 Mini-ITX mainboard

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MINI-ITX: LEADING THE SHRINKING TREND?

With their low cost and low power operation, mini-ITX motherboards are increasingly finding their way into the home computer segment, where serious shrinkage and price reduction has begun. In May 2007, Dell announced the Dell EC280 desktop system, targeted at Chinese consumers with a base price of RMB2,599 (~$350 USD). Centered around a Celeron 205 CPU and the SiSM661GX chipset, we'd guess that the hardware in the EC280 is a close cousin of the D201GLY. In October, the first of the AMD DTX small form factor prototype systems were released. The Mini-DTX form factor motherboard is more or less an adjunct to mini-ITX, differing mainly in offering space for two peripheral slots instead of just one. Just this month, Everex began selling it's micro-ATX size VIA C7-based gPC for $199 USD at Walmart, just in time for the holiday season. Small footprint, low power, and low cost — what more could you ask for? Not to mention that the low power draw of these devices also satisfies green concerns of late.

Intel lists the D201GLY2 board under the Essential Series, which "are designed to build flexible, traditional configurations for the budget-conscious user." The rest of the Essential Series, aside from the D201GLY/2 boards, are all based on the now-aging 945/946 chipset (around 2 years old, ancient by current chipset cycles), and support a wide range processors from the low power Celeron D to the high performance Core 2 Duo. Most are micro-ATX. The D201GLY2 is described specifically as "an innovative solution for the sub-value market segment; this board enables easy system integration and helps you to achieve a lower system cost." Sub-value market segment is the key phrase: It is Intelspeak for what most of the IT industry calls "emerging markets", or, in older econo-politico-speak, the developing countries. The subtitle of the D201GLY2 product brief — "Reaching the next billion users" — clearly confirms its intended role.

In this context, the low power envelope, the minimal features, and the low pricing all make perfect sense. This board is a corollary of the Classmate PC, Intel's alternative offering to the OLPC XO and the Asus Eee PC laptops; the Classmate has been shipping to selected third world markets since March this year for about $175. The D201GLY2 is something a system integrator could use in desktop PCs (rather than laptops) for the same emerging markets. That the new board is available in the US and Europe suggests that Intel is betting there's viable demand for such a product in the developed world. With the obvious shrinking of computing products across every category (except gaming), there is little question that there is indeed a growing market for small, integrated, low power motherboards everywhere in the world.

D201GLY2 VS. OTHER MINI-ITX

We looked at the common features of the D201GLY2 compared to some other mini-ITX systems that we've reviewed recently. Interestingly, it appears that even in the past month or so, prices for all mini-ITX boards appear to have dropped a bit. We don't have any hard data, but it is a strong impression and memory that there were mini-ITX boards priced above $300 even a month or so ago, and now those prices are gone. This could be attributed to the arrival of the Intel board.

Feature Comparison Chart
Feature Intel D201GLY2 Albatron KI690-AM2 AOpen i945GTt-VFA VIA EPIA EN12000E
Socket/CPU
ULV Celeron 220
embedded
AMD AM2
Socket 479
VIA Eden 1.2GHz
embedded
RAM Support
1x DDR2
2x DDR2 SODIMM
2x DDR2 SODIMM
1x DDR2
IDE
1x UDMA 100
1x UDMA 133
1x UDMA 100
2x UDMA 133
SATA
2x SATA 1.5GB/s
4x SATA 3.0GB/s
2x SATA 1.5GB/s
2x SATA
RAID
No
0, 1, 0+1, JBOD
No
No
Audio
2 channel
8 channel
8 channel
6 channel
Video Output
VGA
DVI/VGA/HDMI
DVI/HDMI
VGA/S-Video
Expansion slots
1x PCI
1x PCI
1x PCIe x1
1x mini-PCI
1x PCI
Price
~$75
~$250
~$280
~$230

The D201GLY2 has all the basics, but it definitely has the fewest features of the lot. This is where some of the board's low cost shows. Some might say that part of the Intel board's low cost comes from its "lower quality" SiS chipset, but VIA is typically thrown in the same class as SiS, while Intel, nVidia, and ATI chipsets are considered to be in a higher quality bracket. We don't believe that's the reason for the low cost.

The obvious downside to the D201GLY2 is the lack of flexibility in the CPU, an inflexibility it shares with most VIA-based m-ITX boards. The boards with CPU sockets allow system builders to choose a CPU that's just right. Whether this is important in the intended target market is questionable.



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