Zotac NF610i-ITX: Compact, low cost, Core 2 solution

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FINAL THOUGHTS

While it is outclassed in 3D performance by Intel's GMA X3500 and AMD's HD3200 and Geforce 8300 IGPs, Geforce 7050 is surprisingly strong for HD playback and efficiency. Unfortunately it is limited by the choice of video outputs — VGA only. Without DVI or HDMI, it makes less than ideal HTPC/media center. In addition, the chipset lacks a dual channel memory controller — something they're not keen on advertising. While this won't result in a huge performance difference, it is something to be considered. The IGP/chipset is also cooled by a very small heatsink which may cause problems down the road.

Power consumption, which is a result of the efficiency of the chipset as well as the power regulation implemented by the manufacturer, was good, besting the Asus P5E-VM HDMI by an average of 5W during light load. The tables turned when high load was applied, but generally a system is rarely at such a state and spends most of its time idle. The lack of suspend-to-RAM is downright criminal, however, and a heavy blow for some users. Standby/Sleep is an effective yet convenient way to reduce power consumption — suspending the system costs only an extra watt on most systems compared to shutting the system down completely and allows for very short wait to return to full functionality. Without suspend-to-RAM however, this feature is basically useless.

Ultimately, the Zotac NF610i-ITX is a marriage of convenience, the joining of the mini-ITX platform to a basic, low-priced nVidia chipset. The result is an affordable, compact platform that has the potential to be as powerful as a system many times its size. Being able to use some of the fastest desktop chips available gives the NF610i-ITX an undeniable edge for those looking for sheer computing power and a small physical footprint. Its underlying strengths however, are undermined by a series of faults and omitted features that are neither minor or inconsequential. For a specialized commercial or industrial application, it might be fine, but for a home user, it fails to meet basic requirements. The best thing we can say is that the price is very modest for removable CPU mini-ITX board. The good thing for Zotac is that they've also released an alternate version of this product using the nForce 630i chipset, and it offers both VGA and DVI outputs. That model strikes us as being a substantially better option for the DIY buyer.

PROS

* Core 2 Duo/Quad compatibility
* Low power consumption
* Efficient HD playback
* Affordable pricing



CONS

* Limited BIOS options (namely the inability to undervolt)
* Cannot suspend-to-RAM
* Small chipset heatsink
* Lack of connectivity (DVI, HDMI, S/PDIF)
* No dual channel memory controller

Our thanks to Zotac for the NF610i-ITX sample.

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