Intel D945GCLF m-ITX: Atom For The Desktop

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MP3 SOUND RECORDINGS

These recordings were made with a high resolution, lab quality, digital recording system inside SPCR's own 11 dBA ambient anechoic chamber, then converted to LAME 128kbps encoded MP3s. We've listened long and hard to ensure there is no audible degradation from the original WAV files to these MP3s. They represent a quick snapshot of what we heard during the review.

These recordings are intended to give you an idea of how the product sounds in actual use — one meter is a reasonable typical distance between a computer or computer component and your ear. The recording contains stretches of ambient noise that you can use to judge the relative loudness of the subject. Be aware that very quiet subjects may not be audible — if we couldn't hear it from one meter, chances are we couldn't record it either!

The recording starts with 5 seconds of the room ambient, followed by 5 seconds of the product's noise at various levels. For the most realistic results, set the volume so that the starting ambient level is just barely audible, then don't change the volume setting again while comparing all the sound files.

  • Intel D945GCLF stock fan 12V, 9V, 7V, and 5V, 11-29 dBA@1m: One meter

FINAL THOUGHTS

We were surprised how fast the 1.6Ghz Atom processor "felt". While setting up the system, installing drivers and programs, we experienced no significant difference compared to the AMD X2 and Intel Core 2 systems we use regularly. When we started to multitask, however, the slow-downs were obvious. While hyperthreading does help, it is not a real substitute for a second CPU core, and the difference is clear when you tax the system.

Users under the impression that the D945GCLF is well-suited a compact HTPC will be disappointed. While the Atom processor is extremely energy efficient, it is also very slow and the limited amount of memory that can be added will make recording/encoding content difficult. The outdated onboard GPU and its lack of digital outputs makes it a poor choice for a media extender, unless the video being played is no higher resolution than 720p and you don't mind an analog output for video. The chipset fan is a minor annoyance that can be dealt with easily.

The D945GCLF seems to be a side-step in Intel's roadmap. Except for power consumption, it is not really an improvement over the Celeron-based D201GLY2. Some may view it as simply a desktop showcase for the Atom processor. If they really wanted to make it better than its predecessor, they could have paired it with their latest G43/G45 chipset and armed it with DVI, HDMI — that would have turned heads.

While it doesn't provide a better experience than the D201GLY2, its low power consumption makes it a good choice for a cheap, small, cool and quiet machine for casual email, web surfing, music playback, and watching videos that 720p or lower res. The main trick here is finding a mini-ITX case and power supply to house and cool the board quietly. It would also do fine as a home server to be tucked away into some corner. Two SATA and one PATA ports are few, but with the sheer size and low cost of today's hard drives, D945GCLF could form the basis of a small, perfectly useful home server. There are also six USB ports for connecting up additional external drives.

The best news for some readers is that this board will have a sibling, one with two heads. Intel announced quietly at IDF that a dual-core Atom is coming. One of these dual-core Atoms will be embedded in the D945GCLF2, featuring the same 945GC desktop chipset as the D945GCLF. Too bad they didn't go for the suggestions we made above — G43/G45 chipset, DVI, HDMI. On the other hand, Intel probably knows that such a product would hijack sales from the full featured socket-775 mini-ITX boards that they will soon introduce, DG45FC and DQ45EK, based on the Q45 Eaglelake chipset. In fact, within the next 24 hours, we'll have one of the DG45FC boards in house for testing . Busy, busy! With Intel muscling in, it's a busy time for the entire small computing devices sector.

PROS

* Very low power consumption
* Affordable
* Easily made quiet

CONS

* Poor onboard graphics
* Fairly slow CPU
* Lack of connectivity (DVI, HDMI, S/PDIF)

Our thanks to Intel for the D945GCLF sample.

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