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Zotac GeForce 8200-ITX WiFi: A Compact AM2 Solution

Zotac GeForce 8200-ITX WiFi: A Compact AM2 Solution

January 7, 2009 by Lawrence Lee

Product Zotac GeForce 8200-ITX WiFi

AMD AM2+ Motherboard
Manufacturer Zotac
Street Price US$130

Zotac is not the most well-known name, but they are an up and coming motherboard
and graphics card manufacturer. They are one of the few companies that are producing
mini-ITX motherboards — for both Intel and AMD platforms. Today we're looking
at the Zotac GeForce 8200-ITX WiFi, an AMD mini-ITX motherboard based —
you guessed it — on the GeForce 8200 chipset. Our previous experience with
the GeForce 8300 chipset was pleasant, so
it sounds like a good match on paper.

The only other Zotac product we've reviewed, the NF610i-ITX
(LGA775 mini-ITX motherboard), did little to further the Zotac name. It was
very affordable and did the basics well, but it was a sloppy implementation
with many problems and omissions. Let's hope this one doesn't follow suit.



Zotac's Halloween color scheme this time around is fused with a bit of
nVidia green, giving the box a very nice futuristic Borg-like look.




The board ships with a DVI to HDMI adapter and WiFi adapter.


Zotac GeForce 8200-ITX WiFi: Specifications

(from the
product web page
)
Processor Support - AMD Phenom X3

- AMD Phenom X4

- AMD Athlon 64 X2

- AMD Athlon 64

- AMD Sempron

- Socket AM2+

- HyperTransport 3.0
Chipset - NVIDIA GeForce 8200
BIOS - Phoenix (Award) PnP Flash
ROM BIOS
Memory - DDR2-1066

- 2 DIMM slots up to 8GB memory
I/O Onboard - Four Serial ATA 3.0Gbps
Ports

- One HD Audio 5.1 Port (Line-in, Line-out, MIC-in)

- One PS/2 Mouse Port

- One PS/2 Keyboard Port

- Six USB Ports on Back Panel, Four USB Ports on Pin Header

- One RJ45 Port
LAN - Gigabit LAN
Integrated WiFi - 802.11b/g
USB - 10 x USB 2.0 (6 ports,
4 via internal header)

LAYOUT

When it comes to mini-ITX motherboards, it's tough to criticize any choices
made in layout. With so little room to work with, fitting all the standard ports
is an achievement in itself.



Layout.

The components on the GeForce 8200-ITX are packed in tight. There is a bit
of clearance between the CPU socket and chipset heatsink, but apart from that,
each piece is separated by a millimeter or two of space at most. The board has
two DDR2 memory slots and four SATA ports; IDE and Floppy connectors have been
left out to save space. The mini-ITX form factor allows one expansion slot,
with Zotac opting for PCI-E 1x instead of PCI. Half of the board's capacitors
are solid-state, a compromise between stability/longevity and cost.



At an angle.

The chipset heatsink is not very tall but it does take advantage of the area
occupied — the fins are thin and numerous. The amount of voltage regulation
circuitry is limited and lacks extra cooling — this is probably why 125W+
processors are not listed on Zotac's CPU
test report
. Intel's mini-ITX
DG45FC
is similar; it lacks Core 2 Quad support, probably for the same reason.



Trace side.

On the trace side of the motherboard there is a large plastic (but metal-reinforced)
CPU back-plate. It is a bit overkill for a board of this type, but welcome nevertheless.



Back panel.

The back panel has only a basic set of outputs. There are no advanced features
like eSATA or FireWire, but wireless (802.11 b and g) and HDMI are available
through the included adapters.

WIFI MODULE

A small adapter ships with the GeForce 8200-ITX giving users the ability to
incorporate 802.11 b/g. While it is not as good as having an integrated adapter,
it is more elegant than a USB wireless adapter hanging out the back. It also
leaves the PCI-E slot free, giving users more versatile expansion options.



There is a space between the audio and USB ports for the WiFi module.

It mounts to the board via two screws. Since installation requires access
to the back of the motherboard, it should be done before mounting the
board in a case.




The Wifi module is actually a USB adapter, requiring an internal USB header
to connect to the system. As the board only has two internal USB headers,
this may be undesirable for some users.




The module overhangs the chipset heatsink. Not an ideal placement.




The board with heatsink, memory, WiFi module and antenna installed.

BIOS

BIOS options on mini-ITX boards are typically restricted. The
presence of an IGP and the limited cooling associated with the form factor
makes manufacturers nervous about allowing users the ability to customize
frequencies and voltages.



Frequency and voltage control options with maximum values entered.

The board's BIOS allows a reasonable amount of tweaking, considering
the form factor. Overclocking options are available for the CPU, memory, and
even IGP, but the upper limits for voltages are quite low.

Notable Available BIOS Adjustments
Setting
Options
CPU FSB 200 to 600MHz
CPU Voltage 0.5500V to 0.775V in 0.0125V increments

0.775V
to 1.300V in 0.025V increments
Memory Frequency 400MHz, 533MHz, 667MHz, 800MHz, 1066MHz

(may depend on CPU)
Memory Timing Control Basic
Memory Voltage 1.90V, 2.00V, 2.10V, 2.20V
Chipset Voltage +0.05V
Video Memory Size 16MB, 32MB, 64MB, 128MB, 256MB, 512MB
GPU Core Frequency 500 to 1000MHz
GPU Shader Frequency 1200 to 2000MHz

While the maximum CPU voltage is rather low, it does allow more
undervolting than we're used to seeing — 0.5500V is the minimum allowed.



"Hardware Monitor."

The "Hardware Monitor" section is almost barren with
only speeds from the board's two fan headers reported. There are no voltage
or temperature readouts and a complete lack of fan control settings.

TEST METHODOLOGY

Test Setup:

Measurement and Analysis Tools

  • CPU-Z
    to monitor CPU frequency and voltage.
  • CPUBurn
    K7

    processor stress software.
  • Prime95
    processor stress software.
  • ATITool
    artifact scanner to stress the integrated GPU.
  • FurMark
    stability test to stress the integrated GPU.
  • QuickTime
    Alternative
    to decode Quicktime.
  • Cyberlink
    PowerDVD
    to play H264/VC1/Blu-ray video.
  • SpeedFan
    to monitor temperature and fan speeds.
  • 3DMark05
    as a 3D benchmark.
  • 3DMark06
    as a 3D benchmark.
  • Seasonic
    Power Angel
    AC power meter, used to measure the power consumption
    of the system.
  • Custom-built, four-channel variable DC power supply, used to regulate
    the CPU fan speed.

Our main test procedure is designed to determine the overall system power
consumption at various states (measured using a Seasonic Power Angel). To stress
Intel Pentium E/Core 2 CPUs we use Prime95 (large FFTs setting) to maximize
heat and power consumption. For AMD X2 CPUs we use CPUBurn K7 as it seems to
tax AMD processors more. To stress the IGP, we use ATITool artifact scanner,
ATITool 3DView, or FurMark, whichever application is found to be more power
hungry.

We also test platform's proficiency at playing back high definition videos.
Standard Blu-ray movies can be encoded in three different codecs by design:
MPEG-2, H.264/AVC and VC-1. MPEG-2 has been around for a number of years and
is not demanding on modern system resources. H.264 and VC-1 encoded videos on
the other hand, due to the amount of complexity in their compression schemes,
are extremely stressful and will not play smoothly (or at all) on slower PCs,
especially with antiquated video subsystems.

Our main video test suite features a variety of 1080p H.264/VC-1 encoded clips.
The clips are played with PowerDVD and a CPU usage graph is created by the Windows
Task Manger for analysis to determine the approximate mean and peak CPU usage.
High CPU usage is indicative of poor video decoding ability on the part of the
integrated graphics subsystem. If the video (and/or audio) skips or freezes,
we conclude the board's IGP (in conjunction with the processor) is adequate
to decompress the clip properly.

Video memory was set to 128MB and Cool'n'Quiet was enabled (unless otherwise noted).
The following features/services were disabled during testing to prevent spikes
in CPU/HDD usage that are typical of fresh Vista installations:

  • Windows Sidebar
  • Indexing
  • Superfetch

Video Test Suite



1080p | 24fps | ~10mbps
H.264:
Rush Hour 3 Trailer 1
is a H.264 encoded clip inside an Apple
Quicktime container.





1080p | 24fps | ~8mbps
WMV-HD:
Coral Reef Adventure Trailer
is encoded in VC-1 using the
WMV3 codec commonly recognized by the "WMV-HD" moniker.




1080p | 24fps | ~19mbps
VC-1: Drag Race is a recording of a scene from
network television re-encoded with TMPGEnc using the WVC1 codec, a
more demanding VC-1 codec.




1080p | 24fps | ~33mbps
Blu-ray: Disturbia is a short section of the
Blu-ray version of Disturbia, the motion picture, played directly
off the Blu-ray disc. It is encoded with H.264/AVC.

TEST RESULTS

Our test system is fairly basic, featuring a X2 4850e, a mid-level dual core
processor with a low 45W TDP cooled by a stock AMD heatpipe cooler connected
to a variable DC fan controller so the fan's power draw does not come into play.
The rest of the system consists of a single stick of Corsair memory, an Asus
Blu-ray drive, a 5400RPM notebook hard drive and an OEM Seasonic 400W power
supply. The operating system used is Vista Home Premium SP1 (32-bit).

We tested the board with the CPU at stock settings with Cool'n'Quiet enabled,
and underclocked to 1.5GHz and undervolted to the minimum stable voltage (0.875V).

Test Results: Zotac GeForce 8200-ITX WiFi
Test State
X2 4850e @ 2.5GHz (C&Q)
X2 4850e @ 1.5GHz (0.875V)
Mean

CPU
Peak

CPU
System Power
Mean

CPU
Peak

CPU
System Power
Off
N/A
2W
N/A
2W
Sleep (S3)
N/A
3W
N/A
3W
Idle
N/A
30W
N/A
30W
Rush Hour

(H.264)
15%
22%
~36W
13%
24%
~37W
Coral Reef

(WMV-HD)
45%
55%
~45W
50%
60%
~39W
Drag Race

(VC-1)
60%
76%
~59W
83%
91%
~42W
Disturbia

(Blu-ray H.264)
N/A
N/A
N/A
N/A
N/A
N/A
CPU Load
N/A
91W
N/A
43W
CPU + GPU Load
N/A
99W
N/A
50W

Grey boxes indicate test failure.

At stock settings, the system idled at 30W, drew between 36W and 59W during
video playback, and consumed 91W at full CPU load. Stressing the IGP with FurMark
increased power consumption by a further 8W. While the GeForce 8200 chip is
powerful enough to play all our test clips properly, a driver issue prevented
us from playing an actual Blu-ray movie.

Cyberlink's Blu-ray Advisor utility found that the driver that shipped on the
installation disc was the problem. Updating to the latest drivers from
nVidia did not resolve the issue. We also tried to use ArcSoft TotalMedia Theater
as an alternative player to PowerDVD, but it too failed to play our Disturbia
Blu-ray disc, displaying only a black screen though the drive did appear to
be reading from the disc. As it played our H.264 and VC-1 encoded clips smoothly,
we would say it is technically capable of playing any Blu-ray disc, but for
the moment, driver issues make it impossible. This may well be fixed at a later
date.

Underclocked and undervolted, power consumption dropped dramatically, but
the ability to play our VC-1 test clip was compromised. VC-1 playback was plagued
by dropped frames and out-of-sync audio. 1.5GHz just didn't seem to be enough.

System Power Consumption vs. Intel mITX Boards
Test State
Zotac
NF610i-ITX
Intel
DG45FC
Zotac GeForce
8200-ITX
Idle
35W
35W
30W
Rush Hour

(H.264)
~43W
~42W
~36W
Coral Reef

(WMV-HD)
~42W
~43W
~45W
Drag Race

(VC-1)
~48W
~47W
~59W
CPU Load
65W
64W
91W
CPU + GPU Load
67W
65W
99W

Compared to Zotac and Intel's LGA775 mini-ITX boards (paired with an E7200
processor), the GeForce 8200-ITX is less efficient, except in idle or
with the lightest of loads. When a significant amount of CPU or IGP work is
required, either Intel platform, despite having a higher TDP CPU, is far more efficient, using around 30W less power altogether.

System Power Consumption vs. AMD mATX Boards
Test State
Gigabyte MA78GM-S2H
Gigabyte

MA74GM-S2
Zotac GeForce 8200-ITX
Idle
38W
31W
30W
Rush Hour

(H.264)
~53W
~58W
~36W
Coral Reef

(WMV-HD)
~65W
~58W
~45W
Drag Race

(VC-1)
~70W
~66W
~59W
CPU Load
101W
92W
91W
CPU + GPU Load
109W
97W
99W

On the AMD side of the playing field it was a different story. Compared to
the Gigabyte GA-MA74GM-S2,
the most efficient mATX AMD board we've tested to date, Zotac's 8200-ITX was
downright frugal, using 22W less playing H.264, 13W less playing WMV-HD, and
7W less playing VC-1. Full CPU and GPU load results were similar though.

VRM/Chipset Cooling/Efficiency

A motherboard typically has two secondary chips (Northbridge and Southbridge)
as well as voltage regulators around the CPU socket that are susceptible to
heat. When these components heat up they can become less efficient. This is
one of the reasons stock CPU coolers are designed to provide some top-down cooling
for nearby components. If a tower cooler is used, it's important to consider
whether abandoning top-down cooling will affect the efficiency or stability
of the system.

With that in mind, we lowered the CPU fan's voltage to 6V to reduce the amount
of airflow the nearby components received and proceeded to stress the system
with CPUBurn and FurMark. We took power consumption readings during the first
minute, after 15 minutes of stress when the board heated up, and then with a
1,500 RPM case fan placed in an appropriate position for a few minutes.

System Power with Extra Cooling
State
CPU Load
CPU + GPU Load
After 15 minutes
+1W
+5W
VRM Cooling
-2W
N/A
Chipset Cooling
N/A
-4W

After 15 minutes of CPUBurn, power consumption was only 1W higher than recorded
during the first minute. Placing a case fan on the left side of the socket blowing
on the VRMs reduced the power draw by only 2W. After 15 minutes of CPUBurn and
FurMark, system power draw was 5W higher. Placing a case fan on top of the chipset
heatsink reduced this by 4W. As this is the first time we've done this test,
we can't say whether these results are good or bad. The system did stay perfectly
stable throughout testing though. It should be interesting to see how future
boards perform.

Fan Control

SpeedFan is our application of choice for fan control. It can be configured
to raise or lower multiple fan speeds to designated limits when any specified
temperature threshold is breached.



SpeedFan main screen.

Unfortunately the latest version of SpeedFan (4.37) was not supported by the
8200-ITX, so fan control was not possible on this board. There are no fan control
options in the BIOS either, and Zotac does not offer a fan control utility of
their own. All fans connected to the board run at full speed, even the PWM CPU
fan header.

Addendum:

Shortly after this review was completed, a BIOS update appeared on the
Zotac website that enables fan control. The feature should be used cautiously
given the thermal limitations of most mini-ITX cases.

Overclocking

With very effective third party heatsinks on the market, and many low power
CPUs available, overclocking can improve performance without
compromising the noise level of a silent PC.

A simple overclocking investigation was conducted after lowering the HT multiplier
and RAM frequency, and moderately increasing the RAM voltage. The CPU frequency
was increased in increments of 5MHz/10MHz until the system failed a 5
minute run of Prime95 with ATITool 3DView running simultaneously, failed to
boot, or showed other signs of instability. We then maximized the multiplier
and increased the CPU voltage to a stable level for our final overclock.



Maximum overclock.

The highest stable bus frequency we achieved was 340MHz — a 70% overclock
straight-out-of-the-box without an increase in chipset voltage. At higher frequencies,
the system reported a graphics driver failure, suggesting that the IGP couldn't
handle the extra frequency. At this bus speed, the CPU was stable with an 8.5
multiplier, resulting in a final CPU frequency of 2.89GHz.

3D Performance

To get a rough estimate of how well the GeForce 8200-ITX's onboard video plays
games, we ran 3DMark05/06. As synthetic benchmarks they have limited value,
but they give a rough idea of how well it performs.

3D Performance: Futuremark Comparison
Motherboard
Graphics
3DMark05
3DMark06
Asus M2A-VM HDMI
X1250
1060
286
Gigabyte MA74GM-S2
X2100
1124
305
Zotac GeForce 8200-ITX
GF8200
1623
869
Asus M3N78 Pro
GF8300
1669
902
Asus P5Q-EM
GMA X4500
1708
1092
Gigabyte MA78GM-2SH
HD 3200
2293
1116
Gigabyte MA78GM-2SH
HD 3450

(Discrete)
3405
1716
Asus P5N7A-VM
GF9300
3497
1776
All results with 2GB of system RAM and 256MB of VRAM
assigned (if applicable). Intel (E7200) systems in blue, AM2 (X2 4850e)
systems in green.

No surprises here. As GeForce 8200 is simply a slower-clocked version of GeForce
8300, the results fell slightly behind the GeForce 8300-equipped Asus M3N78
Pro.

HDMI Output

The board does not have a native HDMI port — it is provided via a DVI
adapter. The HDMI signal was picked up by our Asus
MK241H
LCD monitor (1920x1200) without difficulties and audio was passed
through successfully as well. According to the chipset specifications, GeForce
8200 supports 8-channel LPCM audio output, which makes it step up from AMD's
chipsets, which currently only output HDMI audio in stereo.

Wireless Connectivity

The included WiFi module worked fine, giving us a strong, consistant signal
at a 25 foot (~8m) distance from our lab's 802.11g router. We did not encounter
any drop-outs though it was never in long-term use. It should be noted that
the WiFi adapter added 5~6W to the system's power consumption, whether it was
connected to a network or not. We've seen external USB WiFi adapters use more
than 10W extra, so this is actually quite reasonable.

FINAL THOUGHTS

The first Zotac product we reviewed, the NF610i-ITX,
seemed like a rush job, but the Geforce 8200-ITX is a much more polished product.
It has a nice set of features, including HDMI with 8-channel LPCM audio and
wireless connectivity. Power consumption was excellent and the IGP was quite
capable for video playback. Our sample was also a suspiciously good overclocker.

The board's main problem is the driver issue that prevented us from getting
Blu-ray playback working. The ultimate mini-ITX application is the home theater
PC, so this is a huge downside. We expect this problem to be ironed out in the
near future though — after all, the board's hardware is more than up to
the challenge. What can't be fixed is the apparent (but not explicit) lack of
support for higher TDP CPUs. This a more minor issue — few users (we hope)
would throw a 125W TDP chip into a mini-ITX case anyway.

There are only a handful of retail mini-ITX motherboards available for the
AMD platform at the moment and the Zotac GeForce 8200-ITX seems to be one of
the cheapest of the bunch, making it a no-brainer if you don't mind the negatives
noted above. Its low price makes the Zotac GeForce 8200-ITX a tempting lure.
We wouldn't blame anyone for taking the bait.

Zotac GeForce 8200-ITX WiFi
PROS



* Very low power consumption when idle/during video playback

* HDMI with 8-channel audio

* WiFi

* Overclocks well

* Tempting price

CONS



* Blu-ray playback issues (driver problem)

* Apparent 95W CPU limit

Our thanks to Zotac
for the GeForce 8200-ITX WiFi sample.

* * *

Articles of Related Interest

Asus P5N7A-VM: Geforce 9300 IGP

Asus
P5Q-EM G45 mATX motherboard


Asus
M3A78-T: AMD's IGP Gets Another Boost


Intel
DG45FC: Loaded LGA775 Mini-ITX Board


Zotac NF610i-ITX: A Compact Core 2 Solution

Asus
M3N78 Pro: Geforce 8300 & HybridPower Explored

* * *

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