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MoDT Mismatch: AOpen i945GTt-VFA & Silverstone LC-12

December 5, 2006 by Devon
Cooke

Products
Silverstone Lascala LC-12

Mini ITX, Small Form Factor Case
AOpen i945GTt-VFA

Mini ITX motherboard for Core Duo / Core 2 Duo
Manufacturers
SilverStone AOpen
Market Price
US$120~150 US$160~320

MoDT is a term coined by AOpen (and later adopted by Intel) soon after they
began making desktop motherboards for Pentium M processors. It stands for Mobile
on Desktop: Building "desktop" computers out of mobile parts. Today,
AOpen claims to be the number one MoDT and Small Form Factor company in the
world. The rest of the world doesn't seem to pay the term as much attention
as AOpen would like, however.

To a certain extent, MoDT is a holdover from the days when Intel's mobile Pentium
M was out-performing its mainstream Pentium 4 processors, which gave enthusiasts
considerable incentive to build high end systems from mobile parts (or at least
mobile processors). With Core 2 Duo replacing the overheated P4 and its multi-core
descendents, that reason for MoDT is now obsolete, but there are other
advantages offered by mobile parts that are still relevant, namely their low
power requirements and low heat output. Both of these are very important for
reducing noise, which explains Silent PC Review's continuing interest in MoDT
long after the mainstream sites appear to have forgotten about it.

There are several successful MoDT system on the market. All
of Apple's iMacs
use mobile parts, and many small form factor systems, such
as Shuttle's XPC X100, achieve
their small size and high level of integration by building what are essentially
laptops into immobile "desktop" enclosures. Then there is the tiny
Mac Mini and the series of similar-looking Mini PCs developed
by AOpen. There is also a crop of MoDT motherboards, which range from the
high-end, CrossFire-supporting i975Xa-YDG
to the
numerous Socket 754 boards
that "unofficially" support AMD's Turion
processor, (at least the ones that come in 754 casings, now destined to extinction)
and a handful of micro-ATX socket 479 boards from major motherboard brands for
Pentium M, Core Duo and even Core 2 Duo mobile processors.



The MoDT acronym is prominently displayed on the box.

AOpen's i945GTt-VFA is arguably more MoDT than any of the motherboards
listed above, since it is smaller, more integrated, and supports more mobile
parts than just the processor. It uses mobile SO-DIMMs for RAM, sports a single
mini-PCI slot, and fits into the tiny 17 x 17 cm mini-ITX (aka Flex-ATX) form
factor. It even gets its power laptop-style; instead of accepting an ATX power
header, it comes with a 19V, 90W power brick. In fact, the only "desktop"
elements left are the PCI Express 1x slot, full size ATA and SATA headers, and
the desktop-sized backplate.



SilverStone's Mini-ITX LC-12 case is just the thing for an MoDT system.

To go with the i945GTt-VFA, Silverstone's Mini-ITX LC-12 case is about
the closest thing to a "mobile" enclosure we're likely to see. It's
roughly the height and width of a pair of optical drives stacked on top of each
other and a little under twice as long, or about half the size of the
already tiny Shuttle Zen SFF system
.

Because the majority of Mini-ITX boards use VIA's low power EPIA processors,
the LC-12 is designed with low power in mind. There are no stock fans, and no
place to mount them even if there were. A small, fanless DC-DC converter powered
by a 12V, 60W power brick supplies power to the internal components, and, while
Silverstone does offer a 120W brick for those who need it, the lack of a system
fan is likely to make such a power-hungry system unviable.

AOPEN i945GTt-VFA

The US$300 typical price of the i945GTt-VFA is steep, especially given that
the very cheapest Core Duo processors start at ~US$150 — if you can find
them at all. (Editor's Note: At time of article posting, however,
Amazon is offering the board at $157.
) That said, there's more than just
a motherboard here. You also get a power supply and a heatsink for your money,
which would otherwise need to be purchased separately. Toss in the high level
of integration and the exotic form factor, and it doesn't seem like that bad
a deal after all.



All the usual accessories, plus component video out, a heatsink, and a power
brick.

SPECIFICATIONS: AOpen i945GTt-VFA (from AOpen's
web
site
)
CPU
- Intel Core 2 Duo/Core Duo/Core Solo CPU (Merom/Yonah)

- Socket 479

- 667MHz
Chipset
- Intel 945GT

- Intel ICH7MDH
Super I/O
Winbond (W83627EHF)
Clock Generator
ICS
Main Memory
- Dual Channel Mode

- Support : SO-DIMM DDRII 667/533/400

- SO-DIMM DDRII 667/533/400 x 2

- 128/256/512MB & 1GB x 2

- Max Memory : 2GB
Graphics
Integrated VGA Engine in
chipset
IDE
- Integrated ATA100 and
Serial ATA Controller

- Max Disk : 144,000,000GB [by 48 bits LBA Spec.]
LAN
Intel Gigabit PCI Express LAN chip
Sound
Azalia 7.1 channel codec
on-board (ALC882D)
USB
- Integrated in chipset

- USB2.0 x 8
IEEE 1394
Agere 1394 Control Chip
(FW3226-100)
Slots
- PCI Express (PCIe x1)
x 1

- Mini PCI x 1
Storage &

Back Panel I/O
- Adapter Connector x 1

- IDE Channel : ATA100 x 1

- Serial ATA Channel x 2

- PS/2 Keyboard x 1

- PS/2 Mouse x 1

- DVI Connector x 1

- Standard Video x 1

- 1394 Port x 1

- LAN Port x 1

- USB Port x 4

- COM Port x 1

- Line_In x 1

- MIC_In x 1

- Speaker_Out x 1

- Center/Subwoofer x 1

- Rear Surround x 1

- Side Surround x 1
Onboard

Connectors
- 4-pin 12V Connector x 1

- CPU FAN x 1

- System FAN x 1

- Front Panel x 1

- USB Port x 2

- COM Port x 1

- COM2 x 1

- IEEE 1394 x 1

- S/PDIF x 1

- CD_IN x 1
BIOS
Award PnP 4Mb Flash ROM
BIOS
Form Factor
Flex ATX (mini ITX)
Board Size
170 mm x 170 mm
Software & Utilities
- Acrobat Reader

- AOconfig utility

- EzInstall utility

- EzSkin utility

- EzWinFlash utility

- WinDMI utility

- Online eBook Manual
Accessories
- Adapter

- Back Panel I/O Shield

- Easy Installation Guide

- Enhanced Full Pictured Manual

- 80-wire IDE cable

- Serial ATA cable

- Serial ATA Power cable

- CPU Cooler x 1

- CPU Retention Module x 1

The i945GTt-VFA may be small, but it's based on a desktop chipset (945GT
Express
), so there are some desktop features here, especially on the A/V
side of things. 7.1 surround sound is fully supported, as is TV output via all
three common connections (component, S-Video, and composite). With special cables
and a little software tweaking, it should even be possible to get HDMI output
via the DVI port and S/PDIF output via one of the internal headers. Other features
that don't often show up on mobile products include a serial port, firewire,
and a PCI Express 1x slot.

All this adds up to a package that is well suited to almost any non-3D application.
Pretty much the only thing missing is a way of upgrading Intel's integrated
graphics. Other expansion possibilities are also a bit limited, but that is
to be expected with the size of the board. Drives are limited to two SATA and
two IDE channels, and RAM to two 1 GB sticks.



Believe it or not, AOpen has packed a fully-featured desktop chipset onto
this board.



Output ports are plentiful, including a DVI-I socket.

At this point, it is worth mentioning a rather boneheaded "bug" in
the feature set. AOpen advertises RAID support, as would be expected on any
board that uses Intel's ICH7 series northbridge. And, if you were willing to
forego an optical drive, you might just be able to power a pair of drives for
RAID 0 or RAID 1. However, as is standard for RAID systems, the RAID driver
for Windows is shipped on a floppy diskette so that it can be installed during
Windows setup. Now, look closely as the feature list, and see if you can spot
a floppy header. There isn't one. While we can think of a few workarounds, none
of them is simple, and some involve purchasing extra parts. For practical purposes,
this board does not support RAID in any usable way.

INTEGRATED POWER

So far, the i945GTt-VFA stands apart mostly because of its size and the components
it uses. And, while these are interesting, they are not what interests us most
about this board. In fact, our interest was piqued less by this board's computational
ability, than by the way it is powered: A 19V DC power brick.

The brick, which is fanless and eliminates the need for an external power supply,
is taken directly from the laptop market, right down to its unusual 19V output
voltage. It's manufactured by Delta, the world's largest power supply maker,
and is rated for 90W. We are told that the motherboard itself can handle up
to 180W, which should provide plenty of overhead for hot conditions that might
provoke a failure.

Because the board is not compatible with conventional ATX12V power supplies,
power for external peripherals such as drives must be supplied by the board
itself. This is done via a special adapter that plugs into a Molex header near
the center of the motherboard. The adapter supplies two Molex connections —
enough for one hard drive and one optical drive. A further adapter allows one
of them to be a SATA drive, but no other connections are provided, so the board
is essentially limited to two drives. And, given that the power must be routed
through the motherboard itself, it's probably best not to tempt fate by using
additional adapters to hook up any more.



This 19V power brick is the most "mobile" characteristic of the
board.

So it uses a power brick, you might say. So what? Why get excited over it when
a full sized power supply can support more devices and supply more watts? If
you have to ask those questions, you've probably missed the point of MoDT. The
power brick offers several advantages over a traditional power supply:

  • It's much, much smaller.
  • It's probably more efficient, as fewer intermediate conversion steps are
    needed to obtain working voltages for the various chips on the board.
  • It's quieter, as it eliminates the need for a fan in the power supply.
  • It doesn't leave unused cables dangling all over the interior of the case.

CPU COOLING

Because mobile processors do not come with heatsinks, AOpen has included a
small heatsink of their own. This is fortunate, as the small dimensions of the
mini-ITX form factor do not work well with the massive aftermarket heatsinks
that dominate the market. The mounting holes for the heatsink are not compatible
with any current mounting systems, so we hope that AOpen's heatsink is up to
the task.

The heatsink appears to be the same one used on some of AOpen's earlier MoDT
boards, notably the i915Ga-HFS
and later versions of the i915GMm-HFS.
While hardly a high-performance part, it has been adequate to cool our Pentium
M processors in the past, and we don't foresee any problems this time around.



The heatsink is simple extruded aluminum, and is not large.

The fan is a low profile 50mm model from Young Lin Tech Co. (no web site available).
It has a clear blue plastic frame, is reasonably quiet, but is unreasonably
buzzy. It's not our first choice for a low-noise cooler, but it's livable enough.



Fan courtesy of Young Lin Tech Co., model DEB501012L.

BIOS

The BIOS is about what you'd expect for a midrange aftermarket board. There
are plenty of on-off switches for the various features, and basic hardware monitoring
is included. However, overclocking is limited to adjusting the FSB between 166
and 190 MHz. Adjusting the CPU clock or multiplier downwards is not supported,
and neither are any voltage tweaks — up or down.



Limited FSB overclocking, under the misleading title of "CPU Clock".

Fan control is included but is almost as limited as overclocking. The CPU "Smart
Fan" option can be enabled or disabled, but no temperature thresholds can
be set, and the fan curve cannot be tweaked. That's not necessarily a bad thing;
so long as the fan controller is indeed "smart" enough not to ramp
up until absolutely necessary. We'll find out more when we get to the actual
tests.



Fan control is limited to "on" and "off".

SILVERSTONE LASCALA
LC-12

The target market for the LaScala LC-12 is tiny. Most mini-ITX boards are intended
for commercial or integrated environments, yet here is a mini-ITX case that
is aimed squarely at the consumer market. It's brushed aluminum finish makes
it look a an integrated amplifier from the 80's, and some care has been put
into making it visually appealing. And, with a retail price above US$100, it
needs to be a showpiece to be worth the price.



It's narrow width makes it look taller than it actually is: Just under four
inches tall.

FEATURE HIGHLIGHTS: Silverstone LC-12 (from Silverstone's
web
site
)
FEATURE & BRIEF COMMENT
Compact case fits anywhere
The biggest selling point of anything mini-ITX.
Accommodates full size hard drive
Perhaps this is addressed
at the home theater market?
Discreet styling for all applications
OK.
Easy to access front ports
Standard on larger case,
we're glad to see it here.


SPECIFICATIONS: Silverstone LC-12 (from Silverstone's
web
site
)
Material
Aluminum front panel, 1.0mm aluminum body
Color
Black or Silver
Motherboard
Mini-ITX
Drive Bays
External: Slim Optical
x 1

lnternal: 3.5” x 1
Cooling System
Top and side panel vents
Expansion Slots
0
Front I/O Port
- USB2.0 port x 2

- 1394 Firewire x 1

- Earphone jack x 1

- MIC x 1
Power Supply
60W DC to DC adapter
Net Weight
1.3 kg
Dimensions
184 mm (W) x 97 mm (H)
x 288 mm (D)

A quick look at Silverstone's product page reveals a few important details:

  • There is room for one full sized hard drive...
  • ...but only a half-height laptop optical drive.
  • There are no expansion slots.
  • A 60W power brick powers a fanless DC power supply.

One other detail that is not mentioned is the fact that there is no
cover for the optical drive bay. This is a huge problem for the case's aesthetics,
since it means that if an optical drive is not used, there is a gaping hole
in the front panel. And, even if an optical drive is used, chances are
pretty slim that the drive will match the aluminum finish. Users who care for
looks are strongly advised to go for the black version, since it's not too difficult
to find black optical drives (although the slim form factor doesn't allow for
a lot of choice).

EXTERNAL OVERVIEW

The design of the LC-12 is pretty simple. It's basically a box with a few venting
holes in it to let heat out. As mentioned, there are no system fans of any kind,
which means that, with the exception of the CPU fan on our motherboard, the
system will be running fanlessly.

The appearance is classy, thanks mostly to the brushed aluminum finish, but
pretty basic. The power button, power and HDD LEDs, and the front ports are
all easily accessible — and easily visible — in a horizontal line
along the bottom edge of the fascia. Mirroring it on top is the slim line of
the optical drive, which, as mentioned, does not have a cover. Aside from that,
it's a silver box, and no amount of brushed aluminum is going to say otherwise.



The front panel could really use a silver drive bay cover.



The back panel is about half open to make room for the I/O ports on the motherboard.



This jack is for power input, but nowhere does it say that it expects 12V
DC.

It's possible to sum up the airflow through the LC-12 very quickly: There's
not much of it. In fact, the two vents shown in the photo below are the only
cooling vents on the entire case. The total vent area can't be much more than
five square inches (35 cm²) total. With no fans forcing air through the
vents, it's likely to get pretty hot inside. For low-powered EPIA systems, this
won't be a problem; total power dissipation for these systems is rarely more
than 15~20W. However, our Core Duo-based system will be different. We'll have
to see how things turn out.



These vents are the extent of airflow management.

POWER SUPPLY

The LC-12 comes with a fanless, DC-DC power supply that draws power from an
external 12V power brick. The basic idea is the same as the
picoPSU
, although the circuit board that the LC-12 uses is bigger and more
complex. The default brick is rated for 60W, and, although Silverstone offers
a 120W upgrade, it's hard to imagine the case being able to provide enough cooing
to support that kind of heat output.



This PCB is the "inner" half of the power supply, converting 12V
into the various other required voltages.

The power brick that came with our sample was manufactured by a Taiwanese company
called Lien Chang. However, Silverstone advised us that they have since changed
suppliers for better quality control.



This is the 12V power brick that came with early versions of the LC-12.

Details about the power supply proved to be very difficult to come by. Aside
from the 60W capacity of the power brick, Silverstone does not list any specifications
for the power supply as a whole, and output specs are missing completely. Google
searches for the manufacturer of the PCB (Daystar) and the power brick (Lien
Chang) both turned up nothing, so we are unable to do much more than speculate.

We did run the power supply through some quick efficiency tests, but the results
should be taken with a grain of salt given that Silverstone has since switched
suppliers. That's probably a good thing, though, as the power supply did very
poorly in our test, and was unable to deliver a full 60W under any load conditions
that we tried. The highest output we could achieve was ~53W, with 3A on each
of the three major lines. Boosting any of the lines to 4A caused an immediate
shutdown. With only 3A (36W) available on the +12V line, we would expect many
systems to have issues with this, especially those that use full-size drives.

OUTPUT & EFFICIENCY: Silverstone LC-12 Power Supply











DC Output Voltage (V) + Current (A)
Power Factor

Total DC Output

AC Input

Calculated Efficiency
+12V1
+5V
+3.3V
-12V
+5VSB
11.83
0.96
5.10
0.98
3.34
0.96
0.0
0.0
0.62
19.6
28.5
68.6%
11.53
1.82
5.06
1.94
3.32
2.70
0.0
0.0
0.66
39.8
54.4
73.1%
11.20
2.63
5.02
2.84
3.29
2.66
0.0
0.0
0.68
52.5
73.1
71.8%
Standby: 1.6W / PF: 0.41

No Load: 4.0W / PF: 0.51

The efficiency numbers for the power supply were miserable, barely poking above
70% when most good power supplies can at least hit 80%. In addition to shutting
down below 60W output, the +12V line also strayed out of regulation in our highest
load test. The 0.8V drop at this level was well beyond the 5% (0.6V) tolerance
required by ATX12V. Even with a paltry 1A on the +12V line, it was still almost
0.2V below nominal, and the large fluctuations with load did not inspire confidence.

To top everything off, the power supply made noise. Fanless it might have been,
but it emitted a sharp electronic squeal whenever it was running. The noise
wasn't loud, and might well have disappeared had it been enclosed, but it was
audible throughout the room during the test. The noise appeared to come from
the PCB, not the power brick, so it may still be a problem even in models that
ship with the newer brick.

We hope Silverstone's new supplier has improved on this. We are not confident
that this power supply could power anything but a very low power EPIA-based
system. Mini-ITX systems for Core Duo or Turion chips are out of the question.

INSTALLATION

Installation was simple. There's simply not enough room to put many components
in, and the LC-12 is basically an open tray when disassembled. The only real
challenge was keeping cables away from the CPU heatsink so that they would not
impede airflow.

The interior layout is as simple as the exterior. The motherboard lies on the
bottom of the case, while the drives (the only possible peripherals) are screwed
to a drive tray that sits across the top. The drive tray is removed, the motherboard
screwed into the bottom, and then the drive tray is replaced with the drives
installed.



The drive tray hangs above the system.

The drive tray is basically a long aluminum plate that runs the length of the
case. The optical drive sits on top, while the hard drive hangs underneath.

There are mounting holes for both standard and notebook hard drives, but, as
mentioned, the optical drive must be a slim, mobile version. Both drives are
in the front half of the case, leaving room for a large hole in the back half
of the mounting tray, presumably to allow an extra half inch of space for the
CPU heatsink.



This drive tray sits across the top of the case.



The hard drive is screwed to the bottom of the drive tray.



Motherboard in place without the drive tray...



...and with the drive tray and all cables connected.

THERMAL & ACOUSTIC TESTING

Aside from the i945GTt-VFA and the LC-12, only three other components were
needed to complete the system:

Windows XP Pro SP2 was installed, and our usual gamut of software tools installed:

  • SpeedFan
    4.31
    for CPU and other hardware monitoring.
  • Intel Thermal Analysis Tool for processor stress testing, thermal
    monitoring, and throttle monitoring.

Other tools:

TEST RESULTS

Ambient conditions were 19°C and 18 dBA. It is Winter, and the
lab was snowed in
under about 30 cm of snow when the testing was conducted.
This made for unusually cold, but also unusually quiet ambient conditions.

AOpen i945GTt-VFA & Silverstone LC-12 Test Results
Load Condition
CPU Temperature

(via SpeedFan)
CPU Core

Temperature

(via Intel TAT)
System

Temperature
HDD

Temperature
Fan Speed
System

Power Draw
Noise Level
Idle
47°C

(49°C w/o

SpeedStep)
33°C

(38°C w/o

SpeedStep)
59°C
38°C
2700 RPM
25W
Load (Intel TAT)
106°C*
98°C*
80°C
50°C
3600 RPM
63W
Load (Cover Removed)
79°C
73°C
59°C
31°C
3600 RPM
57W
HDD Seek
47°C
33°C
59°C
40°C
2700 RPM
27W
*CPU throttled at these temperatures.

Testing the i945GTt-VFA and the LC-12 together was an exercise in steady nerves.
This system ran uncomfortably, even painfully hot, despite the wintery conditions
in our lab. If your gut instinct is to shut things down as soon as the processor
approaches 50°C, this is not the board for you; according to Speedfan (which
reported a different sensor than Intel's Thermal Analysis Tool), the CPU idled
at 47°C. This isn't a P4 Prescott we're talking about. This is a mobile
processor that idles at ~1.5W.
The "system" temperature (which we suspect is actually the Northbridge)
idled at 60°C!

And, the worst part of all this? The total power draw was just 25W. Folks,
the only systems we've measured with less heat output than that are VIA's
EPIA based systems
. Even the
iMac
couldn't match such a low power draw. When you have a 25W system that
runs at 50°C in idle, your thermal engineers have done something seriously,
seriously wrong.

Not surprisingly, the system throttled to keep cool under full load, even with
the CPU fan going full tilt. What was surprising was how long it took to throttle.
The CPU remained stable and fully functional right up to 98°C. We'll have
to rethink our ideas about what a safe CPU temperature is; Intel's new Core-series
chips appear to be more heat tolerant (or perhaps just report higher temperatures)
than the old Netburst-based ones. Whether or not the CPU is built to take such
a thrashing, other components are not, and the 80°C "system" temperature
and the 50°C hard drive were unacceptable.

After our nerve-wracking experience at 100°C, we were surprised to find
that the aluminum casing of the LC-12 was hot to the touch. When we popped the
cover off and felt the drive tray, it was too hot to touch for more than a second
or two. Ordinarily, the case material plays very little role in exhausting system
heat, but that was clearly not the case this time. Presumably, the lack of a
system fan and the tiny exhaust vents meant that heat had to use whatever means
necessary to dissipate, including conduction via the aluminum shell.

All this pointed to the case as the culprit for the high temperatures, so we
ran the test again without the cover. This dropped the CPU temperature by about
25°C — still high, but no longer dangerous. More significantly, the
system power draw dropped by 6W, indicating that the power circuitry was no
longer headed towards thermal runaway.

Thermal performance nonwithstanding, the tiny amount of power sipped up by
the i945GTt-VFA was impressive. When the board was running properly, the 57W
load was probably lower than any other Intel or AMD-based system we've tested,
though exact comparisons are difficult to make due to differences in stress
software (vs. the Shuttle X100)
and in components (the LCD in the
iMacs
).

From a noise perspective, things turned out well enough. Despite the small
heatsink and the buzzy fan, AOpen surprised us with one of the best, most conservative
fan controllers we've ever encountered on a motherboard. Changes in fan speed
were very, very gradual, and could not be detected by ear unless listened for
specifically.

There were hints that the fan controller wasn't as simple as a thermal threshold.
When the system was initially powered up, the fan spun at full speed for about
five minutes before dropping slowly to minimum speed, where it stayed until
the system was pressed hard. We couldn't identify a positive threshold temperature
when the fan speeded up, but it seemed to start increasing when the CPU Core
was somewhere between 70~80°C.

The acoustic difference between minimum and full speed was not large, which
probably helped contribute to our perception that changes in fan speed were
difficult to hear. And, given how fast the fan was spinning (2,700~3,600 RPM),
the 23~25 [email protected] noise measurements were actually pretty good. The noise was
acceptably quiet no matter what the speed, although it would never fall into
the inaudible category that the best systems achieve. Our biggest complaint
was that the noise character was unpleasant, with lots of buzz and whine that
was far from smooth.

The worst noise from the system actually had nothing to do with the fan at
all; seek noise from the hard drive was the most disruptive noise we heard.
The 27 [email protected] is about accurate for what we heard. The seeks were sharp and
clearly audible above the rest of the system noise. That's very loud for a supposedly
"quiet" notebook drive, and much louder than the 20 [email protected] seek noise

that we heard when we did our
original review
. It was the effect of the aluminum box amplifying the vibrations
from the hard drive.

A FAN SWAP

The LC-12 is tight, and doesn't really lend itself to modification, but we
felt we had to give it at least a chance to redeem itself. To this end, we decided
to replace the stock fan with a much bigger, quieter fan (a 92mm Nexus) that
would hopefully be powerful enough to put the air vents to good use. With no
way of mounting the fan to the heatsink, the mod was a bit rough and ready,
relying on gravity and friction to keep it in place above the heatsink, but
it did give us some idea of how the system would perform with upgraded cooling.



A Nexus "Real Silent" 92mm fan was wedged on top of the heatsink.

AOpen i945GTt-VFA & Silverstone LC-12 with Fan
Swap Test Results
Load Condition
CPU Temperature

(via SpeedFan)
CPU Core

Temperature

(via Intel TAT)
System

Temperature
Fan Speed
System

Power Draw
Noise Level
Idle
41°C
28°C
48°C
<1000 RPM
22W
Load (Intel TAT)
95~100°C
89~94°C
60°C
1500 RPM

(Max)
59W

At idle, the new fan was a huge improvement. The CPU temperature dropped significantly,
the system temperature was 10°C lower, and the power consumption dropped
to a spectacularly low 22W. Best of all, the noise signature changed from a
drone to a soft whoosh that was almost at the ambient noise level.

Things were less successful under load. The CPU did not throttle, but it did
cycle between 95~100°C — just barely below the throttle point. It cycled
because the fan controller cycled between maximum and minimum speed about once
every two minutes. For whatever reason, the fan controller did not behave so
well with the different fan, and the thermal threshold at which the fan speed
increased was much higher during this test.

The changes in noise were also more noticeable with the Nexus fan, although
they were not terrible. At full speed, most of the noise seemed to be the whoosh
of air turbulence, and, although it was slightly louder than the stock fan,
it was probably less noticeable because of its less tonal character.

All in all, the thermal performance was still pretty poor, and the slapdash
nature of the mod makes it difficult to recommend as a viable solution to the
thermal issues that we encountered. [Editor's Note: A quiet 60mm fan
mounted atop the heatsink might have provided better cooling with its more focused
airflow. Still, the heatsink itself is really not acceptable except for very
light use.
]

MP3 RECORDINGS

Sound Recordings of Comparative Systems

HOW TO LISTEN & COMPARE

These recordings were made
with a high resolution, studio quality, digital recording system and are
intended to represent a quick snapshot of what we heard during the review.
Two recordings of each noise level were made, one from a distance of one
meter
, and another from one foot away.

The one meter recording is
intended to give you an idea of how the subject of this review sound 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. For best results, set your volume control so that the ambient
noise is just barely audible. 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 one foot recording is
designed to bring out the fine details of the noise. Use this recording
with caution! Although more detailed, it may not represent how the subject
sounds in actual use. It is best to listen to this recording after you
have listened to the one meter recording.

More details about how we
make these recordings can be found in our short article: Audio
Recording Methods Revised
.

CONCLUSIONS

Individually, the i945GTt-VFA nor the LC-12 aren't bad if you understand their
limitations. Together, their problems compounded, as both have the same weakness:
Poor thermal design.

In a well ventilated case, the stock heatsink-fan of the i945GTt-VFA is probably
good enough, especially if it is not used for intensive work, or with a slower
processor than our midrange Core Duo. Its DC power circuitry is a mobile feature
that we'd love to see on more desktop boards, and it did not appear to have
any functional problems. It's only limitation is the number of peripherals it
can support, and given the mini-ITX form factor, they will not be missed.

In spite of its small size, this board is not lacking for features, and the
Intel 945GT chipset (Intel's MoDT-specific chipset) ensures that all of the
usual integrated devices are included. We had no gripes with Intel's integrated
graphics, especially given that the outputs were DVI and three different TV
connections. However, some users will probably complain that there is no provision
for upgrading it.

As seems to be the case with almost all of AOpen's MoDT boards, its Achilles
heel is the small, proprietary CPU heatsink. This is less of a problem for a
mini-ITX board where a proprietary heatsink is to be expected, and it really
wasn't all that loud, but silence enthusiasts will be disappointed to learn
that it cannot easily be made inaudible.

We are less enthusiastic about the LC-12. While it may be good enough for a
20W EPIA system, its airflow design seems inadequate. Good thermal design has
taken the back seat to small dimensions and styling, and it shows. Cooling almost
any system without a system fan demands a design that can take good advantage
of convection or conduction, and the LC-12 doesn't cut it in this department.

Another disappointments was the lack of an expansion slot, despite the fact
that the mini-ITX form factor provides space for one. Toss in the missing cover
for the optical drive bay and the dismal performance of the DC power supply,
and you'll understand why we weren't impressed with this case. We can only hope
that Silverstone's updated power brick has improved things a little.

Both of these products are specialty items, and both can probably cater to
their respective niches. However, as our thermal tests showed, they do not perform
well together. If you happen to be looking for a mini-ITX board that supports
Core (2) Duo, the i945GTt-VFA will probably suit your needs, and is one of the
few boards that can do so. Just be aware that compromises may need to be made.

Many thanks to AOpen
for supplying the i945GTt-VFA sample,

and to Silverstone
for supplying the Lascala LC-12 sample.

* * *

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