As technology grows more standardized and commonplace, the pricey hardware relics of the past are no longer the only option for securing quality systems and components. Four years ago, I can remember selling digital cameras and customers asking for a decent choice for sub $100. That’s when I reached behind the counter and handed them a box that held a plastic digital camera inside wrapped up like a Barbie Doll. If you wanted the next step up, you moved into the 4 mega-pixel category with sub-par lenses and digital zoom. Not until you reached the $400~$500 range did you begin to see cameras that you would actually want to take pictures with. Nothing really existed in between. I would coach customers into buying something that met their minimal requirements and then tell them to wait for another year because what they held in their hands would be obsolete in twelve months and they would be able to get a camera twice as good for cheaper. Needless to say, I didn’t last very long as a salesperson.
This kind of low-end-to-quality hardware option delta also was evident when I arrived at Logic Supply three years ago. The ruggedized, high-end solid state (no moving parts) computer systems cost a customer over $1500 for a basic configuration around an embedded VIA processing platform. Forget about dual core. The jump from a non-fanless system to a fanless one was pretty steep. Customers were certainly willing to take the plunge two years ago because nothing else really existed and people had money to spend. If you needed it, you needed it. That’s certainly not the case anymore.
With the introduction of the Intel Atom processor and subsequently Intel’s first, entry-level Mini-ITX offering, the “Little Falls,” mainboard and system prices began to drastically shoot downward. Flash memory prices also continued to ebb and flow with the market, but recently we’ve seen a significant drop in the overall cost of these components, too. The point I’m making here is that customers can finally obtain a quality, completely solid state system with a basic configuration (512 RAM, 1 GB solid state storage) for a reasonable price. The disparity between high-end and cheap has narrowed. (And, yes, I’m going to promote one of our new products to back up my previous statement.) Our new JT01 Fanless Mini-ITX System bridges the gap; it is slim, solid, completely fanless, and well priced at a starting configuration price of $299.
This is good news for our project customers who are increasingly price sensitive but still require hardware that can withstand harsh environments, operate continuously over time without failures, and be rugged enough to be placed in publicly accessed areas. Consumers could certainly benefit from a thin, mountable system that operates silently and won’t get clogged with cat hair, dust, and pizza grease.
We have one version of the JT01, at the moment, designed around the Intel D945GSEJT “Johnstown” mainboard. This is a good solution for short life cycle projects (~8–12 months) that require a basic, fanless system to get a project up and running quickly and at a reasonable price-point. This first configuration looks like this:
- Intel D945GSEJT “Johnstown” Mini-ITX Mainboard
- Steel chassis with extruded aluminum top panel
- 1.6 GHz Intel Atom N270 Processor and 945GSE chipset
- Front access to:
- 2x RS-232 COM ports
- 2x USB 2.0 ports
- 2x Audio jacks: line-out, mic
- Back panel access to:
- 1x VGA port
- 1x DVI-D port
- 3x USB 2.0 ports
- 1x Gb LAN port
- 1x Audio jack: line-out
- Power button
- 12-volt DC power from mainboard onboard power source
- Defaults to 512 MB RAM, 1 GB ATP eUSB Flash Storage Module, 60 W AC Adapter, Assembly and Testing
The second configuration, which will be available end of Q2, beginning of Q3, will be almost identical except that the mainboard for this system is Jetway’s Johnstown clone, the NF95. The major differences here are a 0°C~60°C operating temperature range as opposed to the 0°C~35°C on the Johnstown board, long life cycle support (5–7 years), and a 24-bit LVDS connector that works out of the box (Johnstown mainboard has an 18-bit LVDS connector, but it needs to be enabled and is really only for OEM use). The NF95 also features solid capacitors, which extends the longevity and reliability of the system. The system price will be slightly higher, but still very reasonable.
Wireless is an option with this system as well as the Broadcom Hardware Decoder, which enables 1080p playback and reduces CPU utilization. Only one can be installed though, because there is only one PCIe Mini Card slot on the mainboard. The JT01 also supports Windows XP, Windows 7, and Ubuntu Linux operating systems.
The case can be purchased separately, too, if you already have a Johnstown kicking around. Mounting brackets are included with both the system and the case and have a standard and DIN-rail mounting hole layout.
Of course, there are plenty of comparable options out there: Quanmax and MSI both make fanless systems designed around the Intel N270/945GSE processor-chipset combo. Priced a little higher, these systems come standard with 80 GB HDD, 1 GB RAM, and VESA mounting brackets.