New ION Boards Have Arrived

New ION Boards Have Arrived

New ION Boards Have Arrived

We are offering three new NVIDIA ION-based Mini-ITX mainboards at Logic Supply. Two are from ZOTAC and one is a Pegatron offering. Each is geared toward multimedia applications, offering HDMI, DVI, VGA, and digital audio. Although the back panel I/O is beefed up, the onboard I/O is pretty slender with just the bare minimum connectors to get by. Neither of them have IDE (no real surprise), but instead offer 3–4 SATA connectors. The ZOTAC features RAID 0, 1, and 0+1, while the Pegatron version has it disabled. We’re still trying to figure that one out… and the Pegatron version also features RAID 0, 1, and 0+1 with an updated BIOS (version 09.03).

Our ZOTAC ION selection is: ZOTAC ION B-E Mini-ITX Mainboard, IONITX-B-E featuring the Intel Atom 230 processor and the ZOTAC ION A-U Mini-ITX Mainboard, IONITX-A-U featuring the dual core Intel Atom 330 processor, onboard power, and pre-installed PCIe Mini wireless card with antenna. These boards are practically identical, with the exception of the onboard power, processor, and wireless card. And, of course the price.

Our Pegatron option is the IPX7A-ION Mini-ITX Mainboard. It touts a dual core Intel Atom 330 processor, 4 SATA connectors, and PCIe x16. The PCIe x16 slot seems to be an afterthought for this board and we wish that it had the PCIe Mini Card slot like the ZOTAC. Generally PCIe x16 slots are reserved for graphics cards, and well, if you’re buying an NVIDIA ION board, the hope is you won’t need an additional graphics card.

All three of these boards are targeted at the HTPC market and even make great digital signage players, for the short-term. The ION-Atom-330 combination is not a long-term support platform, and we are shying customers away from developing any projects on these with the exception of prototyping. The hope is that we’ll see a Mini-ITX board with native support for high-end HD graphics, low-power consumption, and long-term support.  Whether or not it’s through a hardware decoder installed into a PCIe Mini card slot or if it’s when the NVIDIA ION pairs up with the VIA Nano (if rumors serve true), we’re counting on it happening.

So far, none of our other mainboard manufacturers are releasing Mini-ITX boards with the NVIDIA ION chipset and Intel Atom processor combo. We’re seeing some full systems (both from AOpen and MSI) in the pipeline. The AOpen one will likely be a Digital Engine revision and the MSI one has already been leaked: the D200 nettop. The D200 is designated for the consumer market, so it is highly unlikely we’ll get our hands on one.

Comments (36)

  1. Steve Dibb
    July 1, 2009

    Oh, man, that is awesome … I was actually going to call the other day to see if you guys were gonna add some IONs. Rock on. 🙂

  2. Martin Petrus
    July 3, 2009

    “The PCIe x16 slot seems to be an afterthought for this board and we wish that it had the PCIe Mini Card slot like the ZOTAC.”

    I don’t believe that is accurate. Actually, I believe the PCIe x16 port will be the board’s strong selling point. Don’t get me wrong, I like the ZOTAC designs, but I appreciate greater feature selection over being able to buy virtually the same board at different prices based on who built it.

    Thanks to the integration of the slot, the PEGATRON board also complies with the Mini-ITX 2.0 specification, however (un)important that is.

    Now to the point: PCIe is by no means limited to be a graphics card interface. Thinking so would be misleading. Standard PCIe x16 provides much better expandability over Mini PCIe. Correct me if I’m wrong, but there are only wireless NIC and SSD cards available for Mini PCIe. There is a bunch of things PCIe x16 can do and Mini PCIe cannot. To name a few: Standard PCIe provides backward compatibility (using the correct convertor) with legacy PCI devices. As mentioned before, you can plug an extra graphic card into it for more display units. You can use professional grade audio interfaces with it. Find yourself a TV tuner that will fit in, etc.

    The ideal solution for me would be having both the Mini PCIe and PCIe x16 ‘onboard’ and i don’t see why boards like that should not appear soon since the ION chip can support both them. Taking out the standard PCIe slot, however, seems to me a step backwards.

    Cheers,

    MP

  3. Tony
    July 6, 2009

    @Martin:

    Thanks for your alternate perspective and a strong argument for other mainboard manufacturers to integrate full PCIe slots in the future (hint, hint).

    We’ve actually had a couple of customers purchase this board simply because it was an Atom 330 with a full PCIe slot – they didn’t care about the ION graphics at all!

    Cheers,
    Tony

  4. Keith
    July 6, 2009

    I am one of those that do not care about the graphics. I wanted a full PCIe-16 slot to use with a hardware RAID card to build a home server. Motherboard RAID 5 is just too slow, the PCI RAID card options did not have enough bandwidth for the drives, the PCIe-1 cards only supported 2 drives and the other PCIe-16 boards were graphics only. So the Pegatron board was just what I was looking for. Put it in a Chenbro 34069 and you have a full-fledged but tiny server, great for use at home (or at least that is my plan).

  5. Anathae
    July 7, 2009

    I have to agree with Martin.

    Another thing you can get for the 16x slot would be hardware like a hardware raid controller allowing you to build a monster of a nas with out the power cost of a micro atx based mother board

  6. July 15, 2009

    What fanless cases would does Logic Supply recommend for these boards?!

  7. Kelledin
    July 17, 2009

    I agree with Martin on the PCIe x16 slot, at least if it’s not PEG-only. Myself I got the IONITX-A board right when they first started showing up on a certain other online store–I’d have grabbed it here if it had shown up here sooner, but it was a little too “fresh” at the time. (In fact, less than a day after I ordered it, it got a $10 price bump and “limit 1 per customer” proviso.)

    Regarding a fanless case, I’m looking at the Serener L01 cases, but the problem is getting a customized heat-pipe block. I actually brought it up with one of their FAEs, so they’re aware of the demand. They’re more geared to working with companies, though, and they would expect a board sample sent overseas plus some engineering diagrams.

    Possibly I could mod one of their existing pre-fabbed heat-pipe blocks. Dremel-work and thread-tapping would be required, but I’m no stranger to that.

  8. Paul
    July 18, 2009

    Don’t forget firewire! That’s what I will use the PCIe slot for.

  9. Carl
    July 23, 2009

    Kristina said, “The ION-Atom-330 combination is not a long-term support platform…”.
    Other reviews have said that using the Atom 330 to push video apps or codecs is a poor usage with poor benchmark results (normally compared to the 230). If it is ZOTAC and Pegatron that are short stroking the longevity, certainly don’t bank on them, but I think the ION/Atom 330 combination will be the one to watch and it is just getting started with these early entries.
    Keith has a great idea! Use the x16 for hi-value RAID (5?), but don’t forget the video. This board with a RAID card begs to be the house media server hooked up to the big screen, supplying video storage and house wide data backup(4 2TB SATA HDD’s for 8TB). Pop in a USB WiFi adapter on one of the Full/Hi speed ports and you should have it.

  10. Tony
    July 24, 2009

    Hi Carl,

    It is not Zotac, Pegatron, or NVIDIA determining the short lifecycle of the ION platform, it is Intel. The Atom 230 and 330 are not on the Intel embedded roadmap (long life, 5-7 years), which typically indicates a lifecycle of approximately 18-24 months. Until earlier this week, the Pine Trail platform was scheduled to replace the Atom 230/330 in October; recent news indicates that this has been pushed back until the first quarter of 2010. It’s very unclear what will happen to the ION platform at that point, since Pine Trail will have the GPU integrated with the CPU. There are already rumors of an ION II, as well as compatibility with VIA’s Nano CPU, but we’ll just have to wait and see…

    Long-term lifecycles typically aren’t important for consumers who purchase a single unit at the time that it is a current technology and simply replace it with the latest technology in 2-4 years.

    A very large portion of Logic Supply’s customers, however, are not individual consumers, but companies with projects that require them to standardize on a stable product so they can roll out thousands of units over the course of several years. Development cycles for these projects can be quite long and very expensive, so starting a 3 year project on a CPU with only 6 months left in its lifecycle doesn’t make sense.

    This is why Logic Supply is stressing the fact that this is not a suitable product for long-term projects that require the same product to be available for a couple of years. It shouldn’t affect enthusiasts, but we want expectations to be very clear for our larger project customers.

  11. Tony
    July 24, 2009

    Cecil and Kelledin,

    I would not recommend any of the side-cooled fanless cases for this board – they simply don’t have enough surface area to effectively cool a CPU/Chipset with the ION’s TDP.

    We have been exploring the option of a heat pipe for the GS-L05 which is top-cooled and has greater dissipation capacity, but the development and testing of heat pipes is not quick or cheap. With the news that Intel will delay Pine Trail, the likelihood of developing an ION heat pipe certainly increases, since we would have a few more months of lifespan with the ION platforms.

  12. Richard Moss
    July 24, 2009

    Kristin and Staff, will ITX-A-U support a Linux distribution? Ambiguous language at Zotac, “Vista ready;” But CPU Sept 09, p. 34 (Leibman) hardware test was successful with Vista and Windows 7 (RC1).

    I’m seeing ambiguity in Zotac’s language about Blu-Ray support. Zotac’s web site announces ION Series D and C. For D, there’s language to effect, “Now supports 1080p Blu-ray.”

    Does ITX-A-U support Blu-ray? (Zotac has matrix for A, B, E, C, D and check box for “compare” but no way to execute.

    Given that ITX-A-U is designed for HTPC, can I nonetheless assume that given keyboard, printer, and Open Office I can do modest volume of take-home office work.

    I’ll appreciate your clarification and guidance,

    Richard Moss

  13. Keith
    July 29, 2009

    I now have my server up and running. It is working great. The board was the easiest to install software on that I have done in quite awhile. I had to take the RAID card (Adaptec 5405 running 4 1TB drives in a RAID-5) in and out many times because I kept finding wires that I needed to install under it in the Chenbro, but I expected that with the Chenbro. I migrated my SBS 2003 to SBS 2008 on the new server. After a bunch of non-hardware related issues (2 different firewalls blocking Windows Server Update – Sonicwall and Symantec Endpoint), everything got running. File-related operations are great. It did a full virus scan in 3 1/2 hours, where previously it was 10-12 hours using a motherboard RAID-5 unit. Files get served up wonderfully. Exchange has been no problems either. RAM is a little tight because the board maxes at 4G and SBS 208 minimum is 4G, but it is working fine now, with about 1G usually free. I am actually using the DVI output but as it is a regular server, not a media server, I cannot vouch to the capabilities of the 330 under those conditions. But the RAID card has offloaded all of the disk operations wonderfully and sped that part up tremendously, so there are a lot of available MIPS that could go to video operations.

  14. Tony
    July 29, 2009

    Hi Richard,

    I’ve answered your query in more detail via email, but the short answer is yes, the Zotac boards will work with Ubuntu without any problem (you may need to download additional drivers), and the ION chipset will decode Blu-ray discs. I’ve tested the Zotac B-E with Ubuntu 9.04 and XBMC, and had no trouble with a high-def .mkv file once 512MB shared video RAM was enabled in the BIOS and VDPAU was set up in XBMC.

    We’ll be stocking a (relatively) low-cost, high-quality slimline BD drive from Panasonic very soon.

    Here’s the catch: I’m not aware of any current software that will allow you to play a Blu-ray movie in Linux – you’ll need to run Windows and a media application that allows for offloading to the GPU, such as PowerDVD or Total Media Theater. If anyone out there has found a way to do this, please let me know!

    As for mild office work, you should be fine with the A-U; the dual-core Atom won’t blow you away with speed, but it’s certainly sufficient for basic word processing, email, surfing the net, etc. The one thing that it can’t do that you might expect it to is play HD Flash from sites like Hulu – Flash does not yet support offloading to the GPU, and is very CPU intensive. Hopefully we’ll see that remedied by Adobe in early 2010.

    All of Zotac’s IONITX boards share the same MCP7A chipset; the first letter in the suffix indicates which CPU it uses, and the second letter indicates which region the power supply is intended for. The A and D designate a dual-core Atom 330, while the B and C use the single core 230. U indicates on-board power with a US power cord, E indicates no power option.

    Hope that helps with your decision. If you need more information, please don’t hesitate to call our technical sales team.

  15. Tony
    July 29, 2009

    Thanks for the follow-up, Keith; I’m glad you’re happy with the way everything is running!

  16. Chad
    August 4, 2009

    Does the Pegatron board not recognize 4GB of memory? I have a Jetway Atom 330 board that recognizes 4GB of memory but won’t let a 64-bit OS use anything beyond 3.2GB. Wondering if this is the case with the Pegatron board as well as any of the Zotac 330 Ion boards.

  17. Tony
    August 11, 2009

    Hi Chad,

    I haven’t tested either of these boards with a 64-bit system so I can’t say for sure, but I doubt that the ION would have the same limitation as the 945GC chipset in your Jetway board.

    In general, I would think you’d be better off running a 32-bit OS and utilizing software that supports NVIDIA’s CUDA technology, rather than going to a 64-bit OS. This is obviously heavily dependent upon your intended use.

    Has anyone else used a 64-bit OS?

  18. Lars
    August 22, 2009

    Hi,

    Been looking to build a NAS with the Chenbro ES4069 case and a Zotac ION motherboard. Will the MB fit into the Chenbro case? Any specific things to consider before buying as I’m a newbie at building systems.

    Thanks.

  19. Kristina Bond
    Kristina
    August 22, 2009

    Hi Lars,
    You can see whether or not the ION board is compatible with the Chenbro ES34069 here: http://compare.logicsupply.com. This link will take you to both the ZOTAC IONITX-A-U and the Pegatron IPX7A so you can see the differences between these two dual core Atom boards. The ZOTAC ION A-U only has 3 SATA connectors and no IDE, so you are somewhat limited on the number of storage devices you can use. The ES34069 has 4x 3.5″ SATA HDD hot-swappable bays, 1x 2.5″ notebook HDD bay (internal), and an ODD bay. But, it looks like the board fits just fine.

    I hope this information helps!
    Kristina

  20. Bill
    August 24, 2009

    Hmm, PCI-E x16? The first thing that comes to my mind is a riser card that splits it into:
    4 – 4x slots
    or
    2 – 8x slots
    Which brings up the list of “toys” I’d use in those slots:
    o IB card
    o FC cards
    o Several SCSI (or SAS, or SATA) cards
    o Several GbE (or even one good Quad Gbe)

    you get the idea….

  21. Chris
    August 29, 2009

    Is the eSATA port on the Zotac board compatible with enclosures that include port multipliers? I’ve seen some add-on cards with an eSATA port that specify that they don’t support port multipliers. Granted, it was cheap, but it’s an important point. Otherwise that connection may present to the OS as only a single drive.

  22. Tony
    September 1, 2009

    Hi Chris,

    Unfortunately, the NVIDIA chipset does not support SATA port multiplying, and thus can only use one drive per SATA port, including the eSATA port on the rear.

  23. Sarith
    September 2, 2009

    Chris,

    I can confirm Tony’s comment above. I was on the phone with Zotac for quite a while about this, and was probably one of the 3 people you’ve found on the internet posting about this issue. Tony is absolutely correct. A damn shame, really. I’ve had to return the TowerRAID TR4M-B 4-Bay SATA enclosure I intended to use with the eSATA port on this mobo. Port multiplication just does not work.

  24. Chris
    September 3, 2009

    I’m accruing my wish list for 2 boxes to be built within a few months. I need a low power Windows Home Server box, possibly fanless, probably linked to a 4-bay external enclosure. Since port multiplication doesn’t work on the NVIDIA chipset, that’s obviously the wrong choice. Now I guess I’ll wait for a 64-bit successor to the Intel Johnstown.

    The other box will run Windows Media Center, with tuners. The tuners probably will be external so the case can remain small. Because it won’t be on 24/7, and video processing takes more power, it needn’t be ultra-low power. The Zotac could serve that purpose. The storage requirements for it would be nominal, since I’ll store most of it on the WHS box.

  25. Tony Fiset
    tony f.
    September 9, 2009

    Hi Chris,

    For the home server, you might consider one of our Chenbro ES340 systems, either with an Intel Atom N270 or VIA Nano CPU.

    If you like the case but neither of these boards appeal to you, you can see all of the other compatible options in our new compatibility database at http://compare.logicsupply.com

  26. Chris
    September 10, 2009

    Tony, thanks for the reference. For the home server I need a dual-core CPU. Everything I’ve read about the future WHS upgrade points to it requiring a 64-bit processor. I was unaware that the Nano CPU was 64-bit capable, and will look further.

    Chris

  27. Chris
    September 12, 2009

    Tony, the Jetway NF76-N1GL-LF may be an appropriate choice for my WHS plans. It seems like Jetway’s daughter boards don’t include an eSATA option. SATA controllers with eSATA ports are available as PCI boards from other vendors. Does placement of the PCI slot on the Jetway board permit use of those? Perhaps through a PCI riser?

    TIA – Chris

  28. Tony
    September 24, 2009

    Hi Chris,

    I’m not sure I’m understanding your question correctly, but there is a COM port punchout on the back of the Chenbro case that might allow you to mount an eSATA port with a little creativity. They just updated this recently and we haven’t had time to update our image, so check the Chenbro site.

    There is no way to add a PCI card in the Chenbro case, unfortunately – at least not without voiding the warranty.

    The Jetway board with the daughtercard would give you enough ports for 4 storage drives, an OS and/or ODD via IDE/SATA, and one eSATA port. Not too shabby!

  29. rcfa
    September 29, 2009

    PointOfView claims up to 8GB RAM in their Atom330/ION board.
    e.g. http://www.dabs.ie/products/best-value-nvidia-ion-intel-atom-330-mitx-ddr2-a-l-64QM.html

    Did anyone test any board (Zotac, POV, Pegatron, ASUS, etc.) with that much RAM?
    i.e. do they just list 4GB because they figure in that price/performance class that’s enough, or does their hardware truly not support more? The issue here is running some 64-bit OS (FreeBSD or Linux), not some Windoze.
    I’m intending to use a board like this as a router, firewall, PBX system, so RAM counts (particularly for the PBX part where audio is involved).

  30. Tony
    September 29, 2009

    RCFA:

    If you want to send me a couple 4GB SODIMM sticks, I’d be more than happy to test the IPX7A for you – it’s the same as the POV, unless they have a custom BIOS. Last I checked though, 8GB of SODIMM was running $250-$300 which seems rather prohibitive to me.

    Zotac originally claimed support for 8GB RAM on pre-production specs, but changed it to 4GB by the time we saw production boards (the first few shipments actually had 8GB printed on the packaging and had been crossed our with a Sharpie).

    The only non-LGA775 Mini-ITX board that supports 8GB of RAM that I’m currently aware of is the Fujitsu D2703-S. There may be others with server chipsets (Lippert?) but they typically cost over $500.

  31. Chris
    October 7, 2009

    @Tony, I was referring to the fact that your page describing the NF76-N1GL-LF does not list the eSATA daughterboard in the pick list. I think maybe it’s not compatible with that particular board?

    If not, is eSATA still an option by connecting one of the board SATA ports and mounting it to the back panel, as you suggest? Is SATA the same as eSATA? I think eSATA implies port replication?

  32. Tony
    October 13, 2009

    Chris-

    Good catch – the heatsink on the N1GL actually interferes with the SATA cables plugging into the daughter card. Right-angle connectors might do the trick, or modifying the last row of fins on the heatsink. The heatsink on the 1G6 does not have this problem. After some further thought, you’d probably be better off with the fanned version anyway – that case doesn’t have a lot of vents for passive cooling.

    As for eSATA, this does not inherently imply port replication; this would be dependent on the SATA controller and software. Any regular SATA port can be turned into an eSATA port with a conversion cable; they are fundamentally the same, although the eSATA standard has wider electrical range specs to accommodate distances up to 2m.

  33. Richard Moss
    November 4, 2009

    Kristin, in your first post, you remind “ion-atom 330 is not a long term support platform.” Does this commitment from Intel change anything:

    sourced from Shavings from the Rumour Mill: The Road Ahead for Itel, Mike Magee in CPU: Computer Power User, Dec 2009, p. 100.

    ” If you’re wondering what’s in store for netbooks, know that Intel is clearly committed to long-term producing iterations of its Atom CPU and doesn’t seem at all worried that these cheap chips will dent its profitability.”

    btw, Anne C. Heller just published extensively researched, 600-page biography: Ayn Rand and the World She Made.

    NPR’s Guy Roz did a short interview with Ms. Heller on ATC Sunday Nov 1, search: Ayn Rand’s Conservative Call Echoes Today

    Here’s URL: http://www.npr.org/templates/rundowns/rundown.php?prgId=2&prgDate=11-1-2009

    There’s a 1 hour interview with author Heller at WAMU, Diane Rehm show for October 28, second hour. (site is in reconstruction, awkward to use)
    top level domain is http://www.wamu.org, here is url to calendar DR archives, but I can’t get links to work.

    http://wamu.org/programs/dr/09/#Nov

    Richard

  34. Kristina Bond
    Kristina
    November 11, 2009

    Hi Richard,
    Thanks for the information! Yeah, I hope I’m not being unclear when I stress the long-term support platform requirement for many of our customers. Generally, what this means is will our suppliers be able to source components for mainboards, namely Intel Atom 330 CPUs in this case, in order to be able to offer the same platform for up to seven years. This is absolutely critical for our project customers who need to know if they can rely on the product being available when they need more or if the hardware fails.
    With the Intel Atom 330, we have already received information from some of our suppliers that the Atom 230/330 CPUs will be EOL in January 2010. We haven’t heard confirmation from Intel, direct, but we’re working on it. The Intel Atom N270 CPU, however, is on Intel’s Embedded Roadmap, and we should expect to see mainboards with this processor for the next 3~5 years, maybe longer.
    What it sounds like is Intel is committed to supporting the Intel Atom CPU, just with different versions. We’re eagerly awaiting the next generation Atom–the Pine Trail platform.
    Also, thanks for the links to the news articles for Ayn Rand. It’s sort of a funny time to be an Ayn Rand fan. 🙂 I will say that I liked her long before all this recent hullabaloo!
    Kristina

  35. Sorin
    March 3, 2010

    Hi guys,
    Zotac ION and 64 bit OS….
    What I can confirm only is that the Zotac MAGHD-ND01-U MAG All-In-One MiniPC, which uses a board similar (more or less) like the one you guys are talking in to this article, when running Windows 7 Professional 64 bits is being able to recognize 4 GB of RAM, but is able to use just 3.2 GB…. So, like somebody else already said in here, I am tempted to drop the 64 bits operating system and go with a 32 bit Windows 7, as that one also will be able to use the same 3.2 GB of RAM. Now I am not sure if this 3.2 GB limitation is due the Windows 7 limitations…. Perhaps a Linux / Unix flavor OS will be able to go above the 3.2?
    However, after I went with the 4 GB of RAM and a 7200 rpm HDD, this little “thing” is unstoppable 🙂

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