In a world where space is at a premium, the smaller motherboards get, and yet still retain full functionality, never ceases to amaze me.  With desktop Llano processors taking the integrated graphics crown, an all-in-one mini Llano system becomes ever more appealing.  To support this, ASUS have sent us their premium mini-ITX motherboard for review, which I have put through the bench suite.

Overview

We have had a number of ASUS boards through our hands this year, all of which give a comfortable feeling of design we have come to expect from ASUS, and their mini-ITX is no different.  The package includes Bluetooth, integrated wireless (and antenna), as well as extra onboard USB 3 and a variety of video outputs, all in a tiny form factor.

One of the surprising bits about this package is that the install CD offers Google Chrome 11 as an install, perhaps suggesting that ASUS and Google have a software distribution partnership, like ASUS and Norton have had for a while. 

I had severe trouble overclocking this motherboard when in AHCI mode, with a distinct refusal to boot into Windows beyond a base frequency of 107 MHz.  Using software, I was able to bring this up to 110 MHz when on the integrated graphics.  When using a discrete GPU, I still could not get past this 107 MHz bootable limit, but could reach 120 MHz using software quite easily.  In IDE mode, the overclocking worked flawlessly at 140 MHz, which is quite a feat.

When I initially started testing the board, the only benchmark that was out of place was our DPC Latency test.  Every five seconds or so, it would jump to between 1000-3000 microseconds.  After about a week (!) of to and fro with ASUS trying to find the cause of the issue, which they had trouble replicating, I found that their software AI Suite II was the culprit.  This software, when installed, will become part of the startup sequence - but when turned off, the DPC Latency reduced to a normal level.  Note, most users wont actually notice a DPC Latency of 3000.

As I was testing this board with a pre-release BIOS, it stands to assume that ASUS may iron out these discrepancies by the time the board comes to market.  With that in mind, combined with a 3 year warranty, the F1A75-I Deluxe should be a reasonable package for any Llano user if it hits a reasonable price point - ASUS have told me an expected RRP of $145.

Visual Inspection

When you combine a mini-ITX with the standard AMD CPU retention bracket, it does not leave a lot of room for a motherboard manufacturer to fit in a ton of extras.  As we can see from the board below, ASUS have packed in almost every square millimeter with routing, resistors, and anywhere that is left is advertising motherboard features.  The F1A75-I Deluxe comes in the black and gradated blue scheme we have come to expect from ASUS, with a single PCIe x16, and two DDR3-1866 DIMM slots.

The four onboard SATA 6 Gbps ports are 180 degree angled, so users with locking SATA cables can easily detach the cables individually, and to the right of these we find the front panel connectors.  While I initially thought this is an odd position, it actually works rather well, and a lot better than some other front panel placement solutions I have encountered.

The board has two fan connectors, both four pin, one for the CPU and another general chassis fan.  Despite the top end CPU pumping 100W power at stock, these two fan headers do not cover the three I would prefer for my all-in-one water cooling, or if I wanted more low power fans inside a small case.  ASUS have told me that two fan-headers cater for the majority of users in a miniITX chassis, with one for the CPU and one for another fan - there is apparently some request for more headers on the board, but the PCB real estate is an ever present consideration.

One thing of note is that ASUS have routed the integrated wireless cables to the back panel for the end user.  I have had some mini-ITX boards that require the user to route them, which could end up a mess.  ASUS have done a good thing here and kept them the ideal length, as well as neat and tidy.  We have seen the wireless card stick out perpendicular to the board on various mini-ITX boards before, to increase board real estate, but ASUS have gone with the low profile approach.  The tallest bits on the board are the back panel and the battery, so with some low profile memory and a low profile CPU cooler, this could be a great board for a tiny chassis, as long as you do not need the PCIe slot.

Other features include ASUS’ Dual Intelligent Processor design, the TPU and EPU, designed to aid overclocking for performance and configure energy modes for low power usage.  As a result, we only see one 4-pin 12 V connector on this board, suggesting ASUS are not necessarily aiming at the high powered Llano users, but more on the low powered ones and then building the functionality around such a processor.

On the back panel is a PS/2 connector, four USB 2.0 ports, two USB 3.0 ports, Realtek Gigabit Ethernet, a clear CMOS button (always a handy addition), Bluetooth, an eSATA 6 Gbps port, DVI-D/HDMI/DisplayPort connectors, an Optical S/PDIF output, two antenna connectors for the wireless module, and a triplet of audio jacks.

BIOS and Overclocking
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  • mariush - Sunday, October 02, 2011 - link

    Well, see, here's where you're wrong and that's why it would have been nice to test that.

    This hardware was using 122 watts WITH an additional video card, on a 1000 watts power supply that has 80.8% efficiency at such low loads.
    So realistically, the system uses about 110 real watts on full load WITH the additional video card.
    I would have liked to know how much is the system actually using WITHOUT an extra video card - my guess is the consumption would drop by about 30 watts in load and about 10-15 watts in idle.

    An 120 watt pico PSU has about 87% efficiency and can only deliver about 6-8 Amps on 12v line, when powered from a 19v laptop adapter (it's irrelevant how efficient this adapter is for this talk).

    So assuming the pico psu can do a maximum of 6A on 12v (72w), it really makes a difference if the consumption drops to about 85-90 watts in total without an additional video card (because memory/ uses the 3.3v lines and 5v is used by the USB port/lan/wireless and the SSD, so the rest would probably fit in those 6 Amps of 12v power)

    As for the ripple paragraph, both the laptop adapter AND the pico psu power converter do filtering so they're quite good and provite quality power to the system, see : jonnyguru.com/modules.php?name=NDReviews&op=Story5&reid=207

    As things are now, as the tests were made with 1000w psu and only with an extra video card (would you like future systems to only be tested in Crossfire or SLI?) ... there's really no way to form an opinion.

    And as for the middle paragraph...I own a Seasonic X-650, which according to tests can manage up to 92.5% efficiency. The results would have been much closer to the reality and the tests could still be done on other systems even with two power hungry video cards
    Reply
  • mariush - Sunday, October 02, 2011 - link

    Oh... and a last thing...

    The system was tested with the Corsair water cooler - the pump itself uses 2-3 watts of power and you also need a fan to cool the radiator, which is at least another 2 watts...

    The stock cooler for the processor probably uses less than 3 watts at full speed.

    I know, it's very little but it adds up, and the majority of the people buying these things won't buy water coolers for them and 1000w power supplies.
    Reply
  • pinto76 - Monday, October 03, 2011 - link

    The whole review is subpar. Aside from the language I'm sure all of 3 people reading cared for water cooling comments or the above mentioned power consumption figures off a 1000w PSU. There's no word about wifi. Not what it is or whether it even works at all. For the future, guys, please, boot up from an Ubuntu live CD, type 'sudo iw list', 'sudo lshw -C network -sanitize', and 'sudo lspci -v' and save outputs as an attachment to the article. Trust me it'll be far better help to at least half the people reading the articles and actually thinking of buying this stuff.

    And you do have to get on their butts about not providing a vertical mini PCIe slot, it costs them more to do it because they have to make a bracket since mini PCIe cards won't stay up by themselves; in the low profile fitting you'll be limited to half size cards only replacements. And you'll want to replace it if what Zotac puts in their boards is any indication - and not that I'm knocking them for it, I'd much rather have mini PCIe with a vertical bracket than anything in the slot anyway.

    No word on bluetooth either.
    Reply
  • Death666Angel - Saturday, October 01, 2011 - link

    However, I think the AsRock A75M-ITX can be more appealing, because of it's different CPU socket position. I have that board because it will fit a Scythe Big Shuriken (awesome low-ish profile cooler) and still have the PCIe slot uncovered (not using it at the moment but it's nice to know I can). Designs such as the Asus here have the problem of having the CPU socket too close to the slot. If you want to use the PCIe slot you either need quite a small cooler (read: loud) or go with a water cooling all-in-one and that brings a whole other pack of problems.

    Still, it's great to see ITX boards being offered for new systems! The more the better!
    Reply
  • just4U - Saturday, October 01, 2011 - link

    Considering the features on these baby boards.. I don't quite understand why they command a premium. One would think they'd come in at a lower price point then some of the value MATX boards. Reply
  • DanNeely - Saturday, October 01, 2011 - link

    They're more expensive because packing everything in so tightly requires using more compact controller chips for 3rd party features instead of the larger, cheaper versions on full size boards and because squeezing everything together so tightly means having to use more layers in the PCB to connect everything. Packing everything together so tightly makes avoiding EMI problems between components more difficult as well.

    On top of the engineering challenges miniITX boards are sufficently low volume parts that you start paying penalties in manufacturing costs and have to fund more engineering time per board.
    Reply
  • just4U - Saturday, October 01, 2011 - link

    I didn't realize the boards had more layers.. when I see these reviews I think of barebone boards like ones made for OEMs and such. Makes some sense I suppose.. Still I think all in all I'd be more likely to pick up a feature rich MATX in the same price range over something like this.. Yeah your casing might be marginally bigger but even so. Reply
  • Death666Angel - Saturday, October 01, 2011 - link

    I have a mini ITX case with these measurements:
    185x240x70 mm
    I have barely any space left and right (mini ITX is 170x170mm) and the space that I have in front is used for the built-in PSU dc/dc converter. This case has 3.1l volume. If I were to have the exact same case, just with a mATX mainboard (adding 74mm to the width and depth), I would get:
    259x314x70mm, resulting in 5.7l volume, almost doubling it.

    That's not something I'd refer to as "marginally bigger".

    You really can't compare (m)ATX to ITX in my opinion. :-)
    Reply
  • ckryan - Sunday, October 02, 2011 - link

    The difference between mini ITX cases and micro ATX cases is substantial. It doesn't take much effort to chop the two inches off of an ATX board to make it micro. Making a micro into a mini is entirely different. Mini ITX boards are 6.7 in x 6.7 in, and most of that gets taken up by the CPU socket/VRM area as well as the DIMM slots. Add in the PCIE slot and you don't have much to work with.

    Most uATX cases are still 17" deep and 8" wide by at least 13" tall. Many mini ITX enclosures are closer to the size of a Nintendo Wii. Most people don't need such a small system, but if you do it's usually worth the premium. BIOS/UEFI options on a small board are worth their weight in gold, as are competent WiFi options. Under volting is a must have for AMD systems, but 1155 Intel CPUs don't have much to gain from it. With a feature-laden ITX board, a powerful but low tdp processor, and some solid state storage, there's not really many compromises to make. With the right case and mobo you can toss in a powerful GPU, further expanding its range of uses. Or toss in an InfiniTV Quad tuner card and record 4 hd cable streams simultaneously. That's why these boards are great -- there's not much of a limit to the possibilities.
    Reply
  • Death666Angel - Saturday, October 01, 2011 - link

    First off, the numbers are in favor of ATX and mATX boards, since they just sell more volume. Then, you generally don't have extra stuff like WLAN on most of those standard boards. The layout for the bigger boards is significantly less crowded resulting in easier manufacturing as well.
    You cannot look at ITX and think "hm, they took an ATX board and just cut stuff off". You have to think "hm, they took an ATX board and just condensed it into this mini board". Offering the same things on less space is generally more expensive. This applies here. The few (RAM, PCI, PCIe) slots you lose unfortunately aren't big money savers ;).
    Reply

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