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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  • jensend - Saturday, October 01, 2011 - link

    Glad to see at least one manufacturer put two usb3 ports on the back and included a header for the A75's other ports. ASRock's board wouldn't allow for any front usb3 ports or any internal usb3 devices (usu. card readers).

    But $145 is a bit steep for my taste. Hopefully they'll come out with a cheaper version sans remote.
    Reply
  • Death666Angel - Saturday, October 01, 2011 - link

    "this board has not been released"
    I can buy this board at 14 different online stores and they have it in store. Unless Europe/Germany has a different ASUS F1A75-I Deluxe, this thing is released as can be. :-)

    Also, it costs 45€ more than the AsRock I got and the only difference I see is the AsRock has no WLAN, no remote and no DP. For me, I made the right choice. :D
    Reply
  • Iketh - Saturday, October 01, 2011 - link

    Why in the world is a 1000W PS being used for this system???? Use a 350w silver or even less.... I stopped reading when I saw that Reply
  • AnandThenMan - Sunday, October 02, 2011 - link

    The make Llano look bad, there is no other logical explanation. Well except gross incompetence to use such a PS for this platform. Reply
  • Death666Angel - Sunday, October 02, 2011 - link

    It's the curse of a standardized test system:
    you save quite a bit of time and have overall the better comparison between tests, but you do end up making some things look worse than they are, since one size doesn't fit all.
    I think you are reading too much into this. If you want to see how this (obvious HTPC board) fares with a HTPC setup, go look for another site that specializes in it. :-)
    Intel Motherboards are tested with the same setup btw and they are looking about as good as Llano here, I think. And when you look at the initial SNB review, you have idle numbers for the i3 3100 of 73W (they don't list the used PSU in those reviews), which is quite a lot worse than Llano and some Athlons in that test.
    http://www.anandtech.com/show/4083/the-sandy-bridg...
    :D
    Reply
  • Soulkeeper - Saturday, October 01, 2011 - link

    1.35 V is the lowest dram voltage it will let you select ?
    Any idea if future bios can/will allow lower ?
    Reply
  • Soulkeeper - Saturday, October 01, 2011 - link

    Does this keyboard function like a standard wireless usb keyboard ?
    IE: it doesn't need special drivers and will work in linux ?
    Reply
  • hp79 - Saturday, October 01, 2011 - link

    AMD really sucks. 50 Watt of power in idle with integrated GPU is really terrible.
    I have a intel i3-2120 with 8GB ram, 1 SSD, 1 HDD, GTX 460 1GB on a intel mini-itx board, which is housed in Lian Li PC-Q11 and that uses only 45W power on idle. When playing games, the case stays really quiet and takes around 100W to 140W. By the way, I have a Antec 380W 80 plus power supply.
    Imagine what it'll look like if I take off that power hungry graphics card since intel HD2000 has no problem handling multimedia stuff.
    50W idle for AMD Llano is really a shame. Especially since energy usage is directly related to heat, and space is a premium for HTPCs or mini-itx cases, 50W idle is really not a good choice.
    One thing I have to thank AMD is for it wasn't for them, intel would have been less innovative, and who knows we might have been stuck with Pentium D's today. I don't expect much from AMD's but I hope they can continue to offer some mid-end, low-end competition so we can buy intel's good stuff for cheap. i3-2120 plus H61 motherboard for $110 is an amazing price.
    Reply
  • nubie - Sunday, October 02, 2011 - link

    Um, did you see the guy above you complaining about the 1000watt power supply?

    Maybe that is the cause of the power draw being so high.

    These results only are comparable with a computer using the 1000watt power supply.

    I would love to see a PC using the Xbox360 power brick for example, 203Watt was the highest spec they came in, newer ones are close to 100watt.
    Reply
  • hp79 - Sunday, October 02, 2011 - link

    Yes, I read his comment after reading the whole article. I also thought the 1000W power supply was awkward, but still shouldn't be the reason using that much power. It's a 80 Plus PSU, and an expensive one.

    I also have a AMD Athlon X3 435 which uses 55W on idle with nforece integrated graphics. Another reason I don't like AMD is that the performance was lower than a cheap ass $30 Celeron E3300 when I tested playing games with a GT240 graphics card on both of them. No more AMDs in my house.
    Reply

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