We've covered Intel Atom netbooks in quite considerable depth to date, having looked at the Eees, the One and the Wind to name but a few. Mini-ITX has also been a favourite niche of ours - we've covered VIA EPIAs for many years here at bit-tech and more recently more powerful Nvidia GeForce 8200 and AMD 780G motherboards.
This is the first time we've seen Intel's prodigy ultra low power platform (yes platform, not just CPU) come to a motherboard for us to play with in much more freedom. Well, when we say that, it's all relative.
You see, Intel's Atom CPU is locked to a specific chipset so the features you get when you buy an Atom product will be identical across the board. This means that consumers know exactly what they are getting when they buy an Atom product, and it also means Intel doesn't risk cannibalising its other CPU and chipset lines if motherboard vendors decide to play pick'n'mix to try and yield out a competitive edge or use the very, very popular Atom brand in products it wasn't designed to power.
While understandable, this is frustrating for us as it means the 945G northbridge is extremely limited in what it offers in terms of graphical performance and the complete lack of PCI-Express, and the ICH7M southbridge only has a pair of SATA ports. To put it in perspective, it's barely Vista Aero capable.
It's not designed to be though. Intel envisaged Atom to be an extremely cost and power efficient product that goes into handheld devices which don't require massive scale processing demands and large screens - if you need that then buy a Celeron D or Pentium Dual Core. The problem Intel has is that unlike AMD it offers nothing in the gap between ultra low power Atom and 65W full fat CPU on the desktop. Its green competitor on the other hand stretches out 65W quad-cores and 45W dual-cores all the time - there was even a couple of 35W dual-cores a while back but they barely even saw the channel after big OEMs like Dell and HP snapped them up.
But what does an Atom really buy you? To date we've never really benchmarked one figuratively, but now we will. We know it is going to be slower, but really, by how much? It is clocked at 1.6GHz after all. Is it limited to NAS box and very simple, light work or can it be stretched to offer more? We went off to find out.
Gigabyte GA-GC230D Specification
Intel Atom 230 CPU at 1.6GHz with HyperThreading and a 533MHz bus.
Intel 945GC Express Chipset and ICH7 Southbridge
One 1.8V DDR2 DIMM socket supporting up to 2 GB of system memory up to 533MHz.
In the box is a very basic package of a single SATA connector and IDE cable as well as the rear I/O panel. The hardware installation guidebook is extremely basic and not that applicable (it's certainly not specific) to the GA-GC230D, however it pretty much matches any VIA EPIA package we've ever seen.
The driver disc includes the usual one-click installation, which is always very welcome, and there's also other nic-nac software included too.