While we've had a loose but intimate relationship with mini-ITX boards over the years here at bit-tech, these have mostly been limited to the proprietor of the standard - VIA and its EPIA boards. As these feature CPUs that are soldered to the board the whole unit is seen as one package and the performance has been limited. This was in some ways further developed by the use of mobile (Intel) CPUs, but both these and the boards were often mightily expensive.
After recently talking to a popular online retailer that specialises in mini-ITX, it seems that socketed mini-ITX boards are still extremely niche, but the popularity of the tiny form factor should soon vastly increase as it is being jumped on by both Intel and AMD partners, partly because of the massive drive into netbook and High-Definition products starts to merge in this space.
At bit-tech, sniffing out the darkest corners of the 'net for some new and different hardware is in our blood, partly because we want to see the end result in our modding forums, but also to satisfy our obsession of playing with cool kit. With that in mind, we couldn't resist getting the rather tantalising J&W MINIX 780G motherboard in to see what all the fuss was about.
If you don't know J&W, it's a large Chinese OEM manufacturer who is moving more into the retail consumer board channel. We spotted its little 780G mini-ITX number back at Computex this year and just had to get one in for review. Feature wise, there's not a millimetre square that hasn't been used for something and it's got even more bits on it than the Jetway GeForce 8200 board we reviewed earlier in the year; it's even got more components on it than some boards twice its size.
It's refreshing to see something designed with a particular application in mind rather than try the usual all encompassing approach. We respect this narrows the field of those interested, but it also might bring in others who are tempted to design and build something a little different.
The board is based on AMD's highly-regardedd 780G integrated graphics chipset and features a PCI-Express x16 slot instead of just a standard PCI or PCI-Express x1 slot, which means that the board can support Hybrid CrossFire - that's pretty impressive for a board so small. What's more, it even includes a local 128MB frame buffer for the IGP unlike just about any other 780G board out there, while it also includes HDMI support and decent on-board sound.
But how does it stand up to our rigorous testing: do good things come in small packages? We liked the Jetway but is this any better when it comes to the test? We dived in to find out...
Support AM2+/AM2 CPUs (HyperTransport 3.0/1.0) including Phenom, Athlon 64 X2, Athlon 64 and Sempron but is limited to a 65W TDP.
AMD 780G northbridge with Radeon HD 3200 graphics and 128MB 800MHz Samsung K4N1G164QQ-HC25 DDR2 memory.
AMD SB700 southbridge
Two DDR2 1,066MHz/800MHz/667MHz SO-DIMM sockets supporting up to 4GB of memory
Realtek ALC885 premium 7.1 channel audio codec
Marvell 88E8056-NNC1 PCI-Express Gigabit Ethernet
Ten USB 2.0 ports
One PCI-Express x16 slot (x8 electrical)
Quite frankly this is one of, if not the most impressive box bundles we've ever seen. Not for its wealth of contents specifically, on that front its actually quite light, but by the way it presents itself to you. Instead of just sliding it out the end and trying to get into it through a mass of flaps and boxes in boxes, opening the MINIX reveals your new purchase like a treasure. Surprisingly it's an incredibly satisfying experience.
The motherboard comes in its own plastic packaging and the extras are neatly tucked into their shelves at the top. J&W throws in a couple of SATA cables and power adapters, an IDE cable, the rear I/O bracket and the usual motherboard manual and driver CD. There is also a couple of AMD HD case badges too if you fancy using them. That's it - it's about on par with other mini-ITX boards in terms of extra bits.