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[Discuss] mini-ITX boards for Haswell CPUs

Dan Ritter wrote:
> Tom Metro wrote:
>> Fortunately the manufacturer's site does have specs on the GPU, showing
>> that the low-end board[8] tops out at 1920x1200 @ 60Hz...
> That's not the GPU. That's the DAC(s) which sit on the
> motherboard and are fed by the CPU's integrated GPU. Get better 
> DACs and you can drive better ports.

Sure, that makes perfect sense. And that explains why the specs vary by
board model, even those all 3 boards in the family can handle the same CPUs.

I wonder whether they really have 3 DACs - one dedicated to each port
type - or a single one running through a multiplexer. (If the latter,
I'd expect it to be able to support higher resolutions - or at least
higher refresh rares - if you are driving less than 3 monitors.)

If the motherboard has addressable DACs, I wonder if you can access
those from an add-on GPU?

>> What's strangely missing from the NewEgg specification is any mention of
>> the GPU.
> That's because the GPU varies directly with the CPU. Pop in an
> old i3, you might get no GPU at all. 

My understanding is that Haswell uses yet another incompatible socket
format, so I don't think you can plug an "old i3" onto these boards.

Your point, though, that NewEgg might have left off the video specs due
to them varying by CPU installed, does make some sense, except some of
the video functionality is attributable to the on-motherboard DACs, as
you point out above, and deserves to be spelled out in the specs.

ASRock, on their own product page, doesn't seem to have a problem with
specifying video attributes that derive not only from the DACs, but also
features that must be common across the Haswell GPU family, like:

- Pixel Shader 5.0, DirectX 11.1
- Max. shared memory 1792MB
- Supports Full HD 1080p Blu-ray (BD) playback with DVI-I, HDMI and
DisplayPort ports

Plus an alphabet soup of Intel-specific graphics marketing terms ("Intel
Quick Sync Video", "Intel InTru 3D", "Intel Clear Video HD Technology",
"Intel Insider").

>> I was surprised to see that these boards max out at 16 GB of RAM, which
>> seems on the verge of obsolescence. ...merely the physical constraints of
>> these tiny board that only have room for two DIMM slots.
> Physical constraints. If you wanted lots of RAM handling, lots
> of expansion ports and slots, or much of anything, you would go
> to a mini-ATX or full ATX board. ITX is specialized for a
> reason.

Sure, but SFF PCs are becoming increasingly popular, and even getting
some adoption in the server space, so they aren't quite the specialized
oddball they once were. Buyers are going to be increasingly unwilling to
accept compromises just due to the size. (And it seems like
manufacturers are striving to meet that expectation.)

With high-speed serial ports for both storage and peripherals, and
decently performing integrated graphics, there is increasingly little
need for slots, unless you are doing something specialized.

The most frequently hit ceiling on a computer these days is going to be
either RAM or storage. These tiny boards support 4 SATA devices (6 on
the high-end model, plus an mSATA slot for an SSD), so storage isn't a
problem. Chances are the reason you'll outgrow one of these board is RAM.

So I'd rather they trim the PCI slot and one of the video DACs if they
could squeeze in a couple more RAM slots. Or use SODIMMs. (The specs
don't say what type, so I'm assuming full sized desktop memory.)

(Ultimately, though, one of the real limitations can be the BIOS. I have
a laptop that uses a chipset capable of handling 8 GB, but a BIOS that
only handles 6 GB. Manufacturers have little incentive to keep updating
the BIOS on older machines. Much like the problem with lack of software
updates for older smartphones. Not sure what the solution is, other than
an open source BIOS, or a Google Nexus-like situation (pure Android)
where you use a generic BIOS supplied by the chipset vendor. Like cell
phone carriers, motherboard manufactures can't seem to resist the
temptation to customize their BIOS.)


Tom Metro
Venture Logic, Newton, MA, USA
"Enterprise solutions through open source."
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