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Intel offers $80 "Little Falls" Atom mobo
Jun. 05, 2008

Intel has released a Mini-ITX motherboard incorporating its new Atom 230 CPU and selling for around $80. Bound for a variety of "nettops" and other devices, the D945GCLF ("Little Falls") has serial, parallel, and IDE interfaces, six USB ports, 10/100 Ethernet, and HD audio.

(Click here for a larger view of Intel's D945GCLF)

Understandably, the economical D945GCLF is a textbook example of what Intel had in mind for its newly announced Atom 230 processor, a 22mm x 22mm part that sells for $29 on its own. Instead of relying on a special "SCH" companion chip, as did Intel's earlier Z-series Atoms -- to which the 230 is identical architecturally -- the 230 uses Intel's 82945GC northbridge and 82801GB (ICH7) southbridge. It may also support standard two-chip chipsets from other vendors, though Intel did not specify.

These two chips, which ironically dwarf the Atom itself, do provide more functionality than the Z-Series' SCH. For example, there's high-definition audio, plus a GMA950 graphics subsystem that boasts compatibility with DirectX 9.0 and Windows Vista's Aero Glass interface.

A block diagram of Intel's D945GCLF
(Click to enlarge)

On the 6.75 x 6.75 inch D945GCLF, a mechanical diagram of which is shown below, the Atom 230 (right) is soldered on, while the 82945GC and 82801GB can be seen to its left. The 230 has only a small heat sink; meanwhile, the 82945GC is the main heat generator on the board, as can be seen from its required heat sink and mini-fan.

The mechanical layout of Intel's D945GCLF
(Click to enlarge)

The highly integrated board has a single DIMM socket, which accepts up to 2GB of 533MHz or 667MHz DDR2 RAM. Notably, it also includes a PCI slot, two 3.0Gbps SATA ports, and an IDE connector that is said to support up to two ATA devices.

As mentioned earlier, there are six USB ports. Four live on the edge of the D945GCLF, with standard connectors, and two more are available via headers. A combination of "real world" jacks and headers is used for audio as well: the board has stereo line in, mic in, and line out jacks, but in addition, there's a header that can be used to send audio signals to the front panel of a device.

The D945GCLF's additional interfaces all have standard connectors, destined to reside on a device's rear panel. They include a 10/100 Ethernet port, a serial port, a parallel port, and analog VGA output.

Intel touts extensive power management for the system, and its specifications suggest power consumption ranging down to five Watts in sleep mode, or up to as high as 52.5 Watts with a PCI expansion board installed. In a separately published roadmap document, Intel has said the total TDPs for the Atom 230, 82945GC, and 82801GB range from 12 Watts to 29 Watts.

Features and specifications cited by Intel for the D945GCLF include:
  • Processor -- Intel Atom 230 clocked at 1.6GHz, with 82945GC northbridge and 82801GB (ICH7) southbridge
  • Memory -- up to 2GB of DDR2 RAM, via single DIMM socket
  • Display -- VGA output, via integrated GMA950 graphics subsystem
  • Networking -- 10/100 Ethernet, with RJ45 connector
  • Other I/O:
    • 6 x USB (4 on rear panel, 2 via headers)
    • 1 x serial (rear panel)
    • 1 x parallel (rear panel)
    • audio mic in, line in, mic out on 3.5mm jacks
    • audio header for assignable front panel connections
    • 1 x IDE with UDMA 33, ATA66/100 support
    • 2 x SATA
  • Expansion -- PCI slot
  • Dimensions -- 6.75 x 6.75 inches
  • Operating temperature -- 0 to 55 deg. C
The D945GCLF appears to be available now, and is being advertised for $80 by U.S.-based retailer Mini-Box, and for 42 Pounds (approximately $87) by U.K.-based Tranquil PC Limited. We'll look forward to the first benchmarks of this interesting system!

Meanwhile, Intel competitor Via is touting a "Mini-ITX 2.0" specification seemingly aimed at showing off higher-end features offered by its Nano processor and VX800 chipset, but lacking in Centrino Atom -- such as support for external graphics cards based on the x16 ("by 16") PCI Express interface, and by extension DirectX 10 and Blu-Ray disk support. No Mini-ITX 2.0 compliant boards have been announced yet, however.

For further product or purchasing information, see the Intel website, here, Mini-Box site, here, and Tranquil PC site, here.

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