It has been some time since we have seen anything VIA pass though our labs and that is because they are not real players in the chipset market anymore and it takes a bit of time for new processors and platform designs to come out. Our last test was a C3 based EPIA motherboard over a year ago.
Today VIA is back and with a huge improvement over old C3. VIA has put a new design down on the table in regards to its C7 based CPU. Learning that its not a good idea to cut FPU's down to almost nothing, VIA has upped the ante to include a much more powerful FPU than what was ever seen on the C3 series of CPU. Using the quad-pumped bus that even Intel still uses for Core 2 was also a very smart move. It allows the CPU to have a much higher bus speed, providing it more data in and out, and with memory speed increasing, the more speed you can get between the CPU and memory the better, especially since the CPU is as slow as it is.
VIA's CX700M2 is designed for the job of handling the Digital Home environment and the C7. With the CPU having a lot less power than that even the 754, you need to lighten the load of the CPU as much as possible. The hardware MEPG-2 (DVD), MPEG-4 (DivX) and WMV9 (Windows Media Format) decoding provided by the chipset along with faster graphic engine, increased memory bandwidth thanks to DDR-2, the C7 gets quite a break from having to do all the work like the C3 originally had to.
The EPIA EX motherboard is extremely well designed, thanks to having a CPU, chipset, audio and video onboard along with all the digital media needs like Firewire and Ethernet onboard, all you need is some cheap RAM, hard disk drive and a DVD drive and you are up and running. Albatron needs a CPU added to its motherboard, which increases the price on their setup.
If you are like me and want to add video capture to your setup, it is best get a TV capture card with hardware encoding. MPEG-2 is quite common for most cards, MPEG-4 is harder to find but it is out there, a capture card with both standard in hardware will make the VIA setup extremely powerful.
Overall we cannot get enough of the VIA EPIA EX motherboard as the ultimate in ready to go HTPC motherboard. It is cheap, loaded with features, does not use much power nor does it output much heat and it has a very short cons list.
Plenty included for the price!
Onboard 1.5GHz C7 CPU
Latest CX700M2 chipset
MPEG-2 and MPEG-4 hardware decoding handled on IGP
DDR-2 memory support and up to 2GB (but single channel only)
Up to 128MB Frame Buffer
With a Hardware TV tuner card can even be used as PVR
DVI, S-Video, RCA and Component video out options
Ultra small, low power consumption and low temperatures
Supports SATA 3Gbps
No HDMI port
PCI Express would have been better over PCI
No 3.5mm stereo ports
Rating - 9 out of 10 and TweakTown's "MUST HAVE" Best Value Award!