Now we move onto the board, and one thing that never disappoints us with VIA's EPIA Series is the amount of features packed onto the small space that the VIA Mini-ITX standard allows for. Being based on Mini-ITX, the size of the board is 17/17cm, just a bit larger than a standard CD jewel case. Like all of the EPIA series, the board is designed to be up and running with only two major add-in components; memory and storage.
Thanks to VIA's design of the C series of CPUs that they have, the amount of voltage required to get the CPU running is very low with minimal heat being generated. For this reason, the layout and placement of connectors on the board isn't as critical as a board designed for enthusiasts where heat is the enemy, especially when overclocking.
The CPU included on the board is a VIA C7 1.8 GHz CPU, the latest and fastest C7 processor from VIA. Our last look at the C7 impressed us to no end. While VIA's C3 Series of CPU was a step up from the older Samuel and Samuel 2 cores which we previously tested, the C7 is a new design with power saving features and a much faster ALU and FPU engine, this allowing the CPU to perform with a far better "per clock" cycle as well as being able to handle multimedia decoding much faster than its predecessors. The CPU is given its power from a 2 phase voltage regulation system that also supplies power to the Northbridge chip. The CPU and Northbridge are cooled by a single large heatsink that has a 40mm active fan on top.
The chipset used on the new EPIA-SN Series is the VIA CN869 chipset. Again, this is the newest chipset from VIA designed to run its C7 Series of processors, which also happens to have support for Core 2 processors. The CN869 chipset is designed around the IGP principal allowing you to use the onboard graphics to run the system if that is all you're requiring. However, if you're planning on upping the ante, the chipset comes with a built-in PCI Express root controller with 16 lanes for a single graphics card slot.
VIA has finally gotten rid of the aging VT8237 chipset and replaced it with the new VIA VT82351 Southbridge chipset that now includes four Serial ATA ports and PCI Express lanes on the Southbridge which connect the onboard Gigabit LAN controller.
The rear I/O ports are pretty standard, even for a Mini-ITX board. There are no digital ports like S/PDIF audio ports or DVI video ports which is a bit of a disappointment, but at least the arrangement is efficient.
The board only has one expansion slot on the front; this is a single PCI Express x16 slot that is designed for any expansion cards, you can throw in a graphics card, PCI Express RAID controller or a TV tuner if you wish.
On the back of the board VIA has put a 32-bit mini PCI slot which you can place any number of mini PCI devices into, these including wireless network controllers and even some TV tuners. On the back is a standard Type II Compact Flash slot that you can install any size Compact Flash or Micro Drive into; this can be useful if you want to store a Linux based OS on a flash drive for quick access and boot-up, or for POS systems that run a set operating system stored on CF cards. Either way, it's a great addition to the system and is tied into one of the IDE channels on the Southbridge; this is why you only get one IDE port usable on the front.
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