- The Chipsets
The chipset used is VIA's latest instalment for the EPIA series, the CN400. VIA has put a lot of effort into the EPIA platform and the CN400 is technically a very impressive chipset. Built on the CLE266 chipset technology, VIA boosts the stakes with support for a single DDR-266/333/400Mhz DIMM module, support for 100/133/166/200MHz FSB, integrated VIA Unichrome Pro IGP with Hardware MPEG-2 decoding and MPEG-4 acceleration - it seems that no expense has been spared.
Most will think why use DDR on a CPU that won't even see that kinda performance benefit? The result is two fold - First, SDRAM is starting to become harder to find, and in most cases is more expansive than DDR. Adding a DDR controller allows for use of cheaper DDR memory modules on the market. Second is the onboard graphics. With up to 3.2GB/s of bandwidth available to distribute between the CPU and graphics system, what isn't used by the CPU can be routed to the graphics system for a smoother graphics feel when MPEG-2 and MPEG-4 movies are being played.
The UniChrome IGP Pro is the latest graphics chip technology to come from the VIA S3 labs. UniChrome Pro is almost identical to the UniChrome that was integrated into the K series of onboard graphics and the CLE266 graphics, however a MPEG-4 acceleration engine has been added to reduce the amount of CPU usage when playing back DIVX movies, which has been a sore point for a while with VIA CPU's and their onboard graphics.
The Southbridge used on the EPIA SP is the VIA VT8237. This chip has been around for some time now. It includes eight USB 2.0 ports, SATA with RAID support, 10/10 Ethernet and 6ch AC'97 and are all present on the motherboard. One of the disappointments of this Southbridge is the SATA ports don't support ATAPI devices, so if you plan to hook up a SATA CD or DVD burner when they are soon released, they won't work on this motherboard.
One of the biggest hits of the EPIA series is the ability to use them flawlessly as HTPC's and the EPIA SP continues to support this function. The VIA VT1623 Digital TV encoder chip is added to support TV output from the onboard graphics. The VT1623 chip allows for RBG, SCART, S-Video, Composite as well as YCrCb outputs. The VIA EPIA SP only has a RCA and S-Video output so no HDTV outputs by default, however, with the LVDS module available you can add HDTV to this setup.
Connectivity is also another one of the EPIA philosophies, and VIA makes every effort to keep to this. The VT6307S Firewire controller chip is added to give a single IEEE1394a port. Most Mini-ITX cases have a front access Firewire port so you will be able to connect that port up to this motherboard.
As mentioned earlier, the VT8237 Southbridge supports a 10/100 Ethernet controller, the VT203 PHY connects up the RJ-45 external port to the onboard network interface, giving you a 10/100 Ethernet connection. While we would like to see Gigabit on the motherboards, VIA doesn't have any dedicated hardware paths like Intel, nVidia or SiS have with their Gigabit ports, so a Gigabit NIC would have to go on the PCI bus, and with the CPU not able to handle extremely high bandwidth needs, this would be detrimental to the overall performance of the EPIA SP platform.
In order for the COM port, PS/2, LPT and other legacy ports to interface with the motherboard, the VIA VT1211 chip is added. While there is an onboard Parallel port, you need an external port in order to make it work, though this isn't a big deal with printers and scanners now all available on USB...parallel ports are becoming redundant.