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VIA EPIA EX - Mini-ITX at the next level

By: Cameron Johnson | Editorials in Motherboards | Posted: Jun 14, 2007 4:00 am
TweakTown Rating: 9%Manufacturer: VIA

VIA's new CX700M2 chipset


Now it is down to the new baby that VIA is paring its C7 series of CPU with.



CX700M2 is the latest updated chipset to come from VIA. You will notice it is a single chip solution. Space constraints on the Mini-ITX format means that saving space is the name of the game. Previously VIA had to add a North and South bridge chip to the mix, meaning less space for other devices. While the CX700M2 is larger by design, it takes up less PCB space as there is no North to Southbridge interconnect traces needed, all devices pier off from the single Northbridge, which is by far the best design.


CX700M2 has support for VIA's V4 bus which can be used at 400MHz, 533MHz or 800MHz, so its capable of supporting not only the C7 range but also older Pentium 4, Pentium-D, Celeron-D and Pentium-M processors from Intel.


Memory support for the chipset is very flexible. VIA has integrated both a DDR and DDR-2 memory controller into the single chip design. DDR is on its way out now, as very few systems now even support this, AMD K8 is now DDR-2 and Intel is DDR-2 and DDR-3. VIA has support for DDR-333 or 400MHz modules or 400MHz and 533 MHz DDR-2 memory, depending on what controller is used. The chip only incorporates a single channel memory bus, so it is 64-bit. This is one of the draw backs as the CPU is able to access the memory at high speeds thanks to the V4 bus, and with the UMA nature of the graphics system, 64-bit memory channel is quite restrictive. While the channel width is small, the amount of system memory you can use is up to a total of 2GB, much better than the 1GB previous limitations on the EPIA motherboards.


As mentioned, the CX700M2 has integrated graphics thanks to VIA's acquisition of S3 Graphics, who have been building IGP based chipsets for VIA now for over five years. S3's latest IGP creation, the UniChrome Pro II IGP has been selected to go on the CX700M2's die. This IGP is based on the aging AGP bus, something we would like to see disappear, as AGP is not very efficient for UMA based setups, as there is limited bandwidth to use for data and memory transfers. VIA UniChrome Pro II has a separate 128-bit data path between the North Bridge for pixel data flow and texture/command access. It also has separate 128-bit 2D and 3D graphics engines much like today's high-end graphics cards, allowing for different clock speed at 2D and 3D operations, allowing even further voltage reductions when at 2D and idle states. VIA's IGP engine operates at 200MHz (quite slow compared to ATI's 690G engine or even nVidia's GeForce 6150 engine), however these are in a totally different league, this engine is designed for maximum energy saving.


While saving energy it also saves CPU time by integrating three decoder engines to the chip. MPEG2, MPEG4 and WMV9 media are all decoded on the IGP rather than the CPU, this allows for a much smoother playback of DVD and DIVX movies as well as any movies encoded using WMV9 codec's. VIA also incorporates a High Definition Digital Video path to allow High Def content to be processed outside the CPU and on the IGP, again saving more CPU time. Since the C7 is not a power house compared to the AMD K8 or Intel Core 2, it needs as much help as it can get and CX700M2's graphics engine sure helps out a lot. Another interesting feature is that VIA also adds a dedicated path for adding in a video input chip for video capture if it is required - a great feature for HTPC.


VIA has simply taken the VT8237R Southbridge and placed it into the same die but with an updated audio codec system for 8 channel audio. This gives you the option of having a single IDE port and two SATA ports for mass media connectivity, four PCI slots total (the EPIA EX only has a single slot), VIA Vinyl HD audio, VIA 10/100 Ethernet as well as the traditional LPC goodies.


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