Electronic Design


The EPIA EN 15000 (see the figure) is an impressive platform. The $275 (includes the processor) motherboard is VIA Technology’s latest Mini-ITX (17cm by 17cm) motherboard. It sports the VIA 1.7GHz C7 x86-compatible processor with the CN700 North Bridge and VT8237R-Series South Bridge chips that can handle up to a 1Gbyte of DDR2 400/533 DIMM. The processor uses IBM’s 90nm SOI (silicon on insulator) technology to get its low power, high performance output.

The low power motherboard has a sizable heat sink but more to minimize the 40mm cooling fan making the system much quieter than an AMD or Intel processor. It has enough power to handle PVR (personal video recorder) chores. As with most Mini-ITX boards, the EN 15000 has a single PCI slot. The processor incorporates hardware encryption and support for the NX bit protection but it does not include the enhanced virtual machine (VM) support found in the latest Intel and AMD 64-bit processors. VIA can run VM products such as VmWare’s namesake.

The integrated VIA UniChrome Pro AGP graphics has a built-in MPEG-2 decoder. It can drive VGA, composite video and S-video displays. The board includes a VT1625M HDTV encoder that requires an add-on card for DVI/LVDS output. It supports 1080i and 720p. There is a VT1618 8-channel AC’97 Codec that can deliver 5.1 audio. The audio support includes S/PDIF-in and S/PDIF-out connections.

Disk interfaces include a pair of UltraDMA 133/100/66 IDE controllers plus two SATA controllers. Typically the SATA interfaces will be used for a hard disk and the IDE for Compact Flash and optical drive interfaces.

Communication interfaces include the VT6122 Gigabit Ethernet controller, a VT6307S IEEE 1394 Firewire interface, 4 USB 2.0 ports on the backplane and a header with 2 additional USB 2.0 port, a serial port plus a header for a second serial port, a header for an SIR (IRDA 1.0) interface. Embedded applications can take advantage of the LPC (low pin count) interface or SM Bus.

Normally a keyboard and mouse will be connected to the USB ports but the motherboard has a header for a PS/2-style keyboard or mouse.

The EN 15000 is faster than other VIA motherboards but it is not a challenger to higher performance Intel-based Mini-ITX boards that run at twice its clock speed. Then again, these faster boards are also quite a bit hotter. HDTV output will push the EN 15000 so don’t plan on running lots of heavy duty applications at the same time. It will fare best handling more conventional video chores. The MPEG-2 hardware acceleration makes a big difference for DVD playback performance. Keep its limitations in mind and it will be a great solution.

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