Zotac IONITX-A-U NVIDIA ION Motherboard Review
The Zotac IONITX-A-U ION Motherboard
Zotac's new line of ION motherboards are all based on a mini-ITX design (about 6.7-in x 6.7-in) and are fully decked out with features.
The box is unassuming but...
...the motherboard has potential. The board will fit into any mini-ITX media center or desktop chassis though I was surprised by how limited (and seemingly ugly) the available selection was on sites like Newegg. There are no expansion slots on the board - you are stuck with what Zotac has given you though I think you'll be pleased by the overall offering.
The most dominating feature of the board is obviously the heatsink in the center that hides the Intel Atom 330 processor and GeForce 9400M/ION GPU chipset. The Atom 330 processor is a dual-core, HyperThreading CPU that we have already taken quite a detailed look at
that runs at 1.60 GHz on a 533 MHz FSB. The ION graphics core runs at 450 MHz while the shaders run at 1100 MHz; memory is shared with the main system RAM so speeds and capacities are limited as you would normally see with IGP motherboards.
Though the chipset supports both DDR2 and DDR3 memory, the Zotac IONITX-A-U sports a pair of DDR2-800 DIMM slots; a good choice in order to keep the overall price low on a complete system build. The memory controller on this chipset is indeed still 128-bit dual-channel so each slot is matched with half. Filling both slots is required for optimal performance.
You can also see the area on the PCB where there SHOULD be an ATX power connector - other Zotac ION offerings will have it but our model has something more unique.
On the lower portion of the board you will find a set of three SATA connections to supply the ION motherboard with its various storage options as well as the mini PCI Express card slot the right of them that holds an 802.11n wireless networking card.
This molex power connector you see by the external connections on the Zotac board isn't used for input, but rather for OUTPUT to accessories in your system that need power. Since this motherboard is powered by an external power brick (shown below) Zotac included an adaptor that converts this molex connection into three SATA power connections for your hard drives and/or optical drives for the system.
Most of the exciting stuff on the board happens here - the external connections. Starting on the left we have a single PS2 port, two (of six total) USB 2.0 ports, HDMI output, both optical and coaxial digital audio output (with 7.1 channel uncompressed support), VGA and DVI output (supporting up to 2560x1600 resolutions with dual-link DVI), a red eSATA port, Gigabit Ethernet, 6-channel analog audio output, WiFi antennae connections and power input. The chipset can power two displays at once as long as one of them is the VGA output.
Here you can see a stock photo of the motherboard with the WiFi antennae attached and the optional fan installed on the heatsink. In my quick testing the temperature of the heatsink did reach as much as 70-75C so I would use the fan in just about any installation locations.
Inside the box you will find three SATA data cables, the molex-to-SATA-power adaptor, driver disc, antennae, backplane cutout and instructions.
I mentioned a few times that the Zotac IONITX-A-U was external powered - and here's the brick that is bringing it to you. The AC adapter is rated at 19V up to 4.74A - a total of about 90 watts. In my testing though the system never reached near that level in terms of power consumption even when taking the hard drive and optical drive into consideration.