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VIA Nano and Intel Atom Review - Battle of the Tiny CPUs

Author: Ryan Shrout
Subject: Processors
Manufacturer: VIA
Tagged:

Intel Atom D945G Platform

For comparison testing to our VIA Nano reference platform we got our hands on an Intel D945GCLF motherboard with processor package. 

You can find this exact retail package for sale on our pricing engine for just about $75 - not a bad deal from just the amount of functionality you get inside the box.  Just like the VIA board, the Atom processor is soldered and permanently affixed.

The Intel D945GCLF is the same form factor as the VIA Nano reference platform: mini-ITX.  This board design looks to be much simpler at first glance and that is in fact the case as we investigate a bit further into the design. 

The only expansion slot that the Intel Atom motherboard offers is a PCI slot - any graphics expansion you plan to do will have to be relegated to this older interface.  This is really VIA's best selling point - they are allowing their platform to be completely open but Intel is ONLY ALLOWING their boards and board partners to ship with PCI slots.

The Intel board only has a single DIMM slot supporting up to 2GB of DDR2-667 memory.  The ATX power connector is again a 20-pin rather than 24-pin but will still fit with 24-pin PSUs.  There is a single IDE connection and two SATA
channels for your storage connectivity. 

Here you can see the processor heatsink is incredibly small and passive only and is dwarfed by the chipset heatsink above it.  Notice also that the Intel board requires you to use a secondary 4-pin power connection in addition to the standard ATX power connector. 

The external connections on the board are similar to those seen on the VIA Nano reference board - PS/2, USB 2.0, serial, parallel, a single 10/100 NIC, 6-channel audio outputs and a VGA output. 

Removing the heatsink reveals the full array of Intel chips - the Atom processor at the top, 945G north bridge in the middle and the Intel ICH7-M south bridge at the bottom.  It is interesting to see how much more cooling the 945G chipset requires compared to the Atom processor. 

Wow, that is a TINY processor!  The model on this board is the Atom 230 that runs at 1.6 GHz on a 533 MHz FSB.
This poorly edited photo should show you the exact size comparison between the VIA Nano and Intel Atom processors - the Atom is the skinnier chip in the center with the Nano encompassing it with a much larger square.  It just goes to show that even though we think the Nano is incredibly small, Intel has a more cost efficient chip to offer up - the real question will be performance!
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