I’m having a hard time deciding what to do to get my replacement Mini-ITX board for my HDTV. I’m hoping that if I do a bit of a braindump, it might help me sort things out, and soliciting outside opinions wouldn’t hurt either.
The basic story is that, last time I bought a Mini, I did a lot of research on the VIA C7 boards and had a good one picked out, but at the last second changed my mind to get an MSI instead with an Intel Atom 330 (dual-core 1.6ghz with hypertheading). I just saw all the fancy CPU features and went ga-ga, and ignoring it being from MSI, I picked that one.
I made a lot of assumptions with this board, and I’ve had a lot of problems since. I won’t go into the details here, since that’s boring, and I’ve already covered it.
Now then, I’m looking at options for replacments, and it’s basically come down to two contenders: a Zotac Nvidia ION chipset with an Intel Atom, or another Zotac Mini-ITX board without an integrated CPU.
As far as specs go, they are nearly exactly identical. The only real differences is that the ION has a PCI-Express Mini slot, while the other has a regular one. But aside from that, they both have onboard Nvidia graphics chipsets (ION: 9400M, GF9300-D-E: 9300M), so using VDPAU isn’t going to be a problem.
The difference I’m looking at is that one is fanless (the IONs all are) and the other isn’t. Now, generally speaking, I hate background noise. I sometimes can’t filter it out when I’m trying to pay close attention to something, as in watching TV or a movie, which is where this thing would be. So having a fanless HTPC would be a top priority, but if it’s going to overheat with the Intel Atom, then I don’t want to risk it.
The alternative is to get the 9300M Mini, and put a low-powered Celeron in there with a quiet fan and hope for the best. That CPU would come with speedstepping so I could throttle it down to pretty low. My VIA at home runs at 800 mhz all the time and does perfectly fine for standard-definition playback, which is what my entire library is in now. I’m guessing (and this is where problems start to form) that if I throttle it low enough, and it’s already a slow processor to start with, that the fan won’t be kicking into high gear much and it’ll be easier to ignore.
On the flipside, the argument for the Intel Atom is that, if I get one of the IONs with the Atom 230 instead of the 330, then it would run less hot to start with. My MSI Mini-ITX at home is a 330 and is both a dual-core 64-bit and has hyperthreading. Both the 230 and the 330 have hyperthreading, and run at 1.6 ghz on the ION, but only the 330 is dual-core.
I really can’t decide which one I should get, and have been bouncing back and forth between the two options for a while now. Frankly, it’s driving me a little insane. On one hand, I’m betting that the fan won’t be loud, and on the other, I’m hoping the CPU won’t run too hot and burn things out. It’s a gamble either way. Right now I’m leaning towards getting the 9300. I figure I’d have more options with picking my own CPU and fan and being able to throttle it myself.