in retrospect: picking a mini-itx board

I’ve been having problems with my little Mini-ITX motherboard ever since I got it.  It’s been much more of a handful than I expected, and nearly all the problems wouldn’t exist if I had gone with hardware that I was more familiar with and sure of its capabilities.

As it is, here’s the places I’m having problems:

Video: I have to use the latest 2.6.29-rc vanilla kernel to even get OpenGL working, along with an unstable system of ~amd64 with latest X and intel drivers.  Even with all of that, there is some nasty redraw issues on motion of any kind when playing back video.  It just draws about half the picture one second, and the other half immediately after.  Pretty noticable.

I tried getting a PCI nvidia card in there for more RAM and better picture, but the system will lockup anytime I use X or do something strenous with X.  I’m guessing that the card is drawing too much power and locking up the box.  I can’t get any logs or output of any kind the moment it freezes.  I could try a video card with less power draw, but don’t have any at my house, and I’m hesistant to try anyway.

ACPI: The thing is just buggy.  IRQ assignment is a bit whacked, and it’s sharing everything one one (audio, video), which I think may also contribute to the video problem.  Tinkering with the BIOS doesn’t have any effect.

Also, sometimes, when booting, the kernel will load the ACPI driver and then just stop.  The only way to work around it is to either shut it off and let it clear out and cool down and try again, or boot with acpi=off in the kernel command line.  I don’t want to do that, because that disables the CPU thermal monitors which brings me to my next problem.

Frequency Scaling: There’s no CPU frequency driver for my chip yet in the kernel, so it’s stuck running at full speed.  When it gets too hot, it’ll lock up the box, and I’ll have to power it down for a while.

I could whine about some other small stuff, but it doesn’t really matter, and you get small issues cropping up with any box anyway.  Even these “major” ones aren’t show stoppers.  I imagine the kernel will get a cpufreq driver soon enough.  The ACPI issues don’t really surprise me — the last MSI motherboard I owned had similiar issues and just would randomly flake out on me.  The power draw on the PCI card makes sense (I’ve tried lower power PCI cards, they work fine), and I get what I deserve for gambling on a video card I’ve never worked with before.

In short, the real problem that happened is that when comparing chipsets across the board when deciding what to buy, I totally threw out the variables of experience and known compatibility.  Most of them on my list (which I can’t duplicate right now, since my desktop is down at the moment) were all single-core VIA chipsets, with a few Intel Atom exceptions.  I have had, for a long time, a single core VIA C7 running at 1 GHz that has been chunking along at great speed and reliability (despite some onboard stuff giving out, it still works awesome) that, compared to the dual-core 64-bit 1.6 GHz Intel Atom one I got, should be considered worthless.  But, practically speaking, the first one works, and the second one doesn’t.

If I had to do it all over again, I’d have gone with the VIA.  But, I’m not really that regretful.  I knew I was taking a gamble, and I lost.  It happens.  Things will either get better and improve or I’ll get used to the way it is and make the best of it.  No big deal in the long run.  Besides, the experience is invaluable.

7 comments on “in retrospect: picking a mini-itx board

  1. Andreas Nilsson

    Well, I guess every new machine has its quirks… I’m also looking for a nice frontend. I found a HP dc7700 usdt for approx 280 USD. Do you think it’s up for the job? It it’s a 1.86 Ghz core2 duo, 1Gb ram, and a Intel GMA 3000 (not x3000)


  2. Steve

    One of my big problems with the Intel was that it used onboard video, and not much, ony 256MB. So I’d recommend an external video card if at all possible.

    Everything else looks decent, though it’s too slow to handle HD playback.

  3. Andreas Nilsson


    I have my concerns with onboard graphics too, but my usecases is ~99.5% tv series in normal 350Mb/35min, so that should work 😉

    With a pci-e riser a low-profile card can be put in, so a cheap nvidia 8-series card with vdpau would solve future HD playback I think.

  4. Steve

    That’s the boat I’m in as well, just watching TV shows on DVD.

    One thing to watch out for VDPAU that I just found out this week, is that it only works on certain cards. Check the README in the docs that come with nvidia-drivers-180.22 (or higher). There’s a whole section on which ones support it.

  5. Andreas Nilsson

    Thanks for the heads up!

    I guess I was a bit naive after reading the “NVIDIA 180.35 Driver Update Brings Changes” article on Phoronix claiming that all 8 series card should be fine…

  6. Steve

    I could be wrong, of course. Plus, VDPAU development in both ffmpeg and mplayer is moving at a quick target — what didn’t work 2 days ago might work today (seriously).

    I’ll have the check the article though. Thanks for the heads up.


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