the perfect mini-itx multimedia motherboard

I’ve been having trouble sleeping the past couple of nights, and last night was no different. I woke up at about 3 a.m. and couldn’t fall back asleep, so I decided to do some research for my ultimate mythfrontend box I’d like to buy some day. My biggest sticking point up until now was that it seems like DVI out on the motherboards was a real rarity. On top of that, the graphics chipsets are always VIA, which while the Openchrome stuff works great, using their hardware still wouldn’t be my first choice. Well, the enlightening thing in this morning’s research was that VIA isn’t the only one making boards (they were pretty much the only ones I was ever looking at). In fact, AMD and Intel both have their own. I found out most of this at the Logic Supply website … one I’d seen before, but never really investigated until now. They have a ton of options, products and setups … and I found just what I’m looking for. 🙂

Lo and behold, here’s the one I decided on after looking around: the AOpen i945GMt-FSA. Here’s where it makes the grade for me.

First of all, and most importantly, it uses an Intel chipset, including for the onboard video card which is an Intel 945GM. The Xorg wiki confirms that this works with the i810 graphics driver that is already available, and it’s the one that is being actively developed upstream by Intel themselves. This is the ideal chipset to get — no more binary blob madness. On top of that, the main video output for the motherboard is DVI. Since I’m going to be connecting this to an HDTV, having a DVI to HDMI connection is the smoothest and simplest way to go, and delivers the best picture compared to Component or S-Video inputs (I’ve been meaning to take screenshot comparisions some day). Before I knew this was even an option, I was struggling to find a motherboard and case combination that had a PCI riser card that would let me put in an nvidia graphics board, just in case the VIA one wouldn’t work for whatever reason. The only drawback when it comes to video on this board is that it uses shared memory, and the limit is only 128 megs. Kind of a shame it can’t go higher (and perhaps it can, I can’t find a manual anywhere, even on AOpen’s website), since the board itself supports 4 GB of RAM. That shouldn’t be an issue, though. It would just be nice to have it be a bit beefier.

The other big thing that I was cautious about was having S/PDIF support. Right now I’m not using it on any of my mythboxes, but I prefer to take my time and do some future-proofing. For now I’ve just got a stereo out to RCA cable that works great. I’m extremely picky about video, but sound not so much. Down the road it would be a very nice option to have in case I do start watching movies, and since I’m already ripping everything using the original AC3 streams, then it doesn’t seem too unlikely that I’ll need it. This board comes with two S/PDIF modules, which took me a bit of searching to find out how they plug in and work. It turns out there’s one for audio in and one for audio out. This easy installation guide PDF (warning, the file is HUGE) has some pictures of it, and explains where they plug in — each one goes in one of the regular audio jacks on the back. Seems odd to me, and I’m skeptical that it would even work, but I guess it could. Either way, I’m still going to make sure to get a case that I can add a PCI slot in there so if I need to get a soundcard with S/PDIF out, I can (Interestingly enough, those are hard to find .. at least in a decent price range).

All the other stuff is really cool, but I’m not too concered. From there it’s basically everything you’d expect on a decent desktop, so it’s nice to have. 4 USB 2.0 ports, SATA II connectors, onboard NIC, etc. It also has S-Video out on the mainboard as well so I can hook it up to my older TV as well if I’d like. There are a lot of processors you can put in there as well, though for a mythfrontend you’re not going to need much.

As far as the final setup, I’m not sure still what I’m going to do. One interesting problem I’ve noticed with cases for Mini-ITX systems is that a lot of them are butt-ugly. Most of the ones that Logic Supply sells for the Intel boards are pretty bland. I suppose most people just tuck them away somewhere. On the flip side, I guess it’s nice that you don’t have to spend all that money on nice design, right?

Here’s the case that I’ve tenatively settled on, the Morex 3777. It’s huge and ugly, but it’ll have more than enough room to put in extra stuff if I need it. One really cool thing is that Logic Supply will put the entire system together themselves, and I can pick all the components I want to get. I’m pretty excited already. The price seems reasonable too, considering I’d spend the same amount on a decent desktop system. With my preferences, the price is ranging from about $600 with the basics to $900 with everything I’d ever possibly want. As soon as I save up some cash, I’ll be getting mine. I’m pretty excited overall. Mostly to have found something I like … that’s always the hardest part.

3 comments on “the perfect mini-itx multimedia motherboard

  1. Chewi

    I run mythfrontend on this machine, which has an Intel 945GM. Generally speaking, it’s very good for an integrated chipset. 3D performance isn’t exactly mindblowing but it’s good enough to play, say, UT2004. I have had tearing issues with mythfrontend though, which I haven’t been able to figure out. It’s not a CPU problem, even with linear deinterlacing on, the CPU only hits about 20%. They’re adding XvMC support to the driver, which I’m hoping will help, but I think that’s only supposed to take some work off the CPU, plus I heard XvMC doesn’t play nicely with deinterlacing. Still, it’s not a showstopper. If you get the same problem, please let me know.

  2. phreak

    Uhm, Steve. For the memory limit, try looking at the BIOS of the board. iirc on my notebook (which had a real i810), you could allocate half the RAM or something like that for the graphics card.


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