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ASUS ITX-220 Motherboard

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This review is dedicated to ASUS ITX-220, a mini-ITX motherboard based on the Intel 945GC chipset and featuring an embedded Intel Celeron Processor 220. The latter is motherboard's key difference from products on the same chipset we have already examined.

ASUS ITX-220 is pretty similar to other mini-ITX solutions. The form factor just doesn't provide much freedom for customization. One expansion slot, memory type, minor diversity of interfaces and rear-panel connectors -- that's basically all that can be varied. The today's motherboard mostly supports legacy peripherals, having a PCI, a COM port, etc. At the same time, it normally supports SATA, not PATA, drives. Another interesting thing is the CPU chosen for this solution.

Intel Celeron Processor 220 is based on the Conroe-L core -- essentially, a half of dual-core Conroe dated 2006 (first CPUs on Conroe-L were rolled out in 2007). Well, this core looks kinda old, doesn't it? Celeron 220 has also been cancelled and replaced by Intel Atom already. But motherboards carrying this obsolete processor are still selling, cheaper than Atom-based solutions at that.

CPU Celeron 220 Atom 330
Process technology, nm 65 45
Core clock, GHz 1.20 1.60
Cores 1 2+HT
L1 cache, I/D, KB 32/32 32/24
L2 cache, KB 512 2x512
L3 cache, KB - -
TDP, W 19 8

The lowest-end processor based on Conroe-L formally yields to the highest-end offering of the previous Atom series in nearly all aspects. Does it mean that a machine based on Intel Celeron Processor 220 will be slower, noisier and more power-consuming? We'll find out in this review. We shall compare the today's motherboard with Intel D945GCLF2, a board on the same 945GC chipset, but featuring an embedded Intel Atom Processor 330. (Stay tuned for the review of the newer Intel Atom Processor D Series.)

The Intel 945GC chipset consists of two microchips: 945GC Northbridge and ICH7 Southbridge. The peak TDP of the Northbridge is 22.3W, so ASUS ITX-220 cannot do without passive cooling. Though its only fan is mounted on CPU, the TDP of which is 3W lower.

The motherboard also features the classic Intel GMA 950 integrated graphics. A very weak solution, completely unsuitable for 3D games, and lacking DXVA hardware acceleration of HD content. Available video interfaces only include D-Sub (VGA). ASUS ITX-220 has neither DVI, nor HDMI, nor even S-Video (one thing Intel D945GCLF2 has), and this considerably narrows the list of compatible monitors. On the other hand, if you plan on building an office PC or a NAS machine, you won't be disappointed.

ASUS ITX-220 and Intel D945GCLF2 have very similar coolers, which mostly differ by location on board. Intel's offering has airflow directed through the fins of the chipset heatsink and divided in two flows to cool down the CPU and Southbridge as well. ASUS ITX-220 has the cooler mounted on the CPU heatsink, meaning that airflow hardly reaches the Southbridge at all. As a result, the ICH7 chip quickly overheats even in an open testbed. This is usually followed by the failure of USB and SATA controllers, so the motherboard stops detecting all connected peripherals and drives. This issue can be fixed by mounting any, even the simplest, heatsink onto the Southbridge, or installing a low-speed 120mm fan to cool down the entire motherboard.

Note that this may also be caused by defects in our motherboard sample, but we can't say for sure.

ASUS ITX-220 has two fan connectors, one already occupied by the aforementioned 40mm fan. Both connectors have 3 pins, but this doesn't let you control rotation speeds by means of BIOS or utilities like SpeedFan.

The bundle is not what you call premium. It only includes a rear-panel I/O bracket, SATA cables and a software CD. The BIOS Setup is also very minimalistic. You can just select a drive to boot from and disable ports and controllers you don't need. The motherboard supports ASUS EZ Flash 2 for upgrading firmware from under Windows, as well as MyLogo 2 for changing the boot screen.

ASUS ITX-220 automatically selects memory clock rate. We did try a few DDR2-667 and DDR2-800 modules, but all of those worked at 400MHz. Either the motherboard is too picky about modules or that clock rate is just locked in BIOS. Note that upgrading BIOS to version 0216 changed nothing. The BIOS Setup won't let you set memory clock rate manually as well.

ASUS ITX-220 powers according to the standard 24-pin EATX + 4-pin ATX12V scheme. This has a positive effect on motherboard's price, but adds certain inconvenience, if you're building an enclosureless machine.

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