Zotac does it again. Built upon the Zotac ION ITX-A motherboard that we previously reviewed
, it came to no surprise that we were going to like the ITX-F. As far as common features are concerned, we very much like the stability, overclockability and board layout. From a feature perspective, we also appreciate the implementation of an internal 802.11n Wireless Adapter and most importantly, the ION MCP/GPU. With that in mind, let's focus on the three key differences between the ITX-A/F boards. PCI-Express 16x, a £20 lower price tag and the absence of a passive power brick.
Let's start with that PCI-Express 16x slot. Gaming is without a doubt a weakness for the Atom platform and who would expect otherwise? The ION chipset does hold up reasonably well and is likely to play pre 2005 era games reasonably well. In our examples, Call of Duty 4 was beginning to struggle at 1280x1024 (albeit with higher detail applied) and the horrendously system intensive Flight Simulator X was near enough unplayable. There's no getting around the fact that our GeForce 8800GT was bottlenecked by the Atom like triangular wheels on an Aston Martin DB9 however that is not to say that dropping a faster graphics card into the mix will offer no performance increase, as Call of Duty 4 proves. The simple fact however is that one would be better off buying a Zotac GeForce 9300-ITX motherboard and an Intel Pentium E5xxx series processor for similar money to form the core of an ultra portable gaming desktop for around £160. I for one don't believe that gaming was the word running through Zotac's mind when they created this motherboard however. Think GPU parallel processing. During our testing, we were able to offload two different types of tasks which would otherwise command a hefty processor onto the GPU. The idea is that over time, application designers will make more use of the untapped potential inside today's graphics processing cores, but for now we'll have to sit back and wait as it could take a while...
Now let's talk price. We don't have a retail price for the motherboard however we have spotted a retailer that is currently selling the ION ITX-F for £159. At this price, it's difficult to consider it value for money by any stretch of the imagination. Like anything however, there is a price to pay for everything and in this case you're paying for low power consumption, noise and for it's small size. For those who want a small yet simple machine, I would personally opt for the PCI-Express'less versions which range from £90-130 depending on brand. For the wide majority that wish to have gaming based GPU performance, they're also better off looking elsewhere. However, there are a small proportion of users that take full advantage of GPU Parallel Processing applications that will no doubt appreciate such an offering. With that in mind, perhaps pairing an Atom 330 with a GeForce GTX 285 isn't all that crazy if you're a Folding@Home nut.
All in all, we were left feeling impressed with Zotac's latest Intel Atom based offering. If I had any reservations at all, it would be price. A number of months ago when the brand were near enough first to market with ION based Atom Desktop Motherboards, the pricing was somewhat understandable. Today however, with offerings from Asus, Point of View and Albatron at similar or lower prices, it stands to reason that perhaps some price adjustments to retain a competitive edge might be worth considering. Otherwise, well done Zotac.
- Feature Set
- Board Layout
- Integrated GPU Performance
- Good WiFi performance
- Passive operating not possible