Introduction - The arrival of Mini DTX
Many of you are unfamiliar to the Mini DTX form factor, but who could blame you? The common retail form factors included ATX, Micro ATX and only recently has Mini ITX become such a hit amongst conventional DIY builders. For those who care, Mini DTX was originally announced by AMD in 2007, to act as the "middle man" between the tiny 17cmx17cm Mini ITX form factor and the not so small 30cmx24cm Micro ATX. The fact of the matter is that many users would've liked to build a compact machine that doesn't lack in the expansion/upgrade department.
Let's face it, Micro ATX motherboards are not small. At best, they are just a few centimetres shorter than conventional ATX equipment. Consequently, your computer can only be a few centimetres shorter or a few centimetres narrower. Alternatively Mini ITX means you can have a very small machine but you'll be limited to having just one PCI/PCI-Express slot. What if you happen to want an alternative? Cue Mini DTX...
The development of Mini DTX held a number of advantages. Aside the obvious advantages for the end user, Mini DTX should be cheap to produce (exactly six Mini DTX boards fit on a standard PCB panel) and unlike Intel's experiments with the BTX Form factor, AMD's design is backwards compatible with the ATX standard that we know and love.
Three years on, we're proud to have in our labs a retail Mini DTX Motherboard. Readers, meet the Zotac NM10-DTX.
Intel Pinetrail - An All New Atom Platform?
Unless you've been living under a rock for the last two years you'll be well aware of the success of the Atom Processor. Its miniature low power design made it a cheap and cheerful solution for laptops today. As a result netbooks have sold by the bucket load, providing thousands of homes with affordable computing. Let's not kid ourselves though as the mighty Atom is far from infallible. Aside from its obvious performance limitations, it was also paired with ageing and inefficient core logic whose roots date back to as early as 2004/2005. It truly was the Achilles heel of the Atom platform as it consumed a disproportionate amount of power compared to the processor it was paired with. This is where the new Intel NM10 steps in...
Today's Intel Atom processor affords a more modern design. By integrating the memory/graphics controller and amalgamating the remaining functionality of the Northbridge and Southbridge, a far more power efficient solution has been developed.
The NM10-DTX's exact specifications are as follows
|Processor Support||Embedded Intel Atom D510 Dual Core (2x512kB Cache, 667FSB)|
|Memory||2 x DIMM, Max. 8GB DDR3-1600/1333/1066/800|
1 x PCIe 2.0 x16
Supports HDMI with max. resolution 1366 x [email protected]
Supports VGA with max. resolution [email protected]
Intel NM10 Chipset
|LAN||Supports one PCI Express LAN 10/100/1000 Fast Ethernet|
|Wireless LAN||Atheros 802.11g 54Mbps Wireless LAN Controller (Mini PCIe)|
|Audio||Realtek® ALC892 8-Channel High Definition Audio CODEC|
|USB||Intel NM10 Chipset|
- 10 x USB 2.0 ports (6 x Rear, 4 x Internal)
Let's take a closer look at Zotac's first Mini DTX offering.
Packaging & The Motherboard
The NM10-DTX arrived in Zotac's trademark black and orange colour scheme. The top of the box clearly displays the name of the motherboard and on the underside you will find more detailed specifications.
Upon opening the box, you will find the accessory bundle and the motherboard under the cardboard floor. As far as accessories are concerned, Zotac include two SATA cables, one 4pin Molex to SATA converter, Driver Disc, Manual and I/O Shield. Hardly a luxury set of accessories but it contains all the bare essentials required to get started.
Now unboxed, below is the NM10-DTX in the flesh. As you can see, its greater width is quite obvious by the large amount of space available for PCI-Express slots.
Like most of Zotac's fantastic Mini ITX range, the NM10-DTX boasts an extensive feature set. Ignoring the implementation of a full PCI-Express 16x port, you also have a second 1x port, six SATA II and 802.11g Wireless LAN. As always Zotac have gone out of their way to stand out as the man amongst the mice.
As always with reviews, photographs don't reveal the true colours of a product. Let's get testing...
Intel Atom D510 @ 1.66GHz
Zotac NM10-DTX Motherboard
2GB Patriot PC2-6400C4 DDR2 RAM
nVidia GeForce 8800GT 512mb GDDR3
Samsung Spinpoint F1 320GB SATA II HDD
Samsung 22x DVD+/-RW
BeQuiet! Dark Power 750W 80PLUS PSU
Windows 7 Home Premium x64
As expected the installation process was trouble free and the motherboard POST'ed first time. It should be noted that Windows 7 will not detect the NM10-DTX's Black SATA Ports until the JMicron drivers are installed. Speaking of drivers, Zotac still haven't fixed the Autorun functionality on their Driver CD. After manually exploring the Disc for drivers and a system restart the testbed was now fully prepped for testing.
Despite Intel's GMA Drivers installed our Dell Ultrasharp 2408WFP could only operate at a maximum resolution of 1366x768. Completely forgetting that this motherboard wasn't nVidia ION based, the limitations of the GMA3150 graphics adapter became all too apparent. This was indeed the maximum supported resolution over Digital Output (HDMI), while the VGA output can support up to 1400x1050. For a motherboard that weighs in at £115, this is very disappointing.
That said, we were very satisfied by the NM10-DTX's Wireless and Sound capabilities. The Realtek Audio module is one that we have frequently come across on a wide range of motherboards. Unless you are an audiophile, the integrated solution will more than suffice. Meanwhile, the Atheros 802.11g Wireless Adapter maintained a sustained 54Mbps transfer rate and never suffered from a drop out.
For most DIY builders, the NM10-DTX motherboard layout should appear very familiar. The location of parameters are exactly where you might expect them.
Zotac have also implemented a basic set of overclocking parameters. It is possible to manipulate the Atom CPU's Base Frequency, CPU, Memory and Chipset Voltages. It is also possible to select from three DRAM ratios; DDR2-533/667/800.
Temperatures & Overclocking
We were rather impressed by the NM10-DTX's cooling performance. Loading just shy of 70c, there doesn't appear to be a need for active cooling on it's heatsink. This is a major selling point for the Zotac as many of it's competitors feature a small fan on their heatsinks. As always, do ensure that your chassis offers a sensible level of airflow to prevent the risk of overheating.
The new Atom D510 features a faster Front Side Bus frequency of 166MHz (667MHz effective) and as such, this was bound to limit our attempts. In fact, our maximum stable base frequency was determined at 171MHz, resulting in an overall frequency of 1713MHz.
While offering overclocking paramters in BIOS was a nice touch by Zotac, it's quite clear that overclocking the Atom D510 was a fruitless endeavour.
The CPU arithmetic test ascertains the processor's capabilities in terms of numerical operations. Two subtests named Dhrystone and Whetstone are carried out respectively. This is not a measure of latency and thus higher is better.
The Atom D510's marginally higher core frequency allows for a slight lead over the outgoing Atom N330 model.
The CPU Multimedia Test focuses on CPU based operations that may occur during multimedia based tasks. The magnitude of the score depends on the processor's ability to handle Integer, Float and Double data types.
Again, the updated D510 offers a very marginal but notable performance increase. It must be said that in the grand scheme of things, these scores are rather low regardless.
CPU Queen is based on branch prediction and the mis-prediction penalties that are involved.
This proved to be a rather interesting benchmark as the D510 took a considerable lead over the ION ITX-F's N330 CPU. Again, both scores are very weak but perhaps some of the architectural changes are also responsible for this.
PhotoWorxx as the name may suggest tests processors by means of invoking functions that are common to Photo Manipulation including Fill, Flip, Crop, Rotate, Difference and Colour to B&W conversion.
This is now the second Everest benchmark to favour the Atom D510 by such margins.
This is an integer based benchmark that will test the CPU and Memory by means of the CPU ZLib compression library.
The ZLib test has presented a more sensible difference in scores between the two setups.
WinRAR's embedded Benchmark focuses on the processor's File Compression capability. During day to day computer usage, file decompession and compression are two very important functions. Let's see how our Atom system performs.
Given the specification of the Atom CPU, these results are satisfactory. We're also pleased to see Hyperthreading in action, offering a Multithreading speedup of just over 2.30x.
Cinebench is a popular image rendering benchmark. Known for it's multithreading ability, this will surely be an interesting means of testing this dual core and hyperthreading capable Atom.
Large scale image rendering is certainly not a sensible application for the Intel Atom CPU and this was quite obvious by the time it took to finish the task at hand. Regardless, it performed reasonably well and offered a stonking 2.80x computational speed-up. Again, the D510 took a reasonable lead over the ION-ITX-F's N330 CPU.
SiSoftware Sandra (the System ANalyser, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant) is an information & diagnostic utility capable of benchmarking the performance of individual components inside a PC.
The Memory Bandwidth test will closely examine memory transfer rates.
The relocation of the memory controller to the CPU and the increased base frequency has resulted in an impressive performance boost over the ION ITX-F/Atom N330.
Hard Disk Performance
Another pleasing finding is the NM10 Chipset's competitive SATA performance. At an average Read Speed of 90.2MB/sec, it is right on par with desktop P55/H55/SB750 southbridges.
Futuremark's 3DMark06 is a means of testing a system's capability as a gaming machine. It has aged a little, however remains to be an excellent benchmark for all round 3D testing.
This could well be the lowest 3DMark06 score we have ever submitted. The above graph more than adequately sums up the differences between the 9400M based ION GPU and the prehistoric rooted GMA3150. Without any hardware SM3.0 support, a number of tests could not be run and even under SM2.0 operation, the performance was just pitiful.
Adobe Flash SD - Youtube.com
Watching Flash based High Definition video is often more tasking on a system than you'd be led to believe. Without Flash Player 10.1 which enables GPU acceleration, many systems would have otherwise ground to a halt. Let's see how our test setup performs here.
Not a good start at all. While watching our preset video at a resolution of just 360p, our Dual Core Atom was churning away at a 49% CPU utilisation. Moving onwards and upwards to 480p saw another huge spike in CPU utilisation. While the video playback was very smooth, it's all too clear that the NM10 Platform is miles behind nVidia's ION.
Adobe Flash HD - Youtube.com
Using the same video we proceeded to examine CPU utilisation at 720p and 1080p. This will be fun...
Again at 720p, the NM10 System offered fluid video playback, however multitasking was beginning to suffer. Sadly, in 1080p mode the Atom CPU was near full capacity and was now unable to play the video smoothly. The results are very disappointing but sadly to be expected.
Call of Duty 4
Today, Call of Duty 4 is an ageing but popular game. Given the results delivered by the NM10-DTX thus far under Multimedia applications, it could well be a futile test but here goes nothing...
Here, we can see the nVidia ION platform taking a considerable lead, however it's quite evident that neither platform are suitable for gaming.
With our testing complete, it's time to blend our mixed feelings into a balanced conclusion. As we have already hinted along the way, there are aspects of the NM10-DTX that we happen to like and dislike.
Let's begin on a positive note. As per usual, hats off to Zotac for another excellent motherboard design. On a PCB with such a small footprint, the NM10-DTX sports an excellent feature set of 7.1 audio, WiFi and a large number of USB/SATA ports. For those who care greatly about noise, the NM10-DTX is capable of passive operation. There is no escaping the fact that Zotac has presented a motherboard with features that encompasses all other NM10 based competitors. From here on however, things start to go a little pear shaped...
Yes, it has a fantastic feature set compared to it's "spartan" competitors but these modcons come at a severe premium. While conventional Intel NM10/Atom D510 motherboards start at around £65, the Zotac is over 75% more expensive at £115. At such a pricepoint, the NM10-DTX is in direct competition with it's nVidia ION equipped siblings but also more capable (and more power/heat demanding) Core 2 Duo/Quad compliant ITX motherboards. Relying solely on the NM10 chipset, this motherboard simply cannot compete against it's competitors.
In all credit to Intel, the Pinetrail platform is a step in the right direction for the entry level sector. It resembles a much more modern design that is both cost effective for manufacturers but also more energy efficient. For 8.9"/10" netbook purposes, I dare say that it's a fantastic platform for basic usage. For desktop purposes however, the NM10's GMA3150 simply doesn't cut it. Given the level of GPU dependency with today's multimedia usage one can only assert that the Intel Atom is like a fish out of water without nVidia's ION GPU. The ability to power digital monitors upwards of 1366x768 should be a given in this day and age and frankly, I don't think today's Tom, Dick and Harry would be even slightly impressed when their entry level machine begins to struggle with 720p/1080p Video Streaming. Yes, the NM10-DTX allows you to install an additional GPU and as a matter of fact, Zotac will be offering an "ION Upgrade kit" for existing users. Regardless, this motherboard severely lacks fundamental capabilities that should already be present on a motherboard of it's price and supposed calibre. You only need to look within Zotac's own Mini ITX portfolio to find equally priced Atom motherboards that will run circles around this model.
In summary, Zotac have done a superb job at making their rendition of the Atom/NM10 platform stand out amongst the rest. It's great to see the arrival of the Mini DTX form factor, however I must stress that those additional expansion slots aren't there because you might wish to upgrade in future...They're present because you will need an upgrade.
- Passive Operation
- Excellent Flexibility & Feature Set
- Zotac Extended Warranty
- Poor Overclocker
- Prehistoric GPU
Thanks to Zotac for the sample today, you can discus this and many other reviews in our forums.