- ✓low power
- ✓highly integrated.
- ✕Moderate performance.
VIA has produced the basis for extremely compact yet fully-featured PC designs in the shape of its VT6010 motherboard. Based on VIA's own 733MHz C3 processor, it's also one of the cheapest ways of creating an information appliance, providing virtually everything you need on one board for under £100.
This reference design board has been created to show off the new Mini-ITX form factor, created by VIA. At 17cm x 17cm, it's meant for use in minimalist PC designs, such as set-top boxes and information appliances. Certainly the performance of this board isn't going to threaten any full-sized desktop PCs, and you're not going to be playing games on systems built around this board either. However, it has enough performance for everyday tasks such as email, Web browsing, word processing and MP3 audio. Under Business Winstone 2001, which measures mainstream application performance, its score of 18.4 is around 30 per cent of the current state of the art.
The lower clock speed of 733MHz is partially responsible for this comparatively poor performance, but it also means that far less cooling is needed for the CPU than with the latest processors from Intel and AMD. A small fan on top of the processor cools the heatsink and makes little noise -- you're cetainly not going to hear it once it's inside a case.
Most of the hardware needed for a PC is built into the motherboard. Graphics, including composite and S-Video outputs, are built in. There's a 10/100Mbps Ethernet interface for network connectivity. You also get two USB 1.1 ports, a standard serial port and parallel port, plus audio inputs and output. The only additions needed for a complete system unit are a power supply, a hard disk drive and a case. In most circumstances you'd also want to add a removable media drive such as a CD-RW or DVD-ROM drive, but it is possible to do without if you want to keep the dimensions minimalist. Note that there's no floppy drive interface on the board, so you'll need to use a bootable CD-ROM for OS installation.
The VT6010 also supports disk-on-a-chip (DOC), although our review unit wasn't fitted with this. DOC is a solid-state storage system that you can use pretty much like a standard hard drive, albeit with lower performance and capacity. DOC sizes from 8MB to 32MB are supported, and with this present you can in theory do away with the hard drive.
You get just a single PCI slot for expansion, but most of the facilities you're likely to need for this type of PC are included anyway. If you do need more expansion, the slot supports two PCI devices through the use of a riser card (not supplied).
Since Mini-ITX is a new form factor, cases that fit this board specifically are scarce in the UK at present. You can fit this board inside an ITX or FlexATX case, if you can find one, but otherwise you'll have to do a DIY case for a PC based on this board.
There have been very small PC designs before, notably the Micro PC M Series, but that used laptop components to achieve its diminutive size and ended up costing as much as a low-end full-size PC. With this motherboard, it should be possible to put a PC together for under £500 that you can use for email and Web access, playing DVDs or audio. For tasks like this that don't need the large amount of computing power offered by the latest processors, PCs based on boards like the VT6010 will represent great value for money.