A Closer Look
mITX Atom/ION boards are interesting little things, just under 7” x 7”. Of course onboard connectors are going to be sparse, there is just so much you can cram onto such a small board.
The most noticeable thing on the AT3IONT-I is the lack of a cooling fan. The board has a huge passive CPU/chipset cooler and eliminates the need for a noisy CPU fan.
On second glance I noticed something pretty strange…where the 20+4 power connector should be there are just a bunch of solder points. With further investigation I found that the board is powered by a 90 watt brick. This isn’t unique, there are other Atom/ION boards on the market powered by a brick. But before you totally discount this board because it is powered by a brick, keep in mind I just said in the introduction that this board was is marketed towards a different user, someone that might not really care about how the rig is powered as long as it does not involve a wall wart. And I would imagine that the 220 watt power supply that is currently in my mITX case is overkill for this motherboard as long as the onboard graphics are used…keep in mind that the Atom draws a max TDP of 8 watts. That is much, much less than any mobile processor being used in a laptop, powered by the same 90 watt brick.
Getting beyond any issues someone might have about a brick power supply, my only issue is that the only cooling in my mITX case is provided by the power supply. I would not be as concerned if the CPU had active cooling, but that means no air will be moving in and out of my case to provide some wind to the Atom’s heatsink. We will see how that works a little later.
Also looking at layout there are no IDE or floppy connectors, your hard drive(s) and optical drive(s) must be SATA devices.
Experienced builders will find the layout of mITX boards strange, but as I mentioned, there is just so much space. Hidden between the CPU and the rear of the board are several of the board’s connectors. Besides a pair of USB connectors, and a COM1 connector at the top of the board, there are three fan connectors. I may be able to come up with some cooling if things get too hot.
Moving to the bottom of the board there is one PCI-E x16 slot. Onboard nVidia ION graphics eliminate the need for a separate video card, though if the integrated graphics are not quite powerful enough for your needs, most mITX cases will accommodate a single-slot “mainstream” video card.
Of course this will double as a PCI-E x1 slot. I will eventually place a TV Tuner card here.
Scattered around the bottom of the board are more internal connectors, including the four SATA2 connectors, which support RAID 0 and 1.
Also located here is the onboard WiFi, one of the items that makes the “Deluxe” model of the AT3IONT-I different from the standard model. I think that onboard WiFi is an excellent idea for an HTPC rig, allowing for less wires in an area that will necessarily have far too many wires.
You can use pretty much any DDR3 memory in this board, but it will run at a max speed of DDR3 1066. The ION will handle up to 4 gigs of memory.
The 4-pin Molex connector isn’t to get power to the board, rather it is to accommodate power to your SATA drives.
Definitely a strange looking I/O panel here. At the top sit the power connector and the WiFi antenna connector. There are six USB2 ports and PS/2 keyboard, along with a single LAN port. For graphics there is an HDMI port and a Sub-15 port but no DVI. (Remember, this is for an HTPC rig, and intended to be connected to an HD TV) There is optical S/PDIF. The strange looking blue appendage is a BlueTooth receiver.
The most interesting thing here is the audio. The two coaxial connectors are not for S/PDIF, they are RCA connectors for stereo audio. These can be used to connect audio directly to a television, or can be used to send audio directly to an amplifier without need for an adapter.
The three HD Audio ports at default are used for the traditional speakers/line in/mic, or can be configured for 6.1 Audio. For 8 channel audio, the chassis headphone/speaker port will serve as the fourth port. Wow, how cool!
Besides the brick we’ve already seen, the AT3IONT-I Deluxe includes a remote and USB receiver (another benefit of the Deluxe model), a Molex to SATA adapter with three SATA power connectors, an antenna for the WiFi, along with an I/O shield and a pair of SATA data cables.
The SATA power adapter is also kind of interesting, rather than have the Molex connector on one end of the wire, it is in the middle so that the SATA connectors go in two directions. That gives much more flexibility to the adapter making it more likely that it will reach all drives.