Wednesday, March 14, 2007

NanoITX now running at 1.5Ghz

Well, according to my Blogger dashboard, it's been a year since I sold my 800Mhz Nano ITX board, disappointed with the lacklustre performance. Well, frankly, I'd been spoilt with faster machines.

I'm now the prowd owner of 2 Mac Minis - one Power PC version running at 1.4 Ghz with a GB of RAM, and one Core Duo 1.66Mhz model with 2Gb RAM which sits in my kitchen and chews its way through DVD rips, DTV recording, and iTunes playing - all at the same time, without a glitch.

Sorry all, I know that some of you are anti-Apple - you must be to be paying what you do in a search for small custom computers running 'nix... Well, why? You can stick Linux or even Windows on a Mac if you really don't like the Mac OS. If you don't like the case, well, get creative and use the innards in a biscuit tin instead!

For my purposes then, Mac is good. And to be honest, if I want to run Linux, I'm going to run it in VMWare. As for Windows, it can get stuffed.

So, sorry, Nano ITX, 1.5Ghz ain't fast enough for me, however small you are.

Monday, March 20, 2006

One of the last things I did before selling my Nano-ITX board was review it for EpiaCenter. They've added some benchmarks that I didn't get time to complete, and added some stuff about EpiOS, but other than that, it's as I submitted it.

Check it out here:

Monday, February 27, 2006

Nano-ITX review on

My first review is live on ITReviews. Hope it's interesting. I'm halfway through another review which is a little more geared to Mini-ITX fans as well, so I'll post a link to that when done.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Sold my board, plus some other things

OK, my Epia-N is now sold on eBay. Hopefully the new owner will find a use for it that either doesn't involve MPEG playback or uses the available software. Anyway, for my part, I can't be leaving a £220 board kicking around gathering dust, as I just posted on LiveJournal.

On another note, many people have emailed or otherwise contacted me to point me at the MPEG playback solutions that are out there. VIA also helped by alerting me to a few. So here they are:

- CyberLink PowerDVD (Might need an old version)
- WinDVD

Via Enhanced Xine
Via Enhanced Mplayer

EpiOS should also include sufficient support.

If I've missed any, let me know.

On another note, have started selling the boards (The entire range, including all Epia-N and NL SKUs) to those who registered for early notification. Prices are about what I expected, with the Epia-N 8000E selling for £189 ex. VAT. They've also reviewed the 1Ghz board quite extensively and pretty much found what I found, although I've gotta say, there seems to be a tendency to make product reviews a bit wordy these days...

Friday, February 17, 2006

Selling my Epia-N 8000E

OK, for now, I've decided to sell my Epia-N 8000E on eBay. I can't afford to have this kicking around while I decide on a use for it, and it doesn't fit into a 5.25" bay as it is. I guess that to do this, I'd need to fit a custom heatsink, and probably use an Epia-NL becuase the ports aren't where I'd want them to be.

Anyway, I've packed it all back in the box, removed the heatsink and memory, and packed a couple of new tubes of thermal grease. Everything is in original working order. If you're interested, click here to see the eBay listing. This is £20-30 cheaper than I paid for it, and of course, you'd be buying it from a UK seller. Email me at mick_sear at hotmail dot com with questions.

Will I buy one in the future? Probably. Question is one of purpose. If I'm not putting it into a spare 5.25" drive bay, then I need to identify a real requirement (or at least cool idea) before I splash out again. Meanwhile, someone else can make better use of this one :)

Hardware acceleration of MPEG 2 & 4

Well, VIA responded to my questions about the hardware MPEG accelleration, although I'm still waiting for some definitive answers about Windows support.

VeXP and VeMP (VIA Enhanced Xine and Media Players,
respectively) announced a couple of years ago, can be downloaded
free from VIA Arena at:

I'll post info about Windows when I get a response.

VIA also confirmed that initial production runs are beginning to hit the market, although in small quantities at the moment, so expect delays for a while.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Interesting SBC project!

I came across this article on the Register, and thought it might be interesting to follow up. The board is apparently a Pentium III, although it seems the same company also sells VIA Eden or C3 based boards as well as Pentium M 1.8Ghz boards.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Updates - XP installed along with DTV Dongle...

Well, XP installed with no issues. Patched it up to SP2 and installed a bunch of applications, and generally everything is running very well.

Although I installed the OS on an IDE drive in the end, I had a look in the BIOS at the suggestion of a reader, and sure enough, there's a setting to make SATA drives look like IDE. In fact, there's very little reason not to do this, since there's only one SATA port, so RAID features are not a factor. If you must use SATA mode, it's possible to install SATA drivers via a USB floppy drive.

In terms of heat, this is dissipated very quickly. If the CPU is pushed, and airflow is restricted, temperatures can reach 50 degrees C, but quickly drops back down to 40 or below. Should you want to install a fan, there is a single header for a CPU fan, but the supplied monitoring software can only report temperatures and fan speeds, not set them, so you may need a fan controller (or some better software).

My biggest gripe so far is one that is apparently not unique to the Epia-N, but affects any Epia boards purporting to have hardware MPEG acceleration. Unless you use specific (and rare) software capable of supporting this hardware acceleration, you're stuck with maximum CPU usage and lots and lots of dropped frames. In fact, it's unwatchable. I tested with a DVB-T USB dongle (Freeview digital TV) and Showshifter (application capable of using that dongle) and found I couldn't get it to work anywhere near satisfactorily. Same goes for playing back an MPEG2 file in Windows media player (ripped using another PC).

Unfortunately for me, that scuppers the idea I had for using this board. I'd intended to use it for recording TV shows, since the low power and lack of noise would have meant that I could leave the PC on all the time with a clear conscience.

If anyone has any suggestions about speeding up video support, including applications to use, BIOS / OS settings I may not have tried, etc., then please do get in touch. Otherwise, I'll be selling the board when I've finished reviewing to someone not wishing to use it for video...

Friday, February 03, 2006

XP installed

OK, XP and a bunch of applications are now installed using the Epia-N8000E with an IDE hard drive, and so far so good. Sometimes, application control gets a little sluggish, but overall it's performing very well. The interesting thing is the CPU temperature, which hasn't exceeded 32 degrees C so far, and it's so nice to work on a completely silent computer.

I haven't yet tried any video apps, but will do so over the course of the next week.

Problems with SATA and XP

OK, quick update on SATA drives and installing XP. Because the Epia-N has no floppy connector, you need to use a USB floppy drive to load the SATA RAID drivers when installing XP onto a SATA drive.

For me, this didn't work. XP set about checking the SATA drive and blue-screened in the process. I'm not sure at the moment if this was the drive (which isn't brand new) or the driver. Either way, I don't want to be in a position where I have to borrow a USB floppy drive again, so I'm installing on an IDE drive later today. I'll post an update to say how it went.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Small issue installing XP on SATA - should have remembered this one!

I ran out of time last night, but a little note of caution to those installing XP: I'd forgotten about this, but XP needs extra drivers (VIA SATA RAID) to install on a SATA hard drive. What a pain! XP, of course, can only read these from floppy drive (I tried from CD), and there's no floppy connector on the main board. Bring on the next version of Windows! I hope it doesn't have the same limitations. Anyway, so I've ordered an IDE drive because they're dirt cheap. I'll carry on the review on Friday.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Epia-N up and running

First impressions? Well, the heatsink does chuck quite a lot of heat out. I'm running Mandriva Linux at the moment via the GlobeTrotter - I'll install Windows in a little while and install the VIA utilities to monitor the temperature.

The board isn't supplied with a power switch or any other switches to connect to the header pins. Of course, if you buy a retail case, you'll get that with the case, but I'm using a switch I swiped from an old case. I found the pins were closer together than standard header pins, so I ended up bending them a little to attach the power switch and power LED.

Another thing to be careful of is the Mini-ATX power connector. It does require (like a normal ATX power connector I suppose) quite a lot of effort to plug in the adapter, and once it's there, you'll probably find yourself wondering if the board's going to snap if you ever remove it.

Right, I'm going to shut down now and reboot with a SATA hard drive and DVD drive connected and try to install Windows XP and the VIA drivers:)

Unique 3-key keyboard

On an aside from the Nano-ITX review, I thought you might like this. It's a three key USB keyboard with colour screens under each key, which can be programmed any way you like. I reckon there are quite a few uses for this in Mini-ITX / Nano-ITX projects. Just think: You could scroll any kind of information across the keys like server status information, offer a one-button 'record now' function for TV apps, etc. I'm going to try to get one for review :)

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

More pics of production Epia-N

Here are some more pics, as previously posted on

My Epia-N has arrived!

Readers of this blog will know that I recently managed to buy an Epia-N 8000E from eBay. Well, yesterday, it arrived, only a few days after I paid for it. Shipment was pretty smooth from Japan, and the seller let me know along the way how to track it, so I'll definitely need to leave positive feedback. As the auction stated, this does look like a retail boxed mass production unit, although I haven't powered it on yet. So far, I've taken a few photos of components and stuck the heatsink on with the supplied thermal paste.

It's really small! This is the first time I've seen one of these, and while I've known the dimensions for some time, they don't really sink in until you see one for real.

Unfortunately, the unit is probably a little too high to fit into a conventional CD drive case without modification, as the heatsink and AV ports are a little high. This could be modified, but to be honest, I'm not going to do it just yet. For now, I'll run tests in a tupperware pot or whatever comes to hand, since I'll be using a conventional desktop PSU at first anyway.

Speaking of which, the adapter cable for the mini-ATX connector is quite short, and if you're thinking of using the board in a narrow enclosure, you'll probably find it gets in the way of the heatsink.

Other initial impressions: Find a supplier of thermal grease if you don't already have one: If you need to upgrade the RAM, you'll need to remove the heatsink. Other than that, it's looking good! More on Wednesday when I power up the board and start testing in earnest!

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Epia-N on it's way

Well, judging by the pictures on the eBay listing of the Epia-N I'm expecting from Japan, it seems genuine enough. I've got a tracking number and the parcel is currently with Parcelforce, so hopefully I'll have it in the next few days. Update: Parcelforce site now says I'll be getting the board tomorrow!

Better get busy and start to do some stuff with the site...

One of the tests I'll run is installing epiOS on it. I've just come across this (OK, call me slow - I'm learning, OK?) and it looks promising.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Torrent of new stuff

eSaw Mini-110
Well, yesterday, I received an eSaw Mini 110 PC for review. Should be able to post a link to it in a couple of weeks. What attracted me to this was the size. It's the same width and height as a standard 5.25" enclosure, which, coincidentally is the same size as my intended Nano-ITX project. Only problem with it is length - it's about 2 inches longer than a typical CD drive, so would only fit into a bay with loads of clearance behind it.

Anyway, I took it to bits of course. Had to, really. They use a single fan to cool the Celeron-M processor (1.4Ghz in the model I reviewed), and they've also managed to cram in a slimline CD in addition to a 9mm 2.5" drive. Which is pretty impressive: I'm sure I'll have no space in mine for a CD drive... Anyway, it's worth a look if you're after that size, slightly more performance than the Nano-ITX can offer and can't be bothered to build your own. Pics later, when I've got them off my digital camera, but you can see the outside of the case on the eSaw site.

New site!
I had a great bit of news the other day: Sascha at EpiaCenter is letting me take over his fairly dormant domain, along with a few other TLDs. We've discussed briefly what could go on the site. I'm thinking about getting into reviewing components and software of interest to Mini-Nano-ITX system builders, like various TV adapter software, etc. and a bunch of hardware. I'll also set up a project gallery a-la but for Nano-ITX specifically, and hopefully I'll be able to kick off the new site with a review of a production Epia-N! I'll keep this blog going, but it'll be a bit less formal than the main site. Anyway, big thanks to Sascha!

Order shipped
Which brings me onto my third bit of news. The Epia-N I've bought from eBay has been shipped, and I have a tracking number. So far, so good. Crucial memory turned up, speedy delivery as usual.

I have a PSU for bench-testing the board. If anyone can donate a small DC-DC board, I'd be grateful. Otherwise, if anyone can recommend one to me? I just need about a 60W PSU, as small as possible. Haven't seen any Nano-ITX PSUs for sale yet, but of course that'd be ideal, especially if it clipped straight onto the board.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Epia-N on eBay

A guy contacted me the other day to say he's selling Epia-N on eBay, and sent me a link. Indeed, from his photos it does look as though he has them for sale, but I'd urge caution buying one in case it's a ruse.

All the same, it's worth keeping an eye on. I'll look around for pucker retail offerings as well...

Here's the link.

Update: Well, seems he's selling the 800Mhz fanless model as well. I've taken the plunge and bought one, so hopefully I'll be able to write a review in a week or so.

I've also finished my review of the Leadtek DTV Dongle, which should be published soon. In essence, the software it came with wasn't very good, but the dongle comes with a BDA driver, so it's possible to use other software with it. Currently, I'm using Showshifter, which is very very good indeed.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Globetrotter and DTV Dongle

A couple of bits of news: My Mandriva Globetrotter review is now live on

I've been using the GlobeTrotter for a couple of weeks now, and I have to say I'm very impressed with it. I've had only minor configuration problems using it on multiple machines, and when the problem is sorted (like setting the right resolution for a monitor), the drive remembers the setting in its profile for that machine.

The great thing about this drive is that it's not a 'live CD', so you can use it like you would any other fully installed OS and save data and settings, and it's not a cut-down OS like Damn Small Linux, so it has a whole suite of apps to choose from which would normally be considered bloat on a 'USB-stick distribution'. Additionally, it doesn't mount drives on the host machine, so you won't damage any other OS, although it is possible to mount the internal drives to do things like, say, rescue a dying hard drive :)/

I'm working on another review at the moment: The Leadtek DTV Dongle. This is about the size of a USB memory stick, although when you've got cables attached it'll be about 6 inches long unless you use custom cables.

It's not a bad device if you don't expect too much from it. Unfortunately, it suffers from slightly flaky software, and the aerial and remote control were pretty much useless. I'd recommend ditching the IR completely if you're using it in a media PC. What it does have in its favour is the size, as it could be used internally in a Mini-ITX project, avoiding the need to go for PCI risers and large PCI cards. All you'd need is a USB header to female USB type B lead, and then put a small arrial lead to a port in the outer casing.

If used in very confined space, heat might become an issue, but either a fan or an inch or so of air around it would keep it running at an acceptable temperature. It seems to be designed to use the aerial as a kind of heat sink.

Issues I had with the DTV dongle were mostly software related. The main app was a bit flaky and driver installation was fiddly, although the only thing that presented a real problem was the direct-to-DVD recording, which just didn't want to work at all.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Obtained case for Nano-ITX review

I did a favour for a friend the other day and extracted data from a dying hard drive which wouldn't boot. You know, the usual 'death clicks'. Anyway, I managed to get the data off the drive and onto a DVD, and my friend donated her old PC to me (4 years old). There wasn't a great deal of any use in the machine, but a few bits will come in handy for my Epia-N review.

So, I've stripped the internals out of the DVD drive that was in it for use when testing the Epia-N when it arrives, and kept a few handy cables and switches, like the PCB with hard drive activity LED, power switch and reset switch, as well as a couple of front-mounted USB ports.

The DVD drive enclosure looks like it has enough space for the board plus about 7cm behind it, which could be used for a PSU board and perhaps an IDE to CF adapter. The lid also screws down onto the sides with quite long screws, so I should be able to screw the lid down to make contact with the heatsink and so accomodate an overall Epia-N unit height range of between about 35mm and 40mm. I'll post a pic later on, when I get round to charging the batteries in my digital camera:)

I'm still not clear at this stage exactly what the overall height of the Epia-N is, since nobody at VIA has yet come back to me with a definitive figure. The manual indicates 35mm, but I suspect that this is a measurement from the board surface to the top of the heatsink. If this is the case, then I'm not sure it'll fit. Also, since the board will be a loan from VIA for the purposes of review, I won't be spending any money on the project - it'll only be proof of concept.

If I ever do a build of this project to use myself, and I may do if the proof of concept works and the board isn't prohibitively expensive, then I'll most likely use the materials I mentioned in one of my earlier posts to make the lid, front fascia etc.

One of my upcoming reviews which may be of interest

This might be of interest to Mini-ITX / HTPC builders. I'm due to review the Leadtek Winfast DTV dongle, which looks pretty small and quite capable. I'll publish a link to the review when it's published by my Editor, and perhaps some follow-up information like how it works in some Linux apps, etc., and how much heat it chucks out.

Following up on one of my recent reviews, the Globetrotter 2, the review is due to go live shortly, so I'll publish a link to it then.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

New links page

Right, I've got somewhere with the NanoITX links. So far, I've put the links which are lost within old blog entries on this page into the respository, which is on one of my other sites: You can find a link to this page on the right, underneath the image of the Epia-N board.

I'll add sites to this repository as I find them. If you come across any that you think merit a mention, please let me know, by emailing me or commenting on one of these posts.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Finally, 2006

First of all, Happy New Year!

I'm looking around at components at the moment. Not that I'm necessarily going to use any, but here are a few interesting ones that caught my eye:

Besides that, I'm busy putting together a links page, and sorting out a free image gallery that Works well with Blogger for review pics when the board arrives.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Might we see the Epia-N in Q4?

VIA are naturally keeping quiet about the exact availability date of their Nano-ITX boards, no doubt more than a little embarrassed by the ever-slipping dates. However, a little bird tells me that the issues presented by the diminutive design, (namely heat and electical interference due to close proximity of components) have now been overcome.

Ever the optimist, and despite having no proof, I'd hazard a guess that we'll actually see boards appearing for sale in Q4 (Jan-March 2006). I'd not be surprised if VIA actually ship their first volumes by air since the product is small, light, high value and strategically important, which would bring them to market much quicker than conventional sea freight. Additionally, I guess it's quite likely that initial production will be smaller scale in case of production issues.

Tantalising, isn't it?

Incidentally, can anyone attending CES in January give me news of any interesting sightings, such as enclosures, PSUs, etc. for the Nano-ITX?

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Mini-PCI parts and more

OK, now we've got Christmas over with, let's hope that VIA's New Year resolutions look like this:

  1. Release Epia-N / Epia-NL ASAP.
  2. Support third parties to develop and bring to market supporting products (cases, PSUs, etc.)
  3. Announce a whole load of new variants like dual lan, RAID SATA, etc. and lower the price :)
Anyway, until that happens, here are a couple of links to interesting UK resellers. Firstly, BVM, who sell quite a few mini-PCI cards along with single board computers, Mini-ITX boards, etc.. I guess this'll be useful for the mini-PCI WiFi card they sell. Secondly, I came across ITX Warehouse, who sell a fairly standard range of Mini-ITX products. They do however have quite competitive pricing by the looks of things, and sell a good range of cases, etc. Unfortunately, no Mini-PCI cards or TFTs with LVDS interfaces, though :(

Just out of interest, if anyone has a car PC with WiFi & TFT, can you email me info or a link? I'm interested to know if you're downloading tunes or video to your car via WiFi and what keyboard / mouse setup you're using. I'm planning a links page soon to collate all the sites I've found, so you'll probably get added :).

Finally for today, I found this forum. For some reason, it hadn't shown up in earlier searches, but it does seem to be alive and kicking. There are some cool sites to be found in some of the posts, like Mashie Design, which I've seen before, but had forgotten about. Milliput / dremmel heaven!

Just updated the look of the site - I think it looks a bit nicer than the plain vanilla template I was using before. I'm actually getting quite a lot of traffic to this blog, so I plan to flesh it out a bit with a links resource, plus perhaps some reviews. If anyone would like to send me bits for review, let me know. This can range from hardware like cases, monitors, LCD screens etc. to software utilities capable of running on Epia boards (like CF-based Linux installs, etc.)