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 :)