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Atom energy efficiency champ: Intel D945GSEJT w/ Morex T1610 fanless case

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The first Atom-embedded mini-ITX board from Intel to feature the mobile 945GSE Express Chipset. You can hear the cheers from minimalist, green, and silent PC enthusiasts. Along with the lower power profile, the physical profile has also been dramatically reduced, allowing fanless operation in the 1.2-liter Morex T1610 case.

October 22, 2009 by Mike Chin

Products
D945GSEJT
mini-ITX board w/ integrated Atom processor N270
T1610
Fanless mini-ITX case w/ 60W adapter
Manufacturer
Intel
Market Price
US$100~120
~US$65

The D945GSEJT is the first Atom-embedded mini-ITX board from Intel to feature the mobile 945GSE Express Chipset. You can hear the cheers from minimalist, green, and silent PC enthusiasts who have griped about previous Intel Atom boards, equipped a little noisy fan to cool the Northbridge chip even though the CPU heatsink was fanless. Along with the lower power profile, the physical profile has also been dramatically reduced, making it possible to install the new board into all kinds of tight spaces.

Earlier Intel Atom boards were saddled with the desktop 945GC Express Chipset, which Intel’s own specifications show as having a TDP of 22W — far greater than the 2.5~4W TDP of the various single core Atoms or the 8W of the dual-core 330. It’s no surprise that the heatsink on the Northbridge chip on the earlier Intel Atom boards is equipped with a fan.

A sample of the new D945GSEJT came from Intel not in the familar small blue-colored box, but in a larger plain cardboard carton. It turned out to be a complete kit for a very small PC system,


A larger than usual box for a mITX board…



…contained all the components for a complete, tiny PC: RAM, 2.5" hard drive, Wi-Fi card with two antennae, and a fanlessly cooled case with 60W AC/DC adapter.

Before we delve into the kit, let’s take a closer look at the new Intel D945GSEJT board.


Intel D945GSEJT: Click for large image with component map.



As mentioned in the text, the physical profile is extremely low. Note absence of ATX connector on top view photo and 12V DC connector on the left end of the I/O panel.

Intel D945GSEJT: Specifications (from the
product web page
)
Form factor
* Mini-ITX (6.70 by 6.70 inches [170mm x 170mm])
* Board z-height is 20mm
Processor Passively cooled, integrated single core Intel® Atom™ processor N270, 533 MHz system bus, 512KB L2 cache
Memory

Single 200-pin DDR2 SO-DIMM connector:
* Support for DDR2 533 MHz SO-DIMMs (DDR2 800 MHz and DDR2 667 MHz validated at 533 MHz)
* Support for up to 2 GB single-channel system memory

Chipset Passively cooled, mobile Intel® 945GSE Express Chipset:

* Intel® 82945GSE Graphics / Memory Controller Hub (GMCH)
* Intel® 82801GBM I/O Controller Hub (ICH7-M)
Audio Realtek ALC662* codec for 2+2ch (multi-streaming) Intel® High Definition Audio (Intel® HD Audio):

* Front panel microphone/headphone header
* S/PDIF digital audio header
* Internal mono speaker header
Video Intel® GMA 950 dual-onboard graphics support:

* Analog displays (VGA)
* Digital displays (DVI-D)
I/O control Legacy I/O controller:
* 1 PS/2 header
* 2 serial headers
* 1 parallel port header
LAN support Realtek 10/100/1000 Ethernet Controller
Peripheral interfaces * 7 USB 2.0 ports (3 back panel ports, 4 front panel ports)
* 2 Serial ATA 3.0 Gb/s (supporting IDE and AHCI)
* 1 power header for storage devices
* 1 parallel ATA port (44-pin mobile header)
Expansion capabilities * 1 PCI Express* Mini Card slot for low-profile expandibility (I/O shield can mechanically support up to three external antennae for use with wireless adapter)
* 1 PCI
slot
Power Integrated DC-to-DC circuitry:
* 12 VDC jack on back panel for external power supply
* ATX12V 2×2 power connector for alternate internal power supply

BOARD DETAILS

The performance of the D945GSEJT is hardly a mystery. Any of the umpteen Atom netbook reviews is relevant to the peformance of this board. It has the same single-core Atom processor and the same GMA950 graphics as every Atom netbook. (If you really must have SPCR’s take on it, our Gateway EC1803h review compares its performance to that of the Atom netbook Asus 1005HA.) In a nutshell, it provides good-enough computing for web surfing, email, non-HD video playback, light image editing, and light "office" work.

The BIOS is typical Intel, with none of the options overclockers, power users, and silent optimizers take for granted. There is a fan control utility which can be turned on or off, with the slowest fan speed switchable between slow and off. Hmmm. About the only notable screen worth showing is the boot menu, which does allow the board to be booted from a wide variety of devices.


The boot menu is probably the most flexible of all the BIOS menu options.

Several aspects of the D945GSEJT stand out:

  • Board power at maximum load is just 12.54W; minimum at idle is just 10.24W (according to Intel technical product specifications)
  • Built-in DC/DC power circuitry, with a 12VDC input jack and power output connector for peripherals. This spells freedom from the size, heat, cost and noise of an ATX12V power supply. Choose a 12VDC adapter of the power capability suitable for your system.
  • Only two SATA connectors — not unusual for mITX but a disappointment for anyone who wants to use it as a super-efficient home server. The PCI slot allows an inexpensive SATA expansion board to be used, however. In such a setup, depending on the type and number of drives used, additional power may be necessary for the drives. Intel technical product specifications suggest a maximum power draw of 55.44W for the whole system with about 10W shared between a 3.5" and a 2.5" HDD.
  • PCI Express Mini Card slot for low-profile expandibility.
  • Gigbit LAN is welcome, especially for anyone considering a media/server networking role.

OTHER COMPONENTS

The photos and specs on the previous page should have told you pretty much everything. Here are more details aboout the components that were part of the Intel kit.


A 2GB stick of A-Data DDR2 SO-DIMM was provided, along with an Intel Wi-Fi LAN 5100, seen mounted in the PCIe mini card slot on right. This angle shot shows how low and small the CPU and chipset heatsinks are.


A Fujitsu 250GB 2.5" 5400rpm hard drive w/ 8mb cache, model MHY2250BH, was part of the kit.


MOREX T1610 CASE

The rest of the package was all part of the Morex 1610 Fanless mini-ITX case, which includes a 60W AC/DC adapter.


The Morex 1620 measures 1.2 liters, about the same size as an Asus Eee Box. The "front panel" is adorned with only a single way-too-bright blue LED.


Apparently, it comes in many other colors.


A supplied VESA-compliant plastic caddy allows the case to be mounted on the back of a monitor for all-in-one PC convenience.


The back panel has built-in cutouts for the I/O panel of the Intel D945GSEJT; it is designed to work only with this board. The rocker switch in the corner is for power.



The 60W 100~240VAC/12VDC adapter is a Seasonic, which is probably pretty high efficiency, given the company’s reputation.

MOREX T1610 ASEMBLY

The Morex case is made of cast aluminum and finished with a glossy paint that seems resistant to wear and tear. Compared to something like the Asus Eee PC, the main weakness is the lack of any front panel ports. The board itself has headers for four USB ports, not used on the T1610 case (although Intel’s documentaion is careful to point out that they can power only one USB flash drive). There are only three USB ports on the back panel, and two of these will be used for the keyboard and mouse… although USB expansion hubs are a dime a dozen.


Opening up the case reveals a vibration-damped mounting bay for a 2.5" drive and a thermal interface pad designed to go beneath the CPU/Chipset area.


We’ve seen these types of elastomer vibration dampeners before. They are fairly effective but don’t elminate vibration entirely.



The TIM pad is soft and thermally conductive. A protective plastic skin is peeled off before installing the motherboard. The pad presses against the underside of the CPU/chipset, and helps to transfer the heat into the aluminum chassis, which enhances cooling via convection.


The biggest challenge was to close the case. A shorter SATA cable and elimination of the legacy 4-pin Molex plug on the power cable would have been helpful.


Completed system powered up and wirelessly networked.

THERMAL/POWER TEST RESULTS

Thermal and power tests were run on the assembled system, mostly to confirm Intel’s power specs and establish that the case can adequately cool the board.

Test Results: Intel D945GSEJT + Morex T1610
Test State
CPU
HDD
System
Power (AC)
Off
N/A
N/A
2.4W
Idle
34°C
39°C
11-12W
CPU 100%
64°C
41°C
16W
CPU+GPU 100%
65°C
41°C
18W
* 22°C ambient room temperature.
* Turning the WiFi radio reduced power by <1W.
* Plugging the Seasonic adapter into AC w/o attaching the output to the
Intel board/system resulted in 0.9W power consumption.

Both CPU and HDD temperature look perfectly safe in our relatively cool room. On the back on a monitor in summer, it may run 10°C hotter, but that’s still safe, and few users with normal applications will ever subject this system to the kind of extreme stress applied in our lab tests.

What’s interesting is that the power figures of this system are substantially lower than what we recorded for the Asus Eee Box B202, which uses the same CPU and chipset. This suggests higher efficiency in the power circuitry of the board, and perhaps of the AC/DC adapter. They are almost as low as the power figures recorded for the Asus 1005HA netbook. There’s almost no point comparing it to the Intel D945GCLF Atom board (with desktop chipset and an 80 Plus ATX12V PSU), which drew at least twice the power in all active operational states..

Atom system AC power comparisons
Test State
Intel D945GSEJT + Morex T1610
Asus 1005HA netbook*
Asus Eee Box B202
Intel
D945GCLF + SPI SPI220LE PSU
Off
2.4W
1W
1W
1W
Idle
11W
9W
16W
27W
CPU 100%
16W
13W
22W
31W
CPU+GPU 100%
18W
16W
25W
38W
All systems featured 1~2 GB RAM and a 2.5" 5400rpm
notebook drive
* The LED-lit LCD screen added 1W to the overall power draw.
** Note that the power of the D945GSEJT was measured with our high accuracy
Extech 380803 Power Analyzer; the others were measured using a Kill-a-Watt
or Power Angel — less accurate, especially below 10W.

Aside from the power consumption, the compared systems/boards feature virtually identical performance, as the CPU and GPU are the same, with the amount of RAM being the single largest variant. The Intel GMA 950 isn’t good for anything 3D or higher than "easy" 720p video playback, at best, while the Atom doesn’t have the muscle to handle Flash video playback or Flash-heavy web sites well.

ACOUSTICS

There’s little to discuss with regard to the system’s acoustics. Since there are no moving parts on the board or in the case, the only source of noise is the hard drive, so your choice there is obviously critical for noise. The Fujitsu supplied as part of the Intel D945GSEJT kit is a reasonably but not exceptionally quiet modern 2.5" drive. In the damped mounting of the Morex T1610 case, the drive measured about 22 dBA@1m or 20 dBA at the 0.6m distance of the ISO7779 defined seated user position. Seek noise pushed peaks about 2 dBA higher. There was some transmission of vibration into the desktop, but it was modest.

Quieter 2.5" drives are available, for 3-4 dBA lower noise. For a silent ultra small PC these days, a decent sold state drive is the preferred option. In any case, mounting the system on the back of a monitor easily reduces the perceived subjective noise, and drops the measured SPL by 3-4 dBA depending on the environment.

FINAL THOUGHTS

The Intel D945GSEJT Atom-embedded board is a product that will be welcome by SFF PC enthusiasts. Its reason for existence is the low power/thermal profile, and very slim physical profile made possible by the mobile 945G chipset. This board is likely the low power champ of x86 computing today.

It’s interesting to note that the D945GSEJT was preceded by products from Intel’s partners, such as the Asus Eee Box B202, which combined the Atom processor and the mobile 945G chipset a whole year before. There are a few complete ultra SFF PCs (of about 1-liter volume) other than the various Asus Eee Box models competing in the same space. Two examples are the Lenovo IdeaCentre Q100 and the Acer AspireRevo AR1600-U910H, both of which use an Atom 230 but paired with a non-Intel GPU/chipset — SiS 307DV for the Lenovo and the nVidia ION LE for the Acer. Given the pricing, a combo DIY Intel D945GSEJT kit such as that examined here faces stiff competition from these ready-mades. We know without a doubt that the ION GPU is far superior to the Intel 950, although its power demand is higher. Less is known about the SiS 307DV, but unlike the D945GSEJT/Morex T1610, the Lenovo Q100 has a much fuller array of ports. One final point is that the price of the complete systems includes at least Windows XP.

Atom system comparisons
Product
Intel D945GSEJT + Morex T1610
Asus Eee Box B202
Acer AspireRevo AR1600-U910H
Lenovo IdeaCentre Q100
CPU
Atom 270
Atom 230
Atom 230
Atom 230
GPU/chip
Intel 945G
Intel 945G
nVidia ION
SiS 307DV
RAM/
512mb
1gb
1gb
1gb
HDD
160gb
80gb
160gb
160gb
USB
3
4
6
6
multi card reader
no
yes
yes
no
Video
VGA, DVI
DVI
VGA, HDMI
VGA
WiFi
no
802.11 b/g/n
no
no
Passive cooling
yes
no, but quiet
no, said to be quiet
yes
Market $
Oct 09
$261*
$262~299
$199~299
$230~299

This comparison casts the Morex T1610 case in a relatively poor light. The absence of front panel ports or multi card reader finds it wanting against the ready-mades, at least for home/media PC use. The passive cooling and the high power efficiency of the included Seasonic AC adapter are nice, but from a system integrator or DIY point of view, passive cooling is easy to achieve with the D945GSEJT board, and the Seasonic is probably available separately at a modest price. Still, the T1610 is the smallest DIY case for mini-ITX available on the market today, and this counts for something. The asking price of $65 is not onerous, either.

Going back to the D945GSEJT, Intel’s promotional brochure says it is

ideal for entry-level or secondary home entertainment, small- to medium-sized businesses, call centers, and a host of innovative applications such as infotainment devices, kiosks, and home surveillance.

Given the widespread distribution of HD video, including HDTV, the qualifiers "entry level or secondary" for the first suggested function, entertainment, are very important. For those seeking good HD video playback with Atom, nVidia ION chipset appears to be the only viable option today. Much better yet is almost any discrete CPU mini-ITX board — let’s face it: Atom + GMA 950 is barely capable of 720p. For all the other functions, the new board is emininently suitable. In the Morex T1610, hung on the back of an inexpensive LCD monitor, it would be a fine choice for lots of office/business applications. In the right case with the right peripherals (such as a SATA or RAID expansion card), it could make a small, capacious, energy efficient and highly effective file/media server.

Intel D945GSEJT board
PROS

* Lowest power consumption
* Affordable
* Fanless
* 12VDC power input, built in DC/DC conversion

CONS

* Poor onboard graphics
* Slow CPU
* Only 2 SATA ports

Morex T1610 w/ 60W Seasonic adapter
PROS

* Fanless but effective cooling
* Affordable
* High efficiency adapter
* VESA monitor mount included

CONS

* No front panel ports or features

Our thanks to Intel
for the sample kit.

* * *

Articles of Related Interest
Intel D945GCLF Atom board
Zotac GeForce 9300-ITX WiFi

Intel DG45FC: Loaded LGA775 Mini-ITX Board

Asus Eee Box B202
Zotac IONITX-A: An ION / dual-core Atom Mini-ITX Board

Asus Eee PC Seashell 1005HA netbook
Intel D201GLY2 Mini-ITX mainboard
Albatron KI690-AM2: A Mini-ITX Powerhouse

* * *

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