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Jetway NF9C-2600 Atom N2600 Mini-ITX Motherboard

The Jetway NF9C-2600 mini-ITX motherboard is powered by a revamped Intel Atom processor with a PowerVR-sourced GPU that supports H.264 acceleration. Though the connectivity options are suited for industrial/commercial rather than home use, the board gives us a taste of what the latest iteration of Atom offers.

Jetway NF9C-2600 Atom N2600 Mini-ITX Motherboard

March 4, 2012 by Lawrence Lee

Product
Jetway NF9C-2600 Mini-ITX Motherboard
Manufacturer
Street Price
~US$150

Jetway is a Taiwanese manufacturer which has produced a slew of minimalist,
energy efficient mini-ITX motherboards powered by Intel, AMD, and VIA processors
for OEMs, businesses, and DIY enthusiasts alike. The company’s latest offering
is the NF9C-2600 powered by the dual core 1.6 GHz N2600, a mobile version of
the newest generation of Intel Atom CPUs, codename Cedarview.

Intel’s Atom processor ushered in the age of the netbook and the nettop, significantly
altering the PC market. Its popularity has been waning of late due to growth
in the mobile sector and competition from AMD’s Fusion line of APUs. Cedarview
is essentially the same as their last Atom, Pineview, but manufactured using
a smaller fabrication process (32nm rather than 45nm) and incorporating a new
GPU.

The Intel GMA 3150 graphics chip was arguably Pineview’s biggest flaw as it
lacked hardware acceleration for the popular H.264 video codec. This has been
remedied with the GMA 3600 series which, interestingly enough, isn’t even made
by Intel but by PowerVR, best known for powering the graphics on countless cell
phones and tablets. It’s not an entirely positive move, as Intel drivers for
the chip currently support only 32-bit versions of Windows 7/8 and DirectX 9.

Jetway NF9C-2600: Specifications
(from the product
web page
)
CPU INTEL® Cedar Trail-M
Processor N2600 (1.6GHz)
Chipset INTEL®NM10 Express
chipset
Memory 1 * DDR3 800MHz Single
CH SO-DIMM up to 2GB*
Expansion Slots 1 * PCI slot
1 * MINI PCI-E
Storage 1 * Serial ATAII (3Gb/s)
& 2 * Serial ATAIII (6Gb/s) connectors
1 * CFast card socket
Audio Realtek ALC662 6-Channel
HD Audio
Ethernet LAN 1 * RTL8111E PCI-EVL Gigabit
LAN
LVDS 1 * 18-bits Single CH &
1 * 24-bits Dual CH LVDS connectors
USB Embedded 7 * USB 2.0/1.1
Special Features Support ACPI S3
Support CPU Smart FAN
Support Watch Dog
Rear Panel I / O 3 * USB 2.0/1.1 ports
1 * RJ-45 port
1 * HDMI port
1 * COM port
Line-out connector
1 * 12V DC in
Internal I / O 2 * USB 2.0/1.1 headers
for 4 USB 2.0 ports
1 * KB/MS headers
1 * VGA header

NB / Chassis Fan connectors;
2 * LVDS headers & 1 * GPIO header & 1 Parallel headers
3 * COM headers ( COM4 for RS232/422/485)
1 * AUDIO header
1 * chassis intrusion header

BIOS AMI 16MB DIP Flash ROM
Form Factor Mini ITX Form Factor (170mm
x 170mm)
Functional ATM, Security, Digital
Signage, POS, General Application, Transportation
Certificate CE, FCC, RoHS
Temperature Operating within
0~60° C
Storage within -20-85° C
*Note: Despite official
support for only up to 2GB of RAM, we used a 4GB SO-DIMM, and Windows 7
(32-bit) reported 3.3GB available.

Jetway has two main mini-ITX motherboard series, the "NC" and "NF",
geared for consumer use and industrial purposes, respectively. The NF9C-2600
doesn’t fit the mold of a board to power an SFF media PC. It could certainly
play that role as it has many of the common features you’d expect on a regular
desktop board, like a PCI slot, mini PCI Express slot, HDMI output, and gigabit
ethernet, but it also has multiple internal connectors for legacy serial ports,
LVDS devices, and a CFast card socket used to connect tiny solid state storage
devices. These connectivity options make it suitable for powering POS systems,
kiosks, network appliances, security devices and routers/firewalls as well.


The Jetway NF9C-2600 box and AC power brick (sold separately).


Box contents: board, I/O shield, driver disc, manual, serial port adapter, two SATA cables, and a power cable with one molex and two SATA connectors.

PHYSICAL DETAILS & BIOS

The Jetway NF9C-2600 has one DDR3 SO-DIMM slot, one PCI slot, a mini PCI-E
slot, three SATA connectors (the blue port is 6 Gbps) and three 3-pin fan headers.
An extension cable plugs into a 4-pin floppy power connector on the board, providing
two SATA and one molex power connector.


The board features a traditional two chip design with small aluminum heatsinks.
The larger cooler is only 16 mm tall from the PCB surface. As the board
takes side-mounted SO-DIMM memory, it can be installed in a very slim
enclosure.


Connectors are provided for parallel, serial, and VGA ports as well as LVDS/inverter connectivity and a CFast card socket for miniaturized solid state storage. A DC-to-DC converter can be used, but the board can be powered using the AUX12V connector as well.


The rear panel is home to a combined S/PDIF/line-out jack, an RJ45 connector (Realtek gigabit ethernet), a serial port, one HDMI output, and the AC power connector. It’s odd seeing a legacy port directly adjacent to a digital video connector, especially as it’s the only native output provided.


The NF9C-2600 doesn’t ship with its own power source. Jetway kindly slipped
a 60W AC/DC brick into our review package.


Aside from minor voltage adjustment for the memory (up to +150 mV), there’s
nothing of note in the BIOS save the SmartFan menu. The board is otherwise
basic in horsepower and features so it’s rather unusual to find three
3-pin fan headers, all with custom controls in the BIOS.

TEST METHODOLOGY

Test Setup:


Testbed device listing.

Measurement and Analysis Tools

Timed Benchmark Test Details

  • NOD32: In-depth virus scan of a folder containing 32 files of varying
    size with many RAR and ZIP archives.
  • WinRAR: Archive creation with a folder containing 68 files of varying
    size (less than 50MB).
  • iTunes: Conversion of an MP3 file to AAC.
  • TMPGEnc: Encoding an XVID AVI file with VC-1.
  • HandBrake: Encoding an XVID AVI file with H.264.
  • Photoshop: Image manipulation using a variety of filters, a derivation
    of Driver Heaven’s Photoshop
    Benchmark V3
    (test image resized to 4500×3499).

Video Test Suite


1080p | 24fps | ~10Mbps
H.264:
Rush Hour 3 Trailer 1
is an H.264 encoded clip inside an Apple
Quicktime container.

1080p | 24fps | ~14Mbps

H.264: Space is a 1080p x264 clip encoded from
the Blu-ray version of an animated short film. It features a hapless
robot trying to repair a lamp on a spaceship.


1080p | 24fps | ~22Mbps

H.264: Crash is a 1080p x264 clip encoded from the Blu-ray
version of a science fiction film. It features the aftermath of
a helicopter crash.


720p | 25fps | ~2Mbps

Flash: Iron
Man Trailer #1
is the first trailer from the feature film
of the same name. It’s a YouTube HD video, though technically it
is not quite 720p.

Testing Procedures

If available, the latest motherboard BIOS is installed prior to testing. Certain
services/features like Indexing, Superfetch, System Restore, and Windows Defender
are disabled to prevent them from causing spikes in CPU/HDD usage. We also make
note if energy saving features like Cool’n’Quiet, SpeedStep or S3 suspend-to-RAM
do not function properly.

Our first test procedure is designed to determine the overall system power consumption
at various states (measured using a Seasonic Power Angel). To stress CPUs we
use either Prime95 (large FFTs setting) or CPUBurn depending on which produces
higher system power consumption. To stress the IGP, we use FurMark, an OpenGL
benchmarking and stability testing utility.

Our second test procedure is to run the system through a video test suite featuring
a variety of high definition clips. During playback, a CPU usage graph is created
by the Windows Task Manger for analysis to determine the average CPU usage.
High CPU usage is indicative of poor video decoding ability. If the video (and/or
audio) skips or freezes, we conclude the GPU (in conjunction with the processor)
is inadequate to decompress the clip properly. Power consumption during playback
of high definition video is also recorded.

Lastly, we run a short series of performance benchmarks — a few real-world
applications as well as synthetic tests.

TEST RESULTS

Power Consumption


Previous Atom processors managed to be fairly energy efficient despite lacking
Intel’s SpeedStep power saving feature. The N2600 does feature SpeedStep, slowing
to 600 MHz along with a substantial 0.24V drop in core voltage in idle, according
to CPU-Z.

Note: that all the boards in above were tested with different power supplies of varying efficiency, so consider these numbers a rough comparison.

Compared to previous integrated dual core processor motherboards, the Jetway
NF9C-2600 was extremely energy efficient, not using more than 20W measured at
the wall at any point during testing, even at full CPU and GPU load. It put
the Pineview-powered Intel
D510M0
to shame, though the latter uses a desktop iteration of Atom
with a much higher TDP. Surprisingly, SpeedStep didn’t really help power consumption
at idle, but once we started to stress the system, the NF9C-2600 pulled away.

The NF9C fails to reach the idle efficiency levels of the Intel D945GSEJT though, a mini-ITX board powered by the single core first generation Atom N270. Even paired with extra hardware (a Broadcom hardware decoder card to make up for its lack of video playback capabilities), it still used a miniscule 12W when sitting idle.

Video Playback

The new GPU powered through our video playback tests with ease, even handling a high definition Flash trailer with less than 25% CPU utilization. It’s nice to see an Atom chip doing hardware acceleration without a third party graphics processor like Nvidia ION or an add-on decoder card such as the Broadcom BCM970012.

Unfortunately we weren’t able to get Blu-ray playback to work, with both Cyberlink’s PowerDVD and ArcSoft TotalMedia Theater refusing to play our discs. The GMA 3600 series and its graphics driver isn’t recognized by current playback software as being compatible but it’s likely this will change in the future.

The NF9C-2600 used 7W less power (on average) playing video than the the Zotac
IONITX-A using a first generation dual core Atom with an ION GPU, and 9W less
than the Asus E35M1-M using an AMD Fusion APU. It even managed to be slightly more frugal than the ultra-efficient Intel D945GSEJT with a Broadcom decoder chip.

3D Performance

In 3DMark, the NF9C-2600 scored poorly compared to ION and the E-350‘s
HD 6310 graphics chip, but it did manage to almost double the 3DMark05 result
of the Intel D510M0 with GMA 3150 graphics (which couldn’t even run 3DMark06).
Unfortunately, these two synthetic benchmarks were the only ones for which we
managed to get results. We typically run three standalone game benchmarks when
testing systems running low-end graphics, but this wasn’t possible on the NF9C-2600.
The H.A.W.X. 2 and Lost Planet 2 demo benchmarks both crashed before starting, and Alien vs. Predator was incompatible as it requires
DirectX 10.

It seems that switching to a PowerVR graphics chip has resulted in some compatibility
issues. The underlying architecture is superior to the pitiful GMA 3150 of the
previous Atom platforms, but without proper driver/software, 3D use is almost
out of the question. That being said, you won’t be missing much. We also encountered
screen flickering when loading programs, minimizing windows, or even navigating
through folders with explorer (but never when playing video). The issue was
especially bad when transparency was enabled. The system on a whole was much
smoother with Aero disabled.

CPU Performance

When we reviewed the Asus E35M1-M a year ago we were surprised by its surprisingly
poor video encoding results compared to the Intel D510M0. Here we see the D510M0
pummeling the NF9C-2600 in every test, which doesn’t make sense as the N2600
is simply a die-shrunk version of its predecessors. We believe this is because
the D510M0 was tested 3 years ago using Windows XP. Since then we’ve tested
all boards using Windows 7, which has substantially greater overhead demands
on the hardware.

Compared to the AMD E-350, the N2600 fared poorly, particularly in our NOD32
anti-virus scan and iTunes encoding test where it was slower by more than 55%.
The E-350 was also substantially faster in WinRAR and Photoshop. Only in video
encoding with TMPGEnc and HandBrake, probably the least likely activities to
be performed with this kind of hardware, could the new Atom CPU keep up.

Fan Control

For a board of its type, the NF9C-2600 has a surprisingly good fan control
setup with three controllable 3-pin headers available. The SmartFan Configuration
menu in the BIOS allows users to set stop, start, and full speed temperatures
and fans connected follow this regime fairly closely. However during testing
we found that the temperature range of the CPU was quite low, typically staying
in the 50 to 60 degree range once it had heated up after a few minutes, even
on full load. One can expect constant fan speed changes unless the full speed
or start temperatures are set very high.


SpeedFan screen with correlations noted.

Jetway does not provide a fan control utility for Windows but users have the
option of using SpeedFan to adjust the fan speeds to their liking. To activate
fan control, locate the "F71869AD" chip in the Advanced tab of the
configuration menu and change PWM 1-3 from "Auto set PWM" to "Manual
set PWM." This will unlock the complete speed control for all three headers.

SpeedFan showed a variety of temperature sensors, but only three seemed to
be viable, and they seemed to correlate roughly to the temperature of the chipset
heatsink. We suggest setting fan control to respond to the native Core 0/1 temperature
sensors. The heatsinks did get very hot to the touch at full load, but under
normal operation in a well-ventilated enclosure, we wouldn’t expect any overheating
problems and you should be able to get away with passive cooling alone.

FINAL THOUGHTS

The mobile version of Cedarview is extremely energy efficient for a board with a dual core
CPU, shining brightly against comparable desktop models. The power consumption of the Jetway
NF9C-2600 is excellent, not exceeding 20W at any point during testing and only used 17W at rest. It easily
outclasses older products featuring the Atom
D510
and the AMD E-350.
but can’t match the superb idle energy efficiency of older, single core Intel D945GSEJT.
Despite its low power footprint, the board heatsinks get quite hot at high load,
so for industrial use, a fan would be recommended. Luckily, this model has three
controllable fan headers to help limit noise.

The new CPU isn’t any different from previous Pineview offerings except for
the smaller 32nm die, so it doesn’t deliver any extra performance over predecessors.
It is still quite a bit slower than AMD’s E-350, noticeably so when running
Windows 7 with Aero Glass enabled. The only significant change is
the GPU, with Intel moving away from GMA 3150 in favor of the PowerVR SGX 545
(dubbed GMA 3600 for the N2600). Shifting from their own in-house graphics chip
to a PowerVR GPU in the same family as those commonly found in mobile devices
gives Intel a capable, efficient video decoder but it also introduces a slew
of problems.

Intel’s current drivers only support 32-bit versions of Windows 7 and Windows
8 (no Linux, no XP, etc.) and DirectX 9 even though the GPU is physically DirectX
10 compliant. It is unclear whether this will be expanded in the future. We
can attest to the driver immaturity, having encountered irregularities during
testing like the often-flickering screen, especially with transparency enabled,
and various game demo benchmarks failing to run. The motherboard itself is geared
for commercial use with LVDS connectors, CFast slot, and multiple serial port
headers and other legacy port options, but it doesn’t seem optimal for this
application given the operating system limitations.

Though not intended for use as a media PC, this new Jetway board can obviously
do the job, though many of the features would go unused. The Jetway
NC9KDL-2700
is a better choice for home use as it is equipped with a faster
Cedarview CPU and GPU, a more consumer-friendly feature-set, and a lower price.

Our thanks to Jetway
for the NF9C-2600 CPU/motherboard sample.

* * *

Articles of Related Interest
Asus E35M1-M Pro: AMD Fusion Motherboard
Zotac IONITX-P-E: First CULV-embedded Motherboard
Intel D510M0 Motherboard: Atom 2.0
Viako Mini Letter ML-80 H61 Sandy Bridge Barebones PC
Viako Mini Letter ML-45 LEAP E-350 Barebones Nettop
HP Proliant MicroServer

* * *

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