Sometimes in the pursuit of high-end performance, we sometimes forget that not every system needs a Pentium 4-2.8 GHz or Athlon XP 2600+ processor. This also flows down to the other components such as motherboard, video, audio and network hardware. Don't worry, Sharky's hasn't turned away from performance hardware for desktops or powerhouse gaming boxes, but we also realize that PCs are used for many different tasks and implementations.
One great example is the growing need for a separate home network box, or to use a PC as a firewall for incoming and outgoing Internet traffic. Perhaps you need a low-cost secondary work machine, a storage area for audio/data files or even a small system for basic A/V work or processing. In many of these cases, just about any older system will suffice and interested buyers are scouring the discount racks at the local PC store or searching online for older, less expensive hardware. The main problem with this approach is that usually something is lost in the transition, such as a loss of features (USB, NIC, TV-out) or a reliance on older technology like PCI video.
The natural solution would be to buy into a newer platform design and hit the lowest price possible. This is a viable option, but does cost more and can sometimes result in existing hardware (like SDRAM) not being transferable into the new system. It can also still be quite expensive and may be pure overkill to load a Pentium 4 into an Internet Firewall PC. If this sounds like a problem that is all too familiar, then you might want to follow this review rather closely.
The VIA Platform Solutions Division (VPSD) is a separate business unit under the VIA Technologies parent company, and provides platform products to a wide array of different market segments. These range from high-performance P4X400 motherboards to integrated, VIA ProSavageDDR platforms. The breadth of the VIA product line is exceptional, and even stretches to ultra-low cost, highly-integrated products like the VIA EPIA Mini ITX motherboard we'll be reviewing here. This is a product that is literally designed with space, cost, heat and ambient noise in mind, and makes a real bid for small form-factor implementations like Net servers.
The entire philosophy behind the VIA EPIA Mini-ITX motherboard is to provide a low-cost platform that also includes virtually all of the hardware necessary for a basic system. The diagram above illustrates this design quite nicely, and adheres to a format where the CPU itself is viewed as just another on-board component, like integrated video, audio or LAN.