Article Author :Matt Jason H Date : 28th Dec 2003 Comments :
The EPIA-CL's integrated on-board graphics processor is the VIA 'CastleRock AGP', recently renamed (as far as we can tell) to the 'UniChrome', which promises reasonable 2D and 3D performance. This has an integrated MPEG-2 accelerator, meaning you'll be able play DVD's with good quality, and the board not putting to much strain on the CPU. This will be of particular interest to anyone thinking of setting up a home-theatre PC, although there is no TV out featured in the graphics chipset. Obviously we're not going to see blistering, cutting-edge 3D graphics performance considering the fact you could probably buy 3 of these motherboards for the same price as some of the high-end graphics cards on the market at the moment.
The other multimedia features on the EPIA-CL series is obviously the Audio chipset, which is the VT-1612A with "two-channel AC'97 Codec". This provides a stereo output, line input and microphone input and has no 5.1 surround sound output like the EPIA-M range, making it a little less suitable for serious HTPC use.
Of course if you really want to use the EPIA-CL as the heart of a HTPC set-up you can easily add 5.1 surround and TV output along with other relevant features by installing a suitable PCI card, of which many are available.
The EPIA-CL range has obviously been designed with connectivity as its main focus, it provides an almost bewildering array of connectors both internal and external. Up to 6 USB 2.0 ports, 4 COM ports, 1 Parallel Port , any many more, you'd struggle to find a full sized motherboard with such a broad array of connections I'm sure.
Back Panel I/O Ports
1 x PS2 mouse port
1 x PS2 keyboard port
1 x VGA port
1 x Parallel port
2 x RJ-45 LAN ports
4 x USB 2.0/1.1 ports
1 x Serial port
3 x Audio jacks: line-out, line-in and mic-in
The main feature of the back panel ports is of course the Dual Ethernet ports, these extend the theme of ultra connectivity, even though many people fail to see the point in them. So what is the point in having Dual LAN? The main one is that the board can be used as a hardware firewall/router, bringing your network internet access and keeping it (or your computer) safe.
Onboard I/O Connectors:
1 x USB 2.0 connector
1 x CD Audio-in connector
1 x Front Audio connector
1 x FIR connector
1 x KBMS connector
1 x Wake-on-LAN connector
3 x Fan connectors (CPU Fan, System Fan, Power Fan)
1 x I2C connector
1 x LVDS connector (optional)
3 x Serial port connectors for COM2, COM3 and COM4
The onboard connectors are a little more exotic, the board has the expected extra COM and USB ports, fan connectors, and sound card connections, but also some you may never heard of before. Since the Mini-ITX motherboards were originally designed for embedded (industry) applications the EPIA-CL still features many of the standard connectors for these more advanced applications.
The first connector you might not know much about is the FIR connector. This connector is for an IrDA module, this could communicate with a laptop, printer or mobile phone with IrDA capabilities although those of you interested in HTPCs will be pleased to know you can also use it as a receiver for a remote control.
The KBMS connector is also not that common, it's simply a duplicate of the PS/2 (KeyBoard and MouSe) ports, its used to connect other devices that use the PS/2 without having to give up the keyboard and mouse, and also is convenient for things that you need to mount internally. Devices that you might want to use this with include special keypads, touch-screens, some infra-red modules, etc.
The most exotic connector on the board is the 'I2C' connector. This is a kind of internal connector for direct microprocessor communications with the system, and as you've no doubt guessed will only be made use of by the most advanced of users, mostly for embed/industry applications.
Lastly, you may not know much about the LVDS connector. LVDS stands for Low Voltage Differential Signaling, and is used primarily in driving LCD panels and industry standard displays. Although these tend to be expensive, some old laptop LCDs use this connector and although I haven't had a chance to try it yet, this looks like a great way to add a second LCD monitor to the system.