VIA Epia-CL 10000

VIA Epia-CL 10000


Introduction

The VIA EPIA-CL 10000 motherboard is VIA's latest Mini-ITX offering, boasting an on-board 1Ghz processor, Dual-LAN and a whole host of other features all packed onto one tiny 17cm x 17cm board.

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The VIA Epia CL 10000

Up-until recently the Mini-ITX standard of motherboard was aimed at industry and the more advanced user, running everything from cash-points to cars. However, more and more these boards are becoming the choice for the home user due to their compact size, minimum fuss, low-noise and power consumption advantages. These features make the board ideal for use as a dedicated network device (such as a firewall, file server, etc), an office PC or a specialist application (such as a 'Home-Theatre PC' or MP3 player).

Specifications
  • On-board 1GHz VIA C3 CPU
  • Supports up to 1GB of DDR266 RAM (1 Slot)
  • Florm Factor: 170mm x 170mm Mini-ITX
  • On-Board VIA CastleRock AGP Graphics
  • 2 UltraDMA 66/100/133 IDE Connectors
  • 1 Floppy Disk Drive Connector
  • On-board Dual LAN (10/100)
  • 4 USB 2.0 ports (up to 6 supported)
  • 1 COM Port (up to 4 supported)
  • 1 Parallel Port
  • VT1612A, Two-Channel AC'97 Codec Audio
  • I<SUP>2</SUP>C Connector
  • FIR Connector
  • Optional LVDS connector
  • 1 PCI slot
As you can see, there are a lot of features crammed into such as small board, although the lack of an AGP connector may well annoy those not satisfied with the integrated graphics.

Included Items

VIA EPIA-CL 10000 Motherboard
  • User's Manual
  • 1 x ATA133 Cable
  • 1 x Floppy Cable
  • Custom I/O Bracket
  • Driver/Utility CD
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Included Items

The board comes with the basic bits you need to get it working and a well written user manual, although we were slightly disappointed that extra's, such as a USB/COM port back plate to take advantage of the on-board headers, were not included as standard in the package.

Features


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Board Features

When looking at the board you really get a sense that a lot of thought has been put into it, as you would expect considering its small size, which is of course the most striking feature. Another striking feature of the board is the large heatsink in the middle, this isn't for the processor, but passively cools both the north and south bridges.​


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The north and south bridge chips share the same distinctive heatsink

The CPU itself is the C3 1Ghz with the Nemiha core. The Processor is cooled by a 1U heatsink and a small 40mm fan, which gives off a 25Db hum, which is easily drowned out by the noise of a power supply or even hard-drive. The processor is soldered directly onto the board which means a lot of space is saved but means the board isn't at all upgradeable apart from in RAM size for which one DIMM connector is provided.


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The CPU with tiny heatsink and fan

The small size of the board is not the only advantage the embedded ancestry provides however. Due to the considerations to certain applications and environments that had to be made, the board consumes very little power (around 25W at high loads) and also produces very little heat. In other words, its one of the most efficient motherboards we've got our hands on yet.

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Every square millimetre is sacred, even the battery is mounted vertically to save space

The small size of the motherboard is not the only advantage that its industrial-application ancestry has provided it over its ATX cousins. Due to the considerations to certain specialist applications that had to be made, the board consumes very little power (around 25W at higher loads) and also produces very little heat. In other words, its one of the most efficient motherboards we've got our hands on yet.



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The quality of soldering seen on the board was very reassuring


Extra care must be taken when installing this board as, due to the high density design, components are present on both the top and the underside of the board.

Multimedia Features:

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.

Connectivity:

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

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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.

BIOS

The board uses the Award BIOS found on many ATX and Micro-ITX boards alike. Instead of going into too much detail we've prepared an interactive tour though the BIOS, which you can use by clicking on the image below, for the readers who are more interested in this aspect which is well documented in the user manual provided with the product.

A noticeable, but well expected feature of the BIOS was the lack of 'overclocking' settings, allowing only minor tweaking when it came to the RAM voltages and timings. This is not a surprise as with a small 1Ghz on-board CPU, it is unlikely to appeal to those wanting extreme performance.​

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RAM tweaks can be made in the 'Frequency/Voltage Control' section



Installation

Installing the EPIA-CL was a breeze, requiring only four cables: power (ATX), power switch, floppy disk and the IDE ribbon (for CD and Hard Drives). We tested the motherboard in several standard ATX cases, all of which, although looking a little lost, it fitted in perfectly requiring only four stand-offs. I didn't have to touch a jumper which was very relieving, although if you intend to use the TIR feature you will need to set a couple.

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This is how the board looked after we'd set it up


When installing the board however, I did notice one problem. The strange positioning of the floppy disk drive connector on the board next to the parallel port caused the floppy ribbon to be draped over part of the CPU fan and passive north-bridge heatsink, this hindered the air flow to both components. A realistic solution to this problem would probably to buy a rounded floppy cable, it would have been nice to see one included.​


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The floppy ribbon cable partially obstructed airflow to crucial components


Drivers

The driver disc provided with the board contains 6 packs of drivers. We installed 5 of these as we were not using the FIR feature, the whole installation required 2 reboots on our Windows 2000 set-up. After installing the drivers, everything was set up automatically but the Ethernet ports, which required a quick trip into the Device Manager and although a truly painless and hassle free driver install, it would have been a lot smoother if these 6 packs were bundled into one install with "Full", "Custom" and "Minimum" install options.

After checking out the VIA website we found that drivers were easy to find and obtain, along with more detailed information about the motherboard and a useful FAQ.​

Performance

The Set-Up:

To test out the EPIA-CL we're using these additional components:
  • 256MB KingMax DDR (underclocked to PC2100 speeds)
  • 42GB 7200RPM Hard Drive
  • 350W ATX PSU
  • 52X CD ROM Drive
We'll be testing the boards performance with the following software:
  • SiSoftware Sandra
    • Arithmetic & Floating Point Instructions
    • Multi-media Instructions and Data
    • Memory Bandwidth
    • Network Performance
  • 3D Mark '01
    • Game Tests
    • Theoretical Tests
    • DirectX 8 Features Tests
    • Unreal Tournament (G.O.T.Y.E.)
    • Graphics
    • Audio
    • Dedicated Server
  • Unreal Tournament 2003
    • Graphics
    • Audio
    • Dedicated Server
  • Microsoft Office
    • General Performance
Application Tests:

First we installed the games and applications on the machine. Office was up first, the installation was a little slow, but the package itself ran flawlessly performing all the standard tasks with ease, even if it provided more strain on the system than we expected at first, especially when handling very large graphics and files.

Although certainly not aimed at the performance/gaming market we thought it'd be interesting to see how the EPIA performed under gaming strains. We installed Unreal Tournament 2003 first. The installation took ages and we were disappointed, but not surprised, to find that the game was unplayable due to very low frame rates and frequent crashes. However, the board worked well when set up as a dedicated server.

Next we decided to try Unreal Tournament, and we were surprised to find that it worked perfectly. We ran the game with High texture detail, 32bit colour and at resolutions of up to 1024x768 before experiencing any major dents in game play, and continued testing for around a few hours afterwards, having a LAN game, but all in the interests of testing you understand! Unsurprisingly the board also handled dedicated server duties with ease.

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Unreal Tournament took longer to test than expected!


Benchmarks:

After tearing ourselves away from UT, it was time for the benchmarks. SiSoft Sandra was up first with the Algorithmic tests, an approximation of how well the processor may perform under the strain of applications by straining the CPU with complex calculations/algorithms. We've benchmarked the board synthetically with 2 other CPUs to provide a comparison, this means the results we found from our tests are drawn along-side the average results from other CPU/Mainboard combinations. Its interesting to note that the VIA C3 Ezra, is a slightly older model of the processor on the EPIA-CL 10000 in a 486 package, the fact that our board outperformed the average synthetic result means that the CPU has been improved and/or the motherboard is way above average at getting a good performance out of its CPU.


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The Arithmetic Benchmark


Next up was the Multimedia tests, these aren't good for drawing comparisons against other systems, but they still give a good idea of how the system will cope under typical multimedia (audio/video processing) strain. The SSE tests were performed, which are a type of Integer/Floating Point calculation tests.


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The Multimedia Benchmark


Finally we used Sandra to test the memory bandwidth of our system, this measures how fast the system can shift data into and out-of the RAM. This measurement depends a lot on the motherboards chipset, the RAM speed/make and a little on the CPU. We haven't provided comparisons for this as the result would not be useful or very relevant due to all of the factors involved.


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The Memory Bandwidth Benchmark

Performance

After running these benchmarks we thought it was time to put the board through its paces, we reset the machine and ran 3D Mark '01. Due to a lack of hardware support, the 'Environment bump mapping', 'Pixel shader' and 'Advanced Pixel' tests had to be skipped. In the end we got a score of 792 3D Marks. To test the stability and consistency of the board we ran software such as defragmenters and game demos on the machine for 3 days without turning it off or resetting it before running 3D Mark a second time, the reported score was now 721 3D Marks. The fact that after all that continuous use the system only dropped 1 3D mark is very impressive; it shows that, as VIA claimed the board is very stable and well designed for extended/continuous usage, this makes the board ideal for the small server market, or just a dedicated router/firewall.

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The system scored 791 3D marks after extended use




Conclusion

The VIA EPIA-CL 10000 showed great stability throughout our time using it, except when we really pushed it with a game that can make many a power-system sweat; UT2003. The connectivity of the board was excellent and by far its strongest feature next to the form-factor, providing plenty of the standard ports along with heaps of other, more exotic ones. The Mini-ITX form factor not only provides something a little different in size and shape, but also many other advantages such as the low noise, power consumption and heat production making it great system for an office or demanding application, a car mp3 player for example. The size and efficiency of the board also provides scope for computer modders to get creative, we've seen these board in toasters, old VCR cases, robots, even teddy bears!

More serious users will be happy not only with the extra connectors on the board but also the stability of the board in periods of extended use, this is great for systems like HTPCs, MP3 players, "smart" home use, etc as it eliminates boot time altogether. People choosing the board to use it as the centre of a multimedia product will be happy to hear about the MPEG-2 acceleration, but may be a little disappointed with the lack of a TV-Out and 5.1 sound as featured on the VIA EPIA-M series. These features however would not be missed by anyone putting the board to other uses and a PCI card could always be fitted to provide these features.

Performance of the board was disappointing when compared to an ATX system of a similar specification. However, bearing in mind this is an ITX board the performance was very impressive, its ability to handle Unreal Tournament so well was particularly interesting. This board isn't going to appeal to the power-user or hardcore overclocker, at least not as a main machine, so we can't see the performance decrease from a standard ATX PC to an ITX machine to be taken to sorely, considering the type of applications the board has been designed for.

All in all we feel that the comparatively poor performance of the board is more than made up for in its size, ease of installation, efficiency and most of all connectivity.

Author
Matt Jason H
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