Small form factor motherboard review – Charles Gilliatt

VIA has a long history with mini-itx motherboards
and this board symbolizes the next leap in motherboard technology for VIA. The
processor is still based on the VIA
Nehemiah core but cranked up to 1.3 GHz and also with the VIA CN400 Digital Media chipset.

This chipset supports DDR RAM and S3
Graphics UniChrome™ Pro IGP graphics core. Both of these features are
meant to improve the VIA’s ability to be used as a media center machine. Over
the past several years, many contenders have entered the SFF/HTPC as well as
the introduction of the Intel Pentium M low power CPU into the market; however
VIA is the father of them all.

The SP series sports a gaggle of goodies and connections all packed into
the tiny 17cm x 17cm board:

– VIA C3™/ VIA Eden™ EBGA processor
– VIA CN400 North Bridge
– VIA VT8237 South Bridge
System Memory
– 1 DDR266/333/400 DIMM socket
– Up to 1GB memory size


– Integrated VIA UniChrome™Pro AGP graphics
with MPEG-2 decoder /MPEG-4 Accelerator
Expansion Slots
– 1 PCI
Onboard IDE
– 2 X UltraDMA 133/100 Connector

Onboard SATA

– 2 SATA Connectors
Onboard LAN
– VIA VT6103 10/100 Base-T Ethernet PHY
Onboard Audio
– VIA VT1617A 6channel AC’ 97 codec
Onboard TV Out
– VIA VT1623 TV Encoder
Onboard 1394
– VIA VT6307S IEEE 1394 Firewire
Back Panel I/O
– 1 PS2 mouse port
– 1 PS2 keyboard port
– 1 RJ-45 LAN port
– 1 Serial port
– 2 USB 2.0 ports
– 1 VGA port
– 1 PCA port (SPDIF or TV out)
– 1 S-video port
– 3 Audio jacks: line-out, line-in and mic-in (Smart 5.1 Support)
Onboard I/O connectors
– 3 USB connector for 6additional USB 2.0 ports
– 1 1394 connector for 1 1394 port
– 1 Serial port connector for a second com port
– 1 VIP connector
– 1 Front-panel audio connector (Mic-in and Line-out)
– 1 CD audio-in connector
– 1 FIR connector
– 1 CIR connector (Switchable for KB/MS)
– 1 LPT port connector
– 1 Wake-on-LAN connector
– 2 Fan connectors: CPU/Sys FAN
– 1 I2C connector
– 1 LVDS/TTL module connector (Optional)
– 1 +12V power connector
– ATX power connector
– Award BIOS
– 4/8Mbit flash memory
System Monitoring & Management
– CPU voltage monitoring
– Wake-on-LAN, Keyboard Power-on, Timer Power-on
– System power management
– AC power failure recovery

VIA has a nice simple pleasing package.

The contents include the motherboard, instruction manual, I/O shield and an IDE cable.

Upon close inspection of the board itself we see the simple elegance that is
the SP-13000 board. It manages to fit all of its features comfortably into its
tiny footprint. The CPU comes with the same fan used in the VIA EPIA M10000:
The Bi-Sonic BS401012M,
a 40 x 10 mm 12VDC fan rated by the manufacturer for 6.5 CFM airflow at 5000
RPM and a noise level of 24.5 dBA @ 1 meter.


The board was set up on an open bench. The following components were used:

Seagate Momentus 5400.2 (100gb) notebook hard drive W/IDE adapter
Samsung 8x/24x DVD/CD-RW slim drive
512MB PC2100 DDR RAM
Power Supply M&P model AD-1260B, 80W brick power supply unit.

Idle temps listed are stable temps at Windows desktop
Load temps were derived by using CPUburn
until temperature levels stopped climbing
Benchmarks where performed using Sisoft Sandra Professional 2005
Temps were read through Motherboard Monitor

Fan voltages manipulated using a Zalman Fanmate
Ambient temp for all tests was 23°C.

CPU Temperatures
Fan Voltage





The fan at 12 volts is noticeably louder than a Panaflo L1A at 12 volts. When the voltage
to the fan is reduced to 7 volts or below, it is nearly silent and would be virtually
inaudible inside a case from a meter away. When the fan was shut off and the
load test applied, the CPU temperature quickly reached 72°C and alarm
bells sounded. The temp was still rising when I turned the system off. Obviously,
this CPU cannot be run fanless without more elaborate cooling.

The BIOS system contains a fairly lax set of controls over your computer’s functions,
including no controls over CPU speed, multiplier or FSB

Power Consumption
System at Load
System at Idle

Read via Seasonic
Power Angel


Although SPCR’s mantra is silence, we still feel it necessary
to run a small series of benchmarks to see exactly how well a motherboard and
CPU perform in comparison with not only previous revisions of the same combination,
but against other mainstream CPUs, particularly the Pentium M.

CPU Multi-Media Benchmark

CPU Arithmetic Benchmark

Memory Bandwidth Benchmark

Cache & Memory Benchmark

As seen from the benchmark results, the VIA EPIA SP-13000 is not going to blow
the doors off other systems. However it is more then powerful enough to be used
for a home office, media center PC, file server, web surfer, firewall, etc.

It also shows useful performance gains over the previous VIA C3 1 GHz model;
however its performance gains over its previous chipset and CPU speed are marginal,
considering they are separated by several years. It is also worth noting how
much better the Intel Pentium M 725 performs than the VIA system – I will get
more into this in the conclusion.

Subjective tests with DVD, MP3, AVI, MPEG, TV out, and CD Audio quality playback
demonstrated performance as good as much higher-end systems that this reviewer
has seen, proving that benchmarks are not always the best judge of what a system
can really do. However, the weak graphics performance of the VIA EPIA SP-13000
does prevent it from running 3DMark05. There’s no question it’s not a gaming


Overall Performance

In years past, VIA was the king of the hill when it came to manufacturers of
a small form factor, low power consumption computer. However in the last few
years there has been a tremendous uprising in the SFF / HTPC market and just
about every company around is producing a barebones system complete with stylish

With that said, Intel has also introduced its desktop/laptop
CPU, the Pentium M, which is quickly finding its way into many systems. This line of CPUs, while not quite
as powerful as their full bread P4 cousins, are substantially more powerful
than the VIA CPU seen in the SP-13000, as seen in the above charts. The Intel
Pentium M’s also consume far less power then their big brothers, as seen with
the AOpen EY855-II Pentium M SFF barebones system with Intel Pentium M 725 1.6
GHz processor with 2 MB cache and a similar hardware setup drawing 45 watts during
CPU burn and only 34 watts at idle.

This also means that they produce much less heat,
substantially reducing the cooling required and in turn, a slower, quieter fan
can be used to keep the CPU cool. This, combined with the various motherboards
that are available that will not only support the Pentium M AND an AGP or possibly
a PCI-E card (which unfortunately the VIA systems do not support)
allows for vastly more flexibility in the usage of an Intel Pentium M system.

Most of the Intel Pentium M systems allow for the use of the widely available
Pentium IV aftermarket heatsinks, whereas the VIA does not. The
Pentium M systems also have the flexibility of CPU upgradeability, while
the VIA does not due to their integrated CPU design.


The VIA SP13000 system runs ~$230-$265 plus an m-ITX case with power supply
at ~$100-$150, conservatively equaling ~$330-$415 for the barebones package,
whereas the above mentioned AOpen EY855-II with Intel Pentium M 725 CPU costs
~$512. For the additional ~$100 – ~$190, you get a system that can out perform
the VIA SP-13000 in every benchmark as well as the expandability of an AGP graphics
card, allowing the same system to play the latest video games or run the latest
graphics applications.


Unfortunately over the last several years, VIA’s market share in this arena
has been chipped away via (no pun intended) other venders producing barebones
SFF / HTPC systems. With the advent of Intel’s Pentium M CPU, the only
market that is really left for VIA is the hobbyist and die-hard VIA enthusiast
that is interested in an extremely small form factor, or systems integrators that are designing applications specific
pieces of hardware, IE or DVR devices, security monitoring systems, and various
commercial and medical equipment applications.

Final Word

VIA, once the king of the hill in low power, quiet SFF / HTPC systems, has slowly
allowed the competition to move into their market by not more
rapidly advancing processor speed / performance and not integrating advanced
graphics chipsets and/or the capability of AGP / PCI-E support.

Compact Design
Very little improvement over the previous design
Every Connector Imaginable included
A touch on the pricey side
DDR support
Fan included could be improved.
SATA support
Generic printed Manual
Can be substantially outperformed for not much more.

Charles Gilliatt

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