In November 2001, VIA Technologies released to the public a brand new, and incredibly tiny (17cm x 17cm) form factor for PCs: mini-ITX. The original purpose of the form factor was for embedded devices and as always with VIA, low power consumption. It didn’t take long for the enthusiast crowd to see how the form factor’s advantages could work for them as well.
Case modders started to build these tiny systems into all sorts of objects: vintage computers, humidors, the PC’s monitor, or my personal favorite, a stuffed beaver. The problem with these VIA systems is that they are relatively slow compared to modern Intel and AMD PCs. Not long ago, Intel started to sell mini-ITX form factor motherboards, but not many other brands had done so. Enter Zotac.
Founded in 2006, Zotac is a newcomer to the computer hardware market. Their claim to fame is their graphics cards, but they have now decided to break into other sectors as well. Today we test the Zotac NF630I-D-E mini-ITX motherboard. This board is one of the few Socket LGA775 micro-ITX boards available, and at a price of less than $60, it won’t leave you with an empty wallet.
However, with such a low price, one has to wonder whether there are some compromises in the design of the board. Does it have the features people want in a board of this size? Can the onboard video properly handle gaming or High-Definition video?
The board comes in a small, attractive box with lots of information about the product.
As you can see, the board comes with sparse accessories, but includes all the absolutely necessary ones. The package also includes (not pictured) a motherboard backpanel cover plate. We would have liked to get at least a few more accessories with the board, namely another matching SATA cable, and perhaps an IDE cable as well.
Zotac Lists the specifications for the NF630I-D-E as follows.
- Intel Core 2 Duo
- Intel Core 2 Quad
- Intel Core 2 Extreme
- Intel Pentium
- LGA775 Socket
- Up to 1333 MHz FSB
- NVIDIA GeForce 7100
- NVIDIA® nForce 630i
Front Side Bus
- 800/1066/1333MHz FSB (HT Support)
- Phoenix (Award) PnP Flash ROM BIOS
- Two DDRII Sockets Supports up to 4GB (DDRII 800)
- One Channel Parallel ATA133 Connector (Support up to 2 Devices)
- Four Serial ATAII Ports
- One HD Audio 5.1 Port (Line-in, Line-out, MIC-in)
- One PS/2 Mouse Port
- One PS/2 Keyboard Port
- One Serial Port (pin header)
- Four USB Ports on Back Panel, Four USB on Pin Header
- One RJ45 Port
- VGA port
- DVI port
- Onboard 10/100Mb/s
- Integrated in chipset, USB 2.0 x 8
Interestingly enough, the specifications ARE NOT completely correct. There are only 2 SATA ports onboard, but according to the specifications there are 4. A bit of an oversight by Zotac?
In case you had any doubts left, this is a Mini-ITX board, and thus, it is very tiny. It does manage to pack a lot into such a small space, however. Two DDR2 RAM slots (single channel), two USB headers, a PCIe 1x slot, a COM port header, an IDE connector (2 devices), and two SATA 3.0gb/s ports.
The backpanel also has a fine assortment of connectors: Mouse and Keyboard PS2 connectors, VGA and DVI video ports (dual monitor IS supported), four USB 2.0 connectors, 10/100 ethernet networking, and three audio jacks (up to 5.1 channel).
Regardless of the board’s small size, Zotac manages to keep the CPU socket area pretty clear. I had no trouble installing the stock Intel cooler, although it does touch the northbridge heatsink very slightly.
Such a small board for that size case!
Overall, the board seems to have a very nice layout, considering its incredibly small size.
- Zotac NF630I-D-E Motherboard
- Intel E4400 Socket LGA775 CPU (2ghz Stock)
- 2gb (1x1gb sticks) OCZ DDR2 800mhz at 5-5-5-15
- Seagate 250gb SATA HDD
- Generic 250w PSU
- Generic ATX Case
Tests: 3dmark03 and a 1080p clip of Transformers  using Media Player Classic with ffdshow.
The board has a pretty standard Award BIOS.
One of the interesting points of the BIOS is that under the Advanced Chipset Features, you can actually overclock the onboard video in the BIOS.
Under the PC Health Status menu, you can see many of the current values of temperatures and voltages. You can also enable the so called “Tiger Temperatur,” (Yes, it is spelled this way) which it must be noted, did not work properly during my testing.
Sadly, this “NB Voltage Control” is the only voltage setting that is to be found in the BIOS.
Overclockers would do well to take a look at the “FSB & Memory Config” menu. Within, there are settings to change, unsurprisingly, the CPU and memory frequencies. Since this is an Nvidia chipset, there are also settings to unlink the memory FSB from the CPU FSB. Thus, if the CPU or RAM is limiting the overclock, one can set it to “unlinked” and overclock the non-limited component further.
Under this menu, we can see that there are a healthy selection of RAM settings available to the user.
Noticeably missing from the BIOS are voltage settings. Unfortunately, this limits the overclocking ability of the board, as will be seen later.
Since the BIOS of the board did have many of the essential settings for overclocking, I suspected that it would be able to overclock at least a little. I was pleasantly surprised to see that this tiny board was able to do a 50% overclock on the E4400. I was also able to get the video chipset up to 650mhz stable, up from 600mhz. Not much, but in an onboard GPU, you need everything you can get!
However, all’s not peachy on the overclocking front. As I pointed out, there are very few voltage settings available to the user. This severely limits the overclocking ability of the system, as the CPU and RAM cannot get the voltage they need.
It would at least be very useful if Zotac was to offer simple voltage controls, at the very least for the RAM. I was unable to run the RAM in the system at it’s rated speed due to the voltage restrictions of the board. While it is rated at 800mhz 4-4-4-15 with 2.0v, It was only able to run at 800mhz 5-5-5-15 with they system limited 1.8v.
Also useful would be the ability to lower the CPU core voltage down from its stock voltage to a lower voltage. This process, known as undervolting, would allow the system to use considerably less electricity, thus lowering heat output as well. Both low power usage and low heat output are highly prized in the small form factor arena. Zotac would do well to note this.
At the stock speeds of 2ghz on the CPU, and 600mhz on the GPU, the 7100 was only able to manage at paltry 1,986 points in 3dmark03. There is little doubt that Zotac chose this chipset for its low heat output, and not for its 3d potential.
At only 2,181 points, we can easily see that this test is very GPU limited.
While playing Transformers in 1080p under Media Player Classic with ffdshow, we can see that although the CPU usage is high (around 40%), the video is smooth. From this, we can see that there is little to no video acceleration for this file type with the 7100 chipset.
When the PC is overclocked, the CPU usage goes down considerably, to about 30%. Also notable is that when overclocked, the CPU is often able to run at a slower speed, thanks to Speedstep. This will keep the power usage and temperatures under control, regardless of the fact that it is overclocked.
Although decently performing, this board is not really meant for enthusiasts. Its small form factor design does lend to it being a good choice for a media PC or a car PC. It would be useful if in the next iteration, Zotac would augment the accessories, add two SATA ports, add dual channel RAM, and perhaps install a PCIe 16x slot instead of a 1x slot, to enable the user to install a powerful GPU. However, at the attractive price point Zotac has the board selling, it is a viable option.
What I like:
- Tiny Form Factor
- Low Price
- Overclocking Ability
What I don’t like:
- Almost No Voltage Options
- Lackluster Accessories Package
- "Tiger Temperatur" does not work properly
- Single-Channel RAM Interface
Who Should Get This Board:
- Those looking for a cheap, tiny media PC, or car PC.
Who Should NOT Get This Board:
- Overclocking Enthusiasts