Marshalltown Mini-ITX Motherboard

Intel DN2800MT “Marshalltown”

Since the day we caught word of Intel’s new Cedar View processors, we’ve been itching to start playing with them and getting them into the hands of our customers. Launch day has finally arrived, so we’re showing off a very special mainboard from Intel that’s helping usher in this new generation. The DN2800MT is here, and it’s ready to expand upon what the D945GSEJT started: the Thin-ITX form factor.

Several key features of this board are apparent as soon as one lays eyes upon it. A second PCIe Mini Card connector has been added, one of which is configurable as mSATA. The legacy PCI slot has disappeared and been replaced with a 1x speed PCI Express slot—not only does this provide more bandwidth for peripherals, but the smaller size of the connector will be greatly appreciated by those without a lot of physical space at their disposal.

A second SO-DIMM slot has been added, so users are no longer limited to a single RAM module like they were in the case of the Johnstown board. The DN2800MT will accept up to 4 GB of DDR3 at speeds up to 1066 MHz—providing both double the memory capacity and double the bandwidth of its predecessor. The board has two SATA 3 Gb/sec. connectors, with a SATA power connector located conveniently between them, which makes routing the internal cables that much easier. In addition to LVDS, the board also sports an Embedded DisplayPort connector, which is situated on the bottom of the PCB.

Taking a look at the rear I/O of the board, we find a barrel jack, four USB, VGA, Gigabit LAN, HDMI, and audio in/out. The barrel jack here is a little more flexible than most when it comes to the voltages it’s compatible with, happily accepting anywhere between 12 and 19 volts. The internal power connector (which is still located behind the barrel jack) takes the form of a space saving 2-pin connector and is compatible with the same voltage range.

Marshalltown Backplate

DN2800MT Low-Profile Backplate

Being a genuine Thin-ITX board, the DN2800MT comes with two flavors of I/O shield: there is a standard ATX-compatible shield and an actual Thin-ITX I/O shield for use in slim cases. This is an improvement over the Johnstown, which had Thin-ITX’s low-profile rear I/O ports but only came with a run-of-the-mill ATX-sized I/O shield. Both shields have a mysterious looking rectangular punch-out above the HDMI and audio in/out holes. Investigation reveals that it lines up with the board’s configurable PCIe Mini Card slot, and it’s there to enable use of an ExpressCard/34 adapter. Imaginations are running wild here with thoughts of the removable devices that could take advantage of this, with pictures of USB 3.0, network, and COM add-in cards dancing around in our heads.

Backpanel of M350

Backpanel of DN2800MT in M350 Case

Two of the USB 2.0 ports on the rear of the board stand out from the others with brilliant yellow connectors. The choice of color here wasn’t just for aesthetics—the yellow signifies that these are high-current USB ports, which have are capable of outputting more amperage than standard USB 2.0 ports. This could allow one to ditch the “wall wart” style power adapters found with some larger USB peripherals, with all the required power for compatible devices being drawn from the USB ports themselves.

The Intel N2800 CPU is impressive in its own right. It’s a dual-core 32 nm part that has 1 MB of cache and Hyperthreading, humming along at 1.86 GHz while sipping only 6.5 W of electricity. It talks to the NM10 PCH chip via a 2.5 GT/s DMI link, and the onboard Intel GMA graphics controller has a base frequency of 640 MHz, which is capable of driving displays at resolutions up to 1920×1200. The NM10 PCH itself draws only 2.1 W of power, resulting in a combined CPU+chipset draw of 8.6 W. Compare this to an 11.8 W combined TDP for the main chips on the Johnstown board: 945GSE Northbridge at 6 W, with a 3.3 W ICH7 Southbridge, and the 2.5 W Atom N270.

All this talk of power savings and performance increases warrants some benchmarking. Pitting the DN2800MT against the D945GSEJT in a Kill-A-Watt monitored PCMark05 benchmark, we came up with a score of 1513 for the Johnstown and 2089 for the Marshalltown (the higher number being better) while testing with default settings. The DN2800MT hovered at around 12 W during most of the test, with a low of 10 and a peak of 15. The older D945GSEJT board spent most of its time around 17 W, with a few spikes up to the 20 W mark and a low of 13.

Both benchmarks were performed using Seasonic 12 V, 60 W AC adapters with a Level 5 power efficiency rating, and wattage was measured at the wall using a Kill-a-Watt. Both boards were using 32-bit versions of Windows 7 Pro. The only deviation (besides the mainboards) between the hardware in the two systems was the RAM: the Johnstown board was using a 2 GB module of DDR2 800, while the Marshalltown was using a 2 GB module of DDR3 1066.

A roughly 30% increase in synthetic benchmark score is nice, but the icing on the cake here is the power savings. The Marshalltown achieved its higher score while having a similar percentage of power savings—averaging 5 to 6 W lower than the Johnstown, or roughly one third less juice. Both boards were booting off of 2.5” 7200rpm hard drives during testing. If we had used solid-state drives instead (perhaps some Emphase SATA flash modules), then wattage would have been even lower across the board.

It’s always nice to start off the new year with some cool new hardware. The DN2800MT hasn’t fallen short here, and we’re very excited to see what kinds of new projects it’s going to enable. What projects would you use the new Marshalltown board for? Please share your ideas with us in the comments!