It’s become almost a cliché to say that small is the new big, but it continues to hold sway in the computing world. Once upon a time the introduction of the mini-tower for ATX boards was considered a major evolutionary leap. In hindsight, the ATX form factor itself was a major size constraint, and ATX-based systems have long been considered overkill for all but a few industrial applications.

An embedded computing device should be just that: embedded. To me that means discreet, unobtrusive, omnipresent, invisible, and above all, functional. The NC108-1HD fulfills those criteria. This micro-monolith takes advantage of the latest innovations to grace our industry. Featuring an energy-sipping T-56N AMD Fusion APU with a TDP of 18 watts, the NC108 is compact, sleek, and quiet.

Where does performance land? Looking at Passmark scores, AMD’s G-series T56N hits pretty close to the venerable dual-core Intel Atom D525, with scores of 699 and 713, respectively. Where the Fusion APU pulls ahead is in graphics processing, where the T56N even exceeds the performance of a D525 with a second-generation Nvidia ION chipset, although the margin here is slimmer due to the ION’s dedicated graphics memory.

The NC108-1HD has functionality in spades. Built-in HDMI makes this an ideal system for digital signage, media players, advanced kiosks, and up to two RS-232 COM ports provide industrial control capability. The system is small enough and light enough to be mounted just about anywhere using the optional VESA/DIN bracket.

How did we get it so small? We started with a bite-sized Nano-ITX mainboard. For those who may have already forgotten it, Nano-ITX is a form factor pioneered by VIA alongside the Pico-ITX form factor. As my colleague James mentioned last week, Nano-ITX was a form factor that languished on the sidelines, not quite managing to differentiate itself from Mini-ITX enough to catch on. With recent improvements in board architecture yielding more processing power with a lower TDP and the gradual phase-out of real-estate-eating I/O like VGA and DVI in favor of more compact HDMI, Nano-ITX is once again a compelling option.

In particular, the NC108-1HD features

  • 1 HDMI port
  • 1 Gb LAN port
  • 4 USB 2.0 ports
  • 2 Audio jacks
  • 3 Antenna punchouts for wireless capability
  • 1 DB9 punchout for COM or VGA on the back panel
  • 1 DB9 punchout for COM or VGA on the front

Supplementing the already-bite-sized Nano-ITX mainboard with an innovative Slim SATA drive from Emphase, required volume was kept to the bare minimum, allowing us to shrink the enclosure even further and making this ideal for mounting on the back of a display. The Slim SATA form factor is available in up to 32 GB of storage. The board also features a PCIe Mini slot for wireless capability or additional expansion.

Small, quiet, energy-efficient, with robust graphics-processing performance for its class, the NC108-1HD certainly is easy to conceal, fulfilling that central tenet of embedded. But with a system so good looking, would you really want to?