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VIA’s New, Advanced EPIA SN-Series Mainboard

By ·Categories: Technology·Published On: November 27th, 2007·5.9 min read·

VIA EPIA SN18000G Mini-ITX MainboardWe have been anticipating the arrival of VIA’s latest Mini-ITX mainboard, the SN18000G—a powerhouse of a platform promising a slew of high-end features that are generally seen in Intel-based boards. For instance, the SN18000G has a 1.8GHz processor with a super fast 800 MHz FSB. That is a VIA first, and not to mention, a huge leap from the standard C7 processor having only a 400 MHz FSB. Says Daniel Wu, Assistant Vice President, VIA Embedded Platform Division, “With the VIA EPIA SN-series we have listened to our customers and delivered a number of key technology firsts to the Mini-ITX form factor.”

The Key Technology Firsts

The technology firsts Wu is referring to are (and this is in reference to VIA’s Mini-ITX product line): both PCI Express x16 and Mini PCI (32-bit) slots, the Vista-certified CN896 chipset, VIA Chrome9 HC Integrated Graphics with DirectX 9 support, DDR2 667 memory support, dual SDRAM slots with up to 3.25GB recognizable memory, and 4 SATA (3.0Gb/sec.) onboard connectors. There is also an onboard Trusted Platform Module (TPM), the Infineon SLB9635TT 1.2. I had no idea what this was, and it sounded suspiciously like a Windows Vista thing. Every time I click on a site or download a file, my Windows Vista computer alerts me to the untrustworthiness of the source. I suppose this is a good feature, but I feel like I should be able to make my own decisions. But, after conducting some research, the TPM has nothing to do with Vista sorting out devious content on the Web (as far as I can tell), but it is linked to Windows Vista.

The TPM module is used as part of Vista’s BitLocker Drive Encryption. I won’t get too much into this, mainly because I don’t fully understand it and it’s not incredibly important to what I am talking about. But feel free to read more information on Wikipedia or on Microsoft’s Web site.

VIA is plugging this mainboard as a solution for digital signage and POS applications. Well, being that it does have some nice, new features that lend well to image processing programs, can this board meet the challenge? The answer is: it depends. I have no intention of being misleading by using a flaky comment such as “it depends,” but this is a VIA board, it is low-powered, and despite an 800MHz FSB, it is still a VIA C7 1.8GHz processor. So, it really does depend on the type of application and to what extent you plan to utilize the board. We also haven’t examined the SN to the fullest extent.

Here’s what makes the SN exciting: it is a low-power consumption board (the 1.8GHz processor has a TDP of 15W) with never-before-seen features on a VIA Mini-ITX platform, and it is VIA’s only Vista certified Mini-ITX mainboard.

The Performance: In Brief

The following information is somewhat preliminary, and some users might find varying results. However, this is mainly here to provide a basic idea of how this board performs.

Video: The SN18000G is limited to VGA for video output, so that might eliminate any HD video possibilities. There is an LVDS/DVI module connector, but an add-on module is required. We did run some HD content (just for kicks) at a resolution of 1280 x 720 (5Mb/sec.), but the CPU was maxing out and frames were getting dropped. This was not a desirable outcome. But in its defense, we were running a pretty demanding application and I don’t believe this board was primed for super high-end HD performance, such as running a large billboard in Times Square. We plan to revisit this board in other instances, with smaller resolutions, and we will keep you updated.

When playing AVI files, the board does exceptionally well, even with other applications running in the background. Flash-based files stream smoothly, too, but when being viewed in a Web browser (IE 7), they seem to exert more pressure on the CPU than desired, but this could be a result of IE 7 taking up massive CPU power.

Vista Support: The SN18000G is the first VIA Mini-ITX mainboard with full Vista support. It has the Vista Basic certified CN896 chipset. It has the new VIA Chrome9 HC Integrated Graphics with DirectX 9 support. So, this board does display Vista in all its Aero glory. You get the fancy Windows Flip 3D, the live taskbar thumbnails, and the cool translucent workspaces.

There is one minor setback—the VGA driver is not Vista certified, so a window pops up to scream at you. But, this doesn’t appear to create any issues. And the window can easily be closed.

All in All

The SN18000G mainboard is pretty exciting and can offer a huge range of possibilities. As I mentioned above, it could certainly be used for digital signage applications, but the type of media will need to be taken into consideration before committing this board to a project (so that is why I gave it a “it depends”). We didn’t delve too much into the board, yet, being that it just arrived. So, I am sure there will still be plenty of discovery to report as we begin to test case compatibility.

VIA EPIA SN18000G Mini-ITX Mainboard: BottomJust a side note: the board has a CF Type I slot and Mini PCI slot on the bottom. I am not sure how this will affect its compatibility in Mini-ITX chassis. We hope to get it tested in some of our enclosures. We will keep you updated.

Update (1/10/2008) : After doing some testing with this board we have found that it does not fit in most of our chassis, mainly due to the fact that it has the CF slot and Mini PCI slot on the bottom. This creates an issue with the I/O lining up with the backplane of the case. It causes some bowing, even if you place something underneath the board to prevent contact with the bottom of the enclosure. If you place something underneath one side of the board to level it, it causes it to be too high and then you need to press down to have the I/O squeeze into alignment with the case. This is not an ideal situation, especially if you are after long-term durability and performance.

This is pretty unfortunate. We are trying to work with VIA to get this modified, but I can’t guarantee that much will happen. For now, we hear that there is a case that the board will eventually fit into. But, I can’t seem to find that elusive case, and VIA is pretty close-mouthed about it.

The board has a lot of potential. But, it seems for now only those who are designing their own enclosures will benefit from it.

Update (1/21/2008): We have now determined that the SN-series mainboard is compatible with one of our Mini-ITX enclosures. The VoomPC automotive chassis is the only case that we have that is compatible with the SN mainboard.

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About the Author: Kristina Bond

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Kristina Bond was the Marketing Director for Logic Supply from 2007 to 2012. She graduated from Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah, Georgia with an M.F.A. in photography and a B.F.A in photography and communication from Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, WV. While technology and Logic Supply remain close to her heart, she moved on from the company in June 2012 to do marketing for the restaurant industry. To get in touch with Kristina, please contact kristina@kristinadrobny.com.
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52 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Sascha November 27, 2007 at 2:37 pm

    by far the best board they developed.
    I am looking forward to get my hands on one ;)

  2. Avatar
    Marc January 10, 2008 at 10:27 am

    How is the noise of the cpu fan?

    Nice article, i miss pictures though

  3. Avatar
    Kristina January 10, 2008 at 11:51 am

    Hi Marc,
    The CPU fan is the standard fan used in most VIA boards. So, if you have used a VIA board in the past, and have been happy with the noise output, you should be all set.
    The CPU fan has a rating of ~25 dBA. We haven’t heard too many people being dissatisfied with the noise of these fans.
    Thanks for the feedback, too. What pictures are you missing?

  4. Avatar
    Sverre January 14, 2008 at 9:10 am

    What about trying to run some hd material using a GeForce-card? The passive 1.0GHz version coupled with a passive gpu seems like a good combination for a silent htpc.

  5. Avatar
    Tomasz January 14, 2008 at 5:48 pm

    There is one obstacle. I’m not exactly sure which GeForce card you have in mind but that Mini-ITX power supply are not capable (not yet) of providing enough current for a higher end GPU. Additional GPU might consume up to 100+ W mostly on 12V rail.

  6. Avatar
    Sverre January 16, 2008 at 8:30 am

    Going down the passive route, a GeForce 8400 GS or 8500 GT seem like good choices, with a max power draw of 38W and 40W, respectively. For even lower power draw a 7300 GS (max 16W) is a possibility.
    With power supplies for mini-itx ranging from 60W to 120W the total power consumption should not be a problem. I’m more concerned about the heat produced and it’s effects on other parts of the system (in particular the memory) …

  7. Avatar
    Tom January 16, 2008 at 2:14 pm

    In this case all you would have to do is make sure that none of the rails of your power supply is under-powered. Most of power supplies that we have in stock have rail specifications available in the following product category:

    http://www.logicsupply.com/categories/power_supplies/power_kits

    Let us know about your results. We are always happy to hear about our customers’ projects.

    Good luck!

  8. Epia SN chassis - tkArena Forums January 17, 2008 at 8:43 am

    […] looking to build a 1U rackmount server using a new EPIA SN series motherboard. However, I see from VIA

  9. Avatar
    Steve January 17, 2008 at 4:00 pm

    Can you boot from the CF slot?

  10. Avatar
    Kristina January 17, 2008 at 5:20 pm

    Hi Steve,
    Yes, you can boot from the CF slot. It shares a channel with the IDE slot.

  11. Avatar
    D-Tick January 23, 2008 at 12:48 pm

    Hi
    do you know a site where they had a test of the board with more details – like I/O, CPU/Nic-Speed and so on?!

  12. Avatar
    Kristina January 23, 2008 at 4:37 pm

    Hi D-Tick,
    I haven’t seen any sites that test the SN-series mainboard. I will put in a request to get this board tested with your requirements.

    As for I/O, you should be able to find out what it has from our Web site: http://www.logicsupply.com/products/sn18000g, or if you need more details, it should all be there in VIA’s product manual.
    You can download the manual, drivers, etc. here: http://www.via.com.tw/en/products/mainboards/downloads.jsp?motherboard_id=550

    Check back to see about the mainboard tests. I’ll see what we can do.

  13. Avatar
    D-Tick January 24, 2008 at 3:29 pm

    I just read this page: http://enthusiast.hardocp.com/article.html?art=MTQ1MCwxLCxoZW50aHVzaWFzdA==

    sounds a much faster (2x) than the C7 is going to be shipped in Spring this year – this CPU on the SN Board – whoa :) then Software Raid5 and Hardware crypto will be much faster

  14. Avatar
    Mukunda February 4, 2008 at 11:14 pm

    Have you tested Linux (specifically Ubuntu 7.10) on this board? We are experiencing serious problems with the board crashing when we push files to/from it at gigabit speeds…

  15. Avatar
    Kristina February 5, 2008 at 8:57 am

    Hi Mukunda,
    We are currently in the process of testing that board specifically with Ubuntu 7.10.
    I will make sure that they test the issue that you are seeing.
    I will keep you informed.

  16. Avatar
    Mukunda February 5, 2008 at 5:42 pm

    Kristina: Thanks for the response. I narrowed it down to what seems to be a hard disk controller issue. I used multiple instances of the dd command to create large files (3-4gb) and after running the commands a few times the system becomes unstable and disk access starts giving off i/o errors. It only seems to happen when the CPU is maxed and the problem is apparently not related to the network controller.

  17. Avatar
    Mukunda February 5, 2008 at 5:45 pm

    For example, doing the following commands a few times in a row produces the issue for me fairly consistently:

    dd if=/dev/zero of=bigfile.1 bs=64M count=100 &
    dd if=/dev/zero of=bigfile.2 bs=64M count=100 &
    dd if=/dev/zero of=bigfile.3 bs=64M count=100 &

  18. Avatar
    Mukunda February 6, 2008 at 4:53 pm

    More info: The stability problems went away when I compiled a new kernel (version 2.6.24) from kernel.org… Apparently there is a bug in the Ubuntu kernel related to the disk controller.

  19. Avatar
    Kristina February 6, 2008 at 5:06 pm

    Hi Mukunda,
    I am giving all your notes to my technical support team that is handling the SN-mainboard-Ubuntu testing.

    I hope to give you an update in the next few days. I will let you know of any issues that we are seeing.

    Your information is also very helpful to us, too. So, I appreciate you taking the time to relay the issues you are seeing.