Asus AT5IONT-I review

16 Sep 2010

The passive cooling is a plus, but this small board is too expensive as a starting point to building a PC

Price when reviewed: 
128(£128 inc VAT)
3

Netbooks have lost their sheen recently thanks to the influx of affordable ultraportables and the advent of the iPad, but Intel's Atom processor still has its place. Take the Asus AT5IONT-I motherboard, which pairs one of these low-power chips with the second-generation Nvidia Ion chipset.

The new Ion brings several advantages over its predecessor, among which are a faster GeForce GT218 graphics core and more efficient 40nm manufacturing process, but still only serves up modest levels of performance. It didn't manage to run even our Low quality Crysis test at a playable frame rate and so is suitable only for less demanding titles.

It’s more adept with 1080p video, though, handling our test clips smoothly. The ION chip also tackled online video services, with streaming 1080p content on YouTube running smoothly in Internet Explorer, Firefox and Chrome. BBC iPlayer HD content was handled pretty well, too, with Firefox and Chrome running without any glitches – although we noticed that HD video was jerky when running in the latest version of Internet Explorer.

Benchmark performance, understandably, isn't anything to write home about. The D525 may be the most powerful Atom around thanks to its pair of 1.83GHz cores, but it's still only able to handle basic tasks and struggles with intensive applications or strenuous multitasking.

The board's big selling point, however, isn't raw performance, it's its potential for use in a silent media-centre PC: the board is dominated by a huge blue heatsink, designed to keep both processor and chipset cool without the need for fans.

Asus AT5IONT-I

Elsewhere, the board provides three fan connectors, none of which come with the fourth pin that provides variable speed. Front panel, USB and speaker headers are also provided, while on the backplate a pair of USB 3 sockets sit next to eSATA, a pair of USB 2 ports, optical S/PDIF, two PS/2 ports, and display outputs in the form of HDMI and DVI.

The large heatsink, though, does have its drawbacks. First, it makes the rest of the board feel cramped: there's only room for two SATA/300 ports, so you'll be stuck with one hard disk if you want to fit an optical drive. Second, unlike the Gigabyte GA-H55N-USB3, there's no pair of DIMM sockets or PCI Express x16 slot; instead, the Asus makes do with an awkwardly placed PCI Express x4 slot and a pair of SODIMM sockets, which a maximum of 4GB of laptop memory can be slotted.

It pricey, too, and although the £109 exc VAT price tag is partly justified by the inclusion of both processor and graphics chipset, it means that building a system from scratch around it won't come cheap. You'll have to shell out for a chassis, hard disk, RAM and an operating system as a bare minimum. If you have spare components you can use, then it's a viable proposition; if not, you might as well just buy a ready-made nettop.

Details

Price ex VAT £109
Price inc VAT £128
Overall rating 3
Performance 2
Features & Design 3
Value for Money 3
Motherboard form factor Mini ITX
Motherboard integrated graphics yes

Compatability

Processor/platform brand (manufacturer) Intel
Processor socket N/A
Motherboard form factor Mini ITX
Memory type DDR3
Multi-GPU support no

Controllers

Motherboard chipset Nvidia ION
South bridge N/A
Number of Ethernet adapters 1
Wired adapter speed 1,000Mbits/sec
Graphics chipset Nvidia GeForce GT218
Audio chipset Realtek HD Audio

Onboard Connectors

CPU power connector type N/A
Main power connector ATX 24-pin
Memory sockets total 2
Internal SATA connectors 2
Internal PATA connectors 0
Internal floppy connectors 0
Conventional PCI slots total 0
PCI-E x16 slots total 0
PCI-E x8 slots total 0
PCI-E x4 slots total 1
PCI-E x1 slots total 0

Rear ports

PS/2 connectors 2
USB ports (downstream) 2
FireWire ports 0
eSATA ports 1
Optical S/PDIF audio output ports 1
Electrical S/PDIF audio ports 0
3.5mm audio jacks 3
Parallel ports 0
9-pin serial ports 0
Extra port backplane bracket ports none

Diagnostics and tweaking

Motherboard onboard power switch? no
Motherboard onboard reset switch? no
Software overclocking? no

Accessories

SATA cables supplied 1
Molex to SATA adaters supplied 0
IDE cables supplied 0
Floppy cables supplied 0