EPIA & Me (intro) - A Simple Review of Existing Technolo

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EPIA & Me (intro) - A Simple Review of Existing Technolo

Postposted on Sat May 06, 2006 9:36 pm

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VIA has always been a roller-coaster ride of bugs and features, paper launches and missed markets, and their EPIA boards are no different. Originally intended for use by embedded system integrators in building custom computing options for things like factory machinery and kiosks, hardware enthusiasts (henceforth known as “geeks”) have risen to the challenge of using these strange little boards for a variety of purposes. Most commonly seen in routers, low-power file servers, and (more recently) the HTPC scene, the EPIA platform has firmly planted itself in the most niche markets it can find.

As for me, I love small computers & silent computing. Most of the fun I have with computers is trying to figure out how to get my systems smaller, quieter, or both. Of course, I've been interested in VIA's EPIA line for years, and have been purchasing their hardware since mid-2004. My first notable adventure with EPIAs was with their TC-class boards; each of those eventually went no-post, presumably due to the built-in power supply on the boards. I then switched up to the MS-series, and finally came to rest most recently on the SP platform.

Needless to say, the new EN-series EPIA boards interest me. However, I've started wondering recently if spending $250+ on each of these boards is really the best way to show my wallet who's boss. So, in light of that gentle mental pressure, I decided to geek out and spend my free time benchmarking the hardware that I had, in the best TR-fashion that I could. I didn't feel that it would be fair to compare the EPIA boards' performance to my SN95G5 – AGP vs PCI graphics, S939 A64 vs VIA C3, SATA RAID vs single-drive PATA. so I scrounged some old parts out of the bin and put together a system that I was SURE would be, at most, equivalent to the EPIAs.

I also purchased a range of fanless PCI video adapters. I selected the ATI 9250 (DX8.1, OGL 1.3), Nvidia FX5200 (DX9, OGL 1.4), and XGI V3XT (DX9, OGL 1.5). I could have gone with other versions of PCI cards from each of these manufacturers, but I was aiming for a fanless video solution, and these were the best that each party had to offer. The integrated VIA solutions were never satisfactory for me, but I put up with them. I figured, though, that while I was out to compare the boards' performance, it would also be a swell time to check up on the available video options that were out there. Finally, just for kicks, I wanted to see if there was any performance delta on these video adapters and motherboards when switching from Windows XP to Linux (I had a pet theory that the recent ATI acquisition of XGI might have had something to do with XGI's linux driver team).

With all of that stuff to go over, I've split this review into 3 posts, each attempting to match the TR-style of which we've all grown fond (except the graphs won't be nearly as pretty, as they were made with OpenOffice.Org and my inexpert hand), and each detailing a fraction of the total effort expended in determining:

Are EPIAs really worth it?

Testing Methods
System Performance - Windows - Duron, MS10000, SP13000 - ATI, Nvidia, XGI, VIA
System Performance – Linux – MS10000 – ATI, Nvidia, XGI, VIA
Last edited by eitje on Sun May 07, 2006 7:36 am, edited 4 times in total.
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Testing methods

Postposted on Sat May 06, 2006 9:36 pm

I did my best to follow TR's lead and make my benchmark results clean. All tests were run at least three times, and the results were averaged.

The test systems were configured like so:
<TABLE WIDTH=665 BORDER=1 BORDERCOLOR="#000000" CELLPADDING=4 CELLSPACING=0><TR VALIGN=TOP><TD WIDTH=168><P><BR></P></TD><TD WIDTH=155><P ALIGN=CENTER>Duron</P></TD><TD WIDTH=155><P ALIGN=CENTER>MS1000</P></TD><TD WIDTH=153><P ALIGN=CENTER>SP13000</P></TD></TR><TR VALIGN=TOP><TD WIDTH=168><P>Processor</P></TD><TD WIDTH=155><P ALIGN=CENTER>AMD Duron 700 Mhz</P></TD><TD WIDTH=155><P ALIGN=CENTER>VIA Eden 1 GHz</P></TD><TD WIDTH=153><P ALIGN=CENTER>VIA C3 1.3 GHz</P></TD></TR><TR><TD WIDTH=168 VALIGN=TOP><P>System Bus</P></TD><TD COLSPAN=2 WIDTH=317><P ALIGN=CENTER>266 MHz</P></TD><TD WIDTH=153 VALIGN=TOP><P ALIGN=CENTER>400 MHz</P></TD></TR><TR VALIGN=TOP><TD WIDTH=168><P>Motherboard</P></TD><TD WIDTH=155><P ALIGN=CENTER><A HREF="http://www.abit-usa.com/products/mb/products.php?categories=1&model=84">AbitKR7A</A></P></TD><TD WIDTH=155><P ALIGN=CENTER><A HREF="http://www.via.com.tw/en/products/mainboards/mini_itx/epia_ms/">EPIA-MS</A></P></TD><TD WIDTH=153><P ALIGN=CENTER><A HREF="http://www.via.com.tw/en/products/mainboards/mini_itx/epia_sp/">EPIA-SP</A></P></TD></TR><TR VALIGN=TOP><TD WIDTH=168><P>BIOS Revision</P></TD><TD WIDTH=155><P ALIGN=CENTER>CX</P></TD><TD WIDTH=155><P ALIGN=CENTER>1.05</P></TD><TD WIDTH=153><P ALIGN=CENTER>1.07</P></TD></TR><TR VALIGN=TOP><TD WIDTH=168><P>Initial BIOS Release Date</P></TD><TD WIDTH=155><P ALIGN=CENTER>11/7/2001</P></TD><TD WIDTH=155><P ALIGN=CENTER>8/5/2004</P></TD><TD WIDTH=153><P ALIGN=CENTER>1/31/2005</P></TD></TR><TR VALIGN=TOP><TD WIDTH=168><P>Northbridge</P></TD><TD WIDTH=155><P ALIGN=CENTER><A HREF="http://www.via.com.tw/en/products/chipsets/legacy/kt266a/">VIAKT266A</A></P></TD><TD WIDTH=155><P ALIGN=CENTER><A HREF="http://www.via.com.tw/en/products/chipsets/c-series/cle266/">VIACLE266</A></P></TD><TD WIDTH=153><P ALIGN=CENTER><A HREF="http://www.via.com.tw/en/products/chipsets/c-series/cn400/">VIACN400</A></P></TD></TR><TR VALIGN=TOP><TD WIDTH=168><P>Southbridge</P></TD><TD WIDTH=155><P ALIGN=CENTER>VIA VT8233 </P></TD><TD COLSPAN=2 WIDTH=316><P ALIGN=CENTER>VIA VT8237 </P></TD></TR><TR VALIGN=TOP><TD WIDTH=168><P>Chipset drivers</P></TD><TD COLSPAN=3 WIDTH=479><P ALIGN=CENTER>VIA 4-in-1 drivers v4.43</P></TD></TR><TR VALIGN=TOP><TD WIDTH=168><P>Power Supply</P></TD><TD WIDTH=155><P ALIGN=CENTER>Antec Tru380 (380W)</P></TD><TD COLSPAN=2 WIDTH=316><P ALIGN=CENTER>Morex 60W Power Adapter Kit</P></TD></TR><TR VALIGN=TOP><TD WIDTH=168><P>Memory Size</P></TD><TD COLSPAN=2 WIDTH=317><P ALIGN=CENTER>512 MB</P></TD><TD WIDTH=153><P ALIGN=CENTER>1 GB</P></TD></TR><TR VALIGN=TOP><TD WIDTH=168><P>Memory Type</P></TD><TD WIDTH=155><P ALIGN=CENTER>Corsair ValueSelect VS256MB400C3 DDR400 DIMMS</P></TD><TD WIDTH=155><P ALIGN=CENTER>Corsair ValueSelect VS512SDS266 DDR266 SO-DIMM</P></TD><TD WIDTH=153><P ALIGN=CENTER>Crucial CT1284Z408.K16TK DDR400 DIMM</P></TD></TR><TR VALIGN=TOP><TD WIDTH=168><P>Hard Drive</P></TD><TD COLSPAN=3 WIDTH=479><P ALIGN=CENTER>120 GB Seagate Barracuda ATA V ST1320023A</P></TD></TR><TR VALIGN=TOP><TD ROWSPAN=4 WIDTH=168><P>Graphics</P></TD><TD COLSPAN=3 WIDTH=479><P ALIGN=CENTER><A HREF="http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.asp?Item=N82E16814102522">SAPPHIRERadeon 9250 128MB DDR PCI</A></P><P ALIGN=CENTER>Catalyst 6.3</P></TD></TR><TR><TD COLSPAN=3 WIDTH=479 VALIGN=TOP><P ALIGN=CENTER><A HREF="http://www.newegg.com/product/product.asp?item=N82E16814140027">ApolloGeforce FX5200 128MB DDR PCI</A></P><P ALIGN=CENTER>Forceware 84.21</P></TD></TR><TR><TD COLSPAN=3 WIDTH=479 VALIGN=TOP><P ALIGN=CENTER><A HREF="http://www.newegg.com/product/product.asp?item=N82E16814270010">XGIVolari V3XT 128MB DDR PCI</A></P><P ALIGN=CENTER>Volari R1.09.68</P></TD></TR><TR VALIGN=TOP><TD WIDTH=155><P ALIGN=CENTER>(no onboard video)</P></TD><TD COLSPAN=2 WIDTH=316><P ALIGN=CENTER><A HREF="http://www.via.com.tw/en/products/chipsets/c-series/comparison_c-series.jsp">IntegratedVIA UniChrome&trade; Pro</A></P><P ALIGN=CENTER>Unichrome Pro 16.94</P></TD></TR><TR VALIGN=TOP><TD WIDTH=168><P>OS</P></TD><TD COLSPAN=3 WIDTH=479><P ALIGN=CENTER>Windows XP SP2</P><P ALIGN=CENTER>Fedora Core 4</P></TD></TR></TABLE>

All test systems & benchmarks were run at 1024x768 with 32-bit color depth for the duration of the testing, except when testing Doom 3 (which was tested at 640x480). No modifications were made to any of the default control panel settings for any of the software installed, except that I set XP to "best performance" in the advanced system options while testing in XP. To the best of my knowledge, vsync was disabled for all tests.

All of the tests I employed are publicly reproducible, but only because I ripped them off from TR. ;) If you have any questions about my methods... well, we're already in the forums. so... just talk about them!
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Re: EPIA & Me (intro) - A Simple Review of Existing Tech

Postposted on Sat May 06, 2006 9:42 pm

eitje wrote:Are EPIAs really worth it?
Not to rain on anyone's parade, but benchmarks don't really have much to do with epias whether epias are worth it or not. Either they do the job you want adequately, or they don't. You get epia because you need small size, not because you want something that's going to perform. The "competing" system you chose is in a completely different size class. You pay for size, not performance. I'm sure the hardware you scrounged probably stomps all over the via stuff in benchmarks, or is at the very least quite competitive.

Benchmarks are great for seeing what's feasible on the epia platform and what isn't, but what's going to determine whether they're worth it or not is how important size, packaging, and power consumption are. If you have room for something bigger in your planned application, you're going to get a bit more for your money there. It's always been that way and will be for the foreseeable future.

Don't get me wrong, it's great you're contributing this and it's a useful frame of reference for some people I suppose, but I'm not sure that it answers the question you put in big, bold type.
...
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Postposted on Sun May 07, 2006 7:43 am

Thanks for the feedback. You're right, I probably put too much emphasis on that question; I've reduced the fontsize. :)

However, I hope one thing that I've demonstrated is that the EPIA platform (with some assistance) can do more than just be a file server. if you ever follow the shortbread links to the EPIA reviews around the net, the people never seem to step beyond the little circle in which they know the EPIA can do well. light gaming will be feasible and even pleasurable, as long as you scope out your intended OS beforehand, and purchase the appropriate hardware assistance.

...also, now i have a (fabricated) reason to buy the new C7-based boards.... ;)

thanks again for taking the time to comment!
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