Llano Mini-ITX mobo face off: Asus F1A75-I Deluxe vs. Zotac A75-ITX WiFi

AMD’s latest mainstream desktop platform boasts arguably the most potent two-chip combo in the industry. At the head, you’ve got an A-series APU powered by the latest Llano silicon, which offers four reasonably fast CPU cores backed by a DirectX 11-class Radeon that puts competing integrated graphics solutions to shame. Baby’s got back, too. The tail end features a Hudson-based platform hub that’s loaded with 6Gbps Serial ATA and USB 3.0 connectivity. No other tag team offers such a cutting-edge array of baked-in goodness, making this Lynx platform perfect for the next wave of small-form-factor systems.

If you want to roll your own mini PC, you’ll be needing a Mini-ITX motherboard. Our first instinct would be to look to Zotac, which is largely responsible for reinvigorating interest in the decade-old Mini-ITX form factor. Over the past few years, Zotac has rolled out a number of attractive Mini-ITX motherboards based on the latest chipsets and sockets. Indeed, the company’s Z68-ITX WiFi earned a TR Recommended award when we dissected it back in July.

As you’ve probably guessed, Zotac has cooked up a new Mini-ITX board built just for AMD’s A-series APUs. The A75-ITX WiFi offers all the perks associated with the newest Fusion platform, plus additional wireless amenities. And it’s not alone. The recent popularity of midget motherboards has attracted the attention of Asus, which has designed its own Mini-ITX home for Llano: the F1A75-I Deluxe. Naturally, we couldn’t resist pitting these two contenders against each other in a featherweight cage match.

Zotac’s A75-ITX WiFi motherboard

The Mini-ITX form factor is Zotac’s adopted home turf, so it stands a better chance against Asus than one might expect given where the two companies sit among the multiple tiers of motherboard makers. Asus is the biggest name in the retail motherboard market, while Zotac is at best a second-tier player. Zotac made its name inside small-form-factor systems, and the A75-ITX is designed to fuel the next generation.

The board itself looks relatively sedate. Although the overall aesthetic isn’t particularly eye-catching, Zotac deserves credit for deviating from the black-and-blue color scheme that has permeated the bulk of new motherboard designs.

Small-form-factor systems present particular challenges when it comes to component clearances. As you can see, the A75-ITX’s various slots and ports are snuggled right up next to the CPU socket. To provide a better sense of how much room there is to spare, we busted out a ruler to measure a few key clearances.

There’s only 17 mm of space between the CPU socket and the closet DIMM slot. Depending on your CPU cooler, that arrangement could complicate compatibility with taller memory modules. The VRM and chipset heatsinks put more distance between themselves and the socket, and they’re only about 30 mm tall. Only the most overgrown CPU coolers are likely to restrict access to the PCI Express x16 slot located at the far edge of the board.

The more than three-inch gap between the socket and the x16 slot is densely populated, even if its inhabitants are relatively stunted. On the far left sits a front-panel USB 3.0 connector. Beside it, an AzureWave Mini PCIe card bestows the board with 802.11n and Bluetooth 3.0 wireless functionality.

Over to the right, we see Zotac is only taking advantage of four of the six SATA ports built into the A75 chipset. That should cover the storage needs of most small-form-factor systems, but the top-right port is a little too close to the CMOS battery. The vertically mounted battery is tall enough to interfere with the locking tabs on Serial ATA cables—including the ones that come in the box—so you’ll want to keep a small, flat-headed screwdriver handy.

We can follow the wireless card’s loose, looping wires all the way to the port cluster, where they’re anchored to a pair of antenna jacks. The wiring is awkwardly bent around the heatsink fins it touches—not a big deal, but amateurish when compared with what you’ll see on the next page.

With the exception of internal headers for a pair of old-school USB 2.0 ports, the rest of the A75-ITX’s USB connectivity is of the SuperSpeed variety. Counting the internal headers and the six ports in the rear cluster, there are twice as many USB 3.0 ports as are available in the A75 chipset. Rather than relying on third-party controllers to supply the additional ports, Zotac splits the ones coming off the A75 using a pair of USB 3.0 hubs from Via. These VL810 hubs are capable of splitting one USB 3.0 port into four, but it’s unclear which of the A75-ITX’s ports stem from the hubs and which, if any, are linked directly to the chipset. We’re still waiting on Zotac to explain how everything is connected.

For all four of you who want to build a Llano-based NAS box, the A75-ITX serves up a pair of Gigabit Ethernet ports backed by Realtek controllers. Realtek also provides the audio codec, an ALC892, which fuels five analog audio jacks and a digital S/PDIF output. If you’re short an S/PDIF input on your speakers or receiver, multi-channel digital audio can be passed through the HDMI port by Llano’s integrated Radeon.

Zotac ties the Radeon to DVI and HDMI outputs. A CMOS reset switch is tucked just to the left of those display ports in the rear cluster. The button might seem like a minor addition, but anyone who has ever tried to get at the CMOS reset jumper in a cramped Mini-ITX enclosure will definitely appreciate it.

Although the A75-ITX has one of those newfangled UEFIs, you wouldn’t know it by using the thing. There’s no mouse support, the graphical interface looks exactly like an old-school BIOS, and the array of tweaking options is limited. Short of an APU multiplier setting that’s largely useless until AMD releases unlocked Black Edition versions of Llano, the UEFI is pretty much devoid of overclocking options. You can crank the memory clock to 1866MHz, but that’s about it. Even the voltage options are extremely limited—in both scope and granularity.

Overclocking a small-form-factor Llano box probably wouldn’t be wise. However, you’re definitely going to want to tune that system’s fan behavior to make it as quiet as possible. The UEFI doesn’t do too poorly on this front, offering the ability to set a starting temperature threshold, plus starting and maximum speeds for the CPU fan. One can also switch the CPU fan into a manual mode locked at a static speed. Separate controls aren’t provided for the system fan, though.

Asus’ F1A75-I Deluxe motherboard

Over the past decade or so that I’ve been reviewing motherboards, there have been times I’ve felt like Asus was coasting on its name a little. Not lately. Intel’s chipset issues aside, Asus has executed its Sandy Bridge motherboards much better than anyone else. Now, a number of features that made that family so appealing have migrated to Asus’ collection of Llano boards, which includes the F1A75-I Deluxe.

I’ve gotta say, I really like the look of this board. Compared to the A75-ITX, everything is neat, tidy, and low-profile. The vertical battery mount is the tallest thing on the landscape, and it’s situated well clear of the SATA ports where it won’t get in the way.

Peer at the F1A75-I a little longer, and you’ll notice that it’s almost the mirror image of the A75-ITX. The chipset, SATA ports, and wireless card line the board’s top edge, while the socket sits below them. The socket is also rotated 90°, which is important to consider when determining whether the Deluxe will play nicely with your chosen combination of CPU cooler, memory, expansion card, and case.

As you can see, there isn’t a lot of breathing room between the socket and the PCI Express x16 slot. Llano may be best suited to systems that exploit its integrated graphics, but you might want to run a TV tuner or a discrete sound card alongside the built-in Radeon. There’s really no need to worry about the distances between the socket and the heatsink or battery; neither are tall enough to interfere with CPU coolers.

I do, however, worry about the short hunk of metal sharing heat between the chipset and the VRMs. Those VRMs are likely to get much hotter than the A75 platform hub, and I’d rather not have that heat warming the chipset.

See the wiring associated with the onboard Wi-Fi card? That’s right; you had to look for it. Asus neatly sheathes the wires and snakes them out of sight along the surface of the board—very slick.

In the journey between the Mini PCIe card and the rear antenna jacks, the wiring passes four Serial ATA ports and internal headers good for two USB 3.0 ports. The Deluxe is content to offer four USB 3.0 ports in total: two tied to a front-panel connector, and the remainder available in the rear cluster. As a result, Asus doesn’t have to farm out any SuperSpeed connectivity to auxiliary controller or hub silicon.

The F1A75-I Deluxe’s port cluster offers a different mix of options than we saw on its Zotac counterpart. First there are the four USB 2.0 ports, which are still sufficiently fast for input devices, printers, digital cameras, beverage coolers, and pretty much everything short of an external storage device. On that front, the Deluxe offers an alternative to USB 3.0 in the form of an unpowered eSATA port.

Asus skimps on the number of analog audio outputs, but it’s using the same Realtek codec chip as Zotac. Rather than relying on Realtek’s drivers for surround-sound virtualization, Asus uses UltraPC software from DTS. Alas, the board doesn’t support real-time DTS encoding for multi-channel audio, which is the only way to play games in surround sound using a digital output.

Props to Asus for including a fancy pants DisplayPort video output. You’ll have to choose between it and the DVI port, though; those two outputs can’t be used simultaneously.

Oh, in case you were wondering about that purple growth above the red USB ports, it’s a Bluetooth transceiver. Like the Zotac board, the Asus has both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi support.

Asus goes for extra credit

Unlike the A75-ITX, the Deluxe comes equipped with its own remote control. This sexy little number includes an RF receiver that plugs into a USB port, which is a little odd given the Deluxe’s Bluetooth credentials. The RF connection works well enough, but the glossy plastic casing is yet another tragic failure of design. Remote controls are typically used from the couch, where they’re pawed at constantly by hands that have been immersed in bowls of popcorn and other greasy snacks. Wrapping a remote in glossy plastic that attracts fingerprints and smudges makes about as much sense as wearing a white tuxedo to a paintball game.

The exterior may look gross after a few days of use, but the remote itself is pretty slick. Windows 7’s embedded drivers for USB input devices are all that’s required, making installation painless as long as you ignore the instructions in the manual. Instead of hitting the sync button after Windows finishes loading the drivers, you need to press it as soon as the dongle’s red light illuminates. The sync button can be found on the underside of the remote, which boasts a QWERTY keyboard.

Yep, that’s a keyboard all right. There are even function-key shortcuts to cover the Windows key and Ctrl+Alt+Delete. Topside, the remote has dedicated buttons for Alt-Tabbing and window maximizing. The ring of buttons that dominates the front face can behave like a directional pad or provide two-axis mouse control. The directional pad only goes four ways, so you’re stuck moving the mouse like a rook on a chess board.

Limitations aside, the remote is a great addition to the overall package. It may not map perfectly to Windows Media Center, but the combined keyboard and mouse controls are much better for flipping between XBMC and a web browser.

While the remote is more of an accessory than a vital component, the F1A75-I Deluxe’s UEFI is integral to its mission. It’s also the best firmware interface around. Asus had over a hundred engineers working on the transition from old-school BIOSes to next-generation UEFIs, and it shows in the Deluxe’s gorgeous firmware GUI, its flicker-free mouse support, and the wealth of tweaking options split between its Advanced and EZ interface styles.

Asus’ UEFIs have been a cut above the competitions, and it really shows in this head-to-head matchup. The F1A75-I Deluxe offers control over the motherboard’s base clock, opening the door to overclocking with existing A-Series APUs. There’s no way to change the clock speed of the integrated Radeon, but there are plenty of voltage options to go around and a healthy helping of fan speed controls.

The Deluxe’s UEFI offers many of the same CPU fan speed controls as the Zotac board, this time with much finer granularity. Fan speeds and temperature thresholds can be set in 1% and 1° C increments instead of in 10% and 10° C steps. Asus also provides a set of temperature-based speed controls for the system fan. There’s even more fan-control goodness on tap if you venture into Windows and load up Asus’ FanXpert software.

This useful application allows users to manipulate three points on the fan curve for both the CPU and system fans. The drag-and-drop interface is easy to use, and I’d love to see Asus incorporate it directly into the UEFI.

Zotac doesn’t ship the A75-ITX with anything comparable—or really any software at all outside of the necessary drivers. Asus, on the other hand, outfits the Deluxe with a full suite of applications. You’ll never need many of those apps, but we were intrigued by the TurboV auto-overclocking software, so we gave it a shot to see if the board could coax some extra speed from our A8-3850.

TurboV tests for stability after each incremental increase in clock speed, and it seemed to be doing a good job until the board hit a base clock of 109MHz. At that point, Windows blue-screened and got stuck in and endless loop of unsuccessful reboots until we went into the UEFI and returned the base clock to its default setting. Amusingly, when the board returned to Windows at default speeds, TurboV triumphantly declared “success” at 29x100MHz. If the goal of TurboV is to let mainstream users overclock without having to poke around in the UEFI, it should recover more gracefully from a failed attempt.

Digging into the details

Some of our readers would probably revolt if we didn’t include a painstaking account of each motherboard’s specifications, UEFI settings, and the system configurations we used for testing. Those details aren’t particularly exciting, so feel free to skip ahead to the beginning of our performance results. Otherwise, bask in the glory of a bunch of tables.

  Asus F1A75-I Deluxe Zotac A75-ITX WiFi
Clock speeds Base: 90-300MHz in 1MHz steps

DRAM: 800-1866MHz in 266MHz steps

DRAM: 1066-1866MHz in 266MHz steps
Multipliers CPU: 8-47X in 1X steps CPU: 20-50X in 1X steps
Voltages CPU: 0.8-1.7V in 0.0125V steps

VDDNB: 0.8-1.55V in 0.0125V steps

DRAM: 1.35-2.3V in 0.01V steps

SB 1.1: 1.1-1.4V in 0.01V steps

APU 1.2: 1.2-1.8V in 0.01V steps

VDDA: 2.5-2.8V in 0.1V steps

CPU: +0.05-0.3V in 0.05V steps

CPU core: +0.05-0.3V in 0.05V steps

DRAM: -0.3 – +0.3V in 0.1V steps

Fan control CPU high temp: 20-75°C in 1°C steps

CPU max duty cycle: 20-100% in 1% steps

CPU low temp: 20-75°C in 1°C steps

CPU min duty cycle: 0-100% in 1% steps

System high temp: 40-90°C in 1°C steps

System max duty cycle: 60-100% in 1% steps

System min duty cycle: 60-100% in 1% steps

CPU manual: 20-100% in 10% steps

CPU start temp: 30-60°C in 10°C steps

CPU start duty cycle: 20-60% in 10% steps

CPU max duty cycle: 70-100% in 10% steps

Even with its fancy interface hidden from view, it’s clear Asus’ UEFI offers a lot more functionality than Zotac’s.

  Asus F1A75-I Deluxe Zotac A75-ITX WiFi
Form Factor Mini-ITX Mini-ITX
DIMM slots 2 DDR3-1333 2 DDR3-1333
Expansion slots 1 PCIe x16 1 PCIe x16
Storage I/O 4 6Gbps SATA RAID 4 6Gbps SATA RAID
Audio 8-channel HD via Realtek ALC892 8-channel HD via Realtek ALC892
Wireless 802.11n WiFi

Bluetooth 3.0

802.11n WiFi

Bluetooth 3.0

Ports 1 PS/2 keyboard/mouse

1 DisplayPort

1 DVI

1 HDMI

1 DisplayPort

2 USB 3.0 w/ 2 headers

4 USB 2.0 w/ 2 headers

1 6Gbps eSATA

1 RJ45 Gigabit Ethernet via Realtek RTL8111E

1 analog front out

1 analog bass/center out/line in

1 analog rear out/mic in

1 optical S/PDIF out

1 PS/2 keyboard/mouse

1 DVI

1 HDMI

1 DisplayPort

6 USB 3.0 w/ 2 headers

2 USB 2.0 headers

2 RJ45 Gigabit Ethernet via 2 x Realtek RTL8111E

1 analog front out

1 analog bass/center out

1 analog rear out

1 analog line in/surround out

1 analog mic in

1 optical S/PDIF out

At least in terms of their core specifications, the Asus and Zotac boards are pretty evenly matched. There really isn’t much room in the Mini-ITX form factor to allow for radically different arrays of slots, ports, and peripherals.

Our testing methods

In addition to pitting the A75-ITX and F1A75-I Deluxe against each other, we’ve included results from our initial Llano motherboard round-up, which featured microATX boards from Asus, Gigabyte, and MSI. Rather appropriately, that review also featured a Sandy Bridge-based Mini-ITX board: Asus’ P8H67-I Deluxe.

To make the graphs easier to read, we’ve greyed out the microATX Llano and Sandy Bridge systems in two different shades. The A75-ITX and F1A75-I Deluxe are shown in orange and blue, respectively, so they should be easy to spot.

All the boards were tested with their integrated graphics enabled. We used the following system setups for testing. With few exceptions, all tests were run at least three times, and we reported the median of the scores produced.

Processor Intel Core i3-2100 3.1GHz AMD A8-3850 2.9GHz
Motherboard Asus P8H67-I Deluxe Asus F1A75-V PRO Asus F1A75-I Deluxe Gigabyte GA-A75M-UD2H MSI A75MA-G55 Zotac A75-ITX WiFi
Bios revision 0502 0703 0401 1.0 1.1B2 A199PA08
Platform hub Intel H67 Express AMD A75 AMD A75 AMD A75 AMD A75 AMD A75
Chipset drivers Chipset: 9.2.0.1025

RST: 10.1

Chipset: 8.862

SATA: 1.2.1.296

Chipset: 8.862

SATA: 1.2.1.296

Chipset: 8.862

SATA: 1.2.1.296

Chipset: 8.862

SATA: 1.2.1.296

Chipset: 8.862

SATA: 1.2.1.296

Memory size 8GB (2 DIMMs) 8GB (2 DIMMs) 8GB (2 DIMMs) 8GB (2 DIMMs) 8GB (2 DIMMs) 8GB (2 DIMMs)
Memory type Corsair Vengeance DDR3 SDRAM at 1333MHz Corsair Vengeance DDR3 SDRAM at 1333MHz Corsair Vengeance DDR3 SDRAM at 1333MHz Corsair Vengeance DDR3 SDRAM at 1333MHz Corsair Vengeance DDR3 SDRAM at 1333MHz Corsair Vengeance DDR3 SDRAM at 1333MHz
Memory timings 9-9-9-24-1T 9-9-9-24-1T 9-9-9-24-1T 9-9-9-24-1T 9-9-9-24-1T 9-9-9-24-1T
Audio Realtek ALC892 with 2.61 drivers Realtek ALC892 with 2.61 drivers Realtek ALC892 with 2.61 drivers Realtek ALC889 with 2.61 drivers Realtek ALC887 with 2.61 drivers Realtek ALC892 with 2.61 drivers
Graphics Integrated Intel HD Graphics 2000 with 15.22.1.64.2361 drivers Integrated Radeon HD 6550D with 8.862 drivers
Hard drive WD Caviar Black 1TB
Power Supply PC Power & Cooling Silencer 760W
OS Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate x64

We’d like to thank Corsair, PC Power & Cooling, and Western Digital for helping to outfit our test rigs with some of the finest hardware available. Thanks to each of the motherboard makers for supplying their boards, too, and to Intel and AMD for providing the CPUs.

We used the following versions of our test applications:

The test systems’ Windows desktop was set at 1280×1024 in 32-bit color at a 60Hz screen refresh rate. Vertical refresh sync (vsync) was disabled for all tests.

All the tests and methods we employed are publicly available and reproducible. If you have questions about our methods, hit our forums to talk with us about them.

Memory performance

The F1A75-I Deluxe may be a more refined motherboard, but that doesn’t mean it’ll be any faster than the A75-ITX. We’ll kick off our benchmarking with a look at memory performance using a pair of DDR3-1333 DIMMs running at the same timings on each motherboard.

All of the Llano boards offer nearly equivalent memory bandwidth. The pack splits into two camps when we look at access latencies, though. In that test, the Zotac board is a few nanoseconds short of the Asus.

Application performance

The Deluxe’s slight advantage in memory subsystem performance doesn’t translate to much of an edge in our application benchmarks. There’s certainly no performance lost moving from the microATX boards to our Mini-ITX contenders.

Power consumption

We measured system power consumption, sans monitor and speakers, at the wall outlet using a Watts Up Pro power meter. Readings were taken at idle and under a load consisting of a Cinebench 11.5 render alongside the rthdribl HDR lighting demo. We tested with Windows 7’s High Performance and Balanced power plans.

The Asus mobos have handy BIOS switches that enable an advanced power-saving feature dubbed EPU. We’ve seen Gigabyte, MSI, and Zotac implement similar features on more expensive motherboards, but they’re not available with the particular models we have in-house today. Those boards were tested as-is, while the Asus ones were tested with their EPU functionality enabled and disabled.

Even without its EPU functionality enabled, the Asus board draws fewer watts than the Zotac at both idle and under load. Asus clearly has more efficient power delivery circuitry for the CPU. That circuitry is smarter, too; flipping the EPU switch drops the Deluxe’s peak power consumption by a full 16W.

Motherboard peripheral performance

The pre-production OCZ Vertex 3 240GB we’d been using as the target drive for motherboard peripheral testing decided to lock itself after the last secure erase. Engineering samples can be finicky, and this one was running very early firmware that couldn’t be upgraded. To test these mini Llano boards, we’ve had to switch to a slower 120GB version of the Vertex 3 pulled from our latest SSD round-up, which means we can’t use any of our old results for comparison. The other boards will have to sit out a few of these tests.

  HD Tune USB 2.0 performance
  Read Write
  Burst (MB/s) Average (MB/s) Random 4KB (ms) Burst (MB/s) Average (MB/s) Random 4KB (ms)
Asus F1A75-I Deluxe 28.4 28.1 1.4 28.5 27.5 1.4
Zotac A75-ITX WiFi 28.1 29.1 1.4 28.3 27.6 1.4
  HD Tune USB 3.0 performance
  Read Write
  Burst (MB/s) Average (MB/s) Random 4KB (ms) Burst (MB/s) Average (MB/s) Random 4KB (ms)
Asus P8H67-I Deluxe 155 154 0.15 148 131 0.17
Asus F1A75-V PRO 152 155 0.17 144 129 0.18

USB performance is pretty even between the boards. The Deluxe is a little bit faster overall, but the two are closely matched.

  HD Tune Serial ATA performance – Vertex 3
  Read Write
  Burst (MB/s) Average (MB/s) Random 4KB (ms) Burst (MB/s) Average (MB/s) Random 4KB (ms)
Asus F1A75-I Deluxe 314 345 0.07 287 243 0.09
Zotac A75-ITX WiFi 192 205 0.09 184 158 0.12

There’s quite a discrepancy in 6Gbps SATA performance, however. Our solid-state drive lags way behind on the Zotac board in both reads and writes, with bursts and sustained transfers. The gaps are in the 85-140MB/s range, and the A75-ITX can’t even reach 3Gbps SATA speeds.

  HD Tune Serial ATA performance – VelociRaptor
  Read Write
  Burst (MB/s) Average (MB/s) Random 4KB (ms) Burst (MB/s) Average (MB/s) Random 4KB (ms)
Asus P8H67-I Deluxe 293 130 7.2 295 123 2.6
Asus F1A75-V PRO 251 130 7.1 251 124 2.5
Asus F1A75-V PR) (ASMedia) 221 130 7.1 221 122 2.5
Gigabyte GA-A75M-UD2H 251 130 7.1 252 123 2.5
MSI A75M-G55 250 130 7.4 251 124 2.4
Asus F1A75-I Deluxe 250 130 7.3 252 123 2.3
Zotac A75-ITX WiFi 180 130 7.4 183 127 2.2

Switching to a slower mechanical hard drive lets us bring the other boards back into the mix. It also allows the A75-ITX to claw back to even with the Deluxe, at least when it comes to sustained transfers. The Zotac board remains slower with burst reads and writes.

We’ve contacted Zotac about the A75-ITX’s poor Serial ATA performance, and we’ve yet to hear back from the company. Our results were consistent through multiple test runs, though. Zotac’s implementation of the A75’s SATA controller apparently needs some work.

  NTttcp Ethernet performance
  Throughput (Mbps) CPU utilization (%)
Asus P8H67-I Deluxe 931 5.9
Asus F1A75-V PRO 943 15.2
Gigabyte GA-A75M-UD2H 931 14.3
MSI A75M-G55 940 16.0
Asus F1A75-I Deluxe 941 16.4
Zotac A75-ITX WiFi (1) 936 14.5
Zotac A75-ITX WiFi (2) 940 16.0

One of the A75-ITX’s Gigabit Ethernet ports is a little slower than the other, but only by a slim margin. Overall, there’s very little difference in networking throughput between any of these boards. The only reason the lone Sandy Bridge model has lower CPU utilization is because it’s using a different processor.

  RightMark Audio Analyzer audio quality
  Frequency response Noise level Dynamic range THD THD + Noise IMD + Noise Stereo Crosstalk IMD at 10kHz Overall score
Asus P8H67-I Deluxe 5 4 4 5 3 5 5 5 4
Asus F1A75-V PRO 5 4 4 5 3 5 5 5 4
Gigabyte GA-A75M-UD2H 5 5 5 5 3 5 5 5 5
MSI A75M-G55 5 4 4 5 3 5 5 5 4
Asus F1A75-I Deluxe 5 4 5 5 3 5 5 5 4
Zotac A75-ITX WiFi 5 4 4 4 3 4 5 4 4

RightMark Audio Analyzer detects little difference in analog signal quality between the Deluxe and the A75-ITX. Neither scores particularly well(the RMAA scale goes up to six), which is par for the course with integrated audio.

Conclusions

Clearly, Zotac has some issues to iron out with the A75-ITX. Although the sluggish Serial ATA performance we encountered isn’t likely to inhibit the average mini PC seriously, it’s troubling to see such a basic chipset component implemented poorly. The UEFI is also a disappointment. Zotac didn’t even incorporate mouse support, and the company’s fan speed controls have stagnated.

To be fair, the Zotac board’s performance is perfectly competitive outside the SATA realm. The A75-ITX also has an impressive peripheral payload, even if some of its eight USB 3.0 ports have to share bandwidth—there’s plenty of that to go around in the SuperSpeed spec. Still, it’s hard to ignore the awkward placement of the CMOS battery and the messy Wi-Fi wiring.

The A75-ITX’s shortcomings wouldn’t be quite as glaring if they weren’t viewed opposite the F1A75-I Deluxe, which feels much more mature and well thought out. We didn’t encounter any performance problems with the Deluxe, and Asus’ UEFI is the standard by which all others are judged. With FanXpert software expanding on the already solid UEFI-level fan speed controls, plus a nifty bundled remote keyboard, the Deluxe looks like the perfect foundation on which to build a small-form-factor PC with an unobtrusive acoustic profile.

As usual, there’s a catch. In this case, it’s the sliver of clearance between the CPU socket and the PCI Express x16 slot, which complicates combining larger aftermarket coolers with expansion cards. That’s less of a knock against the board and more of a caveat attached to specific configurations, though.

With a $145 street price, the F1A75-I Deluxe is expensive as far as Llano motherboards go. The cheapest Mini-ITX examples of the breed are selling for only $90. Of course, they don’t have the Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, multiple digital display outputs, and other amenities that make the F1A75-I live up to its Deluxe name. The A75-ITX isn’t quite as deluxe, either, and Zotac’s trying to sell it for $146. Obviously, the A75-ITX’s price is going to have to drop considerably for it to be an attractive alternative to the Deluxe—and that’s only after the SATA issues are resolved.

In the meantime, if you’re looking to build a Mini-ITX Llano box with one of AMD’s new 65W A8 APUs, the F1A75-I Deluxe should be at the top of your list. It’s TR Recommended and a rather good example of why Asus is considered the best of the tier-one motherboard makers.

Comments closed
    • xiaomimm
    • 8 years ago
    • xiaomim
    • 8 years ago
    • south side sammy
    • 8 years ago

    did I miss it ? i see in the end you say 65watt processor but will any of these boards support the 100 Watt’er ? And sorry if I missed it but why did you wait til the end to say what processor ? Didn’t notice it in the specs at the beginning.

      • UberGerbil
      • 8 years ago

      It’s right at the top of the table in “Our Testing Methods” where you would expect it to be. But you probably clicked the “skip ahead” link at the top of that page.

        • south side sammy
        • 8 years ago

        I didn’t skip anything. I use a really big monitor and had the fonts at high so I could see the bigger print. The chart was partially hidden. Is it me or do these pages not conform to wide or big monitors. The layout seems to be for old CRT’s with low res. Right down the middle instead of being spread out across the monitor.

          • UberGerbil
          • 8 years ago

          Do you have TR set for its wider mode (via the customize link — the little circle in the upper right by the System Guide)? That makes it wider, though you’ll still have space on either side if you have it maximized on a widescreen monitor. As newspapers discovered decades ago, there’s a limit to how wide a column of text should be; beyond that it gets hard to return to the beginning of the next line after the end of the previous one. Websites can fill that excess space with other stuff, but I’m glad TR doesn’t cram the whitespace with ads like some other sites do.

          And zooming fonts can break some sites, though some browsers handle it better than others.

            • south side sammy
            • 8 years ago

            yeah. thanks for that. Now only about 10-15% is hidden. Much better than it was. Never saw the button.

    • UberGerbil
    • 8 years ago

    The link (in the “Testing Methods” table) to the ASUS P8H67-I DELUXE (Intel H67) board at Newegg shows it to be Deactivated (though there is an [url=http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813131727R<]Open Box[/url<] unit available). Other than that, I don't see any Asus 1155/mITX boards at NewEgg at all (a search turns up 17 from the other usual suspects).

    • UberGerbil
    • 8 years ago

    One thing the Zotac board has going for it is the location of the power connector. One of the feedback entries at NewEgg for the [url=http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16811129080<]Antec ISK 300-150[/url<] ITX case specifically says [quote<]Be sure to buy a motherboard that has the power connector on the opposite side to the IO panel. If your power connector is on the side of the board the power cable won't reach.[/quote<]Don't know if the Asus arrangement would work for that case, and of course every pint-sized case comes with its own set of problems, but things like that may ultimately be a bigger factor in a successful HTPC build than some of the more obvious motherboard features.

    • mutarasector
    • 8 years ago

    Geoff, you’ve pretty much confirmed everything I’ve suspected between these two boards. The comparisons of the UEFIs was quite useful, thanks.

    I was also waiting for the Gigabyte mITX llano board, but it doesn’t compare to the Asus valuewise or feature set. It looks like I’m going to go with the Asus board. Although the Zotac board is one of the more interesting boards I’ve seen, I think I prefer to have the DisplayPort option Asus’ board offers over Zotac’s extra ethernet port (not to mention, the Asus qwerty keyboard/remote).

    • UberGerbil
    • 8 years ago

    [quote<]Llano may be best suited to systems that exploit its integrated graphics, but you might want to run a TV tuner or a discrete sound card alongside the built-in Radeon. [/quote<]This is largely true, I expect. If you're going to go for a discrete card anyway, why buy a CPU with integrated graphics you're not going to use? (Setting aside the value in having a "back up" GPU). In fact I suspect a lot of people will want to stuff one of these into a small case with no PCIe card at all, relying on outboard tuners etc. Which makes the integrated peripherals all the more important -- including the peripherals that didn't get tested. I found myself wondering how good the integrated audio actually is for HTPC use (Realtek ALC892 is well-understood, of course, but is this particular implementation free of noise?). And I was especially curious about WiFi performance, since both of these boards include it as a stock feature. I realize TR hasn't really gone into testing WiFi on mobile reviews in the past, and it's a huge can of worms to set up and do right, but not having the comparison kind of leaves me hanging.

    • Rza79
    • 8 years ago

    TR, shouldn’t you start using the Intel Core i3 2125?

      • rootheday3
      • 8 years ago

      seconded. Users who actually care about IGP performance would probably find the Core i3 2105 or 2125 with HD 3000 graphics a more interesting comparison point.

      • flip-mode
      • 8 years ago

      Good point.

    • jensend
    • 8 years ago

    Measuring power consumption at the wall while using a 760W power supply is silly. You might think that your 80 Plus Silver PSU helps eliminate worries about the efficiency curve, but you’d be wrong– good PSUs’ efficiency curves are fairly flat from 30% to 100% of their rated wattage, but any PSU’s efficiency drops precipitously when you’re using less than 15% of its rated wattage.

    [url=http://www.techpowerup.com/reviews/PC_Power_Cooling/Silencer_760W/5.html<]Here's[/url<] a graph of your PSU's efficiency; when these boards are idling, it's sub-70%; when they're at load, it's about 83%. Since the efficiency is so low and changes so much over the range of power outputs you're testing, your tests are only useful for ranking the boards-- the actual numbers in your charts and the differences between them are skewed too much. I know you probably don't want to have to wire stuff onto each one of the lines into the PSU to measure real power draw. But it would be simple enough to use a PSU with a more appropriate wattage rating- a good 300W or lower PSU will have higher efficiency and a fairly flat efficiency curve over the range of outputs you're looking at, and even a good 380W PSU would be OK. Another option would be to use an interpolated efficiency curve to estimate real power draw. For instance, to create a function which outputs the real watts for a given wall wattage in Octave or MATLAB, put the PSU's input wattages at which you know its efficiency in a vector x and the corresponding efficiencies in y, then do [code<]pp=pchip(x,x.*y); realwatts=@(wallwatts) ppval(pp,wallwatts);[/code<]

      • Bauxite
      • 8 years ago

      Anandtech has a similar problem, although its worse with them as they use a 1000w PSU across several articles and remain in maximum denial mode when responding to comments about it. (5~10% loads = facepalm)

      I have a strange urge to build a tiny itx box with the asus board, a8-3800 and a tv tuner even though I don’t need to…I can’t explain it. It would still be cheaper than a tivo elite 😉

        • NeelyCam
        • 8 years ago

        This is why I go to Xbit Labs or SPCR for power efficiency results.

        • NeelyCam
        • 8 years ago

        [quote<]I have a strange urge to build a tiny itx box with the asus board, a8-3800 and a tv tuner even though I don't need to...I can't explain it.[/quote<] I can: it's a fun hobby. I don't need a 6th computer, but I might make one to try out something new (like putting it inside the wall, with just ports sticking out through the drywall)

      • dragosmp
      • 8 years ago

      I’m all for the last solution for the sake of consistency between reviews. The 300W PSU idea, having different motherboard reviews with different PSUs make comparisons pretty difficult even if the testing methodology is identical. Using Matlab is “ideal” from a mathematical standpoint, but Matlab isn’t easy to learn, use, nor is it cheap. I wager even a hand-drawn PSU efficiency curve would provide sufficiently accurate data to compute the real system power draw within a few watt.

        • jensend
        • 8 years ago

        Octave is free*, and I think Octave/MATLAB is easier to learn than just about any other environment with the necessary tools. There’s tons of good documentation out there on how to use it ([url=http://www.math.umn.edu/~lerman/math5467/matlab_adv.pdf<]here's[/url<] one that I thought was good way back when while I was learning, but YMMV). Of course it's easier to learn how to take advantage of the power of the language if you've had a little bit of linear algebra, but that's not needed to be able to use it. *For Windows, get it with [url=http://cygwin.com/install.html<]Cygwin's setup[/url<] or from [url=http://octave.sourceforge.net/<]Octave-Forge[/url<]; Octave-forge also provides a decent OS X version or you can use fink/macports/homebrew; if you're on Linux/BSD/etc you probably know how to get Octave through your package manager.

    • BeowulfSchaeffer
    • 8 years ago

    What I’d like to see is a chart on how well it would perform in each of these jobs:

    HTPC
    Gaming
    Internet Gaming (flash, etc.)
    Light Office Work
    Heavy Office Work
    ..etc…

      • dragosmp
      • 8 years ago

      One can extrapolate all you requested from the tests published in this review, even though it’s probably more detailed in the CPU / platform reviews. To sum up: any socket CPU released in the last few years is excellent/overkill for all 2D tasks and for gaming what matters most is the graphics card, somewhat less the CPU. You can’t differentiate motherboards using these tests.

        • UberGerbil
        • 8 years ago

        Yes, those are questions more applicable to the CPU / platform reviews — what is Llano good for? This is a comparison of two motherboards, and there’s really no appreciable [i<]performance[/i<] difference between the two mobos on any of those tests (even the SATA difference isn't going to matter to a lot of people or most of those tasks). It is true that the features, or lack of them, might make one motherboard more applicable to certain tasks (ie HTPC with the remote, or NAS/firewall/home server with two ethernet ports) but that's easy enough to figure out for yourself. Which is not to say it's not a question worth asking, but it doesn't really fit here. In fact it's probably best answered by the system guides.

    • drfish
    • 8 years ago

    I was looking at the ASRock Mini-ITX board along with a A6-3500 (the triple core one) as the core of a tiny and cheap Minecraft box to give to family… Anyone play Minecraft on a Llano IGP? For that purpose I’m not seeing anything other than WiFi I’d be missing going for the cheaper option…

      • HorseIicious
      • 8 years ago

      I would say do it. I just built two identical ASRock A75M-ITX systems with A6-3500 chips running as HTPC’s. I’m using tiny tiny cases that are barely bigger than the motherboard, so I had to buy an aftermarket Akasa HSF (the stock AMD one was too tall). But I can tell you even with the confined space and smaller HSF they run quite cool (I’ve played some SCII on them just for kicks and it runs at medium settings just fine). No idea how it would fare in Minecraft, but I imagine if you paired it with some DDR3 1600 it’d be just fine for your needs. And being able to grab the board for $89 shipped is a huge difference. I have a wired home network, so wifi was a worthless option for me anyway. Let me know if you have any questions.

    • derFunkenstein
    • 8 years ago

    These are cute. A good use for Llano on the desktop, too.

      • FuturePastNow
      • 8 years ago

      Yep. Llano is good for when you need some graphics power but not enough to justify a card, or need a system that a real graphics card wouldn’t fit in, and these would be great for a little home theater PC that’s used for light gaming.

      Unfortunately that’s about the only niche that Llano fits in, but it fits there well.

        • khands
        • 8 years ago

        Llano really gives me hope for trinity, especially if bulldozer is at least somewhat competitive.

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