Review by Erik Pettersen ( reviews AT BYOPVR.com )
This mighty small all-in-one motherboard is certainly feature rich, but is it
powerful enough to be an HTPC/PVR? Read on…
The first thing about the VIA
EPIA M10000 that struck me was just how small the mini-itx form factor really
is. Its one thing to see 17 cm x 17 cm listed as the size, and another to actually
see it. Being stuck on the standard measurement system all my life I didn’t
comprehend how small 17 centimeters is. No wonder the case mod community loves
sticking these boards into Millennium
Falcon models, toasters, and whatnot.
Initially I mated the VIA EPIA M10000 with a Casetronic
C137 mini-itx case, 256MB Crucial DDR-SDRAM, Maxtor drive, and a Hauppauge
Installation was a breeze. The manual
explained everything in clear detail. Assuming you’ve built a PC before there
is nothing new or exciting here for you. It’s just smaller. One quibble: I’m
convinced that the printed manual has the settings for the s/pdif_sel jumper
backwards on page 2-19. This is the jumper that changes the functionality of
the RCA jack on the motherboard to either be a composite video output OR a digital
surround sound s/pdif output.
I had no issue at all installing WindowsXP Pro, or the myriad of windows updates
required on a clean M$ install. Here’s my other minor quibble: I like to check
for updated device drivers on a manufacturer’s website because the drivers on
any given installation/driver CD is obsolete by the time it’s pressed and shipped
with the product. I had some difficulty discerning whether the drivers at VIA's
EPIA M10000 driver page were newer or older than what I had on disk. Some
of the drivers had revision dates, others didn’t. The version numbering isn’t
present or labeled within the directory structure of the included CD. I also
checked out the driver
section at VIA ARENA
but that only confused me more because they use different terminology and revision/dates
and I wasn’t sure what was what. Not a huge deal, I just usually don’t like
to work so hard to find out if I have the latest drivers installed.
I was pretty impressed with how snappy the M10000 felt when doing web surfing
and other general computing tasks. I did run some synthetic benchmarks using
SiSoft’s Sandra benchmarking tool, which just serves to underline the fact that
this small form factor board isn’t a hot rod muscle machine.
Not to belabor the point but the EPIA M10000 is not meant to be an uber-gaming
rig. It’s designed to be a tiny, cool, and quiet multimedia machine. Generally
you’d still need a fair amount of CPU horsepower to handle multimedia functions.
The 1Ghz CPU coupled with the built in MPEG hardware accelerator (more on the
“accelerator” in a minute) is snappy enough to handle most of your media playback
needs without missing a beat. It’ll play mp3’s without breaking a sweat. MPEG2
files as well as DVDs playback just fine without over taxing the CPU or dropping
frames. Small and medium resolution DivX files truck on pretty well (60 – 100%
CPU utilization). If you have large resolution DivX or MPEG4 files you might
be asking too much of the little CPU and get dropped frames, and audio sync
Because of the M10000’s limited horsepower, the only way to get reliable TV
encoding/recording is to use a hardware-based encoder like Hauppauge’s WinTV
PVR 250/350. I used a PVR350
for this project because it is what I had handy. You can of course use other
tuner/capture cards as long as they have built in hardware encoding.
Utilizing a hardware-based encoding tuner card the M10000 did not break a sweat
recording television programming at all. That’s mostly a function of the quality
of the tuner card, but it’s important to point out that you can indeed record
high quality hardware-based encoded MPEG2 on the somewhat pedestrian CPU on
the M10000. In fact I had no problem recording one show while watching a previously
recorded program even with the slight added overhead of running SageTV 2.0 PVR
software/front end. That is a critical performance threshold to be considered
if you are trying to use the M10000 as a TiVo-esque device. Which is the whole
point of this review =).
A lot of people in the BYOPVR community (myself including up to recently) have
been mistakenly referring to the embedded MPEG-2 Accelerator generically as
a “hardware decoder”. It is not a full on MPEG decoder. It would be more accurate
to think of it as hardware assist decoding chip. It’s a subtle but important
distinction. It does help with MPEG2/DVD playback performance, BUT you really
have to have specific drivers installed and software that supports the hardware
The documentation is scarce/nonexistent on how to take full advantage of the
M10000’s hardware accelerating MPEG2 decoding capabilities. I’m still not sure
if I was utilizing the built in MPEG2 hardware acceleration or not. I believe
I enabled it through some registry
tweaks found in some obscure forum post hiding under a rock somewhere, but
it only provided a modest improvement in playback CPU performance (10% - 25%
less CPU utilization on average). Since the MPEG acceleration is one of the
cooler/desirable features of the M10000, I was a little under whelmed. It’s
useful and an important feature, I just expected more of a performance boost
and less hassle enabling it.
DVD playback using powerDVD (bundled DVD player software with my OEM DVD burner
- I don't recommmend it) with hardware acceleration enabled was between 20%
– 40% CPU utilization (without hardware acceleration 35% – 65% utilization).
The TV out drivers left me a little under whelmed as well. I couldn’t overcome
some of the black boxing/overscanning when using the S-video out with the included
VIA utilities. I had to choose between having a black bar at the top of the
screen, or the screen that was blown up way too big, with no granularity of
control for positioning or size of the TV output.
The M10000 is small, reasonably robust for the speed/processor it is (it’s not
going to win you any SETI@HOME
honors though), is full of cool built in features, is quiet, and cool (in both
senses of the word). When coupled with a hardware-based encoder it handles the
load of multimedia machine HTPC/PVR admirably. I really like the M10000 and
think it has a unique place in the DIY PVR world, and if it weren’t for some
slightly annoying driver/software glitches I would have rated it much higher.
Suffice to say I await VIA’s upcoming mini-itx (and nano-itx) offerings with
great anticipation (especially the recently
SP series with built in MPEG4
Final Score: 7 out of 10
· really small form factor
· cool running
· faster than expected for general computing
· lots of integrated goodies
Take it or Leave it:
· hardware MPEG acceleration helps DVD playback but was disappointing
(compared to a full/true mpeg decoding solution)
· some driver confusion
· a little pricey for performance
· TV out (or TV out driver/software) lacked granular adjustment for overscanning
Final Recommendation: The M10000 and it’s slower clock speed cousins
make for great quiet/thin media client PC’s by themselves, or work great when
paired with the crisp S-Video out of a PVR350 and SageTV2.0 - Review
(or MythTV for the linux faithful). Using the VIA M10000 with a PVR350 helps
overcome the few limitations noted in the review.
Have a question or commment about the review? post a message here
Special thanks to VIA and VIA Embedded for providing the M10000 review unit for our evaluation.
GENERIC REVIEW BOILERPLATE:
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this article on how hardware payola works on “other” review sites.
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