It's been three years since we last exclusively tested a Mini-ITX motherboard. In September 2008 we examined the single-core gigabyte GC230D with an Intel Atom 230. Before that, in October 2006, it was the Albatron KI51PV-754 with socket 754. The market has of course changed considerably during this time. Hell, Albatron doesn't even sell motherboards anymore.
The Mini-ITX form factor was developed by VIA in 2001 to promote its C3 processor. However, technology has come a long way in the past decade. CPUs are smaller, cooler, and faster than ever, and desktop case makers are committed to the ultra-compact market. With such advances, the Mini-ITX platform is no longer limited to low-end anemic solutions.
Today we're looking at a new generation of mini-ITX motherboards from Asrock, the Z68M-ITX / HT and A75M-ITX. The former is an Intel Z68 board that supports Intel's second generation Core processors (Sandy Bridge), while the latter uses the AMD A75 chipset to support Socket FM1 processors, namely the new Fusion A-series desktop APUs.
Both boards are affordable at $ 120 and $ 95, but seem like a suitable foundation for an entry-level enthusiast machine, or HTPC. The A75M-ITX can be equipped with the $ 140 AMD A8-3850 or the $ 120 A6-3650 – we picked the former for testing.
The LGA1155 platform is much more advanced so that the Z68M-ITX / HT motherboard can be paired with a wider range of processors. The Core i3 family starts at $ 125 for the i3-2100 or $ 140 for the i3-2120, while the Core i5 ranges from $ 185 to $ 210 and the i7 ranges from $ 300 to $ 315.
In addition to comparing the Asrock boards, we thought we'd spice things up by going for Intel's $ 140 Core i3. In other words, this test also serves as a comparison for the Core i3-2120 and the AMD A8-3850. Then we go on.