Gigabyte GA-E350 WIN8 vs Gigabyte GA-J1800N-D2H vs Gigabyte GA-J1900N-D3V Mini-ITX Embedded CPU Boards

I have two of the GA-E350 WIN8 boards, which is now an obsolete inventory line as far as Gigabyte is concerned. However they have proved to be vastly superior to the Intel D2700MUD boards which I had three of, all now given away to the local school. As we can see now, Gigabyte has replaced the E350 model with its AMD Brazos E350 dual core embedded CPU, with models that contain Intel Atom Bay Trail embedded CPUs. Given my negative experience with Intel’s D2700 boards and subsequent decision to stop using Intel desktop boards in my projects I am obviously wanting to see if Gigabyte can hold Intel to account with their choice of using the Atom CPUs in their newer model Mini-ITX boards. By the way, what’s special about Mini-ITX? Developed by VIA, it is a square motherboard measuring 170×170 mm and fits a corner of microATX formfactor, thus Mini-ITX boards will fit into a chassis designed for Micro-ATX. These are a range of very small form factors intended to build various types of tiny PCs and are usually optimised for very low power consumption. VIA has also developed a number of even smaller versions of ITX but there has not been such an uptake from other board makers and VIA’s own versions of these boards cost hundreds of dollars. Mini-ITX is becoming a formfactor of choice in the commercial sector for embedded and industrial applications, which was VIA’s original target market for the formfactor, while in the domestic world, Home Theater PCs using small chassis are a popular application. Where did ITX come from? VIA designed ITX in 2001 with a 215×191 mm reference board. ITX was similar to FlexATX so it did not get uptake from board makers. Mini-ITX was developed in the same year and became popular so other board makers took it up and started making them.
Intel’s introduction of the NUC formfactor will give the Mini-ITX a run for its money. However I am preferring Mini-ITX because it is less proprietary than the NUC and so you aren’t locked into special NUC chassis and boards which end up costing more for the spec. So I didn’t want to fork out for NUC, tempting though it was, when I already had these two GA-E350 boards that just needed new chassis to be useful.Another interesting development from Intel, apart from NUC, for low power is the Minnowboard Max which is supposedly a prototyping system but I would guess with ability to run a full operating system and do useful stuff at a cheap price. However it could turn out that the graphics or whatever aren’t very good for video playback and the pricing I have seen so far for NZ is anything but cheap. So I think we could rule out that one for any sort of HPTC scenario. The Minnowboard is really aimed at competing with the Raspberry Pi and should be in a similar price range but as I say I have not seen any indication of this, it may possibly be the case that it is not yet officially available here and the pricing will improve when that changes.
So the GA-E350 vs the two newer boards is what this article is about. And I am focusing on the embedded CPU range of boards. Like other manufacturers Gigabyte produces socketed CPU mini-ITX boards as well, but the issue with those is going to be higher price and possibly more power usage. The latter is an enemy for the Antec chassis I have because of the maximum power of 90 watts at the input, which is probably around 80 watts at the output. A CPU for a socketed board is probably going to cost you at least $100 and jack the price up by that much. That amount would buy a G3220 Pentium similar to the two desktop boards I have which both have Pentium G CPUs in them, you would pay a lot more money for a Core. The socketed boards are designed for Pentiums and you won’t buy an Atom off the shelf easily to go into one of them, so for low power / HTPC your choices are limited to embedded CPU. Socketed CPUs are aimed at an enthusiast market and aren’t really what Mini-ITX was designed for originally.
The main differences in the boards apart from the CPU and chipset are they are really a modernisation of the GA-E350. The J1800-D2H is very similar to the GA-E350 with the rear panel connectors, adding a USB3 outlet to the existing four USB2 sockets. The parallel port connector has been removed and empty space left in its place, as has the serial port connector, although there is still a serial header on the motherboard. You still have the PS/2 mouse and keyboard connectors, VGA, HDMI, network and audio connectors as on the earlier model even though the PS/2s in my mind are wasting space. The power connectors on the board are standard at 24 pin ATX and 4 pin CPU. The D2700MUD didn’t require the 4 pin CPU connector which let it be used with some older model PSUs. That was the attraction that led to me putting them into recycled Foxconn TS001 chassis that I had with older PSUs that only had a 20/24 pin ATX power connector and no 4 pin CPU connector. As mentioned you have the serial header and also a parallel header on the board; the usual front panel and FPAudio headers; chassis fan header; and one USB dual port header. There are just two SATA sockets on this board and expansion capabilities are taken care of with a PCIe 1x slot and a Mini-PCIe slot. There are two memory slots which are now SODIMM slots for dual channel instead of the DIMM slots for the E350 which were for a single memory channel. Up to 8 GB of memory is supported.
The J1900-D3V is somewhat more upspec and fascinatingly different. The rear panel has PS/2 keyboard and mouse separate connectors, two serial ports, VGA, DVI-D, audio, and two sets of identical connector groups in which each group has a RJ-45 and two USB3/USB2 sockets. So it is definitely aimed at a more industrial role than the J1800-D2H as shown by the serial ports, DVI and extra network connectors. Internally it is similar to the J1800-D2H with a parallel header, single USB2 9-pin dual socket header, MiniPCIe socket and reverting to a PCI expansion slot, and keeping the SODIMM memory sockets with dual channel and 8 GB memory supported.
Overall there is a small difference in the price of the boards but it is clear than the D2H boards are the ones which are possibly more useful for home users since the old PCI socket has less and less useful boards made for it. The PCIe x1 socket is somewhat limited but there are apparently some low end graphics cards that can use it. Do your research and check out reviews for these boards if you are looking for HTPC applications because I am still suspicious of Intel given the lies over the D2700 MUD when their graphics driver turned out not to provide the promised playback spec and they decided they couldn’t be bothered producing a 64 bit driver, only 32 bit. In particular Intel’s mini ITX boards to date have been deliberately crippled and as usual we have to go to Gigabyte or other manufacturers who can get us a higher spec board for no more money.