Best Mini-ITX HTPC Board?

And yes, another item, right away. I’m on the hunt for a mini-ITX motherboard for use in a living room HTPC, and considering there’s so much choice out there, I’m a little confused. Then I realised I have you people to help me out, and, well, one thing led to another.

The backstory here is that I want to consolidate two machines. I currently have a media server sitting in my closet. It’s a Foxconn 45CSX mini-ITX motherboard, which sports an Intel Atom 330 processor (dual-core, 2×1.6Ghz) with an Intel GMA950 graphics chip. This is perfectly adequate for its current task, but it’s far too underpowered for what I have in mind.

You see, this server hosts all my media files and other important stuff that I access from my other machines. One of the machines that accesses the media files regularly is my current living room HTPC – an old Pentium 4 machine with some AGP Radeon 6300 in it. It runs Windows 7 and Boxee just fine, but what I want is to move the server to my TV, and aside from servering, also let it take care of my living room HTPC needs. This way, I can retire the aging Pentium 4 after a decade if trusty service.

The reason for this is that I find it a bit of a waste to have and the server, and the HTPC running at the same time whenever I want to watch some downloaded films or TV series. Sadly, the server’s current specs are far too low to handle HD video, which is a requirement. It also lacks an optical digital out, another requirement since my entire audio setup uses optical cables.

So, what I want is to replace the Foxconn 45CSX mini-ITX motherboard with a modern replacement that can handle HD video and sports and optical-out. I want it to be silent, so preferably I want a board which is passively cooled and does not require a case fan (I have this mini-ITX case, also from Foxconn). It also needs to have an old-fashioned VGA port to connect it to my TV (my TV doesn’t have DVI and its HDMI ports are all taken).

It needs to be cheap, and the operating system is going to be Windows 7 – the machine also acts as an emergency back-up system in case my main workstation which I use for work dies. On top of that, the iPad video streaming applications only supports Windows or Mac OS X.

So, what’s a good choice?

75 Comments

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