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COMPUTER SYSTEMS

Gigabyte GOPC CA2: Good Things Come in Small Packages
By: Quantum Skyline
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    2004-07-07

    Table of Contents:
  • Gigabyte GOPC CA2: Good Things Come in Small Packages
  • Assembly and Installation of Parts
  • Benchmarking
  • Linux Compatibility and Conclusion

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    Gigabyte GOPC CA2: Good Things Come in Small Packages


    (Page 1 of 4 )

    Gigabyte Technology, a Taiwan-based maker of motherboards, recently added to their line of miniature PCs. One of their newest offerings, the CA2, and dubbed the GOPC for 'Gigabyte Optimal Performance Computer', it is the smallest computer I have ever seen. Designed to be a desktop replacement, it comes with the capacity to do a lot, but for me and for many others whose only computers have been towers or full-size desktops, the main question that remains is -- do good things come in small packages?

    Specifications

    Gigabyte lists these specifications for the CA2:

    • Dimensions: 275(D) x 184(W) x 160(H) mm
    • Power Supply: 220W
    • Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-8S661FXS
    • Chipset: SiS 661FX / 963
    • Processor support: Any 800 MHz FSB Socket 478 Intel Pentium 4
    • Memory support: Up to 2GB of DDR400 in 2 memory banks
    • Video: Integrated SiS 661, 1 AGP 8X slot
    • USB: 4 USB 2.0 ports (2 in front, 2 in rear)
    • Audio: Integrated Realtek ALC850 AC'97 compliant 6 channel audio
    • LAN: Integrated Realtek adapter
    • Removable media: Bay for one optical drive and 3 1/2 Floppy drive
    • Ports: PS/2 ports for mouse and keyboard
    • SPDIF in and out
    • Microphone jack on front
    • IEEE 1394 (FireWire) jack on front
    • Extras: 6-in-1 card reader
    • Bundled USB optical mouse

    For a box that is less than a cubic foot, it looks like it can hold a lot of hardware. One thing that should be pointed out with these types of computers is that a tradeoff is made here - by integrating almost everything you can think of, Gigabyte skipped on a PCI expansion slot and put in an AGP slot. This could pose a problem for those who have PCI cards that they want to use. For example, the only way to connect the GOPC to the Internet for a wireless network would be to use another computer and use Internet connection sharing or get a USB wireless card. On the flip side, this computer and most small form factor PCs allow for the expansion of graphics capabilities. Choose the GOPC carefully depending on your upgrade path.

    The chipset on the motherboard is the SiS 661FX Northbridge and the SiS964 Southbridge, which have a fairly decent set of features. However, according to SiS, the 964 supports features such as 2 port Serial ATA RAID. Since there is absolutely no space within the computer to place two hard drives without skipping on the optical drive, it seems like an interesting choice for this computer. On the flip side, it could be that the 661FX/961 combination is a good performer, and we'll see in the benchmark suite. SiS' website did not say that the chipsets support dual channel memory.

    Gigabyte GOPC CA2

    The 6 in 1 card reader is an excellent idea to have in this computer. With digital cameras being common and a wide variety of media that cameras use, being able to connect the media to a computer is essential. Most cameras do come with USB or IEEE 1394 connectors, but older cameras, such as the Olympus D-360L did not and being able to view my pictures was an added bonus. In Windows XP SP1, the card reader acts like 2 removable USB drives.

    Given the fact that this is a small PC, it was very surprising to see a floppy drive on it. The floppy will eat a significant amount of space in the GOPC and for many computer users today, the sole use of a floppy drive is to set up a RAID with multiple hard drives. Some would have preferred to skip the floppy drive in favour of having some extra space or better airflow. It is possible Gigabyte added it to enhance its ability to work with multiple forms of media.

    Gigabyte GOPC CA2

    While the Realtek ALC850 supports 6 channel audio, it only has 3 audio outputs on the back, as well as a microphone jack and another speaker port on the front. From the looks of it, 3 of the channels are being wasted.

    There are multiple USB ports on the rear of the GOPC, and on the right, the AGP slot. PS/2 ports for mice and keyboards are still there, although there is the option to use USB devices instead, and Gigabyte supplied a USB mouse.

    Gigabyte GOPC CA2Gigabyte GOPC CA2Gigabyte GOPC CA2

    The supplied heatsink looks like it is made of mostly copper. It's fairly hefty too, and the fan helps to move air around. Considering how much space there is in the GOPC, I'm not surprised that Gigabyte went with an active cooling solution.

    Cooling is a bit of a concern if doing any form of heavy computation. Since it does not have room for extra case fans and it is cramped, you cannot improve on the cooling. After Folding@Home on this computer for a day, the air coming out of the power supply was extremely hot. Having said that, because there aren't a lot of fans and moving parts, the GOPC is extremely quiet. It rivals a ThinkPad X31 for quietness, and while my desktop with a Vantec Aeroflow and two Vantec Stealth 80mm fans is no jet engine, there is quite a difference.

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