An all-in-one PC is the best solution for crammed desktops. However, if you want a monitor of your choice, then a lunchbox-sized PC such as the Zotac ZBOX would be most ideal. But if you want something really small and powerful, with the option of customising the hardware that goes in the box, then building a small form factor PC is the way to go. The components that you primarily need to build one, are a mini-ITX motherboard and, of course, a cabinet to house all the hardware. Mini ITX motherboards aren’t as abundant as full and mini ATX models, but there are quite a few to choose from, for example, the Gigabyte H61N-D2V that caught our attention—not because it’s extraordinary, but because it’s one of the cheapest mini-ITX motherboards you can buy for Intel processors that come in the LGA 1155 package (including the third generation Core processors). Here’s what it packs in the tight 6.7 x 6.7-inch form.
A budget motherboard for building a small form factor PC
Design and features
The Gigabyte H61N-D2V uses the Intel H61 chipset in the simplest way. In fact, the feature set is hacked down to fit in all the components. So, you get just the bare essentials to build an entry-level PC. The board supports up to 16GB of DDR3 memory via the two DIMM slots. On either side of the slots lie four SATA 3Gb/s ports. The only other on-board components are a pair of USB 2.0 headers supporting two ports each, a system fan header and a header for front audio. It is not possible to install a PCIe graphics card because there are no PCIe slots. The only slot present is a PCI slot that can be used for installing expansion cards such as a sound card, LAN / Wi-Fi card and so on. The layout of the motherboard isn’t the best, and the reason is the compact form. Hence, the SATA ports are placed in such a way and there’s no place at the bottom to place the headers. Instead, the headers are placed above the PCI slot. A good thing is that no matter how long the PCI card is, it won’t hinder the installation of memory because even when the retention clips of the DIMM slots are open, they don’t come in line with the PCI slot. Another useful feature of the H61N-D2V is the provision of dual-BIOS. In case the main BIOS goes bad, you can switch over to the backup BIOS and continue working normally.
Main and backup BIOS to the right of the PCI slot
The rear panel reveals that this board is designed for individuals and offices that still use legacy peripherals that connect via serial and parallel ports. Also, there are individual PS/2 ports for the mouse and keyboard. Other than these, you get a DVI port, four USB 2.0 ports, an Ethernet port and jacks for 5.1 channel audio. If your monitor has only D-sub input, you’ll have to use a DVI-to-VGA adapter.
Legacy I/O on the rear panel for older peripherals
We used the Intel Core i7-2600k, 8GB of G.Skill RipjawsX memory and the Plextor 256M2S SSD to assess the performance of this board. The scores were a tad low as compared to the latest generation motherboards with 7-series chipsets due to the lack of SATA 6Gb/s support. Our setup scored 4105 points in PCMark 7 and 11889 points in 3DMark Vantage (Entry preset). The real world performance was excellent. It took 26 seconds to transcode a 1 minute MPEG video H.264 format and about the same amount of time to compress 100MB of assorted files to 7.zip format using the Ultra preset. The overall performance of the H61N-D2V is almost at par with entry-level and mid-range motherboards.
Fairly good overall layout
Verdict and price in India
Priced at Rs 3,250, the Gigabyte H61N-D2V is clearly an entry-level motherboard. However, that doesn’t mean you’re restricted to using only entry-level processors and memory. If your needs mainly encompass demanding applications, you can install a high-end processor (Intel Core i5 or i7) and install the maximum amount of memory supported—rest assured you will get optimal performance. Also, note that mini-ITX motherboards aren’t restricted to mini-ITX cases; they also fit in the regular micro ATX cases.
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