Looking to build a new home theater computer? There are a lot of options, but if you’d like to be future-proofed for 4K and want to keep the system small, the choices quickly narrow. Now MSI is slightly widening the field with three new Mini-ITX motherboards.
What sets these apart from most is their use of a Braswell embedded processor. The boards themselves are actually the same; it’s the processor that sets each apart. They include a dual-core Celeron N3050 with a 1.6GHz base clock and 2.16GHz Turbo, a quad-core Celeron N3150 with a 1.6GHz base clock and 2.08GHz Turbo, and a quad-core Pentium N3700 with a 1.6GHz base clock and 2.4GHz Turbo.
These chips are based on the Braswell architecture, Intel’s low-power alternative to the Broadwell architecture is found in Core chips. While Braswell is far slower in per-clock performance, it’s adequate for most situations, and many examples of the architecture make up for modest clock speeds with multiple cores. The chips also include Intel integrated graphics with H.265 decode and 4K support, which is why these boards look great for home theater use.
Connectivity includes two USB 3.0 ports, two USB 2.0 ports, HDMI, Ethernet, on-board audio and possibly a serial port. There also appears to be PS/2 support for older keyboards and mice. Internal connectivity includes two SATA 6Gb/s ports and a PCI Express x1 slot. Yes, this means there’s no PCI Express x16 slot, so an add-on video card is not an option.
All three motherboards are passively cooled, and while MSI has not released size specifications, the Mini-ITX form factor means they’ll fit in even the smallest desktop enclosures. You won’t be able to build something as small as Intel’s NUC with these boards, but you’ll come close.
Look for these boards to hit stores soon, but pricing is not yet available.