Hardware Review: iBase MB899 mini-ITX mainboard
What it is/does: Mini-ITX mainboard for Intel Core Duo processors
Reviewed by: JeffW
Specs: See here
Price: $350 USD
Manufacturer website: www.ibase.com.tw
Purchased at: mp3car store
Pros: Good performance
4 USB ports on back panel
9-pin serial on back panel - for easy connection to DSATX or GPS
Full PCI slot, in addition to PCIe and mini-pci
VGA on back panel (no dongle needed)
Good tech support - all issues resolved
Cons: Poor docs
Shipped drivers didn't work
Shipped BIOS had major S3 standby bug
Onboard audio only good for stereo
No boost for mic input (low gain)
Did not ship with CPU cooler
Did not ship with slim FDD cable
Did not ship with custom cable for front panel audio
No Compact Flash connector
Doesn't work with Speedfan
I had 4 Core Duo boards to choose from. I really wanted to get the Aopen i945GTt, but too many folks are having an issue with BIOS setting retention, thread. So I had to decide between the Commel 677, the iBase MB899, and the Kontron. The Kontron didn't seem too available yet. The Commell and the iBase seemed very similar, but the iBase had the advantage of a full PCI slot (opens door to a large base of current cheap peripherals), and 2 extra USB ports on the back panel. So I went with the iBase, even though the Aopen was $50 less and had better specs (particularly onboard audio).
Note this is the MB899-R (R for RoHS compliant), not the MB899-F, which includes firewire and 1GbE.
First thing I noticed upon receipt was no CPU cooler. The mounting holes are 41mm apart ODC. I ordered a Cooler Master EEP-N41SS-01 from Logicsupply, and it's a perfect fit. It runs at 6500 RPM, so it's a bit noisy, but does a good job of cooling. While waiting for it to arrive I picked up a Cooler Master Ice Blue chipset cooler from CompUSA for $11. It also fit perfectly and did a good job of cooling, but it only attached with adhesive, so I didn't think it was suitable for an in-dash application.
I also noticed no CF slot, even thought specs include one. I do see a place where one can be soldered on, though, with traces going to the IDE bus.
N00b learning: It's better to use an SATA HDD so that you can use the IDE cable for the CD reader to install the OS. I tried using a USB CD, but it's only 12 MB/s until you get everything installed and the drivers loaded (takes a lot longer).
I loaded an old copy of XP Pro (pre SP1). I got complaints when trying to load the supplied drivers (i.e. can't find usbechsi.sys). Figured out I need to get to SP2 before installing the drivers. Luckily the ethernet drivers didn't need the upgrade, so I was able to install those, hop on the internet, and update windows. Afterwards, the chipset drivers installed fine, the graphics and audio drivers still had problems. I was able to download the latest graphics drivers from Intel's site for the 945GM chipset, and the latest AC97 drivers from Realtek's website. Those worked. I notified iBase tech support and they told me that the supplied driver disk, ver. 6.1i, was incorrect, and shipped me ver. 6.2i. I verified that ver. 6.2i installed the same drivers that I had downloaded and all was good...
Until I checked out Standby (have to change it from S1 to S3 in BIOS). When the computer resumed from standby, the onboard temp sensor reading were all over the place. At best this made the fan go on constantly, at worst it immediately sounds an alarm and shuts down. The iBase website had no driver or BIOS updates for this board, but on the Aopen website I noticed they put out a BIOS update that fixed what sounded like the same problem. I sent another mail to iBase tech support and they sent me a BIOS update a couple days later that fixed the problem. The BIOS that shipped was MB899-L1-CP1A-0306. The updated BIOS was MB899-L4-<something>.
I tried out SpeedFan to try to make things a little quieter. It was able to control the fan to keep the desired temperature, but operation was binary. I.e. 0% speed turned the fan off, and 5-100% turned it on. No variability. So no better than the BIOS operation.
The audio jacks on the back, from top to bottom are, line in, line out, and mic; and are blue, green, and pink respectively. The Realtek audio driver speaker setup tab shows the jacks in a different order, but the colors match properly. There is a built-in 3W amp for the line-out and stereo from this output sounds great. However, when configuring for 4 or 6 channel, the front speakers (from the line-out jack) have a much higher fixed amplification than the rear and or sub/center speakers. I guess you have to manually compensate for this somewhere in the path, but seems very cumbersome. I thought solution would be to use the "front-panel audio connector", which is an 8-pin header on the mobo that has pins for the front-L, front-R, rear-L, rear-R, and mic signals. I had to fashion a custom connector to bring the 8-pin header to a pair of phono jacks. I figured that these signals wouldn't be amplified and would be perfectly equal and good for a 4-ch car application. Much to my amazement, I couldn't get audio out of the front channel at all, only the rear. By the way, the pin numbering in the table for this J17 connector is documented wrong. It should match the J16 table right above it on the same page. It's possible I could have fried something in finding this tidbit out the hard way, but I doubt it. Would be interested to know if anybody else gets it to work. This also means there is no way to get 4-ch audio and line-in at the same time.
I gave up on the audio and bought a Turtle Beach Roadie... worked like a champ out of the box. I also noticed that the Roadie's mic input is much more sensitive than the on-board one. The Roadie has 20db gain for it. I'm not sure the on-bard mic input would be usable unless it's right in front of one's mouth.
The built in watchdog timer function of the Winbond chip is documented very well in the manual. However, the GPIO port isn't documented at all.
Core Duo 2300E 1.66 GHz Processor
DSATX 220W PSU
Seagate 2.5" 100GB 7200 RPM HD
Corsair TwinX 2-ch 667 1 GB Mem
Xenarc 700TSV Display
Turtle Beach Roadie
Suspend Measurements (fresh XP SP2 install, no tweaking):
(Measured from button press to visible Windows desktop)
Cold boot: 27s
Resume from Standby: 4s
Resume from Hibernate: 35s
Resume from Hibernate with WD 7200 rpm 3.5" drive: 25s
Resume from Hibernate with 3.5" drive + 1-ch 512MB mem: 22s
Power Consumption Measurements (ammeter placed between 14V power source and DSATX):
"Idle" means Windows running, but no apps.
"Loaded" means RoadRunner running with song playing, and iGv3 navigating. 30% cpu util.
Nothing but KB, Mouse, and external VGA monitor:
Standby = 80mA, Idle = 1.3A, Loaded = NAAdd GPS and Roadie:
Standby = 100mA (20 extra all due to GPS), Idle = 1.4A, Loaded = 1.7AAdd Xenarc powered by DSATX:
Standby = 100mA, idle = 2.1A, Loaded = 2.4AMultiply current ratings by 14V to get consumed power.
This board wasn't quite ready for prime time, but things are working very well now with proper drivers and BIOS. On-board audio is a mess, but the Roadie has optical input and mic boost, which I'm not aware of any on-board audio offering. So I would probably get a Roadie anyway. Roadie survives hibernation/standby, but GPS does not. GPS hibernation was fixed by using Xport3.