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Thread: Hardware Review: iBase MB899 mini-ITX mainboard

  1. #1
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    Hardware Review: iBase MB899 mini-ITX mainboard

    Hardware Review:

    What it is/does: Mini-ITX mainboard for Intel Core Duo processors

    Reviewed by: JeffW
    Manufacturer: iBase
    Model: MB899-R
    Specs: See here
    Price: $350 USD
    Rating: 6/10
    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)
    Low power
    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.

    System Setup:

    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
    GlobalSat BU-353
    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 = NA
    Add GPS and Roadie:
    Standby = 100mA (20 extra all due to GPS), Idle = 1.4A, Loaded = 1.7A
    Add Xenarc powered by DSATX:
    Standby = 100mA, idle = 2.1A, Loaded = 2.4A
    Multiply current ratings by 14V to get consumed power.

    Conclusion:

    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.

  2. #2
    Super Moderator xBrady's Avatar
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    Sorry I was gone on vacation so it took me awhile to approve this. Thanks for the great review.
    AMD XP 2600+/512MB RAM/120GB hard drive
    Opus 150W/DVD/GPS/7" Lilliput TS/802.11g/Bluetooth
    Installed.


    -GPSSecure- - GPS Tracking
    -AltTabber2.2.2- - Handy touchscreen utility.

  3. #3
    Maximum Bitrate tn6478's Avatar
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    How has this board working for you. Is the onboard video decent?

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by tn6478 View Post
    How has this board working for you. Is the onboard video decent?
    It works great, and I've certainly been less than gentle with it trying to get everything put together. I've added a Silenx chassis fan that is deadly quiet. I don't have the system mounted in my dash yet, but on the bench the Silenx fan keeps the cpu cool enough that it doesn't ever trigger the noisy CPU fan (set for 50 deg. C). This eases the pain of lack of SpeedFan support.

    I'm only running 800x600 and not doing any 3D graphics or games. So for that the onboad video is more than enough, and works just fine for me.

    With all that said, if I had to do it over again, I would seriously consider the Aopen.

  5. #5
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    I'm a bit confused on this board.

    In the specs, it states:

    Two DDR2 sockets supports up to 4GB DDR SDRAM
    PC400/533/667 DDR SDRAM
    I'm not sure what to get from this?

    Does it take DDR2 or just DDR?
    Jan Bennett
    FS: VW MKIV Bezel for 8" Lilliput - 95% Finished

    Please post on the forums! Chances are, someone else has or will have the same questions as you!

  6. #6
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    DDR2 is working fine for me. I'm using 2 sticks of:

    Corsair XMS2 DDR2
    CM2X512-5400C4
    512MB
    675 MHz
    4-4-4-12 timing

    Hope it helps,
    -Jeff

  7. #7
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    it does! thanks!
    Jan Bennett
    FS: VW MKIV Bezel for 8" Lilliput - 95% Finished

    Please post on the forums! Chances are, someone else has or will have the same questions as you!

  8. #8
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    what case are you running this all in?

    I've got the Opus case (the one with 2 PCI slots) and I'm trying to figure out what CPU fan to use. Being quiet is key as is the height.

    Also, are you using a SATA laptop drive? or IDE?
    Jan Bennett
    FS: VW MKIV Bezel for 8" Lilliput - 95% Finished

    Please post on the forums! Chances are, someone else has or will have the same questions as you!

  9. #9
    rhg
    rhg is offline
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    Hello,
    I've just got an MB899 and it's great apart from one thing - it takes ages and ages to resume from hibernation (almost 2 minutes not including POST). I upgraded from an Epia EN 1.5 GHZ, which took about 20 seconds to resume, with pretty much the same hardware and software that I've got on the MB899.
    Just wondering if anyone here with an MB899 uses hibernation. Is it fast?

    Just re-read JeffW's post, and noticed the resume speeds, but that was with a fresh install of XP. What's it like with software loaded so that the computer can actually do stuff?

  10. #10
    FLAC strohj's Avatar
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    his resume times included his frontend etc...

    do you have bluetooth? I have noticed that with some bluetooth dongles you can get some really long resume times
    Pentium 4m 1.5GHz|MB896|Roadie Extreme|XM-Direct|Rikaline 6010|T-View 7"|Streetdeck|160gb Western Digital|1Gb DDR2-533 Ram

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