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In-Depth Review: Gigabyte's J1800N-D2H Mini-ITX Motherboard

Intel's new Bay Trail-D family of processors have been released, and motherboard makers are putting out products with the chips soldered on. Join me as I take Gigabyte's entrant, which boasts a dual-core Celeron J1800, for a not-so-brief spin.

This review is broken down into 9 parts:

Part 1: The CPU
Part 2: The Motherboard
Part 3: The BIOS
Part 4: Benchmarking Methodology
Part 5: Benchmarking Performance
Part 6: Power Consumption
Part 7: Temperatures
Part 8: Fan Control
Part 9: Conclusion

 

(Part 1: The CPU)

The low-budget, low-power, low-performance Intel Atom family, or at least the subset of it targeted at desktops and laptops netbooks, first came out in 2008. Originally a three-chip design with the original 45nm Diamondville CPU, an update in early 2010, dubbed Pine Trail, reduced that to two chips and lowered power consumption. Later, 2011's Cedar Trail saw a die shrink to 32nm.

Despite the platform updates, all of these systems have stuck with the original Bonnell CPU core (renamed to Saltwell with the 32nm shrink) with few changes – mainly just clock frequency increases. As a simple in-order architecture designed to sip power, the performance was merely passable in 2008, and very sluggish here in 2014.

 


So, at long last, Intel released the successor to the Bonnell core late last year. Promising somewhere around double the performance, Silvermont is an out-of-order architecture built on Intel's 22nm manufacturing process. The core is being rolled out into various families of chips designed for different markets, including the Merrifield platform for smartphones, and the desktop Bay Trail-D platform, a member of which we'll be looking at today.

The first thing you might notice about the Celeron J1800 is its brand name. Indeed, the Atom name is being attached to all of the Silvermont-based parts except for the ones meant for desktop PCs and laptops. Why? We're not sure. Perhaps Intel is trying to avoid a stigma instigated by the slow performance of the older parts.

Anyhow, let's take a look at the Celeron J1800's specifications.

 

Name
Intel Celeron J1800
Cores / Threads
2 / 2
Clock Frequency / Burst
2.41 Ghz / 2.58 Ghz
L1 Cache (Data / Instruction)
2 x 24 KB / 2 x 32 KB
L2 Cache
1 MB (shared between cores)
Instruction Set
64-bit
Advanced Instructions MMX, SSE, SSE2, SSE3, SSSE3, SSE4.1, SSE4.2, VT-x
Max. Memory Capacity 8 GB
Memory Type / Channels DDR3L-1333 non-ECC / 2
Integrated Graphics Intel HD Graphics (Gen7, 4 EU) w/ Intel Quick Sync
Graphics Frequency / Burst 688 Mhz / 792 Mhz (660 Mhz / 768 Mhz reported by HWiNFO32 4.36)
PCI Express Revision / Lanes 2.0 / 4
Integrated I/O
USB 3.0, USB 2.0, 2x SATA 3Gbps
Thermal Design Power 10 watts
Lithography 22 nm

 

The J1800 contains two Silvermont cores, each normally running at 2.41 Ghz. These cores can boost to 2.58 Ghz when temperatures allow, and drop down to 1.33 Ghz during idle periods. Unlike Bonnell and Saltwell, HyperThreading is unsupported: each core executes one thread per tick.

Meanwhile, the J1800 packs a downsized version of Intel's Gen7 graphics core, also found in the firm's “normal” Ivy Bridge processors. The DirectX 11, OpenGL 4.0, and OpenCL 1.1 graphics APIs are supported. QuickSync hardware video encoding/decoding is supported on newer revisions of the chip. Sadly, the chip I have on hand is an older revision.

As with most integrated solutions, the HD Graphics shares system memory. On that note, the Celeron J1800 contains a dual-channel memory controller, supporting 1.35v DDR3L modules at speeds of up to 1333 Mhz. I intend to see how big an effect the dual-channel memory capability has on the chip's performance; stay tuned for the benchmarks.

So far, all of the products based on Silvermont cores are single-chip “system-on-chip” (SoC) designs. Bay Trail-D is the first time this approach has been used in the desktop “Atom” platform. Accordingly, the chips contain I/O blocks for several common interfaces, including PCI Express 2.0, SATA 3Gbps and USB 3.0.

Finally, the collective thermal design power (TDP) of the Celeron J1800 is just 10 watts. “Normal” desktop processors tend to be rated closer to 65w. This is as expected from Intel's ultra-low-power platform.

In the interest of keeping this review relatively short, there is a lot more to the Silvermont architecture that I'm leaving out. Those who are interested in reading more can check out The Tech Report's excellent writeup on the subject.

 

(Part 2: The Motherboard)

Now we get to the Gigabyte motherboard. Historically, embedded CPUs, including the Intel Atom family, have been non-socketed setups, soldered permanently onto their boards in order to further reduce costs. The Celeron J1800 is no exception, so I can't really review the chip without also reviewing the board it shipped on.

A variety of manufacturers are beginning to put out motherboards with Bay Trail-D chips, and the one we've got on the bench today is Gigabyte's GA-J1800N-D2H model. We'll start with the box.

 

 

The box is positively tiny for a motherboard box, and the online store I ordered this from shipped it with padding on only one side. D'oh! Thankfully the board survived the trip in perfect working condition.

 

 

Front of the box. We see that the J1800N-D2H is covered under Gigabyte's Ultra Durable moniker, which certifies quality onboard parts (polymer capacitors and the like) and good quality board construction.

Other motherboard makers make similar claims with their boards, though. Gigabyte is hardly the only one out there doing this.

 

 

Here's the identification sticker on the box, which gives us a serial number (blocked to protect the innocent) and a brief set of specifications for the board within.

 

 

Back of the box. There's some extra Ultra Durable-related marketing here, along with more specifications.

 

 

Time to unpack. First thing we see after opening the box is the J1800N-D2H itself, packaged in an anti-static bag.

 

 

Box contents include the motherboard, a user manual, a driver DVD, an I/O shield for the case, and two latching SATA cables.

 

 

Now let's get a look at the board itself. See that big, black aluminum heatsink? Our Intel Celeron J1800 SoC of the day sits underneath that. Its 10w TDP is low enough that Gigabyte didn't see the need for a fan. I elected to not remove this heatsink in the interest of benchmarking the setup in its pristine, out-of-box state.

 

 

Like many embedded CPU boards, the J1800N-D2H fits into the mini ITX form factor. This is close to the smallest motherboard standard that is still compatible with ATX, which came out in 1998 and is still in use with today's PCs. Mini ITX is tiny enough to allow only one expansion slot, but large enough to fit the I/O panel and our board's other essentials.

 

 

Speaking of the I/O panel, here it is. We have two PS/2 ports for mouse and keyboard, a VGA d-sub video output, an HDMI output, a USB 3.0 port, four USB 2.0 ports, a gigabit wired LAN jack, and audio jacks for microphones, speakers, and line-in input.

 

 

Now we'll zoom in to the board surface and see what we can see. At the bottom left is a PCI Express 2.0 x1 slot, good for 500 MB/s of bandwidth for supported cards. Opposite is a mini PCIe slot, which looks good for a wireless card. Or, perhaps, one of these, to augment the Celeron J1800's support for only two SATA 3Gbps ports.

We also see one of the two fan headers, this one supporting 4-pin PWM fans.

 

 

Here we see the CMOS battery and a pair of laptop-style RAM slots. These can handle up to 4GB each for 8GB of maximum system memory. Only 1.35v modules are supported, though the Corsair sticks I used, despite being 1.5v, worked just fine. Either way, double-check the supported memory list before purchasing to avoid heartache.

The HD Graphics reserve a varying amount of memory for its own use. However, with Intel's DVMT (Dynamic Video Memory Technology), it won't take more than 64MB (changeable in the BIOS) unless it needs to.

As I mentioned earlier, I'm going to benchmark this board with both Corsair modules inserted, and then do it all over again with just one. We'll see how much performance the boards like Biostar's J1800NH leave on the cutting room floor for only implementing one of the two memory channels.

 

 

At the top of the Gigabyte we find the 24-pin ATX and 4-pin ATX12V power connectors. That 4-pin connector seems a little redundant given the low-power CPU, but the board won't power up without it – I tried. Sandwiched between these connectors is the front panel LED and switch header. On the far left is a legacy RS232 serial port header (labelled COM) for those who want it – avid InventorSpot followers, perhaps.

Below these, we see part of the two-phase power circuitry for the Celeron SoC. The PWM controller is an Intersil 95836. True to Gigabyte's Ultra Durable branding, the entire board surface is studded with polymer capacitors. (The black-print ones are from APAQ; I can't figure out who made the blue ones.)

 

 

Behind the I/O panel and next to a legacy LPT header, there's an ITE IT8620E Super I/O chip (handling the PS/2 ports, legacy headers, and hardware monitoring), an ASMedia ASM1442 TMDS chip for the HDMI, the last fan header, a mysterious DEBUG connector, the sole front panel USB 2.0 header (for two ports), and... a Genesys GL850S USB hub.

How interesting. This chip connects to one USB 2.0 port and turns it into four. While that might be well and good, all four will share the bandwidth of the first port. The question is, which of the J1800N-D2H's USB ports are attached to this hub? Gigabyte's specifications table doesn't tell us, but luckily I have a truckload of USB devices and a special program. The answer:

 

 

 

Indeed, all four of the USB 2.0 ports on the J1800N-D2H's back I/O panel are attached to the hub. Running an HD Tune read test on one of the external hard drives I connected yielded roughly 36 MB/s, normal for USB 2.0. However, running the test on both drives at once had the rates for both hovering at 19 MB/s.

Is this a problem? Maybe, if you're regularly going to use the back panel USB 2.0 ports to access multiple drives at once. The front panel header's ports don't seem to be affected, and there's also that lone USB 3.0 port to connect storage devices to.

Bandwidth issues aside, I didn't ever have any problems with peripherals (including a keyboard) attached to the hub'd ports, even while navigating the UEFI. Your mileage may vary.

 

 

We find ourselves back where we started, having made a full circle of the board surface. The gigabit Ethernet controller is a Realtek RTL8111F, and the 7.1 channel audio codec, a Realtek ALC887.

A front-panel audio header sits next to a two-pin S/PDIF output header, the latter presumably for a bracket that's sold separately. Meanwhile, the BIOS chip is soldered on and unfortunately not user-replaceable.

 

 

Flipping the board over, we discover that the mammoth heatsink is bolted on using a pair of spring-loaded screws. For your information, these extend about 4mm off the board surface. The screws themselves are positioned about 62mm away from each other, for those who feel like getting an aftermarket heatsink.

While I'm at it, the heatsink itself measures 21mm high off the board surface. Compare this with the I/O panel's highest point (the audio jack block), which is 33mm.

Based on that, I don't think you'll have much trouble fitting the Gigabyte GA-J1800N-D2H into even the smallest of ITX cases, including the Mini-Box M350. These have almost no breathing room past the top of the I/O panel. The heatsink here is a good deal shorter than the I/O panel.

Now, let's boot this up and get a look at the BIOS setup interface.

 

 
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