Asus ITX-220 Motherboard Review
Regular readers of my reviews (of which there probably are not too many, at least not yet) know that I have something of a fondness for small, cheap computers. Some of them can turn out to be outrageously good deals for the money. Others can be interesting if the implementation were better and some are just plain junk.

These days, it's very possible to build your own small and cheap computer with a number of different motherboards and processor choices from a variety of vendors. To date, I've used only the motherboards that are sold by Intel with their Atom and Celeron processors. While their performance is not that of even a mildly exciting computer system, both products will get the job done for a lot of computing needs outside of gaming and video production.

With this review, I'm branching out a bit and using a motherboard built around Intel's Celeron 220 processor, clocked at 1.2GHz. This Celeron processor is kind of an odd duck. It doesn't exist as a conventional CPU that would plug into some sort of processor socket. Instead, it only shows up in a form suitable for soldering to a motherboard. It's also clocked much more slowly than other more conventional Celeron CPUs that you can buy separately. It doesn't really compete with Intel's Atom CPU on a power usage scale, and it doesn't have a lot of high performance features (such as multiple cores) either. All it really has to offer is somewhat better performance than the Atom CPU does, and that's a little bit debatable with regard to the latest dual core Atom CPUs.

I'm very strongly of the opinion that the Celeron CPU is insufficiently appreciated. Everywhere I go I hear people talking the Celeron processor down. The simple fact of the matter is that the Celeron is very good--if not absolutely brilliant--value for the money. You can build a very competent computer on a thin budget with one, and it's very likely that you won't know it's a Celeron unless you look for it. All of these people would do well to participate in a blind trial where they do not know and cannot find out that one system is a Celeron and the other something more high end. I am confident that they would end up surprised.

Intel doesn't really even seem to care that much about their Celeron 220. They've only ever produced one motherboard using it, and that board is no longer available today. Most other motherboard makers have ignored it. However, Asus continues to produce a motherboard utilizing the Celeron 220 processor. This is their ITX-220 motherboard.

In a nutshell, their combination of the Celeron 220 and an Intel 945GC Express chipset on the ITX-220 product is (to use the Queen's English) a bloody brilliant combination that is outstanding value for the money.

That is why it is unfortunate that the mainstream reviewer websites have largely ignored this excellent little motherboard. Which brings me to this.

ITX-220 Box Shot

The Asus ITX-220 is a mini-ITX motherboard that includes the already mentioned Celeron 220 CPU, two slots for memory, two serial ATA ports, one PCI expansion slot, gigabit Ethernet, built in audio based on a VIA codec and (blessedly!) some legacy ports. Many people look at me funny when I say it, but I vastly prefer having real PS/2 keyboard and mouse ports on a motherboard. They're a lot less fiddly than depending upon USB to do the same thing in my experience. Asus didn't put a parallel port on this board, but they did include a good old serial port. In fact, there isn't even a header to which an optional external parallel port could be added later. So if you need a parallel port, you'll have to skip this board or use either a USB to parallel adapter or put a parallel port adapter card in the lone PCI slot.

You get Intel's GMA950 integrated graphics from the built in chipset. There is no PCI Express slot with which to add a graphics adapter of your own, should you decide that the onboard video is not sufficient for your needs. For the price and form factor, you really can't expect their to be such a thing.

Also missing from the board is a PATA channel. This isn't a huge loss, but when you have only two SATA ports, the lack of a PATA channel means that you can only have one hard disk if you want an optical drive...all combinations that require a SATA port multiplier not withstanding. (A SATA port multiplier might not even be supported by this board.)

Still lacking from this board is RAID support, which, again, isn't a huge loss but it is a limitation nevertheless if you want to use this board as the basis for an energy efficient low end server of some type. Fortunately, many operating systems today will let you create a "RAID" configuration completely in software with minimal performance loss.

What A Difference A Chipset Makes

Having played with the Intel D201GLY2 motherboard, I found its performance to be entirely acceptable for conventional, if basic, desktop computing. Where it fell down badly was on anything that involved any kind of heavy lifting from the integrated graphics hardware.

The D201GLY2 board differs from the ITX-220 in its use of an SiS chipset with an integrated Mirage 1 video engine.

From experience with the ITX-220 motherboard, I can say that the Mirage 1 (and to a much lesser extent, the SiS chipset in general) lets the Celeron 220 and D201GLY2 board combination down quite badly. An Intel GMA950 graphics system is really only a lower-midrange graphics solution these days, but by comparision to the SiS Mirage 1, the GMA950 is a screamingly fast graphics solution.

Where I could easily drive the Intel board into running out of steam and showing obvious signs of it, the ITX-220 would not succumb to resource exhaustion in any test I ran.

The Asus board can also run in dual-channel mode as it has two memory sockets. This could greatly speed up memory intensive tasks and anything that has to do with the onboard graphics hardware should see a speed boost as well. With Intel's products, you get only a single memory module socket and are confined to single channel mode only.

Thermal Comparisons

Intel's D201GLY2 board is available in a (theoretically) completely passively cooled system. In reality, the SiS northbridge will overheat in free air after some time, and a crash will be the result. If you have a passively cooled processor on your D201GLY2 board, Intel says you must have x amount of air flowing over it. At least the chipset overheating is due to Intel's skimping on the heatsink. I put a slightly larger one on the SiS northbridge and it stopped the crashes immediately.

The Asus ITX-220 is not susceptible to the same problem. It is not offered in a passively cooled model, but with only the CPU fan cooling it, the board ran fine for hours and hours every time I had it turned on and continued to do so until I shut it down.  That's not to say that you should run a computer like this--heat is the enemy of computer parts after all--but it does show that Asus put more thought into the thermal engineering of their motherboard. Both heatsinks are solid copper, where Intel opted for aluminum on their board. Unlike all of the similar Atom-based Intel motherboards based on the 945 Express chipset, Asus did not put a fan on the 945GC northbridge. Even under heavy loading of the GMA950 graphics core, I could not make the board fail while operating in free air.

Overall Performance

ITX-220 on the test bench

Never let it be said that I don't go all the way to the top when I test a system. I even used a cardboard box instead of simple copy paper to keep the board from shorting out when set up on top of Ye Olde Reliable Deskpro EN. (You can click here for a close up of the board.)

And yes, that is a PC speaker attached to the motherboard. Yes, I'm old school. What about it?

As I said above, this board is a "bloody brilliant" product for the money, even if you pay full price (which I didn't!). Performance is astounding.

I loaded this system up with an old 160GB Western Digital hard disk (so old, in fact, that although it is a SATA drive, it uses a translation bridge to do the protocol conversion--it is a PATA drive at heart), 2 256MB PC2-4200 DIMMs (which the Asus manual says will not work, but it did), some cheap speakers and a Samsung 15" flat panel display operating at 1024x768 with a 32-bit color depth. Due to the lack of a PATA port and my lack of desire to snake a SATA optical drive out of something else, I used a Hitachi-LG CD-RW drive in a USB enclosure as the optical drive of choice.

As it was handy, the operating system of choice was Windows XP Professional SP3. I was more than a little surprised when I found that installing the operating system from the external USB drive worked flawlessly. (Somehow I expected that something stupid would happen when Windows setup took over control of the USB subsystem from the BIOS, thereby nullifying the emulation that made the external drive appear to be nothing more than an IDE device. I really was anticipating a feature-length extravaganza that would result in hours of entertainment trying to persuade the machine into behaving--or at least my going and pulling a SATA optical drive out of another system temporarily.)

Windows XP was installed and ready to use in right around 30 minutes.

I subsquently loaded OpenOffice, iTunes, Google Earth, Mozilla Firefox 3.5, and supporting software such as Sun's Java and Adobe's Reader and Flash. And then I hit it, starting up and using the software as a normal (as normal as I happen to be, anyway) person would. For a DVD player, I chose VideoLAN's VLC product.

OpenOffice came into working order quickly. Firefox also worked perfectly well. It was even possible to play high definition videos on YouTube, although that was pushing things just a little bit and caused the system to become a little less responsive.

Google Earth worked surprisingly well. With Intel's D201GLY2 board, Google Earth functioned poorly at best and wasn't any fun to use. On the ITX-220 board, it worked VERY well with most of the animation moving smoothly and there were no video hiccups.

iTunes was fully functional and even the visualizer worked smoothly.

Multitasking tests consisted of having all of the above applications open and in some state of use at the time. Again, the system didn't skip a beat or have any trouble keeping up. It got to hitting the paging file a bit due to the low amount of installed RAM. This was not a problem at any point. I never had any problems with video choppiness or the music streaming from the network cutting out. This board just kept on flying along, and giving a very good account of itself.


There are some curious features present (or not present) on this board that can leave one wondering why they were put there.

Asus--at least in theory--allows you to overlock this board and its Celeron 220 processor. Within the setup program you will find settings for "AI Overclocking" functionality. When set to defaults, the overclocking functionality is set to an "automatic" configuration value.

I'd swear to you that the first time I ventured into setup, I noticed that the CPU appeared to be clocked at 1.8GHz. In fact, I'm very sure that it was. I hadn't even noticed that the processor appeared to be overclocked until I'd already been tinkering with the board for a few hours. If it really was overclocked, it was completely stable when run at 600MHz over its rated clock speed and cooled only with air and the stock Asus fan/heatsink assembly.

I can't prove this now because I tinkered with the settings and changed them to "manual" in an effort to evaluate the system when running at its stock speed. After that point, whatever overclocking magic the system had was gone. From that point on, setting the BIOS to use automatic settings resulted in its running at the stock clock speed. When the manual setting was turned on, I could only adjust the system bus speed from 133 to 140MHz. As this only resulted in the system running at 1,260MHz instead of 1,200MHz, it really wasn't a worthwhile thing to do. The board seemed to be willing to run at a 140MHz setting, at least on the short term. Gaining only 60MHz worth of clock speed will never be noticed, and I doubt the other components on the board would stand being overdriven all that long anyway. The small gain in speed would likely be offset almost immediately with strange crashes and other problems.

Maybe I dreamed the whole thing. I really don't think I did, though. I well remember thinking when I saw the 1.8GHz clock speed as reported by the BIOS that it had to be a typo or misreporting. I did a double take at the time, and checked it again. Whatever the case, I did the same tests when the processor speed was reported to be "only" 1.2GHz and the apparent perceived level of speed didn't really change.

Within system setup there are options for enabling a so-called Trusted Platform Module, or TPM. It's completely baffling as to why these are present on a low-end, highly integrated board. There are solder pads near the left hand side of the board near the DIMM slots, and these are marked "TPM" as though they could be populated with a connector that would later accept an optional TPM. It appears that the feature almost made it and was dropped at almost the last minute. It's even mentioned in the manual, which cheerfully tells you that the setting cannot be enabled.

This system does not appear to support any sort of fan speed control. The LPCIO is marked as being an ITE 8755, and it responds to SpeedFan as an ITE 8720. It presents three fan speed control adjustments, none of which appear to have any effect at all on the CPU fan or an optional fan connected to the case fan connector.

Overall Thoughts

If you are considering building your own compact, low power computer system and have plans to use it for day-to-day computing, this is absolutely the motherboard to buy. I wasn't expecting the ITX-220 to be such an outstanding performer. Time and time again it stood up to the challenge. I believe it would have nearly no problem answering the challenge offered by the competing nVidia Ion/Intel Atom based motherboards from manufacturers such as ZOTAC.

The lack of a PATA channel, only two SATA connectors, not-fully-implemented overclocking functionality, missing parallel port and seemingly not connected fan control circuitry are all things that could count against this board. These problems all become very minor at best given the amazing performance this board continually managed to churn out.

If you plan to build a system out of this board that will be a server of some type, it will do the job well. However, I'd have to think that you'd be wasting this board's performance on such a task. It would be better to use the Intel D201GLY2 board for those kind of jobs.

As it is, I'd give the ITX-220 a very high recommendation.

Go Back >

Copyright © 2009 William R. Walsh. All Rights Reserved. Written 11/30/2009. Permission is granted to mirror this page in its unedited entirety as long as a link back to this site and credit for the material is provided. You may not charge a fee or exchange items of value to provide access to this page or its content, other than an amount reasonably necessary to cover the cost of connection time, data transfer or printing supplies. Content from this page may not be displayed alongside advertising content of any type. You may use portions of this page in other products only if you provide credit and a link back to this page and only if the finished product is freely accessible to anyone interested in having a copy. If you use this material in work of your own, you may not charge or exchange items of value to provide access (other than as reasonably necessary to cover connection time, data transfer fees, or to cover printing supply costs) nor may you display advertising materials alongside any content you use from this page. Images may not be edited other than to resize them or to provide for faster downloading.