Intel D525MW Motherboard Review
By Rafael Coelho on September 28, 2011
Today we are reviewing the Intel D525MW Mini-ITX motherboard, which comes with an on-board Atom D525 CPU. Check it out!
The Atom is a low-power CPU from Intel. Actually, this name is used for two series, one aimed at handheld devices (“Silverthorne” and “Lincroft” models) and another one made for ultra-thin laptops, netbooks and energy-conscious desktops, represented by the “Diamondville” (first generation) and “Pineview” (second generation) models.
The main difference between these two generations is that Diamondville models must be paired with a northbridge chip, typically the Intel 945GC Express, and a southbridge chip. The newer “Pineview” models have this northbridge chip integrated into the CPU chip, which reduces the total power consumption. These CPUs must be paired with the NM10 chip, which assumes the role of a southbridge, or peripheral control hub (PCH). To learn more about the Atom CPUs, please read our All Atom Models tutorial.
The Atom D525 processor that comes soldered on the Intel D525MW motherboard is a “Pineview” model, with two processing cores and a 1.8 GHz clock, which is currently the most powerful Atom CPU available. It has a 1 MB L2 cache, is manufactured under 45 nm technology, and has a TDP of 13 W. The integrated memory controller supports up to 4 GB of as much as DDR2-800 or DDR3-800 memory, in single channel configuration.
This processor supports the Hyper-Threading technology, which means each physical core is recognized by the operating system as two logical cores (threads). So, the D525 CPU is recognized as a quad-core processor.
In Figure 1, you see the D525MW, which uses the Mini-ITX form factor, meaning that it measures 6.7 x 6.7 inches (170 x 170 mm).
As with any Mini-ITX board, the Intel D525MW has only one conventional (i.e., rear) expansion slot. Intel chose to include a standard PCI slot instead of a PCI Express slot. The motherboard has a mini PCI Express slot, which can be used for installing, for example, a Wi-Fi card, but the motherboard doesn’t come with any mini PCI Express adapter.
The Atom D525 processor has an embedded memory controller, supporting DDR2 or DDR3 memories up to 800 MHz, and the Intel D525MW comes with two SO-DIMM (“laptop memory”) sockets for DDR3 memory modules, supporting up to 4 GB. There is no dual channel technology, so the memory is always accessed in 64-bit mode.
The chipset paired with the Atom D525 is the NM10 Express, which controls audio, USB, Ethernet, and SATA ports. This chipset also provides four PCI Express x1 lanes and two standard PCI slots, and “talks” to the CPU using a DMI bus at 2 GB/s (1 GB/s per direction).
The Intel D525MW has two SATA-300 ports, shown in Figure 4. It doesn't have ATA-133 or floppy disk drive ports.
This motherboard has seven USB 2.0 ports, four soldered on the rear panel and three available through two headers located on the motherboard. It doesn’t have any USB 3.0 or FireWire ports.
The Intel D525MW supports audio in the 5.1 format. The audio is generated by the chipset using a Realtek ALC662 codec, which has a 98 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the analog outputs, a 90 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the analog inputs, up to a 96 kHz sampling rate for both inputs and outputs, 24-bit resolution for the outputs, and 20-bit resolution for the inputs. These specifications are good for the mainstream user, but if you are looking into working professionally with audio editing, you should look for a motherboard that provides an SNR of at least 97 dB and 24-bit resolution for the analog input.
The audio connectors at the rear panel are shared, which means that if you want to use a 5.1 analog speaker set, you will need to use the “mic in” and the “line in” connectors. The motherboard lacks an on-board optical SPDIF output on the rear panel, but you can install either a coaxial or optical SPDIF output installing an adapter on the header labeled “SPDIF.”
The D525MW has one Gigabit Ethernet port, controlled by a Realtek RTL8111E chip.
In Figure 5, you can see the motherboard rear panel, which resembles the typical panel we used to see five years ago, with PS/2 connectors for keyboard and mouse, VGA output, legacy serial and parallel ports, four USB 2.0 ports, a Gigabit Ethernet port, and shared audio connectors.
Besides the parallel and serial ports at the rear panel, there is one more legacy serial port available on a motherboard header. If you want to use it, you will need to buy the adapter, since it doesn’t come with the motherboard.
Figure 6 reveals the accessories that come with the D525MW: drivers and utilities DVD, SATA cables, case rear frame, and a sticker showing the motherboard connections to be glued inside the case.
As we mentioned previously, the CPU comes soldered on the motherboard. Figure 7 reveals the passive cooler of the CPU. The NM10 chipset can be seen in the bottom left.
Figure 8 shows the Atom D525 CPU after removing the cooler.
The voltage regulator has only one phase, which is not a big issue for this low-consumption CPU. All the capacitors are solid or high-quality Japanese ones, from Chemi-Con, and all the coils use ferrite cores, which is great. If you want to learn more about the voltage regulator circuit, please read our tutorial on this subject.
The main specifications for the Intel D5252MW motherboard include:
* Researched at Newegg.com on the day we published this review.
We ran some tests comparing the performance of the Intel D525MW with two other motherboards with an on-board CPU: the ECS HDC-I and the Zotac FUSION350-A-E (both with the AMD E-350 CPU). We also included in this test a Core i3-540 CPU, in order to discover if the performance of those embedded motherboards can be comparable to a mainstream system with CPU integrated video.
During our benchmarking sessions, we used the configuration listed below. Between our benchmarking sessions, we kept that same hard disk, but of course the motherboard and CPU were different. The memory used was not always the same since two of the motherboards tested use DIMM modules, while the other two use SO-DIMM modules, but all the tests were made with the same memory specs.
We adopted a 3% error margin. Thus, differences below 3% cannot be considered relevant. In other words, products with a performance difference below 3% should be considered as having similar performance.
The new PCMark 7 performs a series of tests and gives scores in the following categories: an overall score called PCMark; a Productivity score, which is the system’s performance when using applications such as web browsing and home office applications; a Creativity score, which is the system’s performance when viewing, editing, converting, and storing photos and videos; an Entertainment score, which is the system’s performance when recording, viewing, streaming, and converting TV shows and movies, as well as importing, organizing, and browsing music, and gaming; and a Computation score, which indicates the processing performance of the system. Let’s analyze the results.
The Intel D525MW (Atom D525 1.8 GHz) presented a performance lower than the motherboards with the AMD E-350 processor in all tests, even though it has a higher clock rate and the Hyper-Threading technology. In fact, we tried to watch a full HD Blu-Ray video with it, but it proved to be impossible due to the absence of 2D acceleration, which resulted in a very “choppy” video playback.
The Intel D525MW is a Mini-ITX low-consumption motherboard, like the ECS HDC-I and the Zotac FUSION350-A-E which we tested recently. But that’s all it has in common with those boards, because the D525MW is not a good choice for entertainment or multimedia PCs, or for Home Theater PCs (HTPCs).
The problem is that the embedded graphics controller in the Atom D525 CPU, being a DirectX 9.0c controller with only two engines running at 200 MHz with no HD capabilities, is too weak for the modern multimedia requirements. The absence of an optical SPDIF audio output and an HDMI port is proof that this board is not aimed at the HTPC market.
Actually, the presence of one parallel port and two legacy serial ports makes clear what is the true market that the D525MW is designed for: commercial and industrial use. Examples of applications include information kiosks, LAN cafés, and process control. For those applications, the D525MW motherboard can be a good choice.
For the end-user, the reviewed motherboard makes sense only if you are building a low-cost, ultra-basic PC for office-only use, or if you need a motherboard for simple use with one parallel and two serial legacy ports.