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Advantech AIMB-201 with Advantech AIMB-B1000 Chassis

Ultra-compact Mini-ITX based industrial-grade digital signage player offers a wide range of Intel Core processor choices for multi-display applications
(by Conrad H. Blickenstorfer)

Suppose you need a rugged, industrial-quality media player with advanced graphics performance for a digital signage applications. Suppose it also needs three HDMI video outputs with standard CEC (Consumer Electronics Control) functions to drive multiple displays simultaneously. And suppose the device must have Intel 3rd generation Core processing power, but space is at a premium and the enclosure must fit into a 1-1/2 inch slot.

A possible answer would be Advantech's AIMB-201DS board sitting in an Advantech AIMB-B1000 chassis. The picture to the right shows what it looks like. As the ballpoint pen laying in front of it suggests, it's very, very compact. 9.8 x 7.5 x 1.35 inches, to be exact.

What makes it all possible is an embedded Mini-ITX board. The Mini-ITX form factor has been around since 2001 and specifies a 170 x 170 mm (6.7 x 6.7 inches) low-power board. It was originally intended primarily for entry-level platforms and industrial applications. But since—unlike some more exotic board types—Mini-ITX boards fit into generic computer cases and use standard screw-mount patterns, they turned out to be perfect for many other custom applications where standard PC functionality needed to fit into a small space.

Below is a look at the ultra-slim Advantech AIMB-B1000 chassis from the top and from all four sides. We also super-imposed the AIMB-201 Mini-ITX board that's sitting inside:

The AIMB-201DS covers a very wide performance range by providing a choice of no fewer than seven Intel processors from the second generation 32nm "Sandy Bridge" and the third generation 22nm "Ivy Bridge" processor families. On the low end is a Celeron, then one each from the mobile i3, i5 and i7 processor second and third gen lineups, which Intel generally considers "good," "better," and "best." If cost matters, the Celeron is actually not a bad choice, as today's Celeron chips are really just somewhat detuned version of a Core i3. The following processors are available, all carrying the "Embedded" designation:

  • Core i7-3610QE (3rd gen, 4 cores, 8 threads, 2.3/3.3GHz, 6MB smart cache, 45 watts, HD Graphics 4000)
  • Core i5-3610ME (3rd gen, 2 cores, 4 threads, 2.7/3.3GHz, 3MB smart cache, 35 watts, HD Graphics 4000)
  • Core i3-3120ME (3rd gen, 2 cores, 4 threads, 2.4GHz, 3MB smart cache, 35 watts, HD Graphics 4000)

  • Core i7-2710QE (2nd gen, 4 cores, 8 threads, 2.1/3.0GHz, 6MB smart cache, 45 watts, HD Graphics 3000)
  • Core i5-2510E (2nd gen, 4 cores, 4 threads, 2.5/3.1GHz, 3MB smart cache, 35 watts, HD Graphics 3000)
  • Core i3-2330E (2nd gen, 2 cores, 4 threads, 2.2GHz, 3MB smart cache, 35 watts, HD Graphics 3000)

  • Celeron B810 (2nd gen, 2 cores, 2 threads, 1.6GHz, 2MB smart cache, 35 watts, HD Graphics)
With this wide variety of processors available, it's important to study what each has to offer and which will be the best match for a given project. Check this link for a side-by-side full comparison of all seven Intel processors for the AIMB-201.

Model AIMB-201 ARK-DS520
Type Mini-ITX Box PC
Processor Type Intel Core Intel Atom
Processor Model i3-3120ME N455
CPU Speed 2.40Hz 1.66Hz
Thermal Design Power (TDP) 35 watts 6.5 watts
CPU Mark 2,182.4 248.7
2D Graphics Mark 323.5 71.3
Memory Mark 660.3 220.4
Disk Mark 181.4 445.9
3D Graphics Mark 230.7 169.1
Overall PassMark 817.4 226.3
ALU 38,206 6,296
FPU 36,977 4,033
MEM 22,673 6,033
HDD 7,184 7,827
GDI 9,558 2,302
D2D 1,849 2,936
OGL 5,169 5,183
Overall CrystalMark 121,616 34,610

Our review board came with an Intel Core i3-3120ME and ran Windows Embedded Standard 7 on 2GB of RAM and an 16GB Advantech SQFlash drive for storage (the AIMB-201/AIMB-B1000 combo also supported an internal 2.5" SATA hard disk). We ran our standard benchmark suites to get an idea of where this board fits in. Passmark Software's PerformanceTest 6.1 runs about 30 tests covering CPU, 2D graphics, 3D graphics, memory, and disk and then computes scores for each category and an overall PassMark score. We used our second benchmark suite, CrystalMark, for confirmation and additional information. For comparison, we're listing the benchmark results of another type of Advantech digital signage system, the Intel Atom-based Advantech ARK-DS520 that we reviewed May 2012.

The benchmarks aren't terribly meaningful as a customer's choice of processor, memory and storage media for the AIMB-201 can have a huge impact on overall performance. But even these results shows that this 3rd-gen Core processor powered digital signage player packs a great punch compared to any Atom-based solution. The bottom line for both benchmark suites shows between three and four times the performance of the Atom-based ARK-DS520 solution—and that one is actually a decent performer, aided by an integrated NVIDIA GT218 graphic module. That's because there's simply still a large performance gap between Atom-based systems designed to conserve power, and more costly Core-based systems that concentrate on features and performance. As is, even the most frugal of the processors available for the AIMB-201 draws five times as much power as the Atom N455 chip in the ARK-DS520 in the comparison chart.

Note, though, that the AIMB-201DS is a very specialized product. I/O is limited to three USB ports, a legacy serial port, one LAN jack, and those three HDMI ports. There's also just one SATA 3.0 connector for a hard disk or SSD, the CFast slot, and one mini-PCIe connector that may be used for wireless functionality or perhaps a TV tuner card. No SD card and no other legacy ports; that's just not the purpose of this product.

What is amazing is how much performance Advantech can offer in such a thin package. Although all available processors have thermal design powers between 35 and 45 watts, the AIMB-B1000 chassis has just one very small fan. That's thanks to Advantech's experience in thermal management. Copper piping removes the heat from the processor and chipset and transfers it to a comparatively large radiator-style air-cooled heat exchanger connected to the fan. That works remarkably well as our review unit never heated up at all.

This being an industrial-grade product, all available processor carry Intel's embedded designation, all components are geared for long product life, ascertaining reliable operation under a wide temperature range. There is a watchdog timer, and the AIMB-201 includes SUSIAccess remote device management that provides users with remote device monitoring, desktop connection, system recovery and system protection features.

Below are views of the AIMB-201DS Mini-ITX board from top and bottom:

And here is a diagram of how it all fits together:

Overall, the combination of the Advantech AIMB-201DS and the AIMB-B1000 chassis is impressive. Despite offering a range of very powerful Intel Core processors, the package retains the ITX spirit of providing simple, flexible, power-efficient solutions for a variety of embedded and/or industrial applications where small size and efficiency matter, in this case efficiently running multi-screen digital signage solutions. -- Conrad H. Blickenstorfer, October 2013

Advantech AIMB-201 specs:

Status Added 10/2013
Type Industrial-grade Mini-ITX Motherboard/AIMB-B1000 Mini-ITX chassis
CPU Type Intel Celeron, Core i3/i5/i7, (review unit Intel Core 2.4GHz i3-3120ME)
Chipset Intel QM77
API support iManager, SUSIAccess and Embedded Software APIs
Memory Max 16GB Dual Channel DDR3 1333/1600MHz in two 204-pin DDR3 SODIMM sockets (review unit: 2GB)
Graphics Controller Intel HD Graphics (level depends on CPU; review unit Intel HD Graphics 4000)
VRAM Shared system memory, 2 GB and above, total system memory shared 1 GB maximum video memory
Video-out 3 x HDMI (supports 1920 x 1080p at 60 Hz, 36 bpp, HDMI v1.3); two are DisplayPort with HDMI connectors supporting 1920 x 1080, the other HDMI supporting 720p
Triple display Yes (3 x HDMI)
LAN Yes, (Intel 82579LM)
SATA Yes, 1 SATA 3.0 (600 MB/s)
SSD via CFast
Expansion: PCI 1 x MiniPCIe
USB 1 x USB 3.0, 2 x USB 2.0
Serial 1 x RS232
Audio Yes
Watchdog Timer Yes, 1 (System reset, programmable 1 ~ 255 sec/min)
Size AIMB-201 board: 170 mm x 170 mm (6.7" x 6.7"); AIMB-B1000 chassis: 250 x 190 x 35 mm
Operating Temp. 32° to 140° Fahrenheit (depends on CPU, speed and cooler solution)
Price Inquire
Web page AIMB-201DS page
Datasheet AIMB-201, AIMB-B1000 chassis
User Manual AIMB-201 manual

Advantech Corporation
13 Whatney
Irvine, CA 92618
Toll Free: 1-800-866-6008
Ph: 949-420-2500
Fax: 949-420-2501

Advantech Co. Ltd.
No.1, Alley 20, Lane 26, Rueiguang Road
Neihu District, Taipei Taiwan 114, R.O.C.
Tel: 886-2-2792-7818
Fax: 886-2-2794-7301