Review: VIA EPIA ME6000

The VIA EPIA ME6000 is an inexpensive, easy to set up integrated Mini-ITX solution. It’s got pretty much everything you need onboard — LAN, sound, USB 2.0, IEEE1394, video, and an integrated processor for MPEG decoding. The integrated CPU is fanless and tiny, which means that a machine based on this motherboard will be less noisy than a larger system; the only fan noise you’ll get will be from the power supply.

Manufacturer VIA Technologies
Model EPIA ME6000
Chipset VIA CLE266
Formfactor Mini-ITX
Market Desktop
CPU Integrated fanless 600mhz VIA Eden EBGA (x86 compatible)
RAM One slot for PC2100 or above; there is no advantage to using RAM faster than PC2100; functional limitation is 1GB unbuffered DDR
AGP Not supported; one PCI slot is available; onboard video is VIA Unichrome AGP (despite the name, it’s SVGA, not monochrome)
IDE ATA133 (two connectors)
Firewire Yes (VIA VT6307S chipset)
USB USB 2.0 (2) and an onboard header for two more through your chassis frontpanel or an included peripheral slot faceplate
LAN VIA VT6103 10/100
Sound VIA VT1616 6-channel AC97
Frontpanel headers Two USB, two 1394
Other S-Video and RCA jacks
9-pin serial One
Parallel One
Game/MIDI None

Don’t expect desktop-grade performance from the EPIA ME6000. It’s by no means a dog, but this board was not designed for playing 3D games or other GUI-centric applications. At best you could make it into a basic desktop system for email, word processing, and Internet use. The 600mhz Eden processor is not exactly on par with a 600mhz Pentium3 — it’ll be a little slower by most standards. The best use for the ME6000 is as a small home server or appliance PC. By that I mean you can easily make this board into a number of specialized machines:

  • A proxy server to share an Internet connection
  • A print server to share a printer
  • A file server for sharing data
  • A Web server for a personal Web site
  • An email server for your home network
  • A TiVo or other video recording or playback device,
  • An Icecast server or other local music transmitter

The integrated MPEG accelerator allows for better video playbac. You can also output the video signal directly to a TV or VCR through the RCA or S-Video connectors.

The onboard video and sound are nothing to write home to Mom about, but they get you a decent display and 5.1 surround sound if you so desire. If you need DVI output or more robust 3D acceleration you’ll probably want to take advantage of the EPIA ME6000’s single PCI slot.

As of this writing I found it difficult to locate a reseller who had any of these boards for sale. Your best bet with any VIA products is to start out on Pricewatch, find the product you’re looking for, then look up the reseller on ResellerRatings. Best price I found for the ME6000 was $137, but I didn’t check out the reseller that listed that price, so I have no idea if they’re reputable.

The EPIA ME6000 can fit into a normal ATX formfactor chassis, although it would make more sense to get a smaller, more compact, less noisy case for this motherboard. Casetronic makes the best Mini-ITX cases I’ve seen, but they are rather expensive. In some instances you’ll find yourself paying more for the chassis and power supply than you did for the motherboard and CPU. It’s worth it to get something small and almost noiseless — and the Casetronic designs are unique and stylish as well.

Overall this is a nice little board that has many interesting uses. If you’re using GNU/Linux or one of the BSDs, you’ll find compatibility to be excellent, even to the point where the EPIA ME6000 seems to be made specifically for these OSes. OpenBSD 3.5, FreeBSD 5.2.1, and several versions of GNU/Linux worked perfectly with this board. In fact VIA seems to pride itself on having superior Linux compatibility — certainly a plus for those of us who use “alternative” OSes, and if you’re going to use this board as an appliance you’re probably better off with one of these operating systems anyway.

If you’re interested in designing a PC appliance or building a small BSD or GNU/Linux-based server for your home, VIA’s EPIA product line should be your first choice. The ME6000 is your lowest-cost and lowest-noise consideration in that range.

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