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FIC FALCON CR51 MINI-ITX BAREBONE SYSTEM

With barebone systems quickly gaining a part of usual ATX systems, many companies have launched themselves into that market. Consequently, lately names such as Shuttle

and Soltek have been well known for their success in that specific sector.
Features
Info
  • RaptureWare
  • Mini-ITX Form Factor
  • 150W Flex PSU
  • Low Power Consumption
  • Quiet Operation


FIC Web Site
150$USD

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8.5 9 10
8.5/10

However, in this review we shall examine FICís Falcon CR51 based on one of VIAís EPIA mainboards.

Whatís so Special

The Falcon CR51 might look like a normal barebone system, but it actually has a few tricks up its sleeves. In the BIOS, there is an option to activate the built-in RaptureWare firmware. After installing a memory module, an optical drive, and powering on the system, a few seconds later the system loads an interface which enables you to play MP3 CDs, VCDs, and even DVDs. Therefore, there is no need for a hard disk drive for the CR51 to function. Personally, I really enjoyed this feature because there was no need to boot Windows XP for me to view movies or to listen to some music.

Furthermore, the Falconís BIOS actually can detect up to four IDE devices even though the specifications mention x1 HDD and x1 Optical Drive. In fact, I opened the case and changed the 150W Flex PSU (it only had three power connectors) for a 250W standard power supply then took standard IDE cable and I was able to install and use two HDDs, a CD-RW, and a DVD-ROM (outside the compact case) without any problems.†

A First Look

As I mentioned before, the CR51 SFF (Small Form Factor) system is based on the EPIA Mainboard family line (more specifically the original EPIA). These system boards adopted the Mini ITX Form Factor which actually occupies only 39% (170mm x 170mm vs. 305mm x 245mm) of your typical ATX boardís surface while still maintaining Micro ATX chassis compliancy unlike the 30% bigger Flex-ATX platforms.

Furthermore, like the left picture tends to suggest (if you look really carefully), there is no CPU socket on these type on motherboards: the processor is actually soldered onto the board to save maximum space. Moreover, all onboard processors are based of the C3 Ezra-T core which can run up to 933 MHz and can function while only equipped with a heatsink and/or a relatively small cooling fan (this helps keep the system quiet).

As for other components, our 933 MHz CR51 featured:

        133 MHz Front Side Bus

        x2† IDE connectors (ATA 100/66/33 compliant)†

        x2 168 pin DIMM memory connectors (1GB max)

        x1† keyboard connector

        x1 mouse connector

        x1 parallel port

        x1 serial port

        AGP 2X integrated graphics (VIA Apollo PLE133 embedded; up to 8 MB)

        ACí97 codec onboard

        10/100 Mbps Fast Ethernet

        x4 1.1 USB ports (x2 rear, x2 front)

        x1 Low profile PCI

        150W Flex Power Supply

All this is contained in a compact and stylish 135mm x 294.5mm x 260mm case.

Graphics

As you can see from the previous list of components, the CR51 is not meant to be a gaming system. Its AGP 2X 8MB integrated graphics solution is not what we could call a gamerís dream. Running under Quake III, this graphics adapter could barely pass the 15 FPS barrier while executing the game at 640 x 480 resolution and 16 bit colors (17 FPS in 3DMark2000 game demo 1 is not the best score ever seen). In addition to that, SDRAM memory is not the best way to boost video performance. However, that was never FICís intention. It was meant to be a quiet home or office system that could be used for web browsing, DVD playback, or office work without taking much space. In fact, our system could easily fit on top of any mid size desk while standing next to a 17Ē long neck CRT monitor.

As for the DVD playback, it was quite acceptable while using Cyberlinkís PowerDVD XP. The image quality was reasonable and the playback was quite smooth. Paired up was its low noise level and its optional TV-Out (unfortunately our system was not equipped with one) the Falcon can easily be utilized as a DVD Player.

However, with the help of PCI video card such as an ATI AIW Radeon 7500, the Falcon CR51 can also be used as a compact Personal Video Recorder or a multimedia entertainment center.

A Couple of Benchmarks

Test Setup:

  • VIA C3 Ezra-T 933 MHz (7.0 x 133 MHz) Processor
  • x1 128 MB Micron SDRAM PC133 Memory Module
  • x1 Maxtor 7200 RPM 20 GB HDD
  • Onboard Sound
  • Onboard Graphics
  • VIA Hyperion 4in1 4.45
  • DirectX 9.0
  • Windows XP Professional

Benchmarks:

  • Sisoftware Sandra 2003 Pro
  • PCMark2002

For these tests, we try to install basic components to simulate a normal office or web browsing system.

Sisoftware Sandra 2003 Pro

CPU Arithmetic Benchmark


We can notice that the lack of L2 cache (64kb) for the VIA C3 CPU is really penalizing the Falcon in the CPU Arithmetic Benchmark. The 933 MHz Processor is even beaten by a 750 MHz PIII Processor. This has always been one of the weaknesses of VIA/Cyrix Processors.

CPU Multi-Media Benchmark


These are typical results from C3 CPUs. Again the lack of L2 Cache comes back to haunt the CR51.



Memory Bandwidth Benchmark

For this benchmark, we have to keep in mind that the integrated graphics is actually slowing down the memory module. Therefore, the results are reasonable for† a PC133 solution.

PCMark2002


As for the PCMark2002 results, we can say that they are acceptable for such a system. These scores are enough for such a simple system (it will not be running UT 2003 or MAYA though).


Summation

FICís Falcon CR51 is quite an impressive system. Its sets new standards when it comes to size, style, and compliance. It can play DVDs, MP3 CDs, and VCDs without even having to install a HDD or booting an OS. It is very quiet and possesses incredibly low power consumption.

Still, the lack of an AGP slot, the integrated 8 MB graphics, and the lack of L2 Cache can really hold the Falcon back. Nevertheless, this still remains quite an attractive product when it comes to using it as an office, web browsing, or DVD playback system. In addition to that, it also comes with a reasonable price: $150 USD.†



David Dorgerville

04.09.03

 





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