MSI announces 3.5-inch Atom-based system

MSI has announced its latest entry into the embedded systems market, eschewing the traditional ARM-based processor for a fanless system based around Intel's Atom N270 chip.

The I3-945GSE-D motherboard is based around the tiny 3.5-inch ultra-compact form factor, designed for use in embedded and industrial computing applications. To further that aim, the included Atom N270 1.6GHz processor runs completely passively cooled - meaning that the system can be coupled with an SSD connected to its SATA port to run completely solid-state with no moving components whatsoever. For implementations where a fully-fledged SATA SSD is a bit overkill, MSI has included a bootable CompactFlash slot.

Graphics are handled by an embedded Intel GMA 950 GPU, which isn't exactly the most powerful solution on the market but should prove more than adequate for digital signage applications and video playback systems. For more demanding systems, a mini-PCIe slot allows for accelerator boards to be added.

For IO, the system includes a single SATA 3Gb/s port, four USB 2.0 ports, four RS-323 headers and a further dedicated serial port, GPIO support, a 24-bit LVDS connector as well as analogue VGA output, audio in and out, and a gigabit Ethernet port. Up to 2GB of DDR2 RAM can be added in the form of a single SODIMM.

There's no denying it's a supremely capable system in an extremely small form factor, and the fact that it supports between 9v and 36v on its DC input means that it can be deployed quickly into existing infrastructures - but, beyond Windows-based digital signage applications, MSI is going to have a hard job convincing the industrial sector to give up its precious ARM processors.

UK pricing for the I3-945GSE-D has yet to be confirmed, but its relatively high specification coupled with MSI's positioning of the device at the 'premium' end of the market, suggests that it'll fetch a pretty penny when it officially launches.