I would certainly like to see the Atom platform available in multiple form factors. One particularly interesting product that I would like to see it in is a network storage server. In fact, a recent article has mentioned that the Atom platform is excellent for running a NAS.
However, the present offerings from Intel – D945GCLF and D945GCLF2 – only have two SATA ports on the board. This means that we are only allowed to add two harddisks to the system. This is definitely insufficient for any half decent file-server with failure protection.
The most common way of protecting against any harddisk failure is by using RAID. However, all RAID configurations require at least three harddisks except for RAID0 (striping) and RAID1 (mirroring).
RAID0 actually makes multiple disks look like one large disk and it spreads the data over the number of disks (striping). So, in actual fact, this does not provide any protection against disk failure at all. RAID1 makes exact copies of the data on multiple disks. So, it definitely provides protection against disk failure but it wastes a lot of disk space because the available space is reduced by half.
RAID5 is a very common configuration, which spreads the data across multiple disks (striping) and creates a checksum of the data as well. So, it protects against disk failure but it is also far more efficient as it only requires slightly extra space for storing the checksum (N-1).
A file server does not typically require a lot of processing power because file transfer speeds are essentially limited by the mechanical speed of the harddisk. Furthermore, it would spend a lot of time being idle, as most file transfers do not require the active participation of the processor. So, a low power platform would be a god-send.
VIA realises this and has already released actual products based on their C7 low power processor. The 7800 has 8-SATA ports for holding up to 8 disks and comes in a tower and rack-mount physical form factor. It also comes with two gigabit network ports for high speed file transfers.
This product is truly useful as a file server. The only trouble is that VIA products are not always easy to get retail. For some reason, they seem to prefer to sell chips than boxes. In addition, their products are not always cheap due to their lower sales volume.
So, if Intel can get off their asses and make a Atom based mini-itx board that has at least four SATA ports, they would have made a very compelling NAS board and they would steal a lot of customers away from VIA.
But I’m sure that Intel won’t do it any time soon.