Two New Ions: ASUS AT3N7A-I and ASRock Ion 330by Anand Lal Shimpi on August 28, 2009 12:00 AM EST
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With projects like XBMC that can harness the power of NVIDIA's GPU in Ion, we're starting to see real usage models for these systems. While I could build a faster HTPC, I'm not sure I could build a more efficient one than what I get from Ion. And let this serve as a warning to Intel: Pine Trail needs to be just as easy to setup and use as Ion. I don't want to see another G45 launch repeat in 2010.
At the start of this year I expected to see more Ion platforms than three for the DIY market. There have been a handful of significant releases in the netbook and nettop category from OEMs like Acer and Samsung, but for the most part Ion has been quieter than expected.
That being said, with three real competitors in the DIY market we do actually have a decent set of options to choose from.
If you want a pre-built system and have no components of your own that you’d like to re-use, the ASRock Ion 330 is your only option. While Acer offers the Aspire Revo, it only comes with a single-core Atom 230, a far less desirable option. The ASRock is well built and my only complaint is the distinct noise of the rear fan. Although the fan is quiet, you do hear the motor if you’re close to the machine. Stick it in a closet or play a movie and it won’t really matter.
Then there’s the issue of price, you do pay a premium (around $40) for ASRock to assemble this thing for you. And you get no flexibility in the components chosen. As I wrote earlier in the review, a good SSD really helps mask the poor performance of the Atom. You’d have to ebay (or repurpose) the 320GB HDD that ships with the ASRock Ion in order to make the jump to an SSD without wasting money.
If you want to build your own, until ASUS gets us a sample with a quieter fan, it looks like Zotac is the way to go. It’s clear that the ASUS board was an early sample and hopefully the shipping product will be significantly quieter. I’d prefer if ASUS went to a larger, slower spinning fan but as long as it can get quieter I’ll be happy. As soon as ASUS can get us a sample with the final fan design we’ll retest and follow up as necessary.
I took for granted much of what made Zotac’s design work, but it’s clear that effort was made to make that board what it is. If you’re buying today and just want a motherboard, Zotac is the way to go. In the near future? If the fan issues get sorted out, it looks like you’ll have another option with ASUS.