User Experience and Power Consumption

Intel's Cedar Trail based Atom N2800 doesn't look completely bad, at least on paper. It offers a decent improvement over last generation's woefully anemic Atoms, and the GPU at least appears to address the major complaints we had with Pine Trail's pitiful GMA 3150. Unfortunately, Intel has had a history of getting their IGPs to perform well in Futuremark benchmarks only to have performance and compatibility fall apart in practical applications, and that history is repeating itself here.

After having used the LGX AG150, I don't have any trouble believing the rumors that Intel has been having serious problems with the PowerVR core behind the GMA 3650. I'm not going to fault Logic Supply for this; if you're going to build a fanless system that can be deployed cheaply and in significant numbers, I think it's hard to do better than what they've achieved here. However, the responsibility for some of the stability issues and/or lack of support should be placed squarely on Intel's shoulders.

The first review unit I received from Logic Supply had serious issues with screen tearing and stuttering even on the desktop, with or without Aero Glass enabled. When I checked for updated drivers and found them, the updated drivers essentially locked up the system and prevented me from re-entering Windows. Rather than have me go through the trouble of reformatting and trying to get Intel's drivers to work, Logic Supply simply sent me a second review unit that had the new GMA 3650 drivers slipstreamed into the Windows installation. Just think about how bad the situation would have to be to produce a paragraph like this one; the GMA 3650 drivers were incapable of handling a blank desktop. It didn't matter if I changed the resolution or reduced Aero Glass, it just wasn't happening.

The updated drivers fixed the situation...sort of. The GMA 3650 can now run Aero Glass at 1080p, but extremely slowly. Trying to move windows or even do anything results in a tremendous amount of lag in the system. Understanding Atom tends to be confined to the Aero-free Windows 7 Starter, it must be noted that the last generation of Atom processors was actually able to handle Aero Glass just fine. Circumstances are dire when Aero Glass gives your graphics solution problems.

What about H.264 support? Jarred took a quick look at an N2600-based netbook from ASUS here, but the bottom line is that while DXVA support is mostly in place, high definition playback from YouTube, Hulu, or Netflix is still largely out of the question. In 2012, when smartphones and tablets are able to handle most of these tasks, that's just not acceptable.

Most of these factors are beyond the control of Logic Supply, but thankfully the ones that are within Logic Supply's power are handled well: power consumption and thermals. Logic Supply advertises the system with a TDP of just 15 watts, and while our results weren't quite that low, they were still pretty good.

Idle Power Consumption

Load Power Consumption

Idle consumption has come down tremendously on most modern processors, but a 32nm Atom still doesn't ask for much when it's not doing much. Load power does break the 15-watt TDP that Logic Supply advertises, but only by two watts, certainly still reasonable—plus, if Logic Supply isn't accounting for PSU efficiency, that would easily explain the extra 2W. Thermals for the system are also excellent; the RAM ran at a nearly consistent 50C, while the CPU cores never really broke 45C under sustained load. And of course, since the system is completely fanless and has no moving parts, meaning it also produces no noise.

Application and Futuremark Performance Conclusion: A Good Product Held Back By Bad Drivers
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  • zeo - Wednesday, May 30, 2012 - link

    Imagination never supported open source drivers for their GPUs, and 3rd party driver support tend to be messy to begin with... The Intel based GMA's though have typically provided Linux support.

    While Intel also supports initiatives like the Tizen OS.

    Fortunately, Intel will be going back to their own GMA with the next generation ATOMs.

    While Nvidia may be offering something with their Kepler series, as it's suppose to have versions that can go as far down as being included in Smart Phones. So a updated version of the Nvidia ION may not be out of the question.
    Reply
  • randinspace - Tuesday, May 29, 2012 - link

    I was just looking at Logic Supply's website. I'm not surprised that they sent you guys a "new" platform for testing since they have no reason to do anything other than push their existing customers to upgrade, but I am surprised that they only offer a single AMD fanless solution when they're still offering Core 2 Duo ones. I can almost see a case for seemingly offering mobile C2D (I didn't double check but I was assuming these were the ones that had the onboard GPUs from nVidia) instead of Fusion in their Linux systems as well if only because Apple (indirectly) got away with it but... I simply couldn't find a product on their website that made sense to me from top to bottom, or which even more importantly actually made sense to buy from them instead of someone else. The msi products, for instance.

    Of course now that I've considered all that at least it finally makes sense why they approached you guys about doing a review that's not even aimed at enthusiasts let alone consumers in the first place.

    [My last sentence looks strange to me so just to clarify: I'm not trying to accuse you guys of anything aside from UNbiased reporting, I'm just saying that in the absence of compelling products Logic Supply looks like they could stand any kind of buzz related to their band. Since this review at least inspired me to check their website maybe that wasn't a bad idea on their part?]
    Reply
  • ericgl21 - Wednesday, May 30, 2012 - link

    Latest graphics driver I found for Atom Nx00 is v8.14.8.1077, dated 2012/06/03.
    It is for the following devices:
    VEN_8086&DEV_0BE0
    VEN_8086&DEV_0BE1
    VEN_8086&DEV_0BE2
    VEN_8086&DEV_0BE3

    Download from here:
    http://drivers.softpedia.com/get/GRAPHICS-BOARD/IN...
    Reply
  • speculatrix - Wednesday, May 30, 2012 - link

    gma500 used the PowerVR SGX 535, which was a disaster; the driver was closed source and not great quality, developed by Tungsten Graphics

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GMA500#GMA_500
    http://www.phoronix.com/scan.php?page=news_item&am...

    Tungsten Graphics was bought by VMWare. Chances are there's noone left who helped develop the driver, and probably noone who has authority to open source it. I did try contacting vmware to ask about what happened but noone (wanted) responded.
    Reply
  • name99 - Saturday, June 02, 2012 - link

    "Despite being the third generation of Atom processor from Intel, performance per core and per clock has essentially stood still since the very first Atom was introduced, and it continues to do so. Other than the single-core and dual-core models, Atom is about making a very small, inexpensive, low power x86 chip. The 32nm shrink that the N2800 represents is all about reducing power consumption further still, which is how we can get two x86-based cores with a combined TDP of just 6.5 watts.

    ...

    Unfortunately, there's a rub. ... Intel was having problems getting the GMA 3650 working properly in Windows. "

    All this, IMHO, simply reinforces my point all along regarding ARM vs Intel.
    Yes, Intel has astonishing logic and process engineers. But they cannot change the fact that the full x86 package (and that is what Intel has decided Atom will ship with) is insanely complex. It took 7 years to move Nehalem from idea to shipping product, and that's only going to get worse.

    Meanwhile ARM is much more agile, able to move from A8 to A9 to A15 micro-architecture during the time Intel has stood still, and ARM seems to be a lot more willing to let the past go. They've specifically stated that the ARM-64 instruction set is based on all the lessons they've learned over the past years about what works and what doesn't, and that basing it on the existing 32-bit instruction set was not a priority where that did not make sense. Of course the first few rounds of ARM-64 CPUs will carry 32-bit baggage, but I imagine that will be dropped as soon as those aggressive customers with substantial control over the code their devices run (*cough* Apple *cough*) are willing to do so.
    Reply
  • powerarmour - Wednesday, June 06, 2012 - link

    There is also a rumour it seems that Intel won't have any GMA 3600/3650 drivers ready for Windows 8 either...

    Imagine buying a Cedar Trail tablet in the bizarre hope that you'll be able to run the latest and so called greatest on it from Redmond, and be faced with basically a buggy mess due to the current Windows 7 drivers (even the latest 1077 version will downright crash the system if you attempt to run a Metro apps)

    This is bad stuff, very very bad...

    Xbit labs did a review of their own also :-

    http://www.xbitlabs.com/articles/cpu/display/atom-...

    2D performance is simply dreadful and unacceptable, this is epic fail pure and simple. And they have the nerve to sell these to the public?
    Reply

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