Overclocking the Atom Processor

Zotac provides a couple of performance tweaking options within its BIOS. You can set memory latencies manually as well as adjust the FSB and memory clocks. The biggest failure here is the inability to adjust the Atom’s core voltage, which is ultimately what limits how far we can push the processor.

The Atom 330 runs at 1.6GHz by default with a 12.0x multiplier and a 533MHz quad-pumped FSB frequency (133MHz source clock x 4). Bumping the FSB up to 667MHz gave me a 2.0GHz clock frequency and I was actually able to boot into Windows at that speed. Unfortunately, even with additional cooling, that wasn’t stable enough to complete my benchmarks. I suspect that with additional voltage I’d be able to get 2.0GHz stable.

I backed down to a 640MHz FSB, resulting in a 1.92GHz CPU frequency and the result was completely stable over the course of several hours of benchmarking. Performance also went up by a good amount:

  x264 HD Encode (1st Pass) World of Warcraft Frame Rate Power Consumption
Atom 330 @ 1.92GHz 14.5 fps 20.5 fps 28.5W
Atom 330 @ 1.60GHz 12.2 fps 17.7 fps 28.2W

 

I generally saw a 15 - 19% increase in performance over the stock 1.60GHz Atom 330, which is quite good given that it’s a 20% increase in CPU frequency. I kept memory clock stationary at 800MHz but I’m guessing there’s additional room for a performance boost if you overclock that as well.

Power consumption only went up 0.3W from 28.2W to 28.5W - even overclocked, the Atom is a very efficient microprocessor.

Watching Flash Video on the Ion Cooling the Zotac Ion
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  • jimbolicious - Wednesday, September 23, 2009 - link

    i purchased a Zotac IONITX-D-E from Newegg a couple of weeks ago and am currently running it as a low power secondary system for the Mozart TX in the living room. it has no problems waking from usb with the diNovo Edge. as a matter of fact it even wakes when i put the keyboard in the charger (kind of annoying there, but it does work... i've found the trick is to turn the keyboard off and get it into the cradle before the system is completely asleep).

    i am noticing that Core Temp shows the CPU at around 67 to 70 degrees C with the CPU fan attached and running, but the heat sink is very cool to the touch.

    flash video is pretty darn flaky in my limited experimentation (luckily, i don't watch it very often).

    i am running Windows 7 Professional with 2 x 2GB of DDR2 800 and a 1TB WD Green and for the most part, this thing is pretty darn snappy... well, snappier than i thought it'd be, anyhow.

    thanks for the article! i found it very informative!
    Reply
  • apanloco - Saturday, May 30, 2009 - link


    Can you boot this board from a USB stick? The manual only states hard-drive and cd-rom, but I doubt they've missed out on something that fundamental :)
    Reply
  • jimbolicious - Wednesday, September 23, 2009 - link

    i used a usb drive to load Windows 7 Professional onto mine and it worked fine. Reply
  • Namratalouver - Monday, May 25, 2009 - link

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  • estyx - Thursday, May 21, 2009 - link

    I have been in contact with Zotac, because I want to use a mini-PCIe SSD disk to keep it small and silent, and it turns out the BIOS doesn't support booting via mini-PCIe. At least not yet. I'm waiting for an answer from them if they will include it in a later BIOS version.
    So now you know that :) If there is any interest I can keep you updated on the matter.
    Reply
  • icrf - Thursday, May 21, 2009 - link

    I'm curious, why use a PCIe SSD when there are three SATA ports available? Is space/power that big of a concern? Reply
  • snarfies - Tuesday, June 09, 2009 - link

    My mini-ITX NAS uses four drive connections. I boot from a CF-Card reader. I have two drives set up as RAID1. I have an optical drive. As near as I can tell, the only Atom-based ITX board on the market with enough drive connections is the MSI IM-945GC, which is what I'm currently using. If only the Ion had one more SATA port...! Reply
  • sprockkets - Thursday, May 21, 2009 - link

    They are much cheaper. And, when using a really small mini-ITX case, it makes for a really easy build.

    They do show up as a SATA or PATA device, so you should be able to boot up from it, if it supports booting from add on cards. It isn't any different from an add on SATA or PATA controller in a pci slot.
    Reply
  • abscode - Thursday, May 21, 2009 - link

    That would be great! I also would like to use a mini-PCIe SSD for some of my car pcs. Hopefully they are interested in adding this ability soon. abscode[\@\]gmail{|dot|}com Reply
  • Fanfoot - Wednesday, May 20, 2009 - link

    So, you still couldn't do HD full screen playback, even at 720p, which is presumably what you'd run the system at if you hooked it up as a media center PC.

    What about after you cranked it up to 1.9MHz? Did that resolve the issues, or was it still unacceptable?
    Reply

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