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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  • StevoLincolnite - Monday, May 28, 2012 - link

    Sad to see history repeating itself with the Intel Decelerators and drivers.
    Never again will I get a system that uses Intel graphics, AMD and Nvidia you can entrust they will update drivers frequently and gain performance over time...

    Still rocking an Atom 330 + nVidia Ion in my Mini-ITX rig; and other than Brazos... There is really no options available to upgrade it yet even after several years, but the machine does it job.
    Reply
  • zeo - Wednesday, May 30, 2012 - link

    Cedar Trail ATOM isn't even using a Intel GPU! The 3600/3650 GMAs are using a Imagination PowerVR GPU! The SGX545 to be precise...

    So it's the 3rd party support that's lousy, and same problem Intel had with the GMA 500, based on the Imagination PowerVR SGX535, a few years ago... but Intel is working on improving the drivers, they're just focused on getting the drivers ready for Windows 8 release and so Windows 7 support has been put on the back burner till then.

    While Imagination has never supported Open Source drivers. So Linux users are on their own.

    However, Intel is going back to their own GPU with the next 22nm Silvermont update.

    While Intel isn't so bad in supporting their own GPU based GMAs, but they've never been known for great performance.

    Though, the HD4000 seems to have reached the okay for entry level mark and the next Haswell update promises to raise graphical performance by another 50%. While the 22nm Silvermont update may be using a GMA based on the HD4000.

    So while they still probably won't be breaking any performance records, they should be providing more respectful performance by the middle of next year.
    Reply
  • ViperV990 - Tuesday, May 29, 2012 - link

    How are you measuring the power consumption? Does the 17W load figure at the input or output of the PSU? Reply
  • ViperV990 - Tuesday, May 29, 2012 - link

    s/Does/Is/ :p Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, May 29, 2012 - link

    Power is measured at the wall, so PSU efficiency is a factor. If it's a good PSU with 80% or higher efficiency, then the system is using a few watts less actual power. Reply
  • MrSpadge - Tuesday, May 29, 2012 - link

    "Load temperatures do break the 15-watt TDP that Logic Supply advertises, but only by two watts, certainly still reasonable."

    1st: it should read "power consumption" instead of "temperature".

    2nd: if you're measuring at the wall, at least 1 W is consumed in the PSU, probably a bit more. Including rounding errors this leaves us straight at the 15 W Logic Supply claims for the unit. I guess they were not counting the loss in the PSU.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, May 29, 2012 - link

    Thanks, edited for both items. Reply
  • DesertCat - Tuesday, May 29, 2012 - link

    Not that I'm sure that it will fix the reviewer's problems but Acer has a newer video driver from Intel on their site for their N2600-based netbook (Aspire One AOD-270). I think the reviewer was probably using the 1065 driver that is up on Intel's site (hence the comment about them being 4 months old), but Acer has the 8.14.8.1075. The latter one has a release date of March 20th. Might be worth a shot. Reply
  • funtasticguy - Wednesday, May 30, 2012 - link

    Hey, DesertCat, thanks for that tip. My new Gateway LT4004u had the same original 1065 driver. So I went to Acer's website and downloaded the 1075 driver and installed it on my Gateway. Now, finally XBMC Eden runs well (before I had this annoying flickering that rendered XBMC useless). In addition, my 720p and 1080p videos now work 100% perfectly within XBMC. So, Intel has made some progress and I'm a happy camper. It still won't run my PSX1 emulator well and some other games, but I suspect that as Intel updates it's driver again, all my emulators and games should work well.

    By the way, my Gateway has a 10+ battery life. It is also rather speedy and I'm happy with my purchase now -- especially since XBMC works well now and I can use it as a portable media player when I travel out of town.

    Again, thanks for the tip!
    Reply
  • mfed3 - Tuesday, May 29, 2012 - link

    Ridiculously overpriced. I like the form factor for possibly using it as a hypervisor for a pfSense router and Windows Media Center tuner pool but the price tag is just stupid. Reply

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