The ASUS A3TB7A-I: Does it Work?

I decided to add this section after the issues with Zotac’s Ion board and not supporting wake on USB. There are several features which any reader would assume work on this board but I thought I’d go through and confirm that they do indeed work as prescribed.

H.264 GPU Acceleration

Yes. This one works and works well. Just like the Zotac board, I had no problems using the ASUS Ion motherboard in a real home theater environment. The lack of an external DC power supply is less convenient when transporting the motherboard around, but the board decoded 1080p H.264 without an issue.

Both original Blu-ray discs and Blu-ray rips worked without a problem. See our Zotac review for instructions on enabling H.264 decode acceleration under Media Player Classic - Home Cinema.

8-channel LPCM

Sort of. One of the core features of NVIDIA’s GeForce 9300/9400 chipset is its support for 8-channel LPCM audio output over HDMI. Don’t know what this is? Read up on it here.

I list this one as sort of because both Gary and I experienced a strange problem with this ASUS board. While we could both get video/audio output when connected directly to a display via HDMI, as soon as we stuck a receiver/preprocessor in between we got no signal at all. My Integra DTC-9.8 would see a signal while the system was POSTing/booting, but as soon as it got into Windows the signal died. Gary saw the same thing with his Denon AVR-3808, Pioneer VSX-94TXH and Yamaha RX-Z11BL.

Gary tried rolling back to an older version of the NVIDIA HDMI driver (1.0.0.42) and was able to get both 5.1/7.1 audio and video working across his receivers, but the latest HDMI drivers would not allow it.

We’ve fed this information back to NVIDIA and hope to see it resolved soon.

Wake on USB

Yes. Unlike the first PCB version of Zotac’s Ion board, ASUS’s Ion will properly come out of sleep whenever there’s a USB event (e.g. mouse click, key/button press).

Bluetooth

Sort of. Unfortunately the Bluetooth controller used on ASUS’ board has no driver support under Windows 7, and the supplied Windows Vista drivers don’t exactly work. If you fool the driver installer into thinking that you’re running Vista then the drivers will install. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to actually use any Bluetooth devices with the PC after pairing; even my Blueant headset wouldn’t work as either a microphone or speaker.

We’ve fed this information back to ASUS and NVIDIA.

Overclocking Using the ASUS Ion in Windows 7 and Linux/XBMC
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  • Visual - Monday, August 31, 2009 - link

    I'd really like to hear Anand's take on how these ion things compare with what's possible to build using nano-itx and via, mini-itx and amd or non-atom intel, and even the latest mac mini which appears to be smaller than any of these while with much better video card. Reply
  • Pandamonium - Monday, August 31, 2009 - link

    Adobe needs to get GPU-acceleration working on Flash. The next Atom (due Q1/2010) doesn't seem like it'll be terribly faster than the N330. The new D510 looks to be different only in clockspeed @ 1.66 GHz vs the N330's 1.6 GHz. So the choices look like:
    1) Wait around for another year waiting for the holy grail of HTPC guts
    2) Buy a $500 Mac Mini and put a ~$400 slot loading Blu-Ray drive inside it
    3) Adobe can fix Flash

    All I want is something I can stick in a TV stand with minimal ventilation (think glass door) that can handle Hulu, Netflix, and Blu-Ray. Sigh.
    Reply
  • ekerazha - Saturday, August 29, 2009 - link

    What's the exact model of the ASRock rear fan? And its max speed? Thank you. Reply
  • dawp - Saturday, August 29, 2009 - link

    I just curious as to how the nano compares to the atom preformance wise. Reply
  • QChronoD - Friday, August 28, 2009 - link

    I'm getting fed up with having half my files not want to play on either my PS3 or 360 (and its a pain to have to "record" them to my TiVo, which is almost always full).

    I was looking at getting one of the Popcorn Hours, but this seems like it would be a really good alternative. It may cost a bit more, but then I would have a full computer if I needed it.

    I would love to see an article that really covered the different devices for getting our media onto a TV. There's lots of reviews for each box that I've seen, but haven't really come across any good roundups that also compare them with HTPC software.
    Reply
  • Smeezy101 - Friday, August 28, 2009 - link

    I can say that XBMC Live works great on the Zotac board. FYI, I'm using my build with the following case:

    http://www.mini-box.com/M350-universal-mini-itx-en...">http://www.mini-box.com/M350-universal-mini-itx-en...

    Obviously, there is no room for an internal dvd/bluray drive but I use this box strictly for pulling media off of my Windows Home Server. It streams 1080p files (m2ts with AC3 or DTS) with no hiccups what-so-ever. The only downside is that XBMC doesn't support the HD audio codecs so any blu-ray rips need to have the audio down-converted.

    Reply
  • yyrkoon - Friday, August 28, 2009 - link

    While I have never had an xbox360, or have used one. A friend of mine tells me he uses his as a media extender.

    My understanding of this is that he just uses it to feed media to his different TVs throughout his house. So, in other words, the xbox360 is not doing any decoding, just displaying the networked media on the different TVs. The streaming sever of course is a PC located in a different room.

    Is this what you're currently doing ? I do agree though XBMC looks really nice for a Linux media player ( distribution? ).
    Reply
  • yyrkoon - Friday, August 28, 2009 - link

    it was very thorough except on one aspect that I can think of;

    While I do understand that it could be difficult to procure a good low power power supply in the ATX form factor, I feel that you guys did not pursue the matter as well as you could have. First, I am not sure if you understand that any power supply is best loaded at 50% for optimal efficiency, and that there is at least the Sparkle 220W 80Plus PSU available on the market. Provantage sells them . . . With that said however, while it would most likely drop the power consumption of the Asus platform, it would likely not be low enough for optimal efficiency. Which brings me to my next point.

    There are not very many low power power supplies on the market. At least not in the context of extremely low powered systems. There are a few external "brick" based PICO power supplies around, a few "low powered" ATX supplies, and probably several OEM specific specialty supplies as well. This is not enough for people who build their own system, and you would think the Power supply industry would be keen to pick up on this.

    As it stands, your Asus ION system does not do any better than the System ZDNets tech writer George Ou tested a while back when he was still writing for ZDNet. He used standard off the shelf parts with an Intel Core 2 E2140 ( I believe ) that used 49W under full load *INCLUDING* a LCD monitor. The power supply he used was the Sparkle 220W 80 Plus PSU I mentioned above. His conclusion as I recall was that *if* he could have found a better, lower powered 80 Plus PSU, that this system could have achieved even better power consumption numbers. He did try a PICO supply in another article, but found it unacceptable for one reason or another. Of course this was back in 2007, and things *could* have changed by then, but nothing that I am personally aware of.

    I think that we all are well aware of the fact that the E2140 system would blow the doors off of any ION system. Except obviously for the Intel GMA 3100 graphics.

    Anyways, it is my hope that user like myself bringing this information to you is that somehow you could relay this information to the OEMs/ODMs so "we" can actually get what we need. Someday.
    Reply
  • yyrkoon - Friday, August 28, 2009 - link

    Sorry . . . link below to this short write up for those interested.

    http://blogs.zdnet.com/Ou/?p=934">http://blogs.zdnet.com/Ou/?p=934

    If you browse through his write ups, you will find the article where he tested this system ( or was it another ? ) with a PCIO supply, and found it unacceptable for his needs.
    Reply
  • pantherman007 - Friday, August 28, 2009 - link

    The ASRock would be a perfect HD HTPC setup, *IF* they had included an IR receiver. Yes, I could add a USB IR receiver, but then there's another box and cord involved.

    The minute that I found an ION-based product in a case the size of the ASRock that has built-in IR, I'll buy three.
    Reply

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