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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  • cghebert - Friday, August 28, 2009 - link

    Anand,

    While SSDs obviously offer a speed increase, you can't store that many movies on them. And, if you have a small ITX case, there might not be room for two drives. Are the ION systems fast enough to play HD movies over ethernet, or would the two drives need to be in the same case?

    Thanks for the review btw!
    Reply
  • GeorgeH - Friday, August 28, 2009 - link

    Right now you can get Zotac's LGA775 Mini-ITX GF9300 for 119 AR. Couple that with a $50 E1500, and you've got a $169 system that will destroy these ION platforms for the exact same price. Similar options exist on the AMD side as well (think GF8200 + X2 240 Regor for ~$160.)

    Given that those options exist, a comparison with Atom would be awesome, especially one covering noise, power consumption, and case choices - i.e. could you build an LGA775 Mini-ITX in a similar form factor as the ASRock with comparable acoustics, or do you really need the ultra-low power consumption and TDP of an Atom CPU?

    Reply
  • eversteegt - Tuesday, November 3, 2009 - link

    Great, but are you sure the GF 9300 on that board has the same core with the same features (like playing Full HD 1080p video completely hardware-accelerated in Linux) as the GF9300 core on the ION platform? ;) Reply
  • Pandamonium - Friday, August 28, 2009 - link

    That Zotac board doesn't support wake on USB quite yet, as far as I can tell. That's a pretty huge deal breaker for HTPC duty.

    Personally, I want something only powerful enough to handle streaming HD. If Adobe/nVidia get their act together and offload Flash scaling to the GPU, the Atom gets my vote for the reduced TDP. For a system that will be sitting in an enclosed TV stand (glass door style), a low TDP is absolutely necessary.
    Reply
  • GeorgeH - Saturday, August 29, 2009 - link

    If the Zotac board doesn't work for you, you can pick up an Intel G45 board for ~$5-10 less. As to the TDP, the idle power of a 5050e/780G system can be as low as 35-40W, or about the same as the Asus ION board - which leads me to believe that they're also producing comparable amounts of heat at idle or when doing IGP accelerated video playback.

    Obviously the 5050e is going to be more efficient than the examples I listed (which I couldn't find reputable and relevant numbers for) and will consume much more power than the Atom under full CPU load, but that's not the point. The point is that I'm not quite convinced that ION is necessary or even the best option unless you're going with ultra-slim designs such as the Aspire Revo.
    Reply
  • cghebert - Friday, August 28, 2009 - link

    That's an excellent point. I actually just built a micro-ATX Athlon X2+Radeon 4550 based system as my HTPC because I wanted a system that could play Hulu and other streaming internet videos, something that the ION would limit.

    Plus, one beef I have about most ITX cases (at least that don't come with a DC adapter for their power supply) is that they are TALL. Taller than a nice micro-ATX case, which fits much better amongst my HT gear.

    One case that I didn't look at that is worth mention for the ION is this one http://www.mini-box.com/M350-universal-mini-itx-en...">http://www.mini-box.com/M350-universal-mini-itx-en...
    from the same people that make the PICO psu.

    I'd also like to see a comparison between ION systems and low power ITX systems built with Intel or AMD desktop chips.
    Reply
  • TA152H - Friday, August 28, 2009 - link

    Intel did a nice job with the processor, but we're stuck with either getting the miserable 945, or buying something from a crap company (NVIDIA) that is at least somewhat modern.

    What a terrible choice. I'd love to own an Atom based file server, but what kind of choice is this? I'm not stupid enough to buy NVIDIA, but then, what kind of choice is the grotesquely obsolete 945 chipset?

    It has taken Intel far too long to come out with a reasonable solution to this problem. You could overlook it for a few months, or even half a year, but it's gone on far too long. It's a pity ATI didn't enter this market. You'd have nice performance, and it wouldn't be so frightening to buy a product from them.

    Anand, why put the Pentium 4 in the power tests? They kind of came out of nowhere, and, actually used less power than I thought they would. You really seem to have a weird fascination with the Netburst processors; probably because they were so bad, they are interesting. I will say this though, if they had been built on 45nm, with the much better power characteristics of this process, they'd probably hit 6 GHz in their sleep. Meaning, they'd perform roughly like the 2.0 GHz Core 2 :-P.
    Reply
  • eversteegt - Tuesday, November 3, 2009 - link

    Why this "steep" comment about NVIDIA being crap?

    For Linux users (like me), NVIDIA is the ONLY quality option to play back hardware-accelerated video. AMD does not even get close to build stable graphics drivers for Linux, let alone hardware-accelerated HD video. I think NVIDIA ION is the only platforum that gives the Atom a right to exist....
    Reply
  • strikeback03 - Monday, August 31, 2009 - link

    Intel does have a more modern chipset for Atom (the US15) but almost no one is using it. Whether this is due to cost or another stupid Intel limitation I do not know. Reply
  • bh192012 - Friday, August 28, 2009 - link

    What was WOW like after you OC CPU and GPU? Also, if someone someday decided to actually cool these things with something bigger than a 40mm fan, can you hit 2.2 ghz etc. Reply

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