Final Words

With projects like XBMC that can harness the power of NVIDIA's GPU in Ion, we're starting to see real usage models for these systems. While I could build a faster HTPC, I'm not sure I could build a more efficient one than what I get from Ion. And let this serve as a warning to Intel: Pine Trail needs to be just as easy to setup and use as Ion. I don't want to see another G45 launch repeat in 2010.

At the start of this year I expected to see more Ion platforms than three for the DIY market. There have been a handful of significant releases in the netbook and nettop category from OEMs like Acer and Samsung, but for the most part Ion has been quieter than expected.

That being said, with three real competitors in the DIY market we do actually have a decent set of options to choose from.

If you want a pre-built system and have no components of your own that you’d like to re-use, the ASRock Ion 330 is your only option. While Acer offers the Aspire Revo, it only comes with a single-core Atom 230, a far less desirable option. The ASRock is well built and my only complaint is the distinct noise of the rear fan. Although the fan is quiet, you do hear the motor if you’re close to the machine. Stick it in a closet or play a movie and it won’t really matter.

Then there’s the issue of price, you do pay a premium (around $40) for ASRock to assemble this thing for you. And you get no flexibility in the components chosen. As I wrote earlier in the review, a good SSD really helps mask the poor performance of the Atom. You’d have to ebay (or repurpose) the 320GB HDD that ships with the ASRock Ion in order to make the jump to an SSD without wasting money.

If you want to build your own, until ASUS gets us a sample with a quieter fan, it looks like Zotac is the way to go. It’s clear that the ASUS board was an early sample and hopefully the shipping product will be significantly quieter. I’d prefer if ASUS went to a larger, slower spinning fan but as long as it can get quieter I’ll be happy. As soon as ASUS can get us a sample with the final fan design we’ll retest and follow up as necessary.

I took for granted much of what made Zotac’s design work, but it’s clear that effort was made to make that board what it is. If you’re buying today and just want a motherboard, Zotac is the way to go. In the near future? If the fan issues get sorted out, it looks like you’ll have another option with ASUS.

Using the ASUS Ion in Windows 7 and Linux/XBMC
POST A COMMENT

61 Comments

View All Comments

  • 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

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now