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
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  • Titanius - Friday, August 28, 2009 - link

    "While Acer offers the Aspire Revo, it only comes with a single-core Atom 230, a far less desirable option."

    What about the Acer Aspire Revo R3600? It has an Intel Atom 330, a 160GB HD and 2 GB of Dual-Channel RAM. Check it out: http://www.ncix.com/products/index.php?sku=41924&a...">http://www.ncix.com/products/index.php?...&man...
    Reply
  • Fietsventje - Friday, August 28, 2009 - link

    A pitty, no network interface benchmarks. Despite the overkill of the nVidia GPU, these boards would make the ideal start of a limited home server, and transferring files at gigabit speeds is no small feat for such a small processor ... Reply
  • mgrier - Friday, August 28, 2009 - link

    Do you have data to support this? Between DMA both to the drive and the NIC and TCP checksum offloading, the CPU overhead of disk transfers should be minimal with an operating system and drivers that support all of the above. Assuming a single drive configuration, you should mostly be limited by transfer rate of the drive for large files. For smaller files, you should be limited by the drive's seek latency. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, August 29, 2009 - link

    I'm not so sure it's the HDD CPU overhead so much as network drivers. I'd imaging these Atom CPUs could use a good 30-50% of the CPU for doing Gb transfers. However, as you are limited by the HDD to a maximum ~50MBps (unless you go SSD or at least a 7200RPM drive), you should probably only need 15-25% of the CPU. Would be interesting to see the results though. At least the Ion systems give you GbE, unlike all the netbooks I've tested. Reply
  • cliffman - Friday, August 28, 2009 - link

    I am interested in seeing the performance of a mini-itx board that can support a quad core system. You can build a modern system for $500 instead of paying $350 for an atom system. Reply
  • MadMan007 - Sunday, August 30, 2009 - link

    Considering those use any one of the regular LGA775 (atm - maybe we'll see some LGA1156 mITX boards) chipsets unless the board is just done poorly the performance would be the same as a full system with the same chipset and CPU. You'd just have the obvious tradeoff of expansion and possibly overclocking/enthusiast features. Reply
  • plext0r - Friday, August 28, 2009 - link

    You mention the Acer Aspire Revo on the last page. Any word when and if Acer will release this box in the US? A single-core 230 is plenty of CPU horsepower for XBMC or MythTV when using Nvidia's binary drivers. Thanks!
    Reply
  • strikeback03 - Friday, August 28, 2009 - link

    Hey, finally an Atom board with analog connections for more channels. Maybe I'll eventually replace the LF2 board in my carputer with this (and just keep the Scythe fan I already have). Reply
  • gipper - Friday, August 28, 2009 - link

    Why in the world can't people just use bigger fixtures and bigger fans?

    It's like the xbox 360. Who cares if it's smaller than my receiver, it's A FREAKING JET ENGINE. Why can't they just bump the size up a bit and throw in a 120mm fan?

    With these, what's wrong with bumping up the chasis to xbox1 size and going with a slower 80mm fan which will probably deliver more air flow at 800rpm than these 40mm fans at 6500rpm.

    I can't believe that project leaders haven't caught on to this issue yet. They must have their quality assurance guys working in different rooms than the products they're testing, or they're testing them in the middle of the factory.
    Reply
  • Abby - Wednesday, September 2, 2009 - link

    For Manufacturing, Transportation and profits wise, small is da key. Reply

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