Final Words

There’s a lot to talk about so let’s take it piece by piece.

First, new vs. old Atom. With a real world performance improvement approaching 10% on the desktop, I’m happy with the performance of Pine Trail. Short of Intel introducing a brand new architecture, Atom isn’t going to get much better, so the fact that we’re getting anything is worth being happy about.

The impact of the on-die memory controller is noticeable on overall system performance. As I said earlier, my Pine Trail testbed was snappier and more responsive than my older Atom machines. It’s by no means fast, but it’s noticeably faster than before.

Power consumption is also much improved thanks to Intel ditching the archaic 945 chipset. Although the impact on battery life in netbooks is going to be more exciting than drawing less power at the wall. Pine Trail is worth waiting for.


Intel's Atom D510 board (left), Intel's Atom 330 board (right)

Atom continues to deliver good enough performance but not for a primary system. As our results have shown, even very low end dual core Pentium processors are multiple times faster than Atom. If you’re building a primary PC for yourself, you’ll probably want to look elsewhere.

Where Atom shines is in its ability to drive a low cost, low power machine. The Intel motherboard we featured here is going to retail for around $75 new - that includes the CPU, integrated graphics and heatsink. All you need is storage, a PSU and memory and you’ve got a complete system. Anyone who has been through a couple of upgrades should have most of the necessary components.

What Pine Trail doesn’t do is address the HTPC applications for Atom at all. While it’s true that you can play most 720p x264 content on a dual-core Atom without hardware acceleration, you don’t get the sort of problem-free play-everything experience that you do with Atom + Ion. You can set up a very functional, very capable HTPC that can play high definition content based on Ion - you can’t do the same with Pine Trail.

It’s even worse now that Flash finally has DXVA support. It’s not just a matter of making high definition content playable, it’s about making sites like Hulu and Youtube more usable. Full H.264 decode acceleration would make Pine Trail much more appealing.

If you can live without the HTPC features and Flash acceleration, Pine Trail is better than Ion. If you can't, then the decision becomes a tradeoff. Do you take better video playback performance in exchange for worse application/system performance? Or vice versa?


Our Pine Trail system (left), Zotac's Ion-based Mag (right)

Perhaps we’ll see more vendors choose to bundle 3rd party H.264 decoders and hopefully they’ll work as seamlessly as the GPU based solutions, but without them I believe NVIDIA’s Ion platform has a purpose.

I haven’t been NVIDIA’s biggest supporter in its lawsuit against Intel. For the most part I don’t see any value in NVIDIA’s chipsets anymore. In fact since NVIDIA’s departure from the market we’ve finally achieved the holy grail: vendor agnostic multi-GPU support on many motherboards (CF/SLI are well supported on X58/P55). The one exception is Ion. Without Ion there would be nothing to pressure Intel to enable H.264 acceleration on its Atom chipsets. I’m sure Intel will eventually enable it, but it sure is taking a long time - who knows how much longer it would be had NVIDIA not been such a pest. The temptation of more profit on an already low margin platform tends to trump innovation, even at the most engineering heavy companies.

If NVIDIA had a DMI/QPI license I’m not sure we’d have SLI on Intel chipsets, and the past few enthusiast NVIDIA chipsets weren’t without their issues. On the other hand, without a third party chipset vendor we don’t have someone to keep Intel in check. It’s not a problem in areas where AMD is competitive, but what about areas in which they’re not? Even worse, what happens if AMD’s fortunes take another turn for the worse? I’m not a fortune teller and I don’t know which one is technically the lesser of two evils, it’s just food for thought.

Lower Power
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  • yuhong - Wednesday, December 30, 2009 - link

    "Granted the board only costs $75 new, but would it have killed Intel to include DVI or HDMI out?"
    That is a limitation of the on-die GPU, it only support VGA and LVDS for the display.
    Reply
  • lucaiuli - Saturday, January 02, 2010 - link

    Found this board at http://www.mini-box.com/D510MO-mini-ITX-Intel">http://www.mini-box.com/D510MO-mini-ITX-Intel, it will be available this week, price is not bad. I am considering buying one and with a Broadcom Crystal HD miniPCI Express card and proper miniITX enclosure it would be a nice fanless and siled HD HTPC for my living room. Reply
  • geok1ng - Tuesday, December 22, 2009 - link

    "It’s not a problem in areas where AMD is competitive, but what about areas in which they’re not?"

    AMD chose not to be competitive on the Netbook and lower power notebook market. There was a time when ATIs IGPs were very good, and today an overclocked 3200 can dish out enough fps to compete with NVIDIAs offerings. AMD had a lower power CPU months before the CLUVs, but it never become an integrated platform like Ion, even on the micro HTPC market.

    If a company has a super IGP, and there was a time when AMD had one, and the market has a new wave of low power low costs Netbooks, and this company decides not to join the wave, well, dont blame Intel when things go the way of the Dodo.

    I am only seeing Intel paying AMD so that Intel remains dominating the market, even on produtcs were Intel's offerings are so crappy as the IGP market.
    Reply
  • Penti - Tuesday, December 22, 2009 - link

    AMD still offers the AMD Neo X2 with AMD 785G or HD4200 graphics or with embedded AMD 780E + SB710 chipset. But that's not a netbook offering but a consumer or ultra-portable low-power notebook offer. I don't really like it that it's K8 based but it's still not totally bad. I don't think AMD is interested in the MID/smartphone market Intel is going after slowly any way.

    There's reason the AMD Neo platform didn't become a HTPC platform, first it was only released with 690E, secondly it wasn't supported in XBMC on linux. Then there's cost. Now CULV makes a lot more sense. GMA4500 is good enough. And it's first now supports really is coming through with Flash acceleration etc. It was a very limited usability with such a platform before. So soon Atom (with Broadcom accelerator), CULV etc really becomes useful and functional in the consumer space. AMD don't have any advantages even if they have support for the same things. I think it's wise that they are designing wholly new mobile products. Then there's gonna be a fair fight. Products will have a lower power envelope and be cheaper and on newer node. More will be released into the market.
    Reply
  • killerclick - Monday, December 21, 2009 - link

    This could be a chance for VIA Nano to get in on the netbook market. I fear however that most people buying netbooks won't know or care about the difference between the platforms. If it's cheap and can at least play 720p they won't go out of their way to get something non-Intel. Reply
  • Penti - Tuesday, December 22, 2009 - link

    I won't consider the Nano until they have shrunk it, made it less power hungry, made it dual core and released a good graphics chip with truly open source drivers. I'd rather have Pineview + Broadcom BCM70015 if not.

    It's impressive what Centaur can do with ~100 employees, but I'm not impressed with the S3 Graphics or VIA chipset team.
    Reply
  • killerclick - Tuesday, December 22, 2009 - link

    I meant Nano + ATI/NVIDIA IGP Reply
  • Penti - Tuesday, December 22, 2009 - link

    Yeah I know you wrote that. But..

    That will never happen. It's Nano + Mobile ATI/NVIDIA GPU tops. But I don't see the point. Via's own gpus are fine for DXVA in Windows etc. Nano aren't that power efficient to begin with. It's not like such platforms will be fast enough to game on either way.

    This is what they have coming out (chipset with IGP) http://via.com.tw/en/products/chipsets/v-series/vn...">http://via.com.tw/en/products/chipsets/v-series/vn... It's not that bad. It has modern integrated graphics but it can be used with a discrete graphics solution too.
    Reply
  • strikeback03 - Monday, December 21, 2009 - link

    If I remember correctly, you used a standard ATX power supply for testing the LF/LF2 Atom boards, which you speculated was part of the reason for such high power consumption. Did you restest with the same PSU as from the Pine Trail system? Reply
  • Griswold - Monday, December 21, 2009 - link

    Almost no performance gains - the opposite is actually true with the demise of useful chipset graphics for the atom platform.

    Buh bye, atom! Hello VIA Nano + ION!
    Reply

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