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Atom Benchmarked: 4W Of Performance

Atom Benchmarked: 4W Of Performance

Intel’s Atom processor is currently the subject of much discussion. It’s positioned as an energy saving wonder, but also designed to act as an all-purpose solution. The processor gets away from complex architectures and large level two caches and closer to slimmed down energy saving CPUs tailored to the specific job they are intended to do.

A year ago at Intel’s Developer Forum, the company introduced its 45 nm Atom processor under the code name Silverthorne. The Atom processor cannot be purchased on its own, and until recently was only available as a complete solution in a notebook or UMPC. But Intel is now changing this and offering the Atom processor with an embedded board for the desktop market. The new code name is Diamondville.

The actual Atom processor is, with a die size of just 25 mm², absolutely tiny when compared to a Core 2 Duo at 143 mm². And the number of transistors - 47 million - is low compared to the Core 2 Duo, which has 291 million. But this is the only way the Atom CPU is able to manage the sensationally low energy consumption of just 4 watts. The chip yield during manufacturing is also very high thanks to the tiny format ; Intel can theoretically get up to 2,500 Atom processors from a single 300 mm wafer.

The Atom 230 (Diamondville) processor differs from the Silverthorne model. It does not use an energy saving mobile chipset, but rather a cheaper desktop chip set. This does, however, have a dual channel memory interface, enhancing performance. But the Atom 230 must also manage without the SpeedStep energy saving function - not like that’s a problem for the efficient CPU.

We tested the ECS 945GCT-D embedded board with a 1.60 GHz Atom 230 processor. The energy consumption of the overall system came in at just 40.5 watts, which sets a new record in our test lab. The speed of the Atom platform turns out to be sufficient for surfing the Internet and playing DVDs, but you need to employ the right software in order to use the unit sensibly. The use of Hyper-Threading technology means that the speed of the tiny Atom processor is effectively increased by up to 37%.

There are currently three different types of Atom processor available : the Z5 series for Mobile Internet Devices (MIDs), the N270 for cheaper notebooks (Netbooks) and the 230 for embedded desktop boards (Nettops).

Intel Atom Models (Diamondville)
Model Clock Rate Cache FSB Platform
Atom 230 1.60 GHz 512 kB 533 MHz Nettops
Atom N270 1.60 GHz 512 kB 533 MHz Netbooks

Intel Atom Models (Silverthorne)
Model Clock Rate Cache FSB Platform
Atom Z540 1.86 GHz 512 kB 533 MHz MID
Atom Z530 1.60 GHz 512 kB 533 MHz MID
Atom Z520 1.33 GHz 512 kB 533 MHz MID
Atom Z510 1.10 GHz 512 kB 400 MHz MID
Atom Z500 800 MHz 512 kB 400 MHz MID
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  • 2 Hide
    Anonymous , July 29, 2008 9:37 AM
    Where's Linux tests?.
  • -2 Hide
    randomizer , July 29, 2008 10:20 AM
    This saved me time researching for an assignment :) 
  • 1 Hide
    jaragon13 , July 29, 2008 10:26 AM
    Shouldn't it be on 9 - cooling and temperatures,be idle and load,instead of idle and idle? >.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , July 29, 2008 10:56 AM
    When you look at the power consumption on load and compare it to the slowness of the chip while performing on load, it becomes clear why it only uses 4 watts more...
  • 3 Hide
    Anonymous , July 29, 2008 11:08 AM
    A CPU without a platform is useless.
    Analyzing the Atom platform quickly from the power/performance perspective.
    CPU name / idle W / load W/ Lame (seconds) / total Lame W used
    Atom 230 / 40.5 W / 44.2 W / 773 s / 9.49 W
    Celeron 220 / 44.9 W / 55.4 W / 375 s / 5.77 W
    E2140 / 58.5 W / 69.5 W / 271 s / 5.23 W

    Clearly the Atom platform is the most inefficient power/performance wise.
    At idle you might win some W, but as soon as you try to do something you spend more power and waste more time.
    There are other things you should consider, the frustration of having to wait for things that now we are used to do near instant and the inability to play HD video or use any significant graphics.

    The only thing positive for atom is it's price. It's cheap. And maybe with a new chipset it might even be power efficient. But for now it's just cheap.

  • -3 Hide
    neiroatopelcc , July 29, 2008 11:48 AM
    I wonder if it'd be able to play games if one were to equip it with a pci based 2400pro & 4gb of memory?
    Also, I wouldn't be surprised if someone invents a voltmod for those boards, so they can increase voltage for cpu, mch & ich enabling 2ghz+ speeds
  • 2 Hide
    nachowarrior , July 29, 2008 12:22 PM
    so in other words atom is pretty much a failure unless it's pumped into a tablet or umpc? and even then apparently isn't cost effective or readily available, nice...sounds like a great product launch.
  • -1 Hide
    Anonymous , July 29, 2008 12:32 PM
    I ran a google search for ECS 945GCT-D mainboard, and could not find it.
    I don't get it, why do you publish tests with products that don't even exist on the vendor web site?

    Thank you, anyway
  • -1 Hide
    Lans , July 29, 2008 1:06 PM
    Raiden, while your numbers are true, I think a fairer comparison would be to use 773s for all processors (meaning the rest go to idle alot quicker). I suppose you can power your computer down afterwards or start up a web browser etc.

    Atom 230 (773s load / 0s idle) : 9.5W
    Celeron 220 (375s load / 398s idle): 10.7W
    E2140 (271s load / 502s idle): 13.4W
    Sempron LE-1100 (43.9W idle, 70.4W load, 301s load / 472s idle): 11.6W

    Sure this is biased against the Atom (not going idle at all) but with 4W delta between load and idle, I am too lazy to change the numbers already used.

    I find it comparing the Atom to a Sempron LE-1100 more and Celeron 220 interesting:

    "A Celeron at 1.20 GHz is 35% faster than an Atom at 1.60 GHz, but the Atom only consumes a fraction of the energy used by the Celeron. The AMD Sempron system, which uses almost the same energy in idle mode as the Atom system, is 43% faster."
  • 0 Hide
    haley0918 , July 29, 2008 1:16 PM
    in anyway, despite of the low power and low performance, i still think it'll also be good as simple file server or home server besides as umpc. for experts, it'll be enough for some robotics and control application. just like the one used for Aiko in
  • 2 Hide
    knickle , July 29, 2008 1:24 PM
    I've seen several articles on the Atom, but I have yet to see Tom's actually do a product comparison with a true Mini-ITX competitor, like Via. Is this because Via won't provide the hardware?

  • 0 Hide
    cmateski , July 29, 2008 1:53 PM
    It would be interesting to see how to reduce power use by the 945GC when in a "headless" system e.g. firewall. I'd love to see how well this board performs with Endian Firewall or PFsense. Especially with all the Unified Threat Management (UTM) features running.
  • 4 Hide
    belrik , July 29, 2008 1:56 PM
    What about VIA's EPIA series? They have been around for ages and utilise less power than this, plus they have DVD and HD acceleration onboard. They are frequently run in cars and off batteries so they must have pretty low power requirements. They even released a dual-core one a while ago, surely this would kick atom's butt? (the DP-310 which has been out for years now).
    Why not compare this like-for-like, surely you are aware of the VIA platforms and they are widely available with speeds up to 2GHz now. What's more VIA have announced that they will be providing boards with PCI-E x16 for proper graphics cards, giving them the edge over Atom which has been crippled to stop it affecting sales of Intel's more powerful and expensive products.

    All this coverage of Atom would be far more balanced journalism if you compared it to a contender in it's own arena rather than more fully-featured desktop boards intended for a different market. I'd suggest you look at some of the Jetway boards for instance.

    A long-time regular reader of Tomshardware
  • 0 Hide
    TeraMedia , July 29, 2008 2:42 PM
    Please elaborate on this:
    Working with a screen resolution of 1280x1024 is possible, but compared to a traditional graphics card, it is a little blurred. At 1920x1200, the screen is washed-out and it is no longer practical to try to use on a daily basis.
    I use a VGA connection to a 1920x1200 LCD panel all day long (through a KVM switch, no-less). It doesn't look washed out and it is completely usable on a daily basis. And how would an LCD panel look "blurred"? The pixels don't move, don't shift, and don't require focus? Are you using a CRT, and that is exhibiting timing issues with the VGA output that are not visible with a higher-quality VGA output driver chip? I just can't make sense out of your statements about video output.
  • 2 Hide
    clownbaby , July 29, 2008 2:52 PM
    Why isn't it compared to the mini-ITX offerings from VIA. Comparing it to full powered desktops is like comparing a bicycle to a motorcycle.
  • -1 Hide
    Anonymous , July 29, 2008 3:12 PM
    Seems like it's performance is comparable to an Athlon XP 2400 or so. I don't see how that's not acceptable for office use. Our whole site had PIIIs running XP up until 2005.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , July 29, 2008 3:21 PM
    I don't understand why Intel chose to have an elongated rectangular shaped die. Common sense dictates that the die be as square shaped as possible to minimize the surface area to pack more dies per wafer.
  • 2 Hide
    caamsa , July 29, 2008 4:45 PM
    Looks like Intell looses to VIA. (Atom VS Nano)
  • 1 Hide
    Anonymous , July 29, 2008 5:30 PM
    I know that these Taiwanese manufacturers have enthusiastically popped the Atom into these boards - but pitting a CPU designed to go after Transmeta, ARM, AMD Geode and VIA C7 type processors was aptly put as "pitting a bicycle against a motorcycle." This processor simply wasn't designed to compete in the desktop segment.
  • 0 Hide
    neblogai , July 29, 2008 5:32 PM
    tennisballg: "Seems like it's performance is comparable to an Athlon XP 2400 or so. I don't see how that's not acceptable for office use. Our whole site had PIIIs running XP up until 2005."

    Surely not Athlon XP 2400, but something twice slower, like Pentium 4 1,4GHz, or an Athlon 1 GHz. And same as Celeron M at 900Mhz which is used in EEE PC subnotebooks.
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