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Efficiency Analysis: Core i3 Trumps Atom On The Desktop
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Atom was designed to be a low-cost, low-power solution, but its value in the desktop space is debatable if you consider performance. We pit the cheapest Core i3 against Intel's Atom on a performance-per-dollar and a per-watt basis to see which is better.

System Hardware
HardwareDetails
Performance Benchmarks
Motherboard IIntel D510MO (Rev. 1.0); Chipset: Intel NM10; BIOS: 0175 (03/8/2010)
Motherboard IIElitegroup 945GCT-D (Rev. 1.0); Chipset: Intel 945GC; BIOS: 08/07/08
Motherboard III
(Socket LGA 1156)
Zotac H55 ITX-WiFi (Rev. 1.0); Chipset: Intel H55; BIOS: 1.3
CPU Intel IIntel Atom D510 (45 nm, 1.66 GHz, 1MB L2 Cache, TDP 13W)
CPU Intel IIIntel Atom 230 (45 nm, 1.6 GHz, 512KB L2 Cache, TDP 4W)
CPU Intel IIIIntel Core i3-530 (32 nm, 2.93 GHz, 4 x 256KB L2 and 4MB L3 Cache, TDP 73W)
RAM DDR2 (dual)2 x 2GB DDR2-800 (Apogee AU2G732-12GH001)
RAM DDR3 (dual)2 x 2GB DDR3-1333 (OCZ3G2000LV4GK 8-8-8-24)
Hard DriveSeagate Barracuda 7200.11, 500GB (ST3500320AS)
7,200 RPM, SATA/300, 32MB Cache
Power SupplyPC Power & Cooling, Silencer 750EPS12V 750W
System Software & Drivers
Operating SystemWindows 7 Ultimate x64
Updated on 2010-03-03
Drivers and Settings
Intel Chipset DriversChipset Installation Utility Ver. 9.1.1.1025
Intel Storage DriversMatrix Storage Drivers Ver. 8.​9.​0.​1023
Intel GraphicsIntel Graphics Media Accelerator 15.17
Audio Benchmarks and Settings
BenchmarkDetails
iTunesVersion: 9.0.3.15
Audio CD ("Terminator II" SE), 53 min.
Convert to AAC audio format
Lame MP3Version 3.98.3
Audio CD "Terminator II SE", 53 min.
convert WAV to MP3 audio format
Command: -b 160 --nores (160 Kbps)
Video Benchmarks and Settings
BenchmarkDetails
Handbrake CLIVersion: 0.94
Video: Big Buck Bunny (720x480, 23.972 frames) 5 Minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital, 48000 Hz, 6-Channel, English
to
Video: AVC1 Audio1: AC3 Audio2: AAC (High Profile)
Mainconcept Reference v2Version: 2.0.0.1555
MPEG-2 to H.264
MainConcept H.264/AVC Codec
28 sec. HDTV 1920x1080 (MPEG-2)
Audio:
MPEG-2 (44.1 kHz, 2-Channel, 16-Bit, 224 Kbps)
Codec: H.264 Pro
Mode: PAL 50i (25 FPS)
Profile: H.264 BD HDMV
Application Benchmarks and Settings
BenchmarkDetails
7-ZipVersion 9.1 beta
LZMA2
Syntax "a -t7z -r -m0=LZMA2 -mx=5"
Benchmark: 2010-THG-Workload
WinRARVersion 3.92
RAR
Syntax "winrar a -r -m3"
Benchmark: 2010-THG-Workload
WinZip 14Version 14.0 Pro (8652)
WinZIP Commandline Version 3
ZIPX
Syntax "-a -ez -p -r"
Benchmark: 2010-THG-Workload
Autodesk 3ds Max 2010Version: 10 x64
Rendering Space Flyby Mentalray (SPECapc_3dsmax9)
Frame: 248
Resolution: 1440 x 1080
Adobe Photoshop CS 4 (64 Bit)Version: 11
Filtering a 16MB TIF (15000x7266)
Filters:
Radial Blur (Amount: 10; Method: zoom; Quality: good)
Shape Blur (Radius: 46 px; custom shape: Trademark sysmbol)
Median (Radius: 1px)
Polar Coordinates (Rectangular to Polar)
Adobe Acrobat 9 ProfessionalVersion: 9.0.0 (Extended)
== Printing Preferenced Menu ==
Default Settings: Standard
== Adobe PDF Security - Edit Menu ==
Encrypt all documents (128-bit RC4)
Open Password: 123
Permissions Password: 321
Microsoft Powerpoint 2007Version: 2007 SP2
PPT to PDF
Powerpoint Document (115 Pages)
Adobe PDF-Printer
FritzFritz Chess Benchmark Version 4.3.2
Synthetic Benchmarks and Settings
BenchmarkDetails
3DMark06Version: 1.2 Patch 1901
Default Settings
SiSoftware Sandra 2010Version: 2010.1.16.10
Processor Arithmetic, Cryptography, Memory Bandwith
Display all 57 comments.
Top Comments
  • 20 Hide
    HalfHuman , May 7, 2010 7:18 AM
    i could not really read the whole article seing that you one again use a 750watts psu to measure the power usage of a pc that at the plug draws around 30watts and in load 80watts. it means that actually you never use the psu at more than 10% load (factoring that you have 80watts at the wall). i guess you know that you get crap efficency doing this.
    I BEG YOU THG REVEWERS/EDITORS TO USE PROPER PSUS WHEN TESTING!
    there is quite a variety of mobos for atoms for which you get quite different features, power usage etc so it depends on the model you buy.
    and then there is price the factor. if you ask me the atom configurations are just too expensive. more than that i think that nobody in the right mind will use an atom to do something that requires even moderate power like photoshop, encoding, archiving of big files etc. you must have little expectations from it and limit yourself to browsing, doc editing, simple games, if configured correctly can even be a great htpc, seed box or a great nas solution.
    i do not think that comparing atom to nehalem makes much sense since they do not compete for the same markets. given how much expensive atom configurations are and if you expectations are as described above (lowe expectations), then it's probably a better idea to get a low end dual core from amd on intel and if power constraints are a must then one could undervolt and even underclock them.
  • 18 Hide
    amnotanoobie , May 7, 2010 6:48 AM
    Not really hard to remember:

    Atom
    - Internet surfing, 480p video (whether flash or regular video), document typing, or 24/7 torrents box/nas/server

    Core 2, Intel i series, AMD Phenom I and II
    - For everything else
  • 12 Hide
    gti88 , May 7, 2010 6:34 AM
    Great erticle. Very useful.
    But I always knew that Atom was way too slow for desktop.
    2-cores Atom is about as fast as my build which I made 8 years ago!
Other Comments
  • 9 Hide
    Kelavarus , May 7, 2010 6:25 AM
    None of this article was really surprising.

    While I don't really understand nettops, except maybe for a library or something (low cost solution, we have them in my local library), it seems to me it is the Atom netbook that is more popular, in which case, this (as you admitted, non-apples to apples) comparison hardly seems to serve a purpose. A lot of the point of the Atom is battery life, and the latest Asus models claim to get up to 14 hours, which I doubt you'll see anything near using a Core i3.

    Well written article, but it seems to be angled towards nettops which honestly, I don't know anyone who bought one. Doesn't mean no one did, but, are they that popular?
  • 4 Hide
    kiwimonk , May 7, 2010 6:27 AM
    I want a Zotac H55-ITX!!!!
  • 12 Hide
    gti88 , May 7, 2010 6:34 AM
    Great erticle. Very useful.
    But I always knew that Atom was way too slow for desktop.
    2-cores Atom is about as fast as my build which I made 8 years ago!
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , May 7, 2010 6:42 AM
    Im looking into setting up a cheap NAS and found the GIGABYTE GA-D510UD that supports 2 raid configs. The performance is no issue and the cost is very small compared to other options. For $500 I can put together a dual raid totaling 4 TB NAS, no way you can do that with anything else.
  • 3 Hide
    ta152h , May 7, 2010 6:47 AM
    It's an interesting review, and certainly worth value, but it ignores a lot of important considerations.

    For one, you're comparing a 32nm processor with a 45nm processor, so, we should keep in mind the Atom would have lower power, and be even cheaper if it were on the newest lithography.

    The Atom wasn't just made to be low power, it was also supposed to be low cost. It's a LOT less expensive than the i3, and a lot smaller, and cheaper to make.

    It's not really a surprise that a processor made primarily for low power/high efficiency, on a more advanced manufacturing process, is more efficient than a processor made to be very low power/small size. Efficiency per watt is, at best, a tertiary consideration, if that.

    The Pentium 4 was made to be fast with little regard to power (ironically, this made it slow since power use limited the clock speed dramatically), the Conroe/Penryn/Nehalem all only get features that add more performance than they do increase power use.

    This is expected behavior. The processor made primarily for efficiency is more efficient than the one made primarily for cost, on older manufacturing technology.

    Big question is though, why didn't you guys test the Nano as well? There are some new, very low power versions out. They were also made for efficiency, and they might be interesting.

    One more point. When you measure power use for running a job, the way you measure isn't wrong, but it's not always right either. Another way to do it would be to measure the power use at idle for the duration of time when the job is done. This would be more appropriate for situations where you had a server on all day, for example. So, both could be valid, depending upon the situation.
  • 18 Hide
    amnotanoobie , May 7, 2010 6:48 AM
    Not really hard to remember:

    Atom
    - Internet surfing, 480p video (whether flash or regular video), document typing, or 24/7 torrents box/nas/server

    Core 2, Intel i series, AMD Phenom I and II
    - For everything else
  • 0 Hide
    mianmian , May 7, 2010 7:13 AM
    Using desktop motherboard for Atom is unfair. To my opinion, the Atom system should use a netbook instead. That's where most of the Atoms are. In doing so, the Atom system power should be decreased significantly.
  • 0 Hide
    kartu , May 7, 2010 7:15 AM
    I don't get the point of comparing vastly superior all-round CPU to a low power niche chip.

    Is it to educate clueless customers? Didn't know they visit Tom's.
  • 20 Hide
    HalfHuman , May 7, 2010 7:18 AM
    i could not really read the whole article seing that you one again use a 750watts psu to measure the power usage of a pc that at the plug draws around 30watts and in load 80watts. it means that actually you never use the psu at more than 10% load (factoring that you have 80watts at the wall). i guess you know that you get crap efficency doing this.
    I BEG YOU THG REVEWERS/EDITORS TO USE PROPER PSUS WHEN TESTING!
    there is quite a variety of mobos for atoms for which you get quite different features, power usage etc so it depends on the model you buy.
    and then there is price the factor. if you ask me the atom configurations are just too expensive. more than that i think that nobody in the right mind will use an atom to do something that requires even moderate power like photoshop, encoding, archiving of big files etc. you must have little expectations from it and limit yourself to browsing, doc editing, simple games, if configured correctly can even be a great htpc, seed box or a great nas solution.
    i do not think that comparing atom to nehalem makes much sense since they do not compete for the same markets. given how much expensive atom configurations are and if you expectations are as described above (lowe expectations), then it's probably a better idea to get a low end dual core from amd on intel and if power constraints are a must then one could undervolt and even underclock them.
  • 2 Hide
    Stardude82 , May 7, 2010 9:09 AM
    Horrible efficiencies... My Dell 1012 with a N450 (equivalent to a 230) is only 13-14 Watts, under load with a 10" screen and idles at 10 Watts. Plus they can be had for $250 shipped if you are patient. Nettops are a horrible value compared to netbooks.

    Besides that, I'd like to how Athlon 3250e/2650e which populate Zinos stack up. Also, I don't think the E3300 is quite dead in these applications quite yet either.
  • -7 Hide
    abbadon_34 , May 7, 2010 9:36 AM
    Uhhhh...ATOM vs "Full Fledged CPU"...1) DUH (results). 2) "Full Fledged" NOT. i7 is full fledged.

    How about ATOM vs. AMD. Now THAT will be trust test, price et al.

    P.S. At least they are finally including the price of the chipset, as Intel cums for seconds on the chipset pricing, mispelling intended.
  • 0 Hide
    zodiacfml , May 7, 2010 10:08 AM
    The article could have been much more elaborate since it does not explain why atoms sell despite its poor efficiency and performance.
    I would like to show my reasons for getting a Pinetrail dual core
    Atom versus buying a very cheap LGA775 board to run an old Prescott Pentium4 whose board just died.
    1) just costs about $20 more but I get better performance in multitasking or threaded apps.
    2) no heatsink fan to run. makes the Pinetrail a quiet performer versus the screaming Prescott.
    3) energy efficiency especially in a room that needs AC cooling
    4) very small size (could fit mostly anywhere)

    Additionally, I don't expect people here in our home running those apps found here(it is me who does in my dual core desktop).
    They just check email and facebook. The most demanding tasks are playing flash games in facebook.
  • 1 Hide
    fwupow , May 7, 2010 10:14 AM
    I have a new Asus 1005pe with the advertised 14hr battery life. I just ran it in my truck for GPS all day (9 hours) with the screen at max-brite and a GPS receiver using power from a USB port. When I shut it down, it still had 18% battery life remaining. That's the beauty of the Intel Atom N450-soc (system-on-chip). For computing on-the-go, all-day batt life is da bomb. If you're building an always plugged-in desktop, you might as well go with as much horsepower as your budget allows and have it sleep/hibernate when not in use.
  • 3 Hide
    nobodyisyourfriend , May 7, 2010 10:33 AM
    what about using a pentium G6950 vs atom?
    lower price than i3 too.
    better comparison
  • 1 Hide
    Anonymous , May 7, 2010 10:57 AM
    I have build a HTPC/Living room desktop based on an Atom-Ion platform. It does what it's made for: 720p w/o hickups, surfing, watching pictures and even editing them ...

    As it is "always on" Low power is key and as it is in my living room, smal and sleek comes second. Therefore comparison with a i3 is not very relevant to me.
  • 0 Hide
    JohnnyLucky , May 7, 2010 12:27 PM
    Interesing article. It might not have been a fair comparison but it did give me some idea of the Atom's performance capabilities.
  • 2 Hide
    neiroatopelcc , May 7, 2010 1:05 PM
    A sheet with value comparison is missing. This would be interesting to see (overall system prices)
    Also, it could be really nice to see a calculation of how is needed for the new atom to be a more expensive option compared to a basic i3 (taken power consumption and investment price into account)
  • 5 Hide
    sstym , May 7, 2010 1:16 PM
    neiroatopelccit could be really nice to see a calculation of how is needed for the new atom to be a more expensive option compared to a basic i3 (taken power consumption and investment price into account)



    You're making a good point.
    Given their figures, if I use that computer for 5 hours a day at peak power and an additional 10 at idle, I get a 5*49+10*2 = 265 Wh difference per day.
    Over a month, that's roughly 8 KWh.
    I pay about 12.5 cents/KWh.
    Oh Joy. $1/month in additional power costs for the i3-530.
    Call me a spendthrift, I think it's negligible.
  • 0 Hide
    cknobman , May 7, 2010 1:31 PM
    What I would really like to see is a way to get the CULV processors in a desktop package as they offer very low power consumptions yet have all the architectural advantages of the Core series which handily trump the atom processors.

    Sure cost would be higher but I would still like to see the numbers. It has already been well proven that an extra $100-$200 in the laptop space for a CULV over a atom is well worth the investment.
  • 0 Hide
    obarthelemy , May 7, 2010 1:32 PM
    Idle power consumption is about the same for all systems. That makes i3 very interesting: it'll power up only when you need it.

    I'm surprised there no underclocking benchmarks. I know I do it.
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