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Does Intel's Dual-Core Atom Improve Efficiency?

Does Intel's Dual-Core Atom Improve Efficiency?
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Intel’s low-power Atom processors have received an interesting upgrade, as a more attractive dual-core version has now been available for a few months. You may recall our shootout between an entry-level Core 2 system and a standard Atom 230 solution: Core 2 Nukes Atom on the Desktop. The Atom turned out to be truly low on power consumption, yet it lost to the Core 2 business machine when it came to power efficiency defined as performance per watt. Well, it’s time to look at the new dual-core Atom 330, which, in fact, could make a difference for low cost PCs.

There's Two Of Them...

Once again, Intel followed the approach that seems the most economical: it attached two Atom single-core CPUs onto a Socket 441 chip to create a dual-core Atom processor. This was the same method used with the Pentium D 900 series (65 nm Presler) and with the Core 2 Quad family (65 nm Kentsfield and 45 nm Yorkfield). It would certainly be possible to create a monolithic dual-core by creating a die that contains two chips, but this would also introduce the risk of lower product yields (e.g. the 90 nm Pentium D800 Smithfield). With the dual-core packaging system, Intel can select and validate chips to be used in single or dual configurations. The third approach—a unified dual-core processor—would require a lot of development, which isn’t appropriate for a cost effective product.

The Future Atom

The Atom processor has been available since the second quarter of 2008, and it will still be around until the end of this year, when it will be replaced by a more integrated solution called Pineview. This upcoming product cycle will integrate the processor with the chipset northbridge, resulting in a two-chip solution that is referred to as the Pine Trail-D platform. This means that both the graphics unit as well as the memory controller will be part of the next-generation Atom, starting in dual-core flavors, with single-core models following. Intel aims to reduce the total package size by 70% and the total thermal design power (TDP) by 50%.

Atom Now

Let’s start with a little summary of Atom processor and platform options, and quickly move on to our benchmark results. Since the Atom 230 and 330 will be around for almost one more year, the question of whether or not it makes sense to get a dual-core system is highly relevant for low budget PCs and undemanding applications. Can the Atom 330 dual-core claim the efficiency crown from entry-level Core 2 systems?

Display 31 Comments.
  • 1 Hide
    Anonymous , February 5, 2009 7:55 AM
    Doesn't seem like much of an improvement from its single core predecessor compared to the difference between the core solo and duo; however, you can't argue with the performance per watt statistics. I wonder when we will see these in web oriented laptops like the Asus Eee PC?
  • 6 Hide
    dangerous_23 , February 5, 2009 8:30 AM
    for f*** sakes watt-hours is energy not power
  • 3 Hide
    apache_lives , February 5, 2009 8:54 AM
    cost is still the higher priority over performance and power etc - its still cheaper then a celeron etc, and is another performance increase in terms of usability NOT benchmarks - same deal as the Pentium 4 era with HT - the HT made systems seem more responsive reguardless of benchmarks - any P4 HT owner will aggree with me, but still yes it has weak (but sufficent) performance.
  • 2 Hide
    nihility , February 5, 2009 9:53 AM
    Which one of these tests checked multitasking performance?
  • 7 Hide
    3lvis , February 5, 2009 9:53 AM
    Some how it doesnt seem fair to compare atom to desktop CPUs. A better comparison would have been mobile CPU's to atom.
  • 4 Hide
    salgado18 , February 5, 2009 9:55 AM
    I still think this article, although great, misses one point: 95% of the time we use a pc, be it notebook, desktop, cellphone, whatever, the processor is idle. Nobody would buy a netbook to compress large files all day, or render complex scenes. They buy it to surf the web or type stuff. So it would be interesting to see a small one-day marathon: give three editors the pcs above, and measure the power used over one day. I bet the Atom beats Core 2 easily.
  • 7 Hide
    nihility , February 5, 2009 10:19 AM
    salgado18I still think this article, although great, misses one point: 95% of the time we use a pc, be it notebook, desktop, cellphone, whatever, the processor is idle. Nobody would buy a netbook to compress large files all day, or render complex scenes. They buy it to surf the web or type stuff. So it would be interesting to see a small one-day marathon: give three editors the pcs above, and measure the power used over one day. I bet the Atom beats Core 2 easily.


    I bet the editors will want to smash the atom PCs with a hammer by the end of the day.
  • -1 Hide
    chjade84 , February 5, 2009 11:29 AM
    I still think that the best place for these is in netbooks. My friend has an Asus Eee PC with the Atom in it and he loves it for college classes. It's great for taking notes and browsing the web and can go something like 6-7 hours on a charge. When used like this it really shows how much power efficiency can help.

    It even plays Starcraft! :) 
  • -1 Hide
    salgado18 , February 5, 2009 11:30 AM
    chjade84It even plays Starcraft!


    Now that's a surprise! It should be benchmarked! :D 
  • 1 Hide
    Anonymous , February 5, 2009 12:32 PM
    I would like to know efficiency of the power supply used in this review with 20 W, 40 W and 60 W loads.
  • 1 Hide
    cknobman , February 5, 2009 12:43 PM
    nihilityI bet the editors will want to smash the atom PCs with a hammer by the end of the day.


    Exactly. What a complete and total failure. 80% of the benches showed worse performance for the dual core vs single core Atom. Intel's atom processor is a joke.
  • 9 Hide
    slowstuff , February 5, 2009 12:50 PM
    How do these 4+ year old benchmarks test Multi core processors? Oh that's right, they are from the era just before benchmarks started caring about multiple cores. How about you disable one of the Cores on the Core 2 & see how much it drop... probably not much if any as 98% of the work is happenind on 1 core.

    How do these tests represent real world useage? Oh that's right, they don't. who runs 4 year old benchmarks, encodes music or does rendering on a netbook / netbox.... NO ONE with a brain.

    What use is a set of test that don't represent anything realistic or even test the processor fairly? Oh that's right, none. Seriously, test it in REAL WORLD USE against each other, test it's multi taking capabilities VS the single core system (230 vs 330).

    Lets test a moped vs a motor cycle & see which one wins in a drag race & used the most gas, that is essentially what you just did... IT COMPLETELY MISSES THE POINT OF THE OBJECT BEING TESTED.
  • 3 Hide
    pug_s , February 5, 2009 12:57 PM
    I don't understand why Tomshardware or any other hardware websites try to use an AMD equivalent. AMD already have something to compete with the Atom with their AMD Geode NX, which is based on the Athlon XP processors. Intel Atom processors is not built based on the Centrino design rather than a P5 at a higher clock speed.
  • 2 Hide
    danimal_the_animal , February 5, 2009 2:11 PM
    FAIL!
  • 4 Hide
    loftie , February 5, 2009 2:22 PM
    Considering the idle power is the same, could we not undervolt/underclock the C2D and see how much more power the C2D would use at load then. I'd find that interesting, especially if it still out performs the atom, which I'd assume it would.

    +1 for a low power AMD being thrown into the mix and a possible undervolt/underclock on that too - I'm sure AMDfan girl will be able to comment on this aspect :) 
  • 1 Hide
    bounty , February 5, 2009 3:13 PM
    PCmark 05 works fine as a test for simple web browsing, email etc. File compression is not something you do all day, it's something you do maybe once a day. When I do it, I don't want my machine to poo it self. WinRar is multi optomized, and it shows. Encoding music should be possible on a desktop, and we're talking desktop platforms.

    A good test to possibly add might be PCMark05 plus either WinRAR or iTunes as a resonable multiple work load test. We need a "some bloated flash/java sites" + IM + youtube test... or lets just see how these machines handle youtube fullscreen @ 1680x1050. Does the Atom fall apart while doing all that plus watching a movie? Watching an AVI on a "desktop" while browsing web(flash/java/super complicated+email+IM) seams a reasonable standard.
  • 2 Hide
    bustapr , February 5, 2009 3:24 PM
    How could you guys compare a netbook cpu with the super efficient fast e7200 desktop cpu!Its like comparing an athlonx2 to a phenomII.
  • 2 Hide
    Area51 , February 5, 2009 3:58 PM
    Toms,
    on page 4 the slides shows Core 2 Duo with HT which is not correct. please advise.
  • 3 Hide
    jeffunit , February 5, 2009 5:01 PM
    As slowstuff points out, it is pointless to run single threaded benchmarks on multi core processors. They could have used lame-mt, but didn't (it only has 2 cores). Of course there will be minimal differences between a 1 core atom and a 2 core atom on a single threaded benchmark.

    Try to use some multi threaded benchmarks, or at least run several benchmarks at the same time. Toms hardware keeps on getting worse, I think I will stop reading it.
  • 1 Hide
    jeffunit , February 5, 2009 5:02 PM
    I meant to say lame-mt only uses two threads. Still a better test than plain lame though.
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