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Atom N200 and i945

Intel Atom CPU Review

For Atoms intended for standard PCs, Intel will offer another line of processors (Diamondville). The Atoms of the N200 and 200 series are meant for standard PCs, but more specifically low-cost portable PCs, like the Eee PC and its competitors.

Atom N200 and 200: The Price Is Attractive

The Atom N200s are similar to the Atom Z500, with the only differences being in the management of EMT64 (64 bits), present in the N200 and 200 models, and the absence of EIST. The Atom 200s, then, don’t change frequency on the fly. The prices are attractive: An Atom N270, with a frequency of 1.6 GHz (533 MHz bus) and a 2-W TDP costs barely $44. And the 230 version, with a 4-W TDP, costs a mere $29 (at the same frequency).

intel atom

intel atom

A Veteran Chipset: The i945

The main problem with the Atom N200 stems from the chipset: Intel offers only variants of the i945. This chipset, already “old” (it dates from 2005), has a major fault: It consumes a lot of power (22 W in the GC version). The i945 chipset supports modern technologies: SATA (2), PCI-Express (1 lane via the ICH7), HD Audio, etc. Obviously it can handle DDR2 memory (on two channels) and includes an IGP, the GMA 950. Still, it’s obvious that using an older chipset (from the Napa platform) with a TDP that’s ten times higher than the processor’s is not the best idea in the world. But it’ll have to do until something better comes along. Portable PCs use the i945GSE, which uses only 5.5 W (4 W for the Northbridge and 1.5 W for the Southbridge). Obviously, the performance is not the same – in 3D, essentially, where Intel has reduced the GMA’s frequency (from 400 to 133 MHz).

intel atom

The GMA 950

intel atom

Now let’s take a look at the GMA 950, the IGP used by Intel in the i945 chipset. Compatible with DirectX 9 and capable of running Aero, it is very common in portable PCs equipped with a Core Duo processor. Its performance is weak and it’s incapable of decoding HD formats. What’s more, it’s sensitive to memory bandwidth and its drivers are not optimized. Finally, Intel uses several frequencies for its IGP – from 400 MHz in the i945G versions (for desktop), it goes as low as 250 MHz in portable PCs and 166 MHz in some ultraportables (with the attendant loss of performance). The version used by the Atom (i945GSE) is limited to 133 MHz, whereas the i945GC operates at 400 MHz.

Note that Intel also proposes coupling the Atom to an SiS chipset. This solution, already offered in Intel Mini-ITX boards, uses a SiS 671 coupled with a 968, and consumes only 8 W.

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