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For our tests, we used a Mini-ITX motherboard made by Gigabyte, equipped with an Atom 230/i945GC. The board has a single DIMM (DDR2) slot and a PCI port – which rules out using any modern graphics cards. Amusingly, the chipset (which, remember, consumes 22 W) is actively cooled, whereas the processor makes do with a simple aluminum heat sink.
Since this motherboard is intended for entry-level machines, we tried to compare two current entry-level solutions – a Pentium E2160 (1.8 GHz factory), an entry-level dual-core processor based on the Core architecture, and a Sempron 3400+ (Socket 754 in this case). The two processors were set to the same clock frequency as the Atom (1.6 GHz) for the tests. The motherboard used for the Pentium E was a GA-GM945-S2. It has the advantage of using the same chipset (or almost) as the Atom motherboard – an i945G. The motherboard used with the Sempron is Nforce4-based.
The three boards were tested with the same system – Windows XP Service Pack 2 with all the drivers up to date. We used DDR2-667 memory (1 GB) on the Intel platforms and a 1 GB DDR-400 DIMM on the Sempron. Finally, our test hard disk was a 74 GB Western Digital Raptor.
We decided to compare the three platforms at an identical frequency, with a few practical tests and a few synthetic ones.
On Cinebench R10, the Sempron placed between the Atom and the Pentium E, though the Atom-with-HyperThreading combo proved effective (1.53 times faster with HyperThreading). Notice that the increase with the Pentium E, which actually has two cores, is not that much greater: 1.86 times faster.
With Sandra, which is a synthetic test, the difference among the three processors was impressive. The Pentium E really was faster. Note that the difference between the Atom and the Sempron may seem slight, but the tests are multithreaded and the Sempron has only one core, whereas the Pentium E has two and the Atom uses HyperThreading, which can produce significant gains.
In the 3DMark 06 and PCMark 06 CPU tests, the Pentium E had a comfortable lead, and the Sempron always placed between the Atom and the Pentium E.
In this test – a favorite with overclockers, but fundamentally not really conclusive (the code is dated and not very optimized) –, the Atom was a lot slower than its competitors.
Finally, we ran a test that consists of compressing approximately one GB of files with WinRAR. Since the Sempron uses a different memory subsystem (DDR) and a real graphics card, it doesn’t show up on this test – the comparison would have been thrown off. In practice, the difference between the two platforms was less than in the synthetic tests, but the Pentium E was still approximately twice as fast.