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Games: Spore And Call of Duty

Nvidia's Ion: Lending Atom Some Wings
By

Spore

The choice of games that can be tested on both platforms is fairly restrictive due to their power and performance limitations—you can forget about trying to run Crysis, for example. We chose a “casual” game that’s representative of the kind of game netbook or nettop purchasers might want to run--one that Nvidia picked to show off the merits of its chipset at CES: Spore.

The first lesson here is that the Atom is really short on headroom. Even when we lowered the resolution and the level of detail, it was hard to reach an average of 25 fps. The fact that increasing the resolution for a given level of graphics detail hardly made a difference shows that the CPU is where the bottleneck is.

The second lesson was that the GeForce 9400M was the only chip that was able to achieve playable frame rates, up to low-detail at a resolution of 1280x1024. For a game like Spore, 25 frames per second is sufficient.

Finally, compared to the Intel platform, the Ion showed an average gain of 73% at 800x600, 160% at 1024x768, and 145% at 1280x1024. Such differences prove that even an Atom is powerful enough to be limited by the 945GC chipset’s integrated GPU.

Call of Duty 4


CoD4 isn’t at home on a 945GC motherboardCoD4 isn’t at home on a 945GC motherboard

The second game Nvidia says is a good demonstration of the Ion’s capabilities is Call of Duty 4, better known as “CoD4” to its fans. Our 945GC motherboard stubbornly refused to launch CoD4, despite repeated attempts and reinstallations. Oddly, we were expecting an error pointing to an incompatibility of the graphics card, but it was the motherboard’s sound circuitry that seemed to be the problem—even when we disabled it in the BIOS. Whatever the reason, we can only confirm Nvidia’s predictions: CoD4 will not run on an Intel 945GC/Atom motherboard.

On the Ion, CoD4 fired up with no problem. But the frame rates we achieved were nothing to write home about. At the lowest resolution that’s available in the game settings--640x480--with all the detail cursors set to the minimum, Ion couldn’t quite reach the threshold of 25 fps. Fortunately, it wasn’t all that far from that level, and for an uncompetitive player (somebody who’d play the game on a nettop or netbook and not mind getting blasted at regular intervals) it might be good enough. You might even be able to move up to 800x600 or activate 2x AA without losing too much fluidity.

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  • -6 Hide
    rootheday , February 6, 2009 5:22 AM
    Let's be clear - the Ion reference platform is for a nettop - not a netbook. Its based on the dual core Atom 330. I doubt very much that Ion with a single code Atom 230 or N270 would have enough horsepower to do the BD decryption required for BD playback.
  • 2 Hide
    matthieu lamelot , February 6, 2009 6:01 AM
    Please, let me be clear : the platform reviewed was equipped with an Atom 230, not a 330, as is perfectly obvious from the pictures (one single die on the CPU package).
    And, yes, it's powerful enough (thanks to the 9400M) to smoothly playback a BD like Casino Royale (including the HDCP decryption). CPU utilization rose to around 67 % during that test.
    And even though the Ion ref platform is kind of a nettop (and we tested it with that in mind, comparing it to Intel's nettop platform), it could also fit in a netbook since 9400M TDP is very close to that of Intel 945GSE chipset that is found in most netbooks today : 12 W compared to 9,3 W. Nvidia and its partners would just need to drop 9400M's frequency a bit.
  • 0 Hide
    randomizer , February 6, 2009 6:36 AM
    Matthieu, I'm not sure who makes the onboard sound, but if it's Realtek you need to have Stereo Mix enabled for CoD 4 to run. Also, I found that I couldn't start CoD4 (with what appears to be the same error even though I can't really understand it) without plugging in speakers. Yes, speakers. Although any output device might have sufficed.
  • 0 Hide
    mitch074 , February 6, 2009 7:07 AM
    Realtek codecs are quite common (thus I concur with randomizer); some are quite advanced in that they do automatic detection of what kind of hardware is connected to what pin (through best guess from device impedance, considering the low dB noise those codecs output they are some precise piece of ingineering), allowing autodetection of the sound setup (they will detect if you replace a microphone with a set of speakers, and switch configuration from stereo+microphone to 4.0 audio, for example; that requires driver support though).
    If CoD4 requires sound (some games are funny this way) and no hardware is plugged in, then the sound card may report a status CoD4 wasn't expecting, and refuse to run.
  • 0 Hide
    randomizer , February 6, 2009 7:09 AM
    Well you'd think that they would have patched the game so that it doesn't have problems with needing Stereo Mix and output devices by now. What if my speakers are dead? That's just poor...
  • 1 Hide
    amnotanoobie , February 6, 2009 7:39 AM
    I immediately looked at the benchmark images, instead of reading the accompanying text around it, and I thought "WTH is AMD (green bar) doing on the nVidia ION platform." I thought I was linked to another page of another review.
  • -9 Hide
    Anonymous , February 6, 2009 7:53 AM
    hei man pls ...for now nvidia platform has some advantages but with DX11 you will not need gpu any more ...so for now it's ok for future this platform will be nothing but dust
  • 0 Hide
    nukemaster , February 6, 2009 10:20 AM
    You may not need a GPU, but a GPU is still far faster then the cpu at running games.

    Good review its about time Atom got a little help.
  • -4 Hide
    liemfukliang , February 6, 2009 11:13 AM
    I wont buy atom until it can run PCMark Vantage, 3DMark Vantage. I don't mean it has to be high score, I just one it is finish the test and not error. :) 
  • 0 Hide
    Tekkamanraiden , February 6, 2009 11:16 AM
    I'd like to be able to buy one of those little reference systems. It would make a nice little HTPC.
  • 0 Hide
    gwolfman , February 6, 2009 1:20 PM
    amnotanoobieI immediately looked at the benchmark images, instead of reading the accompanying text around it, and I thought "WTH is AMD (green bar) doing on the nVidia ION platform." I thought I was linked to another page of another review.

    LOL, I caught that too. "AMD green" == nVidia Ion. lol too funny
  • 1 Hide
    gwolfman , February 6, 2009 1:27 PM
    Quote:
    ConclusIon
    Nice touch, :thumbsup:
  • 0 Hide
    PrangeWay , February 6, 2009 2:09 PM
    Quick question on audio playback during BR playback, 7.1 Dolby/DTS HD?
  • 0 Hide
    scJohn , February 6, 2009 4:10 PM
    Looking at the Setup page, it was not clear what kind of drive you used for the BR playback. Was it an internal or external drive?
  • 0 Hide
    trevorvdw , February 6, 2009 4:58 PM
    Atom with Wings .. where do they keep those at the grocery store?
  • 0 Hide
    bounty , February 6, 2009 5:04 PM
    330, BR/DVD burner, large HDD and a good tuner would be sweet. And 100Mb? come on, I want a server/htpc
  • 0 Hide
    bounty , February 6, 2009 5:07 PM
    Actually make that dual GIG nic's. Or at least 100 and 1GB so I can do some content filtering too.
  • 0 Hide
    TheEvolution , February 6, 2009 10:54 PM
    OK,
    But the box looks ugly.....
  • 0 Hide
    danimal_the_animal , February 6, 2009 11:41 PM
    other sites report WAAAAY better results, but they seem to have gotten the dual core atom motherboards....also i heard you can over clock the atom to 1.9ghz sweet for a dual core!
    I want one of these to replace my mythTV box in the front room....just waiting for mythtv ver. 0.22 and VDPAU to come out.

    right now i have a asus pn5-em using the onboard video to playback all HDTV content as well ans blueray rips....was using an e2180 clocked at 2.66ghz untill i ran into a problem with stargate and also step into liquid where the audio was out of sync...actually the videocard could not keep up....i had to give my mythbox a swift kick in the ass with a q6600 running at stock speed....now everything runs perfect....but heck isnt the q6600 a 95watt CPU or is it rated higher...either way i could CERTAINLY use this ION but in a dual core version....with VDPAU all video would be taken care of by the videocard and a dual core atom would make perfect sense for what i am doing!

    c'mon Nvidia...RELEASE this little box! i really need it for a mythTV front end...
  • -1 Hide
    Anonymous , February 7, 2009 7:53 AM
    FYI, the provided Ion sample's formfactor is NOT the Pico-ITX!

    It is instead the updated formfactor, the Pico-ITXe. The revision includes the SUMIT connections that are the mystery connections. http://www.samtec.com/search/sumit.aspx
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