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Benchmark Results: Gaming

Three Slim Atom/Ion 2-Based Nettop PCs Compared
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Gaming is where things are going to get interesting. While the ASRock Core 100HT-BD’s CPU is something which these Atom-equipped nettops can't compete with, graphics potential is another story entirely. Nvidia’s Ion 2 graphics processor is just as good as Intel’s HD graphics by many accounts, and Nvidia does have a software drive considered to be more reliable and refined. Intel’s solution is definitely getting better, with that said.

We’ll begin with the gaming benchmark included in PCMark Vantage:

PCMark suggests that the Intel i3-330M/Intel HD graphics combo is twice as powerful as the Atom D500 series/Ion 2 combo. This is probably optimistic, so let’s try an actual game that a nettop can be expected to play.

We use Lord Of The Rings Online for this test, a massively multiplayer online game that recently became free to play. The title sports an attractive graphics engine that can look quite good at high settings, but can be tweaked to work smoothly on low-end hardware by lowering the graphics settings. As such, it represents performance in the realm of games like World of Warcraft, which is a notably higher standard than casual titles like Flash-based games.

The Ion 2 nettops fare slightly better than ASRock's Core 100HT-BD at 1280x720 (720p) and blow it out of the water at 1920x1080 (1080p). Clearly, Nvidia's chipset has its strengths.

Admittedly, there are some details we need to keep in mind here. The settings we’re using for this title are attractive, but still far from the maximum (at low detail). However, animation smoothness and draw distance are set to medium, distant imposters and blob shadows are enabled, and texture detail is cranked to high with 8x anisotropic filtering (AF) enabled. The texture detail and filtering really help this game look attractive, despite the other low settings, and with 512 MB of dedicated video RAM onboard, the Ion 2 nettops can handle this texture detail without a lot of performance penalty. The point is that when you’re gaming with a nettop, you need to have a good idea of what graphic options your machine can handle in order to make things look as good as possible without killing performance. If you know what you’re doing, the results can be quite impressive.

We're using the newest Intel driver (Win7Vista_64_151711.exe) for this test, but should note that the previous Intel driver suffered massive graphical corruption issues with this game. This shows us that Intel is at least making an honest effort in the graphics driver department.

While the Ion 2-equipped machines perform much better at 1920x1080, performance remains below the ideal 30 frames per second (FPS) minimum. Most MMOs are not twitch-oriented games though, and RPGs like Lord of the Rings Online can be played acceptably at this frame rate. Ideally, you’d want to play games on a 1280x720 monitor with these PCs to stay at a low native resolution. But if you have a larger monitor, you will find that the higher resolution can be playable and look great if you adjust the settings appropriately.

We also see that the Ion 2 nettops sometimes drop the video signal when initializing this game over an HDMI output. Switching to DVI or VGA would eliminate this problem, but this puzzling issue remains noteworthy.

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  • 2 Hide
    DjEaZy , December 10, 2010 5:42 AM
    ... it may be a good mac mini hackentosch...
  • 0 Hide
    hmp_goose , December 10, 2010 6:10 AM
    Retest the N20's playback with a RAM drive for the temp files; I suspect the drive system is the issue . . .
  • 1 Hide
    dEAne , December 10, 2010 8:00 AM
    Overall it is good. The benchmark is fair enough - And it is presentable too.
  • 1 Hide
    cushgod , December 10, 2010 12:10 PM
    SHould test results with a SSD complared to a "mechanical" HDD to see how much that can help an Atom move along :) 
  • 4 Hide
    fullcircle_bflo , December 10, 2010 12:37 PM
    So if I wanted a computer simply to stream internet videos to a television via HDMI(such as Hulu or CBS website), would any of these be a good candidate?
  • 1 Hide
    kriminal , December 10, 2010 1:18 PM
    ^^ guess so.. fullcircle
  • -2 Hide
    mchuf , December 10, 2010 1:51 PM
    For $150 - $200, you can buy a used Pentium D or C2D pc off of craigslist. Add a $50 HD5450 gpu and a $40 wireless KB/M combo and your all set. That would be a more capable box than one of these things and at a lower price (even if you upgrade to Win 7 HP). Hell, even a used Mac Mini (old model) might be a more cost effective solution. Unless you're extremely tight for space, I don't see the appeal for an overpriced "net" device.
  • 3 Hide
    nonameworks , December 10, 2010 2:30 PM
    ^^ Only if you ignore the cost of electricity
  • 1 Hide
    tipoo , December 10, 2010 3:02 PM
    Zino HD review, please! At close to the cost of many of these nettops, it blows them away in performance and is almost as small and consumes almost as little power.
  • 1 Hide
    azcoyote , December 10, 2010 3:40 PM
    I would love one of these for only one reason. To get rid of the clunky box I let my kids play noggin.com games on. Not sure they have enough guts for the pig that is Flash though.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , December 10, 2010 6:13 PM
    The last page seems to imply that the Zotac box is the only one of the group lacking TrueHD. Is that correct?
  • 0 Hide
    gs92110 , December 10, 2010 8:05 PM
    Recently connected my Gateway 17" laptop to TV by HDMI, it works fine, but a large footprint, might be interested in one of these little Nettops, "IF" they would let me surf/email/streaming videos to TV[without pixelation messing up the videos]...I don't expect much, but need these features...
  • 2 Hide
    ethaniel , December 10, 2010 9:59 PM
    Good read, and a good thing that you opened all of them.
  • -1 Hide
    JOSHSKORN , December 10, 2010 10:46 PM
    I'll pass on Nettops until they can easily handle games like Metro 2033 and Crysis with the highest settings.
  • 0 Hide
    ProDigit10 , December 11, 2010 2:24 AM
    Jetway mini has slower readings because it's harddrive is massively slower!
    I'd replace it with an SSD, and do the tests again, and see how it'll outperform the other nettop platforms..
  • 0 Hide
    Sandburner20 , December 11, 2010 12:05 PM
    Interesting that the D510 system can't play Flash video fullscreen. I have run into the exact same problem with the Shuttle D510 system. Even more interesting that the D525 can. Could this be a timing issue with the D510 since the FSB is apparently different?
  • -1 Hide
    JohnMD1022 , December 11, 2010 12:05 PM
    We can scratch the Giada immediately.

    Why you ask?

    A Seagate drive.

    Can anyone remember the Yugo? That's Seagate.
  • 1 Hide
    naturalandtech , December 11, 2010 4:12 PM
    ASRock always rock! especially Vision 3D Series coming with:
    # Intel® Core™ i7 / i5 / i3 Mobile Processor Family
    # 2 x 2GB DDR3-1066MHz
    # NVIDIA® GeForce GT425M Graphics, NVIDIA® 3D Vision, 3DTV Play Capable
    # 2T2R WiFi 802.11b/g/n
    # 3 x USB 3.0
    # 7.1 CH HD Audio with THX TruStudio Pro™
    soon it will be on my hand,,, muhaha
  • 0 Hide
    teeth_03 , December 11, 2010 4:54 PM
    Your USB port totals are a bit off when you are forgetting the eSATA combo ports. So the Giada actually has 3, not 2, and so fourth.
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