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Conclusion

Zotac's Ion Board On Windows 7: Nvidia Re-Arms Intel’s Atom
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We’ve seen Ion positioned several different ways: as a strong contender in the HTPC space, as a mainstream gaming solution, and as a lightweight desktop workstation. In preparation for this story, I actually used the platform in all three environments, switching back and forth from Windows Vista to Windows 7 release candidate as needed to test features and responsiveness.

The Zotac motherboard’s most promising destination is in the HTPC space, where its tiny size, equally modest power consumption, and long feature list are almost everything a couch commando could want. From the PureVideo HD acceleration to the support for multi-channel LPCM output, you have almost everything you need for lots of high-def entertainment. As the platform stands right now, we were able to get Dolby Digital and DTS pass-through over HDMI, but were still missing lossless 5.1 LPCM support. We’re most excited about using a box like this with Windows 7 and its integrated Media Center.

Gaming really needs to be an afterthought here. Though the IGP is capable of cutting through a number of popular mainstream games at 1024x768 and low detail settings, a sub-$100 graphics card will go a long way to enabling a much more satisfying experience. Of course, in order to go that route you’d also need a platform with a PCI Express x16 slot. Hold on a second, we’re getting there.

As a third or fourth household desktop, Ion does have potential. Boot times are lengthy and virus scans take a while, but so long as you’re browsing the Web, checking email, and word processing on the little system, you’re less likely to notice that it takes longer for apps to open or patches to install. A full complement of modern I/O like USB 2.0, Gigabit Ethernet, and integrated 802.11n wireless means you won’t be missing any of the plugs or ports found on more powerful workstations.

A Mini-ITX Alternative Emerges

We compared Zotac’s mini-ITX Ion board to a micro-ATX 780G platform, which delivered a lot more performance due to its desktop-class hardware, but took up a lot more room in the process. Now, we know micro-ATX and mini-ITX are in entirely different leagues, and we know there are enthusiasts out there who simply must cram their tech toys into the smallest enclosure possible.

It’s almost ironic, then, that the favored alternative to this mini-ITX Atom board also comes from Zotac. The company’s GeForce 9300-ITX WiFi employs the same chipset and includes a very similar feature set, yet it boasts an LGA-775 interface able to take Core 2-class CPUs.

At $140 for the board alone, you’re going to spend more with the CPU and PSU factored in, but if you want a real mini-ITX-based HTPC or desktop workstation with teeth, this is the route we’d go.

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  • 13 Hide
    SpadeM , May 12, 2009 2:36 PM
    Quote:
    Granted, we could have done significantly better in the power department had we been a little choosier with our CPU. The Athlon X2 7850 was attractive due to its $69 price tag, 2.8 GHz clock speed, and unlocked multiplier, but its Kuma core is still rated at 95 W. You can dip down to the $60 Athlon X2 5050e (running at 2.8 GHz as well) and cut your maximum TDP down to 45W for $10 less.


    If you knew you could have done better with a 45W not a 95W processor .. what gives? The supplier didn't have it in stock or why go for the obvious power monster?

    On a different note, I'm looking forward to the transcoding article.
Other Comments
  • 13 Hide
    SpadeM , May 12, 2009 2:36 PM
    Quote:
    Granted, we could have done significantly better in the power department had we been a little choosier with our CPU. The Athlon X2 7850 was attractive due to its $69 price tag, 2.8 GHz clock speed, and unlocked multiplier, but its Kuma core is still rated at 95 W. You can dip down to the $60 Athlon X2 5050e (running at 2.8 GHz as well) and cut your maximum TDP down to 45W for $10 less.


    If you knew you could have done better with a 45W not a 95W processor .. what gives? The supplier didn't have it in stock or why go for the obvious power monster?

    On a different note, I'm looking forward to the transcoding article.
  • -7 Hide
    one-shot , May 12, 2009 2:37 PM
    Everyone down-rates the first post which is posted by the author of the article. I'm not sure if anyone has noticed that yet because I see every author's first post down-rated many times.
  • 6 Hide
    teeth_03 , May 12, 2009 2:46 PM
    I thought the ION platform used the Geforce 9400 and not the 9300?
  • 2 Hide
    sublifer , May 12, 2009 3:04 PM
    Quote:
    Here’s the short of it. When it comes to running multiple apps at the same time, compressing/decompressing large archives, and yes, even trasncoding

    Just wanted to help: transcoding
  • 2 Hide
    wyvern287 , May 12, 2009 3:10 PM
    Does anyone know if this system can play Hulu videos?
  • 5 Hide
    hellwig , May 12, 2009 3:23 PM
    I almost wish you hadn't even tried playing games on it, but I suppose you needed some sort of comparison for the performance of the ION chipset.

    How many people will use this as a satellite PC in their homes, and what ever happened to Windows Home Server? I would think you let your central PC/server handle the computing and just use this guy as a remote terminal to stream media to.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , May 12, 2009 3:42 PM
    I'm looking for a low power system like this... my old father leaves his p4 system on ALL the time, and wonder why his electric bill is so high :-\
  • 3 Hide
    siliconchampion , May 12, 2009 3:48 PM
    I love that they mentioned the GeForce 9300-ITX WiFi board at the end of the review. I used that board with an e7400, 4GB corsair, a low profile 9800 GT, a 320GB 7200RPM 2.5 inch drive, and an Antec 380 watt PSU. The reason I love it so much is three-fold.

    First, I put all of the above mentioned components and put them into the case from the original Xbox (while maintaning totally stock appearances except for the back.

    Second, the board boots lightning fast, and is a pleasure to work with.

    Third, before we put the 9800GT into the build, using the same 9300 chipset as the Ion platform, we were running HL2 on max settings at 1680x1050 resolution (except with only 2x AA) and getting 35-45 FPS. We also played Halo 2 on medium settings and that played very well also. Obviously, after the 9800 was added, the computer flies. That just goes to show you that the Atom really is what is holding back the capabilities of the 9300 chipset.

    All of this was accomplished with about $500, so it is a good budget computer that is inside of an Xbox. My i7 system has nothing on the "coolness" factor of this computer.
  • 1 Hide
    cangelini , May 12, 2009 4:20 PM
    teeth_03I thought the ION platform used the Geforce 9400 and not the 9300?


    The difference between 9300 and 9400 is clock speed. This one is slower than the 9300, even.
  • 0 Hide
    cangelini , May 12, 2009 4:23 PM
    subliferJust wanted to help: transcoding


    Thanks sub: fixed!
  • 0 Hide
    cangelini , May 12, 2009 4:23 PM
    wyvern287Does anyone know if this system can play Hulu videos?


    Yes, you'll be fine with Hulu videos.
  • 0 Hide
    cangelini , May 12, 2009 4:25 PM
    hellwigI almost wish you hadn't even tried playing games on it, but I suppose you needed some sort of comparison for the performance of the ION chipset.How many people will use this as a satellite PC in their homes, and what ever happened to Windows Home Server? I would think you let your central PC/server handle the computing and just use this guy as a remote terminal to stream media to.


    GPU power is one of the main advantages that Nvidia has over Intel's Atom-oriented platforms--it's worth looking at, even if you aren't going to be able to run much on it.
  • 1 Hide
    quantumrand , May 12, 2009 5:30 PM
    The point of a nettop is low power consumption, and a small footprint. Its uses really dont go any further than general office productivity, web browsing, file serving, or maybe as an HTPC.

    As long as you're not planning to use it as a file server or HTPC, you might as well get a netbook and a docking station of some sort. There really wont be much difference in real use performance, but you'll get the added option of portability.
  • 3 Hide
    Anonymous , May 12, 2009 5:45 PM
    and the review with Linux ?
  • 2 Hide
    cangelini , May 12, 2009 6:03 PM
    gotdieseland the review with Linux ?


    At least officially, there are no Linux drivers for Ion yet. That'd make the review a little tough to write ;-)
  • 0 Hide
    vinehoyle , May 12, 2009 6:19 PM
    Granted, we could have done significantly better in the power department had we been a little choosier with our CPU. The Athlon X2 7850 was attractive due to its $69 price tag, 2.8 GHz clock speed, and unlocked multiplier, but its Kuma core is still rated at 95 W. You can dip down to the $60 Athlon X2 5050e (running at 2.8 GHz as well) and cut your maximum TDP down to 45W for $10 less.

    ok, let's pick this statement apart. Tom's has really lost it's way of late, and this is yet another example of what's really wrong. Ok the first obvious mind blowing error here is 5050e @2.8ghz. Unless you plan to overclock it, negating it's 45 TDP effectiveness, it arrives to you at 2.6 ghz.I own one, that's exactly how I know. Course if Tom's had done a review of it, they'd know this..but they didn't...I suppose their too busy writing boatloads of I7 reviews... Now to go farther with this, yeah this might sting a bit I grant ya, but oh well, a person who's considering an Atom Platform or a Low Energy AMD platform, their NOT EVEN LOOKING at a Kuma 95 watt core. Their looking at 45 watt, at most, like that 5050E, or maybe some LE-1600 series. I've said this before, but Tom's needs to start comparing oranges to oranges...what they really did here was compare a kiwi to a grapefruit. Tom's better start thinking or this site will lose it relevance very soon. Hard times are here, and shoppers are indeed shopping like this too. I fully recommend that Tom's redo this article with a proper watt AMD cpu, in this case 5050e or an LE-1600 series. Geeezzzzz..........95 watt kuma??? Roflao!!
  • 2 Hide
    cangelini , May 12, 2009 6:30 PM
    It would have probably been enough to point out the typo ;-) If someone is looking for an Atom platform to use in any of the environments being sold here (gaming, HTPC, or desktop), then the benchmarks should show them that maybe they SHOULD be looking at a Kuma-based Athlon. Or, if they must go mini-ITX, the Zotac board suggested at the end of the story with a Core 2-class chip. Does the fact that the micro-ATX comparison platform used more power under load? If that's your only criteria, sure. But it hardly invalidates all of the other Ion-only observations.

    I actually *used* this board. Why put a bunch of anemic platforms up against each other, suggesting, "Hey, if you're fine with creeping along at 2 MPH, here are five different solutions that'll make you pull your hair out as an anti-virus runs in the background?" The point is that, on the desktop or in a gaming situation, *you can do much, much better.*

    Thanks for the feedback, though! =)
  • -1 Hide
    The Schnoz , May 12, 2009 7:40 PM
    one-shotEveryone down-rates the first post which is posted by the author of the article. I'm not sure if anyone has noticed that yet because I see every author's first post down-rated many times.

    That's us sending a message that we don't like it. Why post a comment with a link to the article we just read on the same page?
  • -1 Hide
    The Schnoz , May 12, 2009 7:50 PM
    I'm thinking about getting the 775 chipset version of this to use with my old 2160. I would like to see a comparison of these two, or something comparable, but I guess that's wishful thinking.
  • 1 Hide
    cangelini , May 12, 2009 7:57 PM
    And btw, we're trying to get rid of that top comment as well--not sure when or what that was added...
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