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Ion As A Desktop PC (Nettop)

Zotac's Ion Board On Windows 7: Nvidia Re-Arms Intel’s Atom

There are a number of different scenarios where a small, light, low-power nettop would be ideal. Be it a PC in the kitchen or a Web-browsing/word processing machine in some other common area of the house, the concept of an easy-to-reach terminal that doesn’t need to be super-quick makes sense.

This is one of the usage models we’ve seen Ion nudged into and, if you think you’ll really use it for that purpose (and that purpose exclusively), you might actually enjoy using the Atom/IGP combination. Push it too hard, though, and you’ll quickly find yourself frustrated. We’ve been there with the Shuttle X27; it isn’t fun.

Case in point: I’m accustomed to installing Windows Vista with SP1 for benchmarking, and then running a complete suite of patches (that’s the downloading and installation) via Windows Update in 20-30 minutes. When I saw this machine sit on the install for a single patch (.NET, I believe it was) for ten minutes, I knew that I was dealing with a different class of hardware than the stuff we’re used to testing in the Tom’s Hardware lab.

Too many minutes later...Too many minutes later...

Ion Under Windows 7 RC

In fact, because we knew going into this review that Vista’s weight is in many cases overwhelming for Intel’s Atom processor, we did all of our benchmarking under the Windows 7 release candidate. Boot times were certainly better, and application start-up did seem more responsive. But it was pretty obvious when we would ask the system to do more than it could handle.

Multi-tasking, for instance, was not pleasant. It was only natural to sit there, waiting for a DVD decoder to install, grow impatient, and hustle off to the Control Panel to check power settings, simultaneously hitting the processor even harder.

Here’s the short of it. When it comes to running multiple apps at the same time, compressing/decompressing large archives, and yes, even transcoding, CPUs are still very much deciding factors in resulting performance. I’d be fine browsing recipes online in the kitchen, answering email on a hallway terminal, or word processing from bed. But more intensive applications will certainly call for a quicker CPU. After all, Atom was conceptualized as an engine for mobile Internet devices—if it were too fast, it’d cannibalize Intel’s desktop-oriented offerings. Thus, even in Windows 7, you’ll want to scale back your expectations of a pint-sized mini-ITX platform with an Atom processor—even if it does show up backed by Nvidia’s impressive IGP chipset.

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