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Ion As A Gaming PC

Zotac's Ion Board On Windows 7: Nvidia Re-Arms Intel’s Atom
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We didn’t have our hopes set too high here, but given the Ion’s G86-based graphics core and claims from Nvidia that its chipset would yield playable frame rates in first-person shooters like Call of Duty 4, we decided to run the board through a couple of popular modern games.

Nvidia supplied us with a long list of “mainstream” titles that it says work well at 1024x768 and low detail settings. That list includes Age of Empires III, several games in the Battlefield franchise, Call of Duty 4, C&C: Red Alert 3, Iron Man, Spore, and a couple of Warcraft games. Many of those are older titles with significant replay value, suggesting that the integrated graphics core is quick enough to serve up reasonable frame rates, especially in games that are sufficiently low-impact for the dual-core Atom to not hold back performance too much.

For our tests, we used Left 4 Dead and World of Warcraft, actually playing through them a bit with the Ion setup. We’ll get into performance benchmarks shortly, but first wanted to explore the more subjective fields of image quality and playability.

In both apps, we were able to find a reasonable balance between performance and image quality settings that did the IGP some justice. We wouldn’t recommend a graphics solution that was sitting on the precipice between usable and one generation away from being forgotten, so this was an important distinction.

Running 1280x720, set to Fair quality settings, WoW didn't look all that bad.Running 1280x720, set to Fair quality settings, WoW didn't look all that bad.

The best showing was World of Warcraft, where we were able to run at the DLP’s native 1280x720 resolution using the game’s built-in “Fair” quality settings. I wasn’t able to get into any taxing raids with my unguilded death knight (and didn't have time to get sucked into any raids on my paladin), but the visuals through Ironforge weren’t bad at all and frame rates were actually quite fluid.

Left 4 Dead also ran at 1280x720, though it required Low detail settings in order to be considered playable. As you can see from the screen shot, Low doesn’t look all that bad, though this twitchy shooter isn’t as easy to play compared to the crisp 100+ fps speeds we see from high-end discrete cards. 

Also set to 1280x720 (with Low quality), Left 4 Dead was playable.Also set to 1280x720 (with Low quality), Left 4 Dead was playable.

If gaming is your primary reason for looking at Ion, then you’re frankly giving the platform too much credit. Gaming, to an extent, is viable, but as we’ll see from the performance numbers, it’s one more usage model held back by the Atom processor.

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