Atom, Athlon, or Nano? Energy-Savers Compared


We found it amazing to see all three competitors doing a good job when it comes to offering low-power systems, although the approaches are fundamentally different. AMD has its efficient 780G mainstream system with integrated graphics, which we equipped with a low-power Athlon 64 2000+ model at 8 W TDP. Intel’s Atom platform is based on an ECS motherboard using the 945G chipset that isn’t really a low-power product. But the Atom 230 processor requires so little power that it still hits the same 28 W idle power level as AMD and VIA’s devices do.

VIA With Best Performance And Best Features

VIA clearly offers the best processor performance with its new Nano L2100 CPU on the EPIA-SN mini-ITX motherboards, but the processing performance comes at a price—its peak power is significantly higher than the peak powers of the AMD and Intel systems. In addition, the performance crown only applies to single-threaded applications, as Intel’s Atom 230 does amazingly well thanks to its Hyper-Threading feature and higher memory subsystem performance. This does not leave much room for AMD’s 1,000 MHz of the Athlon 64 2000+, which cannot dominate the benchmarks. Since this processor isn’t really available in retail, we cannot consider it as an option anyway.

Atom Is Ambivalent

We are not sure what to think of the Atom solution, as it offers an interesting, extremely low-power processor, which delivers at least acceptable performance. But Intel stopped somewhere on the way and decided to pair its excellent low-power processor with an average mainstream chipset, which consumes four times the power as the processor. The efforts to develop an adequate chipset were probably too large, especially since Intel wants to release an Atom successor that includes graphics and memory in 2009. Atom eventually is economical enough for Intel to afford throwing in a timeworn chipset.

Recommendation : Watch Out for Other Options

Intel’s Atom has one definite advantage over the two other solutions—the power requirement stays within very controllable boundaries, which means that the delta between idle power and peak power is very small. If you know your performance requirements then you can be sure that Atom will be the lowest power solution, although not necessarily the most efficient one when more performance is required. The VIA device benefits from its integrated random number generator and hardware encryption support, which is both favorable for networking and security appliances.

Desktop users should look at some other options on the market, namely a current Intel mainstream chipset such as G31 or G33 paired with one of the low-end Core 2 models. The M0 steppings of Intel’s mainstream processors are especially efficient, and using an efficient power supply will move such a solution rather close to the idle power we’ve seen with the three low-power machines in this roundup. Performance will benefit a lot, as you can see in our additional test results, where we compare the three platforms to a Core 2 Duo E8500.