Does Intel's Dual-Core Atom Improve Efficiency?


Intel’s Atom 330 dual-core is a logical evolution of the Atom 230 processor, as it can be assembled rather efficiently and is capable of almost doubling computing power. At the same time, the platform TDP increases by only 4 W, from 29.5 W to 33.5 W. This sounds reasonable, but the performance gains for the Atom dual-core versus the single-core were rather disappointing, at least in our test suite.

We had to use Windows XP and last-generation benchmarks such as SYSmark 2004 SE and PCMark 05 instead of Windows Vista, SYSmark 2007 Preview and PCMark Vantage, as SYSmark 2007 would not complete on any of the Atom machines. Since SYSmark 2004 and PCMark 05 were not heavily optimized for multi-core CPUs, the advantages of the Atom 330 might be greater than they appear in our tests when they are actually using modern applications.

Core 2 Remains The Efficiency Champion For Office PCs

With that said, Intel’s entry-level business Core 2 E7000 family is capable of achieving the same system idle power and several times better performance than any Atom platform. All you need is a reasonable platform with integrated graphics—we used a G31 motherboard by Foxconn—and a power supply that is matched to the power requirements. Remember that an 80plus certification is no guarantee for high efficiency at loads below 20% of the nominal PSU output.

Did The Atom Model Fail?

It certainly didn’t, because you need to also factor cost into the equation: you are looking at a cost difference of at least $80 if you compare an integrated Atom solution with an entry level Core 2 Duo E7000 and a suitable G31 or G33 motherboard. If you are really sure that the desired system will be exclusively used for undemanding applications such as browsing the Web, reading email or doing simple business work, the Atom solution will be fine. It is slower than any other x86 platform—check out our comparison with VIA’s Nano—so be prepared to be patient. But it is also one of the lowest power solutions at the least possible cost, which can be an appealing combination in times of economic pressure, despite some efficiency drawbacks.