G31 And E7200: The Real Low-Power Story


The G31 chipset does not have a single feature to make it really special. It does not support DirectX 10, it does not provide 3D performance that is anywhere near useful for gaming, and it is limited to 4 GB of memory. But none of this is necessary for a basic workhorse PC for everyday use. The G31 is cheap, it supports all Core 2 processors including the quad-core models, and it can be upgraded with any high end graphics card, making it almost as suitable for gamers as a high end chipset. It’s the motherboard makers who turned G31 from a lame mainstream duck into a chipset option for efficient platforms.

Foxconn Shows Better Efficiency

Both motherboards do a good job of providing a reliable platform for office and multimedia desktops, and they artfully do the dual-duty of combining low idle power with decent processing power for mainstream applications. The Core 2 Duo E7200 in the current M0 stepping we used helped to maximize power savings when idle, while delivering sufficient performance for everyday work. The Gigabyte GA-EG31MF-S2 required between 38 and 60 W; Foxconn was more conservative with motherboard features, but managed to be even more efficient in idle at an amazing 31 W minimum power requirement. Apart from the missing DVI display port there was little to criticize about the two boards. They are both priced well below $75, and both also ran flawlessly with a fast Core 2 Quad CPU if necessary.

31 W Idle Power Requirement

Let us underline that the 31 W idle power figure isn’t far from the figures achieved by a low-power system using an Intel Atom or a VIA Nano processor, where systems typically require between 20 and 35 W, depending on the power supply, chipset memory and hard drive used. The Core 2 Duo E7200, however, provides serious performance when you need it, while the Atom and Nano cannot even beat the performance of a three-year-old PC.

Smart Component Choice Beats Low-Power PCs

The idea of getting an Atom system or one based on VIA’s C7 or Nano processors for your home server or multi-purpose hallway or living room PC sounds very reasonable, as these were designed to consume little power. But these products will fail you as soon as you need more performance. Atom, Nano and others are great solutions for workloads that are fully predictable and controllable, but your everyday work is not. You may want to use a new application, which means the dedicated low power machines will fall flat on their figurative faces. Going for a reasonably-configured high-efficiency PC will cost a bit more, but it will not increase the idle power by much, while providing you with performance reserves that are many times above the level of the low-power options we’ve been testing for the past few weeks here at Tom’s Hardware.