Nvidia's Ion: Lending Atom Some Wings

Power Consumption: Better, But...

The Ion’s power brickThe Ion’s power brickOne of the critical areas in the battle between the 9400M and the 945GC was the overall power consumption of the platform. Unfortunately, we had difficulty measuring power use because the reference Ion platform and the D945GCLF motherboard use very different power supplies. On the Ion, an external power brick converts AC power to 12 V DC, which is then divided into several voltages—3.3 V, 5 V and 12 V—by the motherboard power stage. And since we measure power consumption at the AC outlet, we need to know the output both of the brick and of the power stage on the motherboard.

The Sparkle Power 220 W PSUThe Sparkle Power 220 W PSU

Nvidia wasn’t able to give us any information, and we didn’t have the necessary equipment for taking measurements at the time of the test. Fortunately, though, the brick used by Nvidia has been tested by our confreres at SilentPCReview. To be more exact, they made careful measurements of the brick’s efficiency with a 12 V DC -> 12 V, 5 V, 3.3 V DC converter, so their figures are a good estimate of the output of the Ion’s power supply. The power-use values shown below were calculated based on the results of SPCR’s test. We should make it clear that they should be taken for what they are, since there are many sources of possible variations. But they’re the best approximation we’re able to make at the present time.

In contrast, the Intel D945GCLF motherboard employs a traditional ATX AC/DC power supply. We used a low-power PSU in order to ensure good efficiency at very low loads. Our choice was an FSP/Sparkle Power SPI220LE, which we’d already used in our earlier tests of the Atom. This power supply has also been tested by SPCR, using the same protocol as for the preceding components, so we felt it was a good idea to again use their figures, to avoid introducing errors.

Efficiency, Sparkle Power PSU
Efficiency, Ion Platform Power Supply

Consumption at the AC outlet (W)
Efficiency (%)
Consumption at the AC outlet (W)
Efficiency (%)
SPCR Measurement

Consumption at the AC Outlet (W)
Actual Calculated Consumption (W)
Ion Advantage (%)

No Load
Peak Load

The bottom line, granted the suppositions we’ve made, is that the Ion platform proved to be substantially more economical than the basic Intel platform. We estimate its advantage as being between 19% and 35%, depending on whether PC is idle or under load. These results are in line with the theoretical TDPs cited by the manufacturers, but they’re still a little surprising: the GeForce 9400M has a TDP of only 12 W, compared to 25.5 W for the 945GC + ICH7 tandem, so we expected a bigger difference.

To be sure of just how much more energy-efficient the Ion is compared to the Intel platform, we’ll need to run tests under conditions that make for better comparison. It shouldn’t be long until we can; Nvidia tells us that Ion motherboards in micro-ATX or mini-ITX formats will available soon, so we’ll get back to you in a few weeks. But we can already say that the Ion is clearly a more energy-efficient platform than the standard Atom platform.

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  • rootheday
    Let's be clear - the Ion reference platform is for a nettop - not a netbook. Its based on the dual core Atom 330. I doubt very much that Ion with a single code Atom 230 or N270 would have enough horsepower to do the BD decryption required for BD playback.
  • matthieu lamelot
    Please, let me be clear : the platform reviewed was equipped with an Atom 230, not a 330, as is perfectly obvious from the pictures (one single die on the CPU package).
    And, yes, it's powerful enough (thanks to the 9400M) to smoothly playback a BD like Casino Royale (including the HDCP decryption). CPU utilization rose to around 67 % during that test.
    And even though the Ion ref platform is kind of a nettop (and we tested it with that in mind, comparing it to Intel's nettop platform), it could also fit in a netbook since 9400M TDP is very close to that of Intel 945GSE chipset that is found in most netbooks today : 12 W compared to 9,3 W. Nvidia and its partners would just need to drop 9400M's frequency a bit.
  • randomizer
    Matthieu, I'm not sure who makes the onboard sound, but if it's Realtek you need to have Stereo Mix enabled for CoD 4 to run. Also, I found that I couldn't start CoD4 (with what appears to be the same error even though I can't really understand it) without plugging in speakers. Yes, speakers. Although any output device might have sufficed.
  • mitch074
    Realtek codecs are quite common (thus I concur with randomizer); some are quite advanced in that they do automatic detection of what kind of hardware is connected to what pin (through best guess from device impedance, considering the low dB noise those codecs output they are some precise piece of ingineering), allowing autodetection of the sound setup (they will detect if you replace a microphone with a set of speakers, and switch configuration from stereo+microphone to 4.0 audio, for example; that requires driver support though).
    If CoD4 requires sound (some games are funny this way) and no hardware is plugged in, then the sound card may report a status CoD4 wasn't expecting, and refuse to run.
  • randomizer
    Well you'd think that they would have patched the game so that it doesn't have problems with needing Stereo Mix and output devices by now. What if my speakers are dead? That's just poor...
  • amnotanoobie
    I immediately looked at the benchmark images, instead of reading the accompanying text around it, and I thought "WTH is AMD (green bar) doing on the nVidia ION platform." I thought I was linked to another page of another review.
  • Anonymous
    hei man pls ...for now nvidia platform has some advantages but with DX11 you will not need gpu any more ...so for now it's ok for future this platform will be nothing but dust
  • nukemaster
    You may not need a GPU, but a GPU is still far faster then the cpu at running games.

    Good review its about time Atom got a little help.
  • liemfukliang
    I wont buy atom until it can run PCMark Vantage, 3DMark Vantage. I don't mean it has to be high score, I just one it is finish the test and not error. :)
  • Tekkamanraiden
    I'd like to be able to buy one of those little reference systems. It would make a nice little HTPC.
  • gwolfman
    amnotanoobieI immediately looked at the benchmark images, instead of reading the accompanying text around it, and I thought "WTH is AMD (green bar) doing on the nVidia ION platform." I thought I was linked to another page of another review.

    LOL, I caught that too. "AMD green" == nVidia Ion. lol too funny
  • gwolfman
    Nice touch, :thumbsup:
  • PrangeWay
    Quick question on audio playback during BR playback, 7.1 Dolby/DTS HD?
  • scJohn
    Looking at the Setup page, it was not clear what kind of drive you used for the BR playback. Was it an internal or external drive?
  • trevorvdw
    Atom with Wings .. where do they keep those at the grocery store?
  • bounty
    330, BR/DVD burner, large HDD and a good tuner would be sweet. And 100Mb? come on, I want a server/htpc
  • bounty
    Actually make that dual GIG nic's. Or at least 100 and 1GB so I can do some content filtering too.
  • TheEvolution
    But the box looks ugly.....
  • danimal_the_animal
    other sites report WAAAAY better results, but they seem to have gotten the dual core atom motherboards....also i heard you can over clock the atom to 1.9ghz sweet for a dual core!
    I want one of these to replace my mythTV box in the front room....just waiting for mythtv ver. 0.22 and VDPAU to come out.

    right now i have a asus pn5-em using the onboard video to playback all HDTV content as well ans blueray rips....was using an e2180 clocked at 2.66ghz untill i ran into a problem with stargate and also step into liquid where the audio was out of sync...actually the videocard could not keep up....i had to give my mythbox a swift kick in the ass with a q6600 running at stock speed....now everything runs perfect....but heck isnt the q6600 a 95watt CPU or is it rated higher...either way i could CERTAINLY use this ION but in a dual core version....with VDPAU all video would be taken care of by the videocard and a dual core atom would make perfect sense for what i am doing!

    c'mon Nvidia...RELEASE this little box! i really need it for a mythTV front end...
  • Anonymous
    FYI, the provided Ion sample's formfactor is NOT the Pico-ITX!

    It is instead the updated formfactor, the Pico-ITXe. The revision includes the SUMIT connections that are the mystery connections. http://www.samtec.com/search/sumit.aspx