Shuttle XS29F: Is VIA's Nano Processor Powerful Enough?

Intel Atom In Action: Shuttle X27D

Shuttle chose the dual-core X27D to represent its compact Intel solution, even though its Atom 330 processor has both higher rated power consumption and the performance advantage of dual cores. This big configuration difference will add significance to our performance-per-watt evaluation.

In spite of its Intel hardware, the X27D uses the same VIA-developed Mini-ITX form factor as the XS27F. The center of the board is a little more crowded with the two-component chipset however, and the inaccessible PCI slot has been eliminated on this retail version. More important than the missing expansion slot is Shuttle’s use of a single memory slot, limiting the system to a maximum 2GB memory via one module.

Also noteworthy is the 40mm low-speed fan, which adds an almost-imperceptible amount of noise to the system. Because it’s inaudible at normal distances in a relatively quiet room, Shuttle can still claim “virtual” silence.

The fun begins with the realization that the Atom 330 processor isn’t the part that requires a fan, as its 8W TDP for two cores seems more efficient than the Nano U1700’s 5W single-core, at least in theory. Instead, the chipset is the power-consuming culprit in most Atom-equipped systems.

In an apparent effort to put cost savings ahead of power savings, Intel specifies the ancient 945GC northbridge, a 22.2 watt part, to handle I/O and video needs. That’s nearly twice the power consumption of the modern GM45. Intel even offers a lower-power 945G in its 6-watt 945GSE, but its much slower graphics clock forced Shuttle to scuttle that option. Supporting only dated GMA 950 graphics and memory at speeds up to DDR2-533, this part is solely responsible for the system’s fan requirement.

Ironically, this is also an area where Intel’s former partnership with ATI could have netted extra performance at decreased power consumption using the Radeon Xpress 1250, had the partnership not been dissolved following ATI’s acquisition.

Making chipset power consumption even worse is the extra 3.3W required for the separate ICH7 southbridge, which adds nearly every other interface except video and memory. The combination of a 22.2W northbridge and 3.3W southbridge is a significant step backwards in efficiency from competing single-component designs, such as the Nvidia GeForce 9400M, which is capable of exceeding the 945GC’s performance while consuming half as much energy.

Thomas Soderstrom
Thomas Soderstrom is a Senior Staff Editor at Tom's Hardware US. He tests and reviews cases, cooling, memory and motherboards.
  • Wouldn't this just be a linux-only machine then? I can't possibly see any other use for it other than maybe a childs pc or a general "Internet & Email only" PC.
  • pakardbell486dx2
    This may be a dumb question, but why was Xp not used for this test? Clearly "just barely" wont work for people who spend their hard earn money on something like this. Maybe the celeron is ok for vista basic but the atom and nano platforms are just not good enough for Vista. If I can make an analogy comparing Vista and Atom/Nano it's like an old 73' Corolla trying to haul ten tons uphill.
  • werr20
    wonderful ! i'm waiting for faster cpu-s from via
  • ethaniel
    No CPU usage tests on Blu-ray playback? I was expecting that...
  • tacoslave
    amd huron platform thats all i have to say i want to see it benched see how it stakes up.
  • Blueridge
    I agree that the major drawback of this review is the use of Microsoft Vista. I think that Windows XP Home edition for ULPC or a netbook spin of a linux distro (e.g. Ubuntu) would have been a much better choice for this review, especialy since is very well known that Vista is just not the right choice for netbooks (or nettops). Some time ago I read several reviews of the nano processor, based on Win XP and they performed more than OK, they were even suitable for a small HTPC at that time (the toughest challenge was DVD playback back then) and with a better chipset would have performed even netter. But this happens when a resource hungry OS like vista is used... just my 2 cents.
  • HalfHuman
    i guess a windoze xp or 7 would be a lot better to use with this kind of hardware. in fact i cannot think at a more inapropriate os to run on a nentop than vista. :)
    maybe the performance delta would be the same but the usability would be more than "acceptable".
    regarding the "benchmarking" stuff... i do not think that anybody sane would buy a nettop to use it for hardcore photo editiing or transcoding.
    if i'd buy a nettop i'd be interested in several factors:
    - to be powerfull enough for office work and maybe hd playback
    - to use as little power as possible (which nano does nicely) as this kind of device would be rarely powered down
    - to be silent (which nano is)
    i think that performance per watt is irrelevant here as a system like this is not meant to be "performant". i think that the one that uses less watts, has more features is queter wins here.
    my take on this is that via has a very nice platform and nano wins even if it's not the fastest.
  • Blueridge
    I just took a look at Via's website and it seems that Nano is available in flavors up to 1.8GHz. I wish a machine based on such a processor was used for this review, though I think the main issue here is availability.
  • HalfHuman
    i would be nice to see some noise evaluations, some hd playback tests... some appropriate os. :)
  • eddieroolz
    The Nano would be the perfect computer to just leave it powered on, seeding torrents and such.