Zotac's Ion Board On Windows 7: Nvidia Re-Arms Intel’s Atom

Test Setup And Benchmarks

In most of the comparisons we’ve seen, Ion has been pit against either a low-cost Intel G45-based desktop setup or a 945G-series Atom configuration. Given the strength of its IGP, we took it as a foregone conclusion that this setup would outperform Intel’s own mini-ITX D945GCLF2 Atom board (which incidentally costs $80 to the Ion’s $180).

So instead, we built a platform that cost the same amount of money, but relied more heavily on desktop-oriented hardware. We used a Gigabyte MA78GPM-DS2H micro-ATX motherboard (AMD 780G chipset with 128 MB side-port memory), AMD’s recently-released Athlon X2 7850 dual-core CPU, and an Enermax ETK405AST 405W power supply—all of which add up to $187, matching the CPU/motherboard/PSU combo being offered by Zotac.

Now, the contention from mini-ITX purists is going to be that our micro-ATX build can’t go into the same places. This is true. And we have a recommendation for the folks who just have to have mini-ITX coming up. It’s more expensive, though, and doesn’t make for an ideal performance comparison to Ion as a result.

And just to be clear, we would not recommend our AMD-based build as a better HTPC solution. Its lack of multi-channel LPCM audio (we haven’t even been able to get it to pass-through DD or DTS in Windows 7 with the Reaktek HDMI driver) precludes it from most semi-serious home theater efforts.

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Test Hardware
ProcessorsIntel Atom 330 (Diamondville) 1.6 GHz, 441-ball FC-BGA, 533 MHz FSB
Row 1 - Cell 0 AMD Athlon X2 7850 BE (Kuma) 2.8 GHz, AM2+, 1,800 MHz HT, 2 MB L3 Cache, Power-savings disabled
MotherboardsZotac ION-ITX-A-U Nvidia Ion Graphics Processor, BIOS N0508WZT
Row 3 - Cell 0 Gigabyte MA78GPM-DS2H (AM2+) 780G/SB700, BIOS F4
MemoryCorsair 4 GB (2 x 2 GB) DDR2-1066 5-5-5-15
Hard DriveIntel X25-M 80 GB SATA 3 Gb/s Flash SSD
GraphicsNvidia GeForce 9300
Row 7 - Cell 0 ATI Radeon HD 3200 w/ 128 MB Side-Port Memory
Power SupplyEnermax ETK405AST 405W ATX12V v.2.2
System Software And Drivers
Operating SystemWindows Vista Ultimate Edition x86, Service Pack 1 / Windows 7 Release Candidate x86
DirectXDirectX 10
Platform/Graphics DriverGeForce/Ion 185.85 for Vista/Win7
Row 13 - Cell 0 Catalyst 9.4 for Vista/Win7
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Benchmarks and Settings
3D Games
Left 4 DeadQuality settings set to Low, 1280x720/720x480, latest Steam version, timed demo.
World of WarcraftQuality settings set to Fair, 1280x720/960x600 (Ion) and 800x600 (780G platform), Patch 3.1.1, Ironforge circuit, Fraps (120 seconds).
Audio Encoding
iTunesVersion: 8.1, 32-bit, Audio CD ("Terminator II" SE), 53 min., Default format AAC
Lame MP3Version: 3.98 (32-bit), Audio CD ""Terminator II" SE, 53 min, wave to MP3, 160 Kb/s
Video Encoding
Mainconcept Reference 1.6.1MPEG2 to MPEG2 (H.264), MainConcept H.264/AVC Codec, 28 sec HDTV 1920x1080 (MPEG2), Audio: MPEG2 (44.1 KHz, 2 Channel, 16-Bit, 224 Kb/s), Mode: PAL (25 FPS), Profile: Tom’s Hardware Settings for Qct-Core
Winrar 3.80Version 3.80, Benchmark: THG-Workload (334 MB)
Winzip 12Version 12, Compression=Best, Benchmark: THG-Workload (334 MB)
Synthetic Benchmarks and Settings
3DMark VantageVersion: 1.02, GPU and CPU scores
PCMark VantageVersion: 1.00, System, Memory, Hard Disk Drive benchmarks, Windows Media Player
SiSoftware Sandra 2009 SP3CPU Test=CPU Arithmetic/MultiMedia, Memory Test=Bandwidth Benchmark
Chris Angelini
Chris Angelini is an Editor Emeritus at Tom's Hardware US. He edits hardware reviews and covers high-profile CPU and GPU launches.
  • SpadeM
    Granted, we could have done significantly better in the power department had we been a little choosier with our CPU. The Athlon X2 7850 was attractive due to its $69 price tag, 2.8 GHz clock speed, and unlocked multiplier, but its Kuma core is still rated at 95 W. You can dip down to the $60 Athlon X2 5050e (running at 2.8 GHz as well) and cut your maximum TDP down to 45W for $10 less.

    If you knew you could have done better with a 45W not a 95W processor .. what gives? The supplier didn't have it in stock or why go for the obvious power monster?

    On a different note, I'm looking forward to the transcoding article.
  • one-shot
    Everyone down-rates the first post which is posted by the author of the article. I'm not sure if anyone has noticed that yet because I see every author's first post down-rated many times.
  • teeth_03
    I thought the ION platform used the Geforce 9400 and not the 9300?
  • sublifer
    Here’s the short of it. When it comes to running multiple apps at the same time, compressing/decompressing large archives, and yes, even trasncoding
    Just wanted to help: transcoding
  • wyvern287
    Does anyone know if this system can play Hulu videos?
  • hellwig
    I almost wish you hadn't even tried playing games on it, but I suppose you needed some sort of comparison for the performance of the ION chipset.

    How many people will use this as a satellite PC in their homes, and what ever happened to Windows Home Server? I would think you let your central PC/server handle the computing and just use this guy as a remote terminal to stream media to.
  • I'm looking for a low power system like this... my old father leaves his p4 system on ALL the time, and wonder why his electric bill is so high :-\
  • siliconchampion
    I love that they mentioned the GeForce 9300-ITX WiFi board at the end of the review. I used that board with an e7400, 4GB corsair, a low profile 9800 GT, a 320GB 7200RPM 2.5 inch drive, and an Antec 380 watt PSU. The reason I love it so much is three-fold.

    First, I put all of the above mentioned components and put them into the case from the original Xbox (while maintaning totally stock appearances except for the back.

    Second, the board boots lightning fast, and is a pleasure to work with.

    Third, before we put the 9800GT into the build, using the same 9300 chipset as the Ion platform, we were running HL2 on max settings at 1680x1050 resolution (except with only 2x AA) and getting 35-45 FPS. We also played Halo 2 on medium settings and that played very well also. Obviously, after the 9800 was added, the computer flies. That just goes to show you that the Atom really is what is holding back the capabilities of the 9300 chipset.

    All of this was accomplished with about $500, so it is a good budget computer that is inside of an Xbox. My i7 system has nothing on the "coolness" factor of this computer.
  • cangelini
    teeth_03I thought the ION platform used the Geforce 9400 and not the 9300?
    The difference between 9300 and 9400 is clock speed. This one is slower than the 9300, even.
  • cangelini
    subliferJust wanted to help: transcoding
    Thanks sub: fixed!