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NVIDIA ION Platform Review: Death (and Life) of the Netbook

Author: Ryan Shrout
Subject: Mobile
Manufacturer: NVIDIA
Tagged:

General Performance Comparison

Now that we have seen the actual hardware of the NVIDIA ION platform, it's time to see how it performs in the real world.  And as it turns out, testing and comparing the various platforms of netbooks is a lot more difficult than it might at first seem.  Because all of these systems are essentially "fixed" meaning that you cannot replace parts on them (with exceptions like memory) we could not get an exact apples-to-apples hardware comparison.  Instead we had to take similar systems and compare them to each other in a way that makes the most sense.

Obviously the NVIDIA ION reference system will be tested as it came:

  • Intel Atom 330 CPU @ 1.60 GHz (only 1 HyperThreaded core enabled except where noted)
  • GeForce 9400M chipset and GPU (256MB shared frame buffer)

  • 2GB DDR3-1066 memory

  • 200GB 5400 RPM SATA HDD
  • Windows Vista Premium x32


CPU-Z for NVIDIA ION Reference (note only one core was active unless otherwise noted)



GPU-Z for NVIDIA ION Reference

To get some basic comparison numbers I tested the ASUS Eee PC 901:

  • Intel Atom N270 @ 1.60 GHz (HyperThreaded)
  • Intel i945GME chipset and GPU (256MB shared frame buffer)
  • 1GB DDR2-667 memory
  • 20GB solid state drive
  • Windows XP Home


CPU-Z for ASUS Eee PC 901

 

GPU-Z for ASUS Eee PC 901

You will no doubt notice that there are some differences in the test configurations: the ION platform uses 2GB of memory while the Eee PC 901 has only a single GB; the ION reference system used Windows Vista while the Eee PC 901 uses XP.  The Eee PC system (and any system using the 945GME chipset) are really incapable of running the Vista Aero experience so not only is a drag on performance it's also just NOT an option at this point.

For our quick system tests, I simply ran a few runs of Futuremark's 3DMark06 and PCMark05 benchmark suites.  You'll see why I didn't bother doing more testing on the Intel 945GME-based systems after you see these results though I did do some additional testing on the NVIDIA ION platform just to see what system could do with its performance advantages that current Atom-based systems could not.


Well, that starts out pretty well in favor of NVIDIA's ION reference platform - the scores here aren't even close.  The GPU on the Intel 945GME chipset is simply not up to the task of gaming, or even Vista Aero for that matter, getting a score of 37 in the Shader Model 2.0 tests (keeping in mind that SM2.0 is somewhat older technology) compared to the NVIDIA 9400M's score of 462 - a speed increase of about 12.5x. 

However, we have obviously done a good job of singling out the chipset/GPU as our CPU scores are identical.


The general-purpose benchmarks in PCMark05 show that in terms of CPU and memory performance, both the ASUS Eee PC 901 and NVIDIA ION platform perform the same; and that is what we expected with similar processors at their heart.  The overall score though shows the full story as the NVIDIA system is a full 44% faster than the Eee PC 901 even with its flash-based solid state drive.  So while the ION platform can't solve the CPU-bound issues of every day computing tasks the GPU is useful in gaming and other tasks (like video playback) as we'll see later in the review.

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