NVIDIA Ion Reference PC Platform Deep Dive

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Test Systems, HD Video and Demo Video

NVIDIA Accelerates the Search For a Cure

In the following performance evaluations we've pitted NVIDIA's Ion reference PC against a myriad of systems based on either Intel Atom processor designs or in one case, VIA's Nano reference platform and the VIA Nano L2100 processor.  The performance numbers we've provided along side the NVIDIA Ion platform's performance are presented for a frame of reference more than anything else, since it was nearly impossible to provide identically configured test systems.  As such these test metrics should not be considered an "apples to apples" comparison, but rather a general correlation of how the Ion platform will perform versus similar, low power platforms in its peer group.

HotHardware's Test Systems
Covering the bases
NVIDIA Ion Reference PC
Atom 330, 1.6GHz, FSB 533MHz
Atom 230, 1.6GHz, FSB 533MHz
2GB DDR3-1066
GeForce 9400M, 16 graphics cores

On-Board Ethernet
On-Board Audio
160GB Seagate Hard Drive
5400 RPM SATA

Windows Vista Premium
Asus Eee PC 1000H
Intel Atom N270 - 1.6 GHz
1x2GB DDR2-533
Intel
945GME
On-Board Ethernet
On-Board Audio
80 Seagate GB Hard Drive 5400 RPM SATA

Windows XP SP3
ASUS N10Jc
Intel Atom N270 - 1.6 GHz
1x2GB DDR2-533

Intel 945GME
GeForce 9300M
On-Board Ethernet
On-Board Audio
160GB Hard Drive
5,400 RPM SATA

Windows XP SP3
Lenovo IdeaPad S10
Intel Atom N270 - 1.6 GHz
1x2GB DDR2-533

Intel 945GME
GeForce 9300M
On-Board Ethernet
On-Board Audio
160GB Hard Drive
5,400 RPM SATA

Windows XP SP3


For PCMark Vantage and Cinebench Tests:
  • Intel BOXD945GCLF Motherboard and Intel Atom 230 @ 1.6GHz.- 2GB DDR2-800, 74GB WD Raptor HD
  • VIA Epia-SN Nano reference motherboard and Nano L2100 @ 1.8GH - 2GB DDR2-800, 74GB WD Raptor HD

Since to us, NVIDIA's tiny little Ion box simply begged to be setup as a Home Theater PC, we decided to dive right into HD Digital Video testing.  We corralled both H.264 encoded 1080p QuickTime clips, as well as 1080p Windows Media clips and fired them up to check system resource utilization, system responsiveness and general fluidity.

NVIDIA Ion Video Playback Performance
HD Video Playback

Below we've tested the system with two different media players, Cyberlink's Power DVD8 and Windows Media Player.  The version of Power DVD 8 that was tested was specifically provided by Cyberlink as a press beta build optimized to take advantage of NVIDIA PureVideo HD technology that is found in the GeForce 9400 GPU.  In this case, NVIDIA's PureVideo engine almost completely offloads the host processor (the Atom CPU) for all video decode workloads.

Conversely, in our Windows Media Player tests, the system is going to be reliant on more standard DirectX video acceleration on the PureVideo engine, which won't be utilizing the technology to its fullest potential.  Let's have a look at the results.


 
Ion HD Video Playback - PowerDVD 8 (right) and Windows Media Player (left)

On the left side shot, our 1080p Dark Knight trailer clip runs silky smooth exhibiting only about 20% CPU utilization on what could essentially be considered an Atom 230 single core processor with Intel HyperThreading enabled.  We've actually disabled one of the physical cores in the Atom chip via a setting in Windows Vista and thus only two processing threads are shown in the Windows Task Manager Performance Monitor.  Regardless, the results are quite impressive for the Ion system, with low CPU utilization and beautifully smooth performance. 

In the right hand shot, we have the system setup the same way, only now we're playing back a 1080p Windows Media clip with a standard Windows Media Player installation in Vista.  As you can see, Performance Monitor has spiked up to 60% processor resource utilization here.  However, we're happy to note that even under this rather heavy workload, Ion platform didn't drop a frame and playback was perfectly smooth.  That said, as Ion-based products come to market, the key for system builders will be to bundle various media player software with properly optimized NVIDIA PureVideo CODEC packages.

Finally, we'll wrap up this test section with a live demo of the NVIDIA Ion reference PC platform doing what it does best apparently, in a typical HTPC (Home Theater PC) environment.  Let's have a look...

We hope that wasn't too much of a spoiler for you.  Benchmark numbers are next...

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