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Nano smashes Atom, reviewers say

Jul 30, 2008  |  Jonathan Angel  |  from the LinuxDevices Archive

Via's new Nano processor outperforms Intel's Atom by about 20 percent, according to articles published this week by three hardware enthusiast websites. But, while both CPUs draw approximately the same power when idling, the Nano drinks a lot more juice when loaded, the reviewers added.

The Nano, announced in May, has been widely compared to Intel's second-wave Atom 230, announced in June. Actually, there are some important differences between the two CPUs.

For example, the Atom N230 is built on Intel's 45nm process and uses in-order execution of instructions, for the lowest power and size requirements. The Nano is built on a 65nm process, and it promises higher performance by using out-of-order execution, similar to Intel's Core Duo architecture. And, officially, the Atom was designed for MIDs (mobile internet devices) and UMPCs (ultra mobile PCs), whereas the Nano is biased more toward mini-notebooks.

Still, though no products sporting the Nano have yet been released commercially, it's widely believed they'll compete head-to-head with Atom 230-based devices. So Via PR representatives encouraged a head-to-head comparison by loaning enthusiast websites a pair of Mini-ITX motherboards to test.

In the left corner, Via's Nano L2100 processor, with a clock speed of 1.8GHz, 800MHz frontside bus, and a rated TDP max of 25.5 Watts. In the right corner, Intel's Atom 230 processor, with a clock speed of 1.6GHz, 533MHz frontside bus, and a rated TDP max of 4 Watts.

The new Nano was represented by a slightly modified version of Via's Epia SN18000EG, originally introduced in September 2007 and designed for Via's C7 processor. The board — equipped with 1GB of RAM for testing purposes, though it accepts up to 4GB — has PCI Express and Compact Flash expansion slots. Since the Nano is pin-compatible with the C7, it wasn't difficult to adapt the board, but it will not be commercially released in this form, says Via.

Meanwhile, Intel's Atom was represented by the chipmaker's D945GCLF. This Mini-ITX motherboard, which sells for $80, is similar in most key respects to the Epia SN18000EG, though it includes only PCI expansion and a single DIMM slot. The latter was, once again, fitted with 1GB of RAM for testing.


Via's SN18000EG (l) and Intel's D945GCLF (r)
(Click either board for details)

So was it a mismatch, or a fair fight? Let's find out.

Performance

Ryan Shrout, reviewing the processors for the PC Perspective website, found that the Nano was up to 32 percent faster than the Atom. He wrote, “The numbers aren't going to impress you enough to make this your next gaming system of choice, but for budget notebooks and PCs I can easily see Via's part providing enough power.”

Marco Chiapetta wrote for HotHardware, “While the VIA Nano L2100 processor we tested had a 200MHz, or 12.5 percent, higher clock frequency than the 1.6GHz Atom 230, it typically outperformed the Atom by more than 15 percent to 20 percent in the applications we tested.”

Kyle Bennett wrote on the HardOCP site, “I have to admit, I expected the Via Nano to come out on top given its superscalar out of order architecture, but I did not expect the Intel Atom to take such an overall beating. The Nano looks like a power-efficient version of the Pentium 4 while the Atom looks like a power efficient version of the C7.”

Bennett further quipped, “I can tell you now that I never want to be subjected to Atom on the desktop again. Maybe I have been spoiled by high-end processors from Intel over the last year, but Atom on the desktop is sluggish and cumbersome at best. The Via Nano was not a speed demon either, but it allowed a tremendously more fluid and intuitive GUI experience.”

Power Consumption

Reviewers were obviously unable to measure the power consumption of either CPU in isolation. What they did do is measure power draw “at the wall” of each board, both at idle and under full load.

When idling, the two systems were remarkably similar in power consumption. HotHardware's Chiapetta, for example, measured the D945GCLF's idle power consumption at 47 Watts overall, whereas the Nano-adapted Epia SN18000EG required 49 Watts.

PC Perspective's Shrout found the Atom-based system to be idling at 56.4 Watts, and the Nano-based system to be idling at 59.2 Watts. And HardOCP's Bennett obtained an idle rating of 37 Watts for Nano, 38 Watts for Atom.

But, when subjected to a 100 percent load, the Nano's power consumption increased much more drastically. In Bennett's testing, for example, the Nano-based system required 53 Watts under such conditions, whereas the Atom-based system required only 43 Watts.

For Chiapetta, the fully loaded D945GCLF pulled just 55 Watts, whereas the fully loaded Epia SN18000EG required 74 Watts. Finally, Shrout noted a similar delta, rating the Intel product's consumption at 60.1 Watts under load, and the Via product's consumption at 77.5 Watts.

Further information

To read Kyle Bennett's comparison of Via's Nano and Intel's Atom, see the HardOCP website, here. To read Marco Chiapetta's comparison, see the HotHardware website, here. To read Ryan Shrout's comparison, see the PC Perspective website, here.

In a related story, the staff of our sister publication, eWEEK.com, recently sat down with Nigel Dessau, who became chief marketing officer of AMD in March. According to Dessau, AMD has no current plans to produce a rival to the Atom or Nano for the “netbook” market. For further information, see the video presented by eWEEK's Ashley Daley, here.


 
This article was originally published on LinuxDevices and has been donated to the open source community by QuinStreet Inc. Please visit LinuxToday.com for up-to-date news and articles about Linux and open source.

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