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back to article Intel Atom 230 ultra low-power desktop CPU

We recently reviewed Asus' Eee PC 901, which uses the new 1.6GHz Intel Atom N270 processor. Atom uses the same 45nm technology that you’ll find in the latest 'Penryn' Core 2 CPUs and it packs in some nifty power-saving features that result in a TDP of a mere 2.5W which makes it a natural choice for Small, Cheap Computers. But …

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Happy

I don't think it's aimed for multimedia

I get the feeling that this motherboard is not aimed at multi media but maybe more at the small monitor mountable thin client machines. I'm sure it would work really well as either a Windows Terminal Server client or even better a Linux Terminal Server Project client booting from a compact flash card.

The only thing that has stopped me buying a Mini-ITX box is the cost of the components being so high for a decent performing system, something like this though would do the job nicely (assuming I could find a cheap enough Mini-ITX case). Maybe things will start to get cheaper now.

I guess if you need better performance though and space isn't so much of an issue, you'd probably still be better off with a dual core Pentium Dual Core or Athlon X2 for the cheaper range or a Core 2 Duo or Phenom if you want something a bit quicker.

Rob

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Slightly misleading

Quote: "Atom uses the same 45nm technology that you’ll find in the latest 'Penryn' Core 2 CPUs"

Please clarify this, its misleading. Atom is an entirely new architecture that has nothing in common with Penryn at all, not even design philosophy. The only thing it has in common is that they are both manufactured on a 45nm process, which results in smaller and more power efficient chips.

Also, in your power consumption benchmark, you mention that the Core 2 Duo uses Dual Channel memory. This makes your power consumption comparison meaningless, as having an extra memory module, regardless of capacity, will cause the Core 2 Duo PC to consume more power than the Atom PC. This makes the test unfair - you arent testing the difference in processor power consumption as much as you are testing the effect of adding extra memory to a system.

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Too tall

The real problem with the heatsink and fan on the northbridge is that it's so tall that you can't fit the board in most existing mini-itx cases. No doubt they will fix this in a future version.

The "desktop" power connector is normal on a mini-itx board (though the extra four-pin thing isn't). You can plug in a pico-psu and it will probably still fit in a mini-itx box (it just fits in a 1U case). If you use any other power supply, be aware that you'll be wasting a lot of power: in my experience they're unlikely to reach even 50% efficiency when you're taking this little power.

There are just a handful of boards that take 12V in, mostly AMD geode based.

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Ash

My 2 pence

I have built a small linux server (xubuntu based) from this solution and it works fine. It does exactly what I need without complaint and drawing a lot lot less power than leaving my main machine on.

Why haven't you discussed power usage at all? I was actually very disappointed with the whole power usage. Whats the use of having a cpu that draws 4watts when you stick it on a motherboard with a Northbridge that draws 20watts plus.

The fan on the northbridge made a fair bit of noise for me so I purchased a passive northbridge cooler to make it a silent solution, £5 well spent.

Checklist for next iteration

- Better overall chipset power usage

- 10/100/1000 network (not just 10/100)

- Passive cooled

Performance which this article focused so heavily on isn't an issue for my intended usage.

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Better to wait for the companion chipset

This system isn't particularly low power because the ancient 945 chipset consumes about 10x as much as the Atom does (as you can see this from the disparate heatsinks).

If it is low power you are after, better to wait for a chipset that is a proper match for the Atom. I believe Intel are working on it, but decided to release the Atom first.

Regarding serial ports, it may not be as dumb as you think. A big market for this type of gear is embedded systems, where you often have to talk to archaic peripheral kit. In those markets, RS-232 ain't dead yet.

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Dead Vulture

Or just don't use vista....

Seems to me that the problem was with Vista rather than the motherboard itself.... What a total surprise - Vista runs slowly unless you have a dual-core machine, 4gb of memory and an expensive graphics card (shock horror)

I actually have this board and it runs Linux (Ubuntu 8.04) incredibly well indeed. It's perfect for a low cost, low-noise and (reasonably) energy efficient PC. You can even replace the northbridge cooler with a fan-less version for about £5 if that's an issue. There was a problem with the integrated network card but this has been fixed with the latest kernel (2.6.24-19).

To be honest, I don't think many people would buy this is a main system, at £57 delivered it's just not intended for that. After all, for a fully working system you just need a small case with PSU (£25 from ebay), 2gb memory (what £20?) and an old hard disk from a dead machine. So, a fully working system for just over £100... (sans monitor). Even add a DVD-RW (£20) if you so wish.

I'm using mine for a NAS server which is on 24/7 with 7 hard-disks attached (totalling > 2TB) via on-board IDE/SATA and USB (perhaps this is what the extra power was intended for). I connect from work over SSH and x-server. The only upgrade I am planning is to add a cheap gigabit network card (£5).

Anyway some suggested uses: 2nd computer for surfing the web, computer for childs bedroom, kitchen computer for streaming media, NAS Server, Hardware Firewall, DNS Server, in-car PC, thin-client for MythTV, remote X client. Use some imagination!

BTW the oh so very quaint and old-fashioned 'legacy' ports are actually quite useful if you like to play with hardware or want to connect the machine to routers / old printers etc. Some of us do this sort of thing for fun and/or work.

The *only* negative comment I will make is that despite the CPU being very low power, the on-board graphics system sucks up considerably more juice! (I run at just over 40w).

Bad review or bad product? Depends on your point of view I suppose.

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Bronze badge
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Disappointing

I have seen a few reviews of this chipset/processor and they have all said pretty much the same thing - what was the point of mixing that uber-low power processor, with that watt-hungry chipset?

You get slightly less power draw than a current low voltage/mobile solution, for substantially less performance. It appears the *only* advantage is that it's pretty damned cheap.

Useful as an EPOS/thin client I suppose.

I'm looking for something I can hook up to a SATA RAID card and build a NAS from, using as little power as reasonably possible. I'll be waiting for BobCat [AMDs offering IIRC] and Atom MkII then I suppose....and I can't help thinking that anyone wanting to make a *really* power efficient [x86 at least] based EPOS or thin client would probably do similar if this is anything to go by?

Steven R

PS: anyone got any suggestions for an ULV chipset that will run OpenSolaris [for ZFS] or WinServer [for NTFS RAID 5]?

PPS: I know that [RAID5 or ZFS four disk solution] / low power is a bit of an oxymoron, but I want a bit of redundancy.

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Anonymous Coward

Think you missed the point...

... these are intended mostly as low cost integrated solutions for the developing world and cheap computing uses where price and size are more important than performance.

What else can you get for £50 + Delivery? At most a Celeron and a really crap 775 motherboard with a 945G chipset, that is what you should have compared this to - not a desktop machine in a completely different price bracket.

I bought one of these to improve my firewall, and aside from the disappointingly high power usage caused by the 945G chipset it is actually pretty good for the job. Some older Linux kernels are not supporting the Realtek network chip, but that's not the board's fault.

Using a 2.5" drive (much more likely to happen in reality with this board) and including a dual port PCI gigabit card I am at 44-50W with the Aria PSU in an Antec NSK1300, I believe it could go 5-10W lower if using a picoPSU or similar with better efficiency.

Like has been said the chipset cooler is the biggest flaw IMHO - the fan IS loud, I had to tame it with a fanmate, it should have been wider and no higher than the IO shield, used a silent fan but this can easily be rectified for a few £.

I'd give it a higher score, the value for money is pretty good and the size/power draw with a few mods means great computing density. If only it used one of the low power 945G variants...

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E

No Go: Market Segmentation

It is a very pretty little board and the CPU is sexy, but Intel is clearly trying to control the market. PCIe on full size expensive boards for expensive CPUs, no PCIe and attendant crappy video on these small systems.

This CPU can drive an add in video card to make a very tiny workstation with fair 3D capability; if the board is used in a server as one fellow has done it would be nice to have the option of using an add-in RAID card.

Via's upcoming solution in this market is better, with it's x8 (or x16?) PCIe slot.

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Thumb Down

Bad review and joke motherboard

With all due respect the review is utterly useless.

Can we have this baby compared to a 1.5MHz Via or 1.5Mhz Geode so we can compare apples and apples instead of comparing apples and watermelons. It looks like Intel has delivered something which is fairly close to them performancewise so it is quite interesting to understand how close it is.

As far as features it is not anywhere near a modern Via motherboard, but it is also much cheaper so there is some level of cost/benefit tradeoff there for people who do not need the crazy choice of IO present on a Via mini-ITX motherboard (firewire, 6 USBs, 2-4 SATA, 1-2PATA, all varieties of audio, LCD panel, and so on...).

In addition to that it looks like the design suffers from all the failings of the early M-series Via motherboards. It has an audio connector that is too tall for many cases and it looks like the heatsink is even taller which will preclude this motherboard from fitting into anything but a MicroATX case. Most proper mini-ITX cases like cubid, travla or venus are off the menu. Same for mini-ITX 1U cases.

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just crap

I don't bother that much about multimedia, but I care about power consumption. My Dual Athlon BE-2300 on a Biostar-single-bridge chipset with Nvidia and HDMI consumes around the same power.

Look at that ugly north-bridge. Who in their sane mind wants an embedded-kind-of-system with ultra-low-power CPU; but a bridge requiring the cooling power of a fan?

Ping me when the price is as low as US$ 10, then we can buy a bunch for our students to experiment.

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Have you seen the ultra green version from a small startup in Yorkshire?

It's a small PC solution that uses condustive adhesive instead of solder for all the joints.

They're gonna call it Eee by gum

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Unhappy

Most disappointing

A review that mentions the Eee even only once has a contractual obligation to include THAT picture, yes you know the one...

Otherwise how are we expected to take the review's conclusions seriously?

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Power usage

Not sure what the total power draw of this is but my Dell XPS 1330 laptop (Core 2 Duo) draws 28watts normal use (eg web browsing, downloading etc) and 48 watts intensive computing, that includes the HDD and screen.

I would like to get below this but this board is nowhere near

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Coat

Re: just crap

Well... Via long had that problem solved. They have encountered the problem of the norhbridge+IGP consuming as much as the CPU (or even more) long ago and most Via Motherboards the heatsink is SHARED by the CPU and the chipset. While this results in a big, unsightly and heavy aluminium blob it also allows low rev fans or no fans at all for the lower freq designs.

Overall - Intel is where Via was 5 years ago with this one in terms of thermals, noise and features. The only interesting part is price as this is the cheapest system money can buy that thinks of itself as two CPUs (OK, it is SMT not SMP but 2 CPUs for the OS none the less).

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Anonymous Coward

I can see one definite use

I have ben looking at my power consumption, got both my PCs in the basement sucking power all night. Instigated WOL on both machines and I'm going to buy this little beauty to run as a torrentbox/firewall, should save a few bucks on leccy bill. Anticipating a 30-40% rise in power costs this summer over here in the US.

Efros

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VIA Nano

I'd really like to see this chip compared with the new VIA Nano processor, 60W of power is seriously high for these kind of systems.

From what I've seen in the tests it looks like the VIA Nano could very easily beat this processor on performance, which would be interesting.

The VIA Nano is already beating the 1.6GHz Intel M parts on performance per watt.

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Alert

If ATi made a chipset for Atom...

If ATi made a chipset for Atom based on a low-power X300SE core, it would be a killer combo...

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Anonymous Coward

Ideal for a NAS box

I bought one, and it's sat running Windows Server 2003 as a file server.

25GB boot drive and DVD hooked up to the IDE, and a pair of 750GB SATA in software raid-1. It sits in the corner, pretty much completely silent, no extra fans, and the PSU is hooked up to the extra fan header on the board to drop the speed of the fan in it.

Total cost of the hardware (not counting the re-used case and DVD) was approx £200 - load it with a dedicated SAN linux distribution and you can roll your own NAS box for cheaper than you can buy one.

OK - if you want to watch video you'll need a decent PCI version of a GFx card, and the sound will suck unless you can find a USB soundcard, but if you want a tiny low power system that is silent and just works you can't go far wrong.

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Silver badge

A lot of good uses

This is a good cheap M/B to slide into a surplus PC housing and boot to the network using LTSP. You can use the MythBuntu client chroot environment to create network booted media clients that drive your HDTV. It makes a good thin client. With a decent server you can get equivalent performance to a high end desktop for everyone in the house for a fraction of the price. The watts are decent and the price is certainly right for a thin client or car PC/media center.

Students would do well to play with this thing. The Watts will come down when Intel updates their chipset. In the mean time this will do.

If you want a media server PC for your house buy a server case, this, two SATA expanders, 2GB RAM, a gigabit PCI network card (Optional) and 10 750GB drives. Then install a decent OS, throw it in a closet, share the drives to the network and forget it. You'll never run out of space to store your episodes of House.

Height problems? You can probably replace the MCH cooler with a fan one from an old video card as long as your ambient temps don't rise above 35C.

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Coat

Our call center is buying exactly one of these

We're getting one into our Indian (Pune) call center in order to give our applications atomic testing.

If it works then we'll roll out a few hundred systems with lower power chipsets and hopefully a smaller form factor, such as system in monitor.

It's not just the power for the systems themselves, we also have to worry about running the air conditioners to clean up that power wastage afterwards, because of course all call centers must be located in tropical countries with poor electrical grids rather than say Iceland or Norway.

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Joke

Error in article title

This is clearly not an ultra low power motherboard, because of the chipset.

Instead it is an underpowered motherboard.

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Happy

I am an opinionated shit... so here goes

Actually, when it comes to doing WORK - by this I mean typing in stuff and scanning in the odd document and all, that sure - HIGH PERFORMANCE PC's and the TIME IS MONEY factor, do actually count for a real lot.....

But for all the really mundane "shit" it's probably a really good thing..

CHEAP, LOW POWER, SMALL and can play the really dumb basic kind of games... like Donkey Kong...

The ONLY 2 reasons I EVER upgrade is because my CHEAP, LOW POWER PC's either die (in part/s) from old age, or they just cannot hack having to scroll (page up / down) through 350 page documents, without coughing up their arse in the process.

But I have been computing away quite happily, on the last of the good stuff, remaining on the shelf - after it came out 3 or 4 years ago...

And I hang onto it all for a verrrrrrrrry long time.

So as to why I need to be buying the truck type PC's with the equivalent in power consumption, space taking, and running costs, the tripple bypass CPU's, the $900 graphics cards, the liquid cooling and screaming fans is beyond me.

CHEAP is good, and SUFFICIENT is enough.

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I think Intel rushed to market

I am waiting for the MSI Atom board with no fans.

http://www.fudzilla.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=7549&Itemid=37

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Interesting alternative

Interesting that the Intel D201GLY2 motherboard has very similar power consumption overall and a PCMark05 CPU rating about 50% higher.

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Dead Vulture

A word on wattage

Given how utterly patethic that review was and I can't even work up the entusiasm to flame it, here's a word on what was ignored:

I recently built one of these using a "noah" case with a DC-DC converter in it, a samsung 1TB drive (about 16W idle, 17W active) an old laptop CDRW drive and a 2GB stick of DDR2. Whilst copying a buttload (technical term) of stuff across the network to it, the CPU usage was sitting pretty at ~5% in XP-64 and the power usage (as measured by a maplin plug-into-the-wall meter) was 37 watts. The most I've ever managed to get this machine to consume was 51W on startup when the drive was first spun up. This quickly dropped back to 40 and idle is usually around the 35W mark.

As for the "dark ages" ports, all I can say is thank christ they're there, I work on embedded systems and it's great to have a machine with useful connectivity. When you need something to "just work" and it's playing lame, it's so much easier to debug over serial or parallel interfaces. Most embedded systems have a UART hidden away somewhere, even if it's only an internal header. USB->RS232 converters just don't work reliably enough.

Next time, let's have a review that doesn't compare melons to the krasnoyarsk tractor museum.

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