Out with the old and in with the new, but worse platform. I have been wondering about the Intel Atom D510 performance for quite a while now alongside the NM10 chipset. It is essentially Intel’s upgrade to the venerable dual-core Intel Atom N330. With the consolidation of features to the D510 and NM10 Intel was able to get rid of a power- hungry 90nm process component and deliver a reduced feature set in the name of lower power consumption. For low power file servers, the Atom platform is great. One will notice these days that Intel’s 32nm Clarkdale line has idle power consumption similar to the D510. Where the Atom CPUs really shine is in load power consumption. Unlike the Core i3-530 and Core i5-650 (and their higher clocked Clarkdale brethren), the Atom CPUs are somewhat famous for only adding a nominal amount of power consumption when being fully taxed versus sitting idle. That is why many of the NAS appliance vendors that run proprietary Linux distributions choose the Atom to do software raid parity calculations.
Sadly, Intel has decided to leave the NAS and HTPC markets out to look at other offerings instead of its Atom D510 platform.
For this review I used the ZOTAC NM10-A-E with the Atom D510 CPU and NM10 chipset. It should be noted that I removed the mini PCIe WiFi card to make the power consumption numbers comparable to other test systems that did not have wireless cards built-in.
- CPU(s)/ Motherboard: ZOTAC NM10-A-E with onboard Intel Atom D510
- Memory: 4GB of OCZ Platinum DDR2
- Case: Apex MI-100
- Drive(s): Patriot PS-100 32GB
- Power Supply: PicoPSU 150XT
- OS(es): Windows 7 Pro 64-bit
I also am using the PicoPSU 150XT again instead of the integrated Apex MI-100 PSU. I simply want to keep the test configurations as close as possible. In the real world, it makes little sense to use this configuration since spending $70+ on a small PSU and power brick disregarding the “free” PSU makes little sense economically, and from a space perspective.
It is a widely known fact that the old 945GC + ICH7 arrangement of the original Atom N330 dual core CPU was power hungry, using up to 25-26w just between those two chips. The NVIDIA ION platform combined an Atom N330 plus a NVIDIA part including onboard graphics to lower power by a substantial amount, due mainly to a major process shrink between the Intel and NVIDIA parts. The original Atom + 954GC/ ICH7 platform I passed on because of this in everything except my Dell netbook. Here is a quick screenshot of the great Atom D510 and NM10 power consumption.
25w!!!! How great is that? Lower idle power consumption than the N330/ION (31w) and Core i5-650 (27w). Intel, great job on the power consumption! Now for performance, remember this is an Atom CPU so this is not going to be pretty.
Clearly the Atom D510 is showing very low power consumption relative to Intel’s other CPUs.
The Atom D510 is a step ahead of its predecessor Atom N330 in terms of performance which is welcome.
Windows Experience Index
Windows 7’s built in Windows Experience Index CPU benchmark is not the best CPU benchmark by any means. It is however installed in millions of PC’s (running Windows 7) and does provide a general performance ranking between CPUs that is accurate from a ballpark perspective.
The WEI CPU score of 3.4 is fairly good, 0.1 above the Atom N330 or a similar increment between a Xeon X3440 and a Xeon X3460 (that speed step costs more than the entire Atom D510 motherboard and CPU for comparison). Also, one can see 3.0 graphics scores. Clearly this is not a gaming platform and it is easily bested by the 4.1 Graphics and 5.2 Gaming Graphics scores the N330/ ION platform was able to produce. Memory performance also slightly improved although this is a very small incremental gain.
Handbrake 0.9.4 Transcoding
My other favorite benchmark is encoding x264 video using Handbrake 0.9.4 on CPU’s. This is because many people store video files on their Windows Home Server, and video encoding/ transcoding takes a lot of CPU power. It oftentimes makes sense to utilize the Windows Home Server to do this encoding for iPods, iPhones, iPads, Zune HDs and etc rather than a main PC due to the fact that video encoding uses 90%+ of available CPU cycles, slowing down the system it runs on. Here is the table, expanded for the new entrants:
|x264 Handbrake 0.9.4 Encode
|Phenom II X4 955 BE
|Phenom II X4 965 BE
|Core i7 920
Handbrake performance inched up to 23fps, slightly better than the N330. On one hand this is about 9-10% better performance. On the other hand, the Core i3-530 provides a lot more CPU power in a $100 chip. The AMD Sempron 140 Sargas, single core, is still significantly faster than either Atom setup in terms of Handbrake video encoding performance.
At the end of the day, the D510 is a faster chip than the N330, but it is not going to win any performance awards. Lower power consumption, faster speeds, what is wrong with the Atom D510 and NM10? The feature set if you are not using the combination in a netbook.
Features, or lack thereof
First off, I cannot give the new Atom D510 Pineview platform a glowing review because of the NM10 chipset. Intel decided to save a few transistors and give it a maximum of 2 SATA ports with the NM10 Tiger point chipset. Practically speaking, this means if one wants to have a decent capacity file server (i.e. something that uses over two drives and therefore makes sense to move out of a main PC), then they need an add-in PCIe card. With something like an 8-port LSI 1068e based card starting at $150, adding extra SATA connectivity is not cheap. Furthermore, adding a PCIe card for more SATA ports means that one forgoes the ability to add an Intel based gigabit NIC to non-Intel motherboards based on the NM10 chipset. Bottom line, the NM10 is not a suitable file server chipset.
After seeing the SATA limitation, I quickly realized that the only sensible thing to do would be to use this as a HTPC with Windows Media Center. That idea lasted but a few moments.
Where the N330 + ION combination had a decent GPU that could decode h264 video, the Atom D510’s GPU cannot. The purported remedy is to add a mini PCI express decoder card from Broadcom the Crystal HD Decoder BCM70012. A quick check shows the card is at least $50 yet allegedly consumes 2w. My big issue with this is the fact that the Microsoft Zune HD, Apple iPad/ iPod Touch/ iPhone all decode h264 video and have extremely low power requirements. Also, buying that Broadcom card is $50. For HTPC purposes, it makes the D510 platform cost $130+, which is in the realm of i3-530 + motherboard deals, except the i3-530 is a much more competent platform.
Furthermore, if one does decide to output video, one is limited to 1366×768 resolution, even using HDMI out thanks to Intel’s GPU limitation. Frankly, this is unacceptable in 2010. It would have been borderline unacceptable in 2000 when people were still using CRT’s and TV’s at 640×480 resolution. Just as a point of reference, the now defunct STB system’s Velocity 128 card (based on the original NVIDIA RIVA 128 and 4MiB of memory) could output to 1600×1200 resolution, in 1997 or thereabout. Now that the world runs on 1080p and mobile devices, every desktop device should support 1080p resolution, period. The fact of the matter is that one could spend an extra $50-90 on the Broadcom chip, but it would be fairly pointless unless someone had a legacy 720p early plasma or LCD display that they were sending video to. Intel simply missed on this one.
An interesting note for people like myself using Remote Desktop Connections (a feature greatly enhanced by WHS), a D510 based PC has no problem with 1920×1080 RDP video output. If you need to run an application like Microsoft Excel at a higher resolution, RDP is actually a better option than onboard video outputs.
In a netbook, these features would not be missed and the D510 would be at home, however this is the “D” series Atom and therefore destined for higher power consumption net top applications, not netbooks.
Overall the D510, paired with the NM10 is a poor choice for most computing purposes. In making a chip for netbooks, Intel has effectively neutered the Atom D510 and NM10 pairing to the point where it is neither a capable NAS nor HTPC platform. Sure, one could add a RAID controller to the NM10’s interface, but then dual, or possibly even a single Intel Gigabit Ethernet connection is impossible. No h264 decoding onboard without resorting to a $50+ add-on card means that playback of one of today’s most popular video formats is impossible. Even with the add-on card the display is limited to a paltry resolution well below that used by even $150 PC LCD’s and modern HD televisions sets.
Basically it boils down to the fact that Intel’s Atom D510 uses less power than the legacy Atom N330/ ION platform, but is unable to do useful tasks outside of web browsing (not of YouTube mind you) and office applications. NAS and HTPC users would be wise to look elsewhere.