Zotac IONITX-A: An ION / dual-core Atom Mini-ITX Board

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3D Performance

To get an estimate of how well each board's integrated graphics plays games, we ran 3DMark05/06. As synthetic benchmarks they have limited value, but they give a rough idea of how well an IGP performs.

3D Performance: Futuremark Comparison
Motherboard
Graphics
3DMark05
3DMark06
Intel D945GCLF2
GMA950
265
N/A
Zotac GeForce 8200-ITX
GF8200
1623
869
Asus M3N78 Pro
GF8300
1669
902
Asus P5Q-EM
X4500HD
1708
1092
Gigabyte MA78GM-2SH
HD 3200
2293
1116
Zotac IONITX
ION
2798
1397
Gigabyte MA790GP-DS4H
HD 3300 (Sideport)
3377
1668
Zotac GeForce 9300-ITX
GF9300
3522
1797
All results with 2GB of system RAM and 256MB of VRAM assigned for IGP's (128MB Sideport + 128MB UMA for boards with Sideport memory). AMD systems in green (X2 4850E), Intel systems in blue (E7200).

The board scored 2798 in 3DMark05 and 1397 in 3DMark06, placing it somewhere between AMD's HD 3200 and HD 3300 IGPs (used with a X2 4850e processor). It easily surpasses the Intel GMA950 normally paired with Atom. When we tested GMA950, it could not even produce a viable 3DMark06 score.

At lower resolutions, the CPU plays a big part in gaming performance, so the Atom N330 would probably be the bottleneck. On a 1024x600 netbook screen, it would probably be fast enough to play some modern games smoothly, but at standard desktop resolution, it is a whole different story.

FINAL THOUGHTS

The first incarnation of Nvidia's highly anticipated ION platform lives up to the hype for the most part. The Zotac IONITX-A has a ton of features and is frugal in power consumption. The built-in power supply with 90W power brick is enough to handle almost any extra hardware connected to the system and produces no noise. It is well-suited complement to the CPU/GPU's massive heatsink, which can be run fanless, though in a typical mini-ITX case, some forced airflow from a fan is probably necessary. The board's dual core Atom CPU is powerful enough to smoothly handle typical PC usage, though we suggest using Windows XP or 7 for a faster experience, especially if boot time is important. The CPU can also be overclocked easily to 2 GHz for a little extra boost.

We had a couple of problems with the onboard graphics. Our video test suite would not play smoothly until PowerDVD was upgraded to the latest iteration. Even then, the VC-1 test clip wouldn't play smoothly no matter what was tried, and an unusual pattern of CPU usage occurred during playback. In addition, the board would not run at 1920 x 1200 resolution at 32-bit color or nor allow Vista's Aero to run unless the IGP was assigned 512MB of memory. These symptoms suggest that the ION IGP, even though it is essentially a GeForce 9400M variant, is behaving like a new GPU — we suspect there is some driver/software optimization left to be done. It should be noted that we have not seen any other reports of the board failing VC-1 playback, so this particular problem may be specific to our sample and/or test clip.

One sorely missed feature is Wake-on USB. Like the Zotac GeForce 9300 before it, the IONITX cannot be brought out of sleep/standby using a USB device like a wireless mouse, keyboard or remote control. It is perhaps only strike against the IONITX as a HTPC. However, our test configuration only drew 22W idle so leaving it on 24/7 isn't going to single-handedly accelerate global climate change or force you to take out second mortgage on your home.

The IONITX-A has a $179 MSRP and is currently listed at Amazon for $190. The extra $100 over the Intel D945GCLF2 nets you a much more capable GPU, digital video and audio outputs, almost every feature under the sun including eSATA and 802.11n, and a built-in power supply. All that can be ascertained from looking at the specification sheet; the extra power efficiency we found and the possibility of fanless operation is what really puts the IONITX over the top. There simply isn't any better motherboard right now for a very small, quiet, efficient, yet capable PC.

Zotac IONITX-A
PROS

* Very energy efficient
* Many features incld. 802.11n & eSATA
* Passive heatsink
* Fanless power supply included
* Blu-ray ready
* Can overclock
* Well-priced
CONS

* No fan control
* No Wake-on USB
* Some issues with the IGP

Our thanks to Zotac for the IONITX sample.

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Articles of Related Interest
Asus M4A78-HTPC/RC: A Complete HTPC Solution?
Zotac GeForce 9300-ITX WiFi: Good Things Come in Small Packages
Asus M4A78T-E AM3 motherboard
Zotac GeForce 8200-ITX WiFi: A Compact AM2 Solution
Apex MI-008: A Cheap Quiet mini-ITX Case?
mCubed HFX Micro S13 system: Atom 330, Silenced

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