Friday, October 15, 2010

Efficiency Analysis: Atom D510 Vs. Atom D525/ION2


Intel's Atom D525 offers a faster clock rate than its predecessor at the same 13 W TDP. Obviously, the new dual-core chip is going to be faster. But after we determined that the Core i3 is more efficient, can Atom D525 usurp the desktop contender?

Intel recently added a faster Atom dual-core model to its lineup. The Atom D525 overtakes its predecessor, the D510, thanks to a 1.8 GHz clock speed (as opposed to the D510's 1.66 GHz).

But this isn't the only change. Both new Atom models, the dual-core D525 and single-core D425, support up to 4 GB of DDR3-800 memory. The chips still employ Hyper-Threading and come with the Pineview core’s integrated graphics unit. Finally, the 512 KB L2 cache per core remains unchanged.

As a quick bit of clarification, while the Atom N-series is designed for netbooks, the D family usually goes into nettops.

We tested Jetway's NC98-525-LF integrated motherboard, a fully-featured mini-ITX platform with an Atom D525. Jetway adds an Nvidia ION2 for additional graphics horsepower. This might not be important for 3D applications due to the chipset's inadequate performance capabilities for this demanding segment, but ION2 helps to smooth video playback at resolutions up to 1080p.

Despite its modest 1.8 GHz clock speed, even the fastest Atom D525 is still much slower than any desktop processor, even the relatively poky Intel Celeron. Desktop chips are much faster per clock, but Atom is hard to beat when it comes to power consumption. Atom allows manufacturers to create low-power systems.

But low power doesn't always translate into high efficiency. The article Efficiency Analysis: Core i3 Trumps Atom On The Desktop provides a great insight into performance per watt, comparing an entry-level Core i3 processor and the Atom D510 dual-core. Now it's time to see how much better the Atom D525 actually is.

This duel compares the Atom D510 against the Atom D525 in synthetic benchmarks, application benchmarks, and our power consumption and efficiency test suite. Let's see what the new Atom dual-core can do versus the model that came before.

Jetway NC98-525-LF with Atom D525 and Nvidia ION2

This motherboard is based on the mini-ITX form factor and includes the processor soldered right onto the PCB. The solution is based on the Intel NM10 chipset plus Nvidia's ION2, which helps improves graphics performance. Jetway adds an HD audio codec, four USB 2.0 ports, and DVI-D, as well as HDMI for attaching display connectivity. However, the board has no expansion slots, except for one mini PCIe slot, as a result of space constraints on the 170x170 mm form factor. Be aware that Jetway offers this board in different models with either the Atom D510 or Atom D525 processor.

There is no ATX connector on this motherboard. Instead, it employs a 12 V connector on the rear panel, which is used to deliver power through the external PSU. Since we had to run both Atom solutions with an identical power supply, we used the same Enermax Pro 82+ unit. For purely testing purposes, we attached the ATX 12V conductor and ground wires to the 12 V power connector using a soldering iron. This worked well, even if it's only a temporary solution.

The motherboard comes with a single Molex power connector. This allows you to connect one drive right away. You'll need to use a Y-cables if you want to install more than one internal drive. Finally, it’s important to ground the green power supply wire to make sure that the system turns on when you switch on the power supply.

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Test System Data

Hardware Details
Motherboard
Jetway NC98-525-LF (Rev. 1.0), Chipset: Intel NM10 + Nvidia Ion, BIOS: A01 (07/08/10)
CPU
Intel Atom D525 (45 nm, 1.80 GHz, 1 MB L2 Cache, TDP 13 W)
RAM DDR2 (dual)2 x 2 GB DDR2-800 (Apogee AU2G732-12GH001)
Hard DriveSeagate Barracuda 7200.11, 500 GB (ST3500320AS)
7200 RPM, SATA 3Gb/s, 32 MB Cache
Power SupplyEnermax Pro 82+ EPR425AWT
Operating SystemWindows 7 Ultimate x64, Updated on 2010-03-03
Intel Chipset DriversChipset Installation Utility Ver. 9.1.1.1025
Intel Storage DriversMatrix Storage Drivers Ver. 8.​9.​0.​1023
Nvidia GraphicsVersion 258.96

Intel D510MO

For this comparison, we decided to use an Intel D510MO motherboard, a popular product for low-power, small form factor computers. Chris Angelini utilized this platform and discussed it in detail for his article Intel's Atom D510 And NM10 Express: Down The Pine Trail With D510MO.

While Jetway's Atom D525 has a mini PCI Express slot, the Intel D510MO comes with a 32-bit PCI legacy interface. In addition, the board has four USB 2.0 ports and a gigabit Ethernet port. Unfortunately, you can only use an analog VGA connector for displays, which is a bit cheaper than implementing DVI, HDMI, or DisplayPort. Client systems are typically better off with one of the digital monitor interfaces. This motherboard and the Atom D510 still utilize DDR2-800 memory, and we used two 2 GB DIMMs to reach a total memory of 4 GB.

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Test System Data:

Hardware Details
Motherboard
Intel D510MO (Rev. 1.0), Chipset: Intel NM10, BIOS: 0175 (03/8/2010)
CPU
Intel Atom D510 (45 nm, 1.66 GHz, 1 MB L2 Cache, TDP 13 W)
RAM DDR2 (dual)2 x 2 GB DDR2-800 (Apogee AU2G732-12GH001)
Hard DriveSeagate Barracuda 7200.11, 500 GB (ST3500320AS)
7200 RPM, SATA 3Gb/s, 32 MB Cache
Power SupplyEnermax Pro 82+, EPR425AWT
Operating SystemWindows 7 Ultimate x64, Updated on 2010-03-03
Intel Chipset DriversChipset Installation Utility Ver. 9.1.1.1025
Intel Storage DriversMatrix Storage Drivers Ver. 8.​9.​0.​1023
Intel GraphicsIntel Graphics Media Accelerator 15.17

Application Benchmarks

These tests more closely match the workloads encountered during everyday operation, so it's interesting to note whether the synthetic benchmark results correspond to real life.

Benchmarks and Settings:

Benchmark Details
7-ZipVersion 9.1 beta, LZMA2, Syntax "a -t7z -r -m0=LZMA2 -mx=5", Benchmark: 2010-THG-Workload
WinRARVersion 3.92, RAR, Syntax "winrar a -r -m3", Benchmark: 2010-THG-Workload
WinZip 14Version 14.0 Pro (8652), WinZIP Commandline Version 3, ZIPX, Syntax "-a -ez -p -r", Benchmark: 2010-THG-Workload
AutoDesk 3ds Max 2010Version: 10 x64, Rendering Space Flyby Mentalray (SPECapc_3dsmax9), Frame: 248, Resolution: 1440 x 1080
Adobe Photoshop CS4 (64-Bit)Version: 11, Filtering a 16 MB TIF (15000x7266), Filters: Radial Blur (Amount: 10; Method: zoom; Quality: good), Shape Blur (Radius: 46 px; custom shape: Trademark sysmbol), Median (Radius: 1px), Polar Coordinates (Rectangular to Polar)
Adobe Acrobat 9 ProfessionalVersion: 9.0.0 (Extended), == Printing Preferenced Menu ==, Default Settings: Standard, == Adobe PDF Security - Edit Menu ==, Encrypt all documents (128 bit RC4), Open Password: 123, Permissions Password: 321


Archiving Tools

We found that WinZip benefits the least from the new processor, as it only takes advantage of one processing core.

Graphics and Rendering

Most of these applications are probably not ideal for a low-power Atom solution, since they typically require lots of memory and computing power. However, they also show that Atom scales nicely with the D525's additional clock speed bump.

Audio Benchmarks

Audio benchmarks have become less important due to the abundant processing power available today for this type of workload today. However, since audio remains an important part of people's everyday computing, we thought it important to include here.

Benchmarks and Settings:

Benchmark Details
iTunesVersion: 9.0.3.15, Audio CD ("Terminator II" SE), 53 min., Convert to AAC audio format
Lame MP3Version 3.98.3, Audio CD "Terminator II SE", 53 min., Convert WAV to MP3 audio format, Command: -b 160 --nores (160 Kb/s)


As expected, the Atom D525 wins this round thanks to its higer 1.8 GHz clock speed.

Video Benchmarks

Video transcoding is one of the most demanding workloads for home and multimedia systems, and while few users will transcode high definition video on an Atom machine, these workloads are very suitable for performance testing.

Benchmarks and Settings:

Benchmark Details
HandBrake CLIVersion: 0.94, Video: Big Buck Bunny (720x480, 23.972 frames) 5 min., Audio: Dolby Digital, 48000 Hz, 6-Channel, English to Video: AVC1 Audio1: AC3 Audio2: AAC (High Profile)
MainConcept Reference v2
Version: 2.0.0.1555, MPEG-2 to H.264, MainConcept H.264/AVC Codec, 28 sec. HDTV 1920x1080 (MPEG-2), Audio:
MPEG-2 (44.1 kHz, 2-Channel, 16-Bit, 224 Kb/s), Codec: H.264 Pro, Mode: PAL 50i (25 FPS), Profile: H.264 BD HDMV


Again, we find similar results. The Atom D525 is clearly faster than the Atom D510, but it doesn't provide major benefits here.

Now it's time to look at power consumption. Does the faster Atom's additional performance come at the expense of efficiency?

Power Consumption

We typically look at the two most extreme conditions for power requirements: idle operation and peak load. It turns out that the power consumption difference of the two test platforms is significantly different, mostly because of the additional Nvidia ION2 graphics on Jetway's motherboard.

Adding 7 W more idle power consumption doesn't seem like a lot, but it makes quite a difference in low-power scenarios. The difference under peak load (CPU-only) is roughly 8 W, showing that the additional power draw is always there and that the faster Atom seems to be consuming slightly more power than the older Atom D510.

Thus, the peak power consumption of the Atom D525 system seems to be roughly 1 W higher than the D510 machine. This could be within the range of error of our test equipment, so we'll call it a draw. Intel's claim of delivering more performance at the same thermal envelope seems valid.

Efficiency Comparison

Still, we'd like to compare the two test systems more holistically. In this light, the overall result is different because of the ION2 graphics unit on the Jetway NC98-525-LF. The platform consumes more power, which has a negative impact on efficiency. At the same time, the additional power consumption might be worthwhile, considering that you can easily play high-definition video content. We'll discuss this in the conclusion.

Single-Threaded Efficiency

The power required for our single-threaded workload is higher on the Atom D525 system because of its added ION2 graphics unit.

Multi-Threaded Efficiency

This also applies to the multi-threaded test.

Efficiency Summary

Finally, our total efficiency test reveals that Intel's Atom D510 platform is more efficient than the newer Atom D525 platform from Jetway. This doesn't help to compare efficiency between the two Atom generations, but it shows us that the system with ION2 graphics is less efficient and delivers less performance per watt in standard application workloads.

Efficiency Diagram

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This is a summary of the full efficiency workload. As you can clearly see, power consumption is quite a bit higher on the Atom D525-based solution for the reasons mentioned above. Power consumption should actually be very comparable between the two, with the Atom D525 delivering better performance that leads to a faster completion of the workload. Looking at the approximately 1 W difference we extrapolated, it's pretty safe to say that performance per watt does not change much on the new Atom D525.

Atom D525 Comes Out Ahead

Intel's new low-power, 1.8 GHz, dual-core D525 is convincing as an advanced Atom version, but it's by no means an exciting product. This changing of the guard is happening quietly and seamlessly. Jetway offers Atom D510 and D525 solutions based on identical PCB designs, making clear that a modified motherboard revision is sufficient to support the faster processor.

Also keep in mind that the performance bump doesn't change anything regarding the Atom's overall classification. This is a low-power, low-cost solution for all application scenarios, including kiosks, ATMs, point-of-sale computers, and nettops at home or the office. Atom still can't deliver application performance for serious workloads.

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Platform Comparison

The 30 W idle power consumption on the Jetway's ION2 motherboard is nothing that couldn't be achieved on a well-designed desktop system. Low-power desktop computers deliver much better efficiency, as well. But they come at considerably higher cost and therefore might not be suitable for all applications or emerging markets. Still, we have to include the ION2 solution into our conclusion, as its 3D performance is a world apart from Intel's IGP, making the Jetway Atom D525 capable enough for older DirectX 9 games.

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Thanks to ION2 and the VLC player 1.1.4 it is possible to smoothly watch 1080p/i videos within the discussed power envelope. This could not be done without Nvidia's graphics unit, as even 720p video was impossible to watch on the Atom D510. Since the CPU performance difference is small, it's clear that video playback differences can be attributed only to differences in graphics support.

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If you want to do anything beyond browsing the Internet, manage email, and watch basic YouTube and DVD video, you should clearly consider an Atom solution with ION2 graphics. This makes a huge difference for video/multimedia. Other than that, it's important to go for a dual-core Atom. Single-core options are only suitable for specific and very limited application scenarios. Home and office nettop PCs require an Atom dual-core for smooth operation. Intel's new Atom D525 certainly is a good step, and it evolves performance for existing system designs without increasing their power envelope.


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