I happen to find myself with a number of rather of interesting computers at the moment with a nice mix of the latest and greatest in low power, decent performance specs. So I spent much of the afternoon running benchmarks on the following computers:
- HP Mini 311 notebook with NVIDIA ION graphics and a 1.6GHz Atom N270 CPU
- ASRock ION 330 nettop with NVIDIA ION graphics and a dual core 1.6GHz Atom 330 processor
- Asus UL20A with a dual core Intel SU7300 Core 2 Duo CULV processor and integrated GMA 4500MHD graphics
I ran three different sets of benchmarks on each system. These benchmarks are designed to test CPU and GPU performance. First up, 3DMark06, a widely used graphics benchmark that tests performance for rendering 3D video gameplay. It’s worth pointing out that none of these computers got particularly high scores on this test, but as you can see from the chart above, the two notebooks with NVIDIA ION graphics did significantly better in this GPU-intensive test than the Asus UL20A. Higher scores are better.
Next up we have Cinebench. This test consists of three parts. In the first test, the utility tests OpenGL 3D graphics performance. Not surprisingly, the NVIDIA ION-powered machines are the winners again here.
Next, Cinebench attempts to render a high quality photo-realistic image using a single CPU. This takes forever on a notebook with an Intel Atom processor, although the Intel SU7300 processor is pretty sluggish too. The final test uses as many CPUs as the program can find to render the same image. This gives the dual core ASRock and Asus computers a big advantage over the HP Mini 311.
The final test is PassMark PerformanceTest 7. This utility runs a number of tasks to check a computer’s CPU performance as well as 2D and 3D graphics processing capabilities. As with the other tests, higher scores are better. It appears that PassMark PerformanceTest 7 doesn’t take advantage of all the power that the NVIDIA ION GPU has to offer, because the Asus UL20A trounced the HP and ASRock computers in every area of this test.
These benchmarks should give you a basic idea of how these computers stack up against one another. But I’m not a huge fan of these types of benchmarks which spit out an abstract number. I’ve also started running another set of tests to see how these computers stack up against others I’ve tested in everyday tasks. For example, how long does it take to transcode an audio or video file? Unfortunately, there’s not a particularly clearcut answer there either, because the NVIDIA ION platform allows the ASRock and HP computers to take advantage of NVIDIA’s CUDA platform.
What that means is that CUDA-enabled applications will run incredibly fast on these computers, even though they have fairly slow processors. And for that reason, I’m in the middle of adjusting my personal benchmarks. I had been using VirtualDub to transcode video files to XViD. But as far as I know, there’s no CUDA-enabled application that performs this task. So I’m starting to use MediaCoder to transcode video from uncompressed AVI to H.264 using a CUDA encoder.
What kind of difference does that make?
See those enormous blue bars? That’s how long it took to transcode a 4 and a half minute video to H.264 without using the CUDA encoder. The green bars show how long it took using MediaCoder’s CUDA encoder. The dual core Atom processor certainly helps speed up the task, but the GPU-enabled software made a much bigger difference. In other words, if you have an NVIDIA ION powered system and a choice of using GPU-enabled software, use it.
On the other hand, while these scores represent a relatively common task such as transcoding video, they don’t apply to all everyday situations. For instance, the dual core Atom 330 processor was able to transcode the video almost twice as fast as the single core Atom N270 CPU using the x.264 encoder. But the computer doesn’t feel twice as fast when surfing the web, running multiple programs, or performing other common tasks. It feels a little faster, but not twice as fast.