ASRock ION 330 NetTop

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Product: ASRock ION 330 NetTop
Provided By: ASRock
Price: $399USD MSRP

 

Introduction:

It's no secret that Intel has taken over the ultra-portable netbook market with the Intel Atom processor.  For desktop boxes, though this processor seems a little under-powered - especially for a platform that doesn't have to be as portable as a 7" or 10" netbook.  ASUS was the first to make an Atom powered desktop machine call the Eee Box, and this received very limited acceptance.  The problem with the Eee Box is that it has a underpowered CPU, no optical drive and cannot decode HD video content in real time.  Today we are taking a look at the NetTop ION 330 from ASRock and will look at how this dual-core Intel Atom 330 processor handles the desktop platform when bundled with the NVIDIA ION chipset.  This is not a new combination as it's been around for several months, but this is our first-hand look at the platform and what it can do for you.

 NetTop Box
NetTop Box
 Profile
Profile

 

Bundle of Goodies:

When you purchase a budget system like the ASRock ION 330 NetTop, you really shouldn't expect much in the way of bundled goodies.  That being said, ASRock does include a fair bit of stuff that should help you get up and running and keep your going for a while.   The bundle includes the power brick and cable, as well as a quick install guide, a couple of extra screws, a driver CD for Windows XP and Vista as well as an anti-static pad and a HDMI-to-DVI adapter.  It's pretty basic, but it should work.

 Bundle
Bundle

 

First Impressions:

When I first pulled the ION 330 out of the box, I was impressed by the compact size and overall finish of the unit.  It has a very shiny gloss black finish on the top, sides and front, and the mini DVDRW drive blends well and doesn't detract from the nice finish of the unit.  The front contains a single power button, as well as the ASRock logo and a pair of stickers advertising Intel and NVIDIA.  The rear of the unit is quite interesting also as it has six USB2.0 ports, standard audio ports as well as an optical out.  In addition to these, there is also an HDMI port as well as a standard VGA port and finally the 10/100/1000b Ethernet jack.

ION - Front
ION - Front
 ION - Rear
ION - Rear

 

Power is supplied to the ASRock ION through the use of an external power brick and this helps conserve size on the unit and also keeps extra heat out of the little case.  As you can see above, it is cooled by a single fan at the rear.

On the next page we'll quickly take a look at the features and specifications of this unit as well as the Atom processor and NVIDIA ION Chipset.


 

ASRock ION 330 Features:

Below are some of the features of the ION 330 NetTop from ASRock as taken from the product page here.

Dual-Core Atom 330
A nettop, based on the Intel® Atom™ processor, is a an innovative device offering basic PC functionality. These purpose-built devices deliver an affordable basic computing experience and easy access to the Internet.

Low power solution designed for:
• Content consumption + light content creation
• Easy access to the Internet
• Basic computing + light multitasking

NVIDIA® ION™ graphics processor width Full HD 1080p
ASRock ION 330 comes with the latest Atom™ + NVIDIA® ION™ graphics processor. It satisfies you with the high quality audio and visual environment. Comparing with other system configuration, ASRock ION 330 provides 10 times faster in speed for graphics and video encoding performance scaling. In addition, it also supports Full HD 1080p (Blu-ray /HD-DVD)
* playback, 3D gaming, premium Windows® vista, and Windows® 7.

Small (Save more space)
Silent (acoustic below 26dB)
Energy Star 5.0
ASRock Instant Boot
ASRock OC Tunder
All Solid Capacitors Design
Dual-Channel Memory Design

 

Product Specifications:
CPU - Intel® Atom™ 330 (Dual-Core CPU)
Chipset - NVIDIA® ION™ graphics processor
Memory - 2GB DDR2 800 MHz memory, support dual channel, maximum memory capacity 4GB*

*Due to the CPU limitation, the actual memory size may be less than 4GB for the reservation for system usage under Windows® XP / XP 64-bit / Vista™ / Vista™ 64-bit.
VGA - NVIDIA® ION™ graphics, support DX10 / Full HD 1080p (Blu-ray / HD-DVD)* playback

*Blu-ray/HD-DVD disc is supported by Blu-ray/HD-DVD drive.
HDD - 2.5” HDD 320GB
DVD - DVD Super Multi (Slim type)
I/O - 1 x HDMI (with HDMI to DVI adapter), 1 x D-Sub VGA, 6 x USB 2.0, 1 x S/PDIF (Optical)
LAN - Gigabit LAN
Sound - HD Audio 5.1 channel
System Acoustic - Below 26dB
Power Unit - 65W /19V Adapter
Dimension - 195mm (W) x 70mm (H) x 186mm (L)
Volume (liters) - 2.5L
Weight - 1.7Kg

 

NVIDIA ION Specifications:

  NVIDIA® ION™ graphics processor
Intended Operating System Windows 7, Windows Vista,
Windows XP
Memory Interface DDR3-1066
DDR2-800
DirectX 10 Support Yes
Graphics Cores 16
Core/Shader Clocks 450/1100 MHz
Texture Fill Rate 3.6 Billion/second
Max. Anti-Aliasing (AA) Sample Rate 16x
RAMDACs 300MHz
Max. High-Dynamic Range (HDR) Precision 128-bit
Max. Analog Resolution 2048 x 1536
Max Digital Resolution 2560 x 1600
NVIDIA PureVideo® HD Yes
With Full HD decode (1080i/p)
Display options HDMI, dual-link DVI,
DP, or VGA (any 2)
PCI-Express 2.0 20 lanes
1 x16
4 x1
SATA drives 6
SATA speed 3Gb/s
RAID 0,1
Networking 10/100/1000
USB ports 12 / 2C
PCI Slots 5
Audio HDA (Azalia)

 

Intel Atom 330 Specifications:

sSpec Number: SLG9Y
CPU Speed: 1.60 GHz
Bus Speed: 533 MHz
Bus/Core Ratio: 12.0
L2 Cache Size: 1 MB
L2 Cache Speed: 1.6 GHz

 Package Type: Micro-FCBGA
Manufacturing Technology: 45 nm
Core Stepping: C0
CPUID String: 106C2h
Thermal Design Power: 8W
Thermal Specification: 85.2°C
VID Voltage Range: .90V-1.162V 

 

 

Closer Look:

The one thing that sets the ASRock 330 ION NetTop apart from other low-powered Atom machines is that it includes a DVDRW drive that supports Dual-Layer reading as well as writing.  This gives greater flexibility to the box and makes it easier to install software - other than what you download.  Opening the box is very simple and requires the removal of two screws on the back, but when you slide open the cover, the optical drive hides all of the interesting stuff.

Cover Off
Cover Off

 

The image above gives you an idea of the small size of this box.  It is not all that much bigger that a slim optical drive for a laptop.

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Once the cover is out of the way, you can get a closer look inside at the mini-ITX motherboard that supports up to 4GB of regular DDR2-800 memory.  Because of the "thicker" format of this box over the Eee Box, ASRock can use regular DDR2 DIMMs - not SODIMM memory that other companies use.  It's also this larger form factor that enables them to include an optical drive.


Inside - No Drives
Inside - No Drives

 

With the drives removed you can get a much better view of the little motherboard.  Inside are two heat sinks.  The small one with the fan is for the Atom processor, while the larger passive heat sink is for the NVIDIA ION GPU / Chipset.  Under load, these report to get quite warm, but I've had no stability issues even after stress testing this system for days on end at 100% load.  Although the cooling is a little cramped, the rear exhaust fan is positioned in such a way that it pulls warm air off the ION chipset and out the enclosure.

 Stack Of Drives
Stack of Drives

 

The drives were easily removed from the little case merely by removing two screws, the cables and sliding the drives back out of place.  ASRock set their NetTop ION 330 up with a Philips/LiteOn DS-8A3S DVDRW drive as well as a Seagate Momentus 2.5" 5400.6 320GB drive so that you have lots of storage.  Having a fast 5400.6 drive under the hood certainly helps the overall performance of the unit.

On the next page we'll proceed with the setup of the ION 330 as well as a little overclocking and testing information.


 

Installation:

If you've ever purchased a pre-built system, you're no doubt aware that they come pre-installed with some operating system or another.  Setup is as simple as entering a user name, password and configuring the network and you're done.  The ASRock ION 330 is a little different than that however as it ships without any operating system installed at all.  For our review, we thought we'd use Windows 7 as it is said to be fast - even on low powered machines such as the NetTop from ASRock.  This is where an optical drive really is handy.  Most people will need a disk to install Windows or Linux on their new hardware and I was glad that I didn't have to find a USB DVDRW and try and boot from that.


On more powerful desktop hardware, Windows 7 can easily be installed in 20 minutes or less.  However, the ASRock ION 330 is not quite as powerful as that and it took exactly 28 minutes to have Windows 7 installed and up and running.  I was glad to see that all hardware was supported with default Microsoft drivers, but we went ahead and installed proper chipset, graphics, and sound card drivers before we started testing.

 

System Info:

Once we had Windows 7 installed and updated, it was time to take a look at some of the hardware according to CPU-Z and GPU-Z.

 CPU-Z
CPU-Z
CPU-Z Mainboard
CPU-Z Mainboard
 CPU-Z Memory
CPU-Z Memory
     
 CPU-Z SPD
CPU-Z SPD
 CPU-Z Graphics
CPU-Z Graphics
 GPU-Z
GPU-Z

 

Even though this Atom 330 processor is a dual-core CPU, it still suffers from the 533FSB bottleneck as well as the mere 1MB of L2 cache that is reported in CPU-Z.  You can see that the BIOS is currently running the latest version and the chipset is in fact the B1 revision. The default memory speed is 400MHz (DDR2-800), but in the image above, you can see that we have it running 930MHz as this screenshot was taken from our overclocking attempts. The memory included is from Nanya and is only rated at DDR2-800 at CL5, but we managed to push it a bit further - without upping the voltage.  There is 256MB of memory dedicated to the GPU and this should give the little machine 25.6GB/sec of memory bandwidth.  This sounds like a pretty decent GPU solution and we'll see how it holds up on the following pages.  The big drawback will be the 64-bit bus, but at least it supports DX10 and Shader Model 4.0.

 

Overclocking:

Another feature of the ASRock ION 330 NetTop that impressed me was that ASRock included their overclocking utility.  I'm not sure how many people will use this, but we managed to get a  solid 1.86GHz out of the machine and that made our cheap DDR2-800 Nanya memory run at 930MHz.  Overall performance improved slightly and the system was still rock-stable for day when overclocked.

 CPU-Z Overclocked
CPU-Z Overclocked

 

I'm sure that with proper cooling and by increasing the voltage, a person would be able to get more out of the overclocking, but at this setting, it ran stable and once we hit 160MHz FSB, it would fail a test after a little over an hour.

 

Test System Info:

As we don't really have anything to compare the ASRock ION 330 NetTop with, we will be posting quite a few stand-alone benchmarks.  To make things a bit more interesting we will include a few benchmarks from miscellaneous motherboard reviews and show how this unit compares to a desktop system.  That being said, there is really no comparison between a desktop board, chip and graphics cards and the energy efficient hardware inside this unit. 

On the next page we'll get into subsystem testing as we carry on though the review.


 

Subsystem Tests - Audio:

ASRock uses the VIA VT1708S audio codec for "High Definition" audio .  As you can see with all of the results below although the sound quality is labeled as "HD", you can see that the quality is not "high quality".  It claims 100dB SNR DACs and compatibility with Intel's High Definition audio.  Even though it is capable of 192kHz audio, it doesn't do it that well.  The truth is that most people won't hear the difference when plugged into a $50 pair of speakers or $15 headphones, but for those of you that care about audio quality on the integrated audio, RightMark Audio Analyzer results are below.  We tested a few different bit and sampling rates and have posted the chart below for your viewing pleasure.



 RMAA
RMAA

 

Subsystem Tests - Network:

One area that we continue testing is network performance.  It is easy for a company to claim great networking features as many users never test them out and are puzzled when they can only transfer files at a mere 250Mbit/sec on their 1000Mbit/sec NIC.  We use iPerf for testing network performance.

iPerf

 

As you can see, iPerf shows that the NVIDIA based NIC has what it takes to compete with desktop solutions as well.  During testing we measured CPU performance at 12% during the single-threaded test and 18% during the multi-threaded test.  This is very good CPU utilization for a little box like this.

 

Synthetic Performance:

As we keep thing rolling we'll take a look at PCMark Vantage numbers.  We just ran this test at stock speeds and aren't including any other system for reference, as all other systems we've tested are more mainstream, and not of the nettop/netbook variety.

PCMark Vantage
PCMark Vantage

 

The performance isn't all that impressive, as the overall PCMarks of an Intel Core 2 Duo E8400 system score around 6800, but at 1833, it shows that it is capable, although not speedy at completing all of these Synthetic tasks.


SiSoft Performance:

For our memory benchmarks this time around we stuck with SiSoft Sandra.  This benchmark shows theoretical performance of memory and this is about as close as you can get when comparing across multiple platforms.  Things such as motherboards, CPU Speed, bus speed and more play a huge role in memory performance so these comparison numbers will have to do.  You'll notice that these bandwidth numbers look a little pathetic when compared to Core i7 stuff - but oddly they are similar to AMD Athlon 64 3500+ performance.

 SiSoft Memory Bandwidth
SiSoft Memory Bandwidth
SiSoft CPU Arithmetic
SiSoft CPU Arithmetic
SiSoft CPU Multimedia
SiSoft CPU Multimedia

 

The CPU Arithmetic and Multimedia scores look pretty dismal if you run SiSoft Sandra on your own machine for comparison.  With that being said, they are much better than other dual-core Atom processors and even better than some CULV processors from Intel.

 

Quick & Dirty CPU Benchmark - PMCore:

As we wrap up this part of the benchmarking - before we get into some gaming, we have a look at PMCore (a synthetic benchmark).  This benchmark is largely CPU related, and we'll see that the Atom processor really gets beat like a bad dog when it comes to real calculations and actual CPU work.

 PMCore

We actually used the overclocked performance results to compare stock results in this test and we see that even when overclocked, the performance is pathetically slow.  The Alienware M17 did the same test in 36.3 seconds for multi-threaded performance and 71.6 seconds when running single thread.  Compare that to the 232.6 seconds for multi-thread and almost 700 seconds for single-threaded performance.  The Atom tanks when required to pull its weight.

 



3DMark Performance:

As we carry on into the gaming side of things, we start off with a couple of tried-and-true benchmarks; 3DMark 06 and 3DMark Vantage.  We used the default benchmark settings for both.  This gives a balanced score and stresses both the graphics and CPU systems on the notebook.  While higher quality and resolution tests may be interesting, we don't have any other relative data to compare to and these numbers wouldn't mean much to most people.  If you want to see how your nettop compares, please head on over to FutureMark, download these benchmarks and post your results and system specs at the "Comments" link below.  3DMark Vantage was ran using the "Performance" and "Entry" pre-configured settings.

 3DMark 06
3DMark 06
 3DMark Vantage
3DMark Vantage

 

While the ASRock ION is certainly not a gaming machine, it ran these benchmarks without error and generated a score - albeit a low one.  This doesn't paint the whole picture though and I decided to install Call of Duty 4 on the machine and play around with it for a bit.  In the end I was able to run most maps at 1024x768 at medium-low detail anywhere from 18-58FPS.  I'd hate to play online with this machine, but it could get the job done if you were desperate.

On the last page we'll take a look at HD Video playback and cover some thoughts on power consumption and more.


 

Real-World Performance:

We wrap up with a look at video decoding (watching).  We've used several HD Video clips at 1080p and 720p on both WMVHD and Quicktime H.264.  The Atom is not powerful enough to process this video on its own and if it weren't for the ION chipset from NVIDIA the system would choke.  To make things interesting, I thought I'd throw in a performance comparison with an AMD Phenom II processor on a ASRock board with the 790G chipset and an HD4850 graphics card.  The AMD system is significantly more powerful, but it is not as optimized for video playback as the ASRock ION 330 system.

HD Video

 

In over half of the tests, the dinky little ION system has lower CPU usage than the desktop competition and this bodes very well for the ION platform.  The most noticeable win is when decoding H.264 content - as is the case with the "Ruby - WhiteOut" video.  The ION beats out the competition by 13% CPU load.

 

Power Consumption and Multi-Core Action:

The ASRock ION 330 is not a first-generation Atom platform.  The Intel Atom has been around for quite a while, but the ION is relatively new and the combination of these as put together by ASRock is a nice choice.  It amazes me that such a low power processor can do so much, yet at the same time be gutless when trying to do real tasks like audio encoding.  At idle this little system draws a mere 26W, while playing back HD movies brings up the power usage to 34W.  Even when running with the CPU pinned at 100%, the ASRock ION never consumed more than 38W on our bench.  That is impressive and worth considering if you need a little machine to do web surfing and light office tasks.

Loaded

The Atom 330 supports HyperThreading and this is why Windows 7 shows a total of four logical processors.  The Atom is capable of choking through four threads at the same time.

 

Conclusion:

If you're considering a cheap PC for a second computer and only have about $400 to spend and need a machine with some power, you should consider picking up a cheap Dell, Acer or HP.  Consumers looking for a super small form factor PC however, should seriously consider the ASRock ION 330 NetTop.  This little machine is long on features and offers good looks, average performance and great functionality - all it a little package.  It is far superior to the Eee Box that I've installed at several Kiosks, but you have to remember that it is still a low-performance machine.  Don't let the dual-core CPU fool you, it's not meant for massive computational tasks. 

When it comes to HD Video performance, this unit shines like the sun after a rainy week.  It decodes any 720p or 1080p video without issues and is an H.264 behemoth.  The included DVDRW drive also gives it an edge over much of the competition, and ASRock even has a model of the ION 330 with a slim-line Blu-Ray drive as well.  It's made for the consumer looking to put together a small HTPC.  The ASRock ION is the king in this market.

Pros:

  • Small ITX form factor
  • ION Chipset gives the Atom some life
  • Dual-core 330 with HyperThreading
  • HDMI + VGA output
  • Lots of USB ports for a little machine
  • Includes internal DVDRW drive
  • Super quiet

 

Cons:

  • Price - at $400 you can get a much more powerful non-ITX machine

  BCCRating

Gold

Although I've listed the price as a "Con", you have to keep in mind that this machine competes in an entirely different market than HP, Dell and Acer with their desktop PCs.  For a loaded ITX machine, it's not a bad deal at all.  If you are looking for the perfect small HTPC, I daresay that this is probably as close as you're going to get.  It's great.