ASRock A330ION ITX Motherboard

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Product: ASRock A330ION ITX Motherboard
Provided By: ASRock

Price:

 

Introduction:

It wasn't that long ago that we looked at the ASRock ION 330 Nettop system that used the Intel Atom 330 CPU and the now infamous NVIDIA ION chipset.  This system used DDR2 and your favorite 2.5" hard drive to make a small system that provide good performance, almost total silence and a very "green" footprint.  Today we are looking a motherboard from ASRock that operates on the same chipset and CPU, but allows DDR3 and a full-sized hard drive.  In fact, this little motherboard supports four SATA devices, 4GB of DDR3 memory and even a full-sized PCIe card.  This would be great for your favorite TV-Tuner, entry-level GPU or anything else PCIe that you'd like to add to this loaded little motherboard.  Find out if an ITX board is worth spending the money on, or if you're better off saving for something larger.

Box Front
Box Front
Box Back
Box Rear

 

Bundle of Goodies:

When you purchase a small ITX board like this, you don't really expect a lot of goodies.  ASRock did pretty include everything you need to get going though.  They have a pair of SATA cables, a Molex to SATA power cable, rear IO shield, quick install guide, manual, and CD in the bundle.  This isn't a super-loaded bundle, but it is pretty decent considering the entire package can be had for just over $100 and that is not a bad buy considering all you need to add is some RAM and a drive.

Board & Bundle
Board & Bundle

 

First Look at the Board:

The ASRock A330ION motherboard is powered by the Intel Atom 330 CPU that runs at 1.6GHz, has dual-cores and is capable of Hyper-Threading.  Oddly enough, the CPU is under the passively cooled heatsink near the top of the board while the NVIDIA ION chipset/GPU is hidden under the heatsink with the fan.  

 Board Profile
Board Profile

 

A couple of interesting things worth noting before we move onward and take a closer look at the A330ION ITX motherboard is the location of the SATA ports that are just above the PCIe slot.  The PCIe slot supports full-length cards and is actually capable of 16x performance on a PCIe 2.0 interface.  Although there are two RAM slots, each slot can only handle 2GB sticks of memory - topping the board out of 4GB of memory.  While the power connector is in a great spot, the SATA ports are a little close to the RAM and PCIe slot if you are planning on populating all of these slots.

On the next page we'll take a closer look at the board before we take a look at the specs and features.

 

Closer Look:

The ASRock A330ION is the first ITX motherboard we've looked at and you can't appreciate just how small it is until you see the rear IO barely fits onto the motherboard.  The Input/Output is pretty standard for a full-sized motherboard as it has a total of six USB ports (2 of which double as eSATA ports), VGA, DVI-D, HDMI, PS/2 keyboard as well as the standard 8 channel audio with optical output.  Also on the back of the board is a Gigabit LAN connector that seems to actually perform quite well.  We'll get into testing on the next couple of pages, but I was surprised that this little unit can actually perform as well in some of the subsystem tests.

 Rear IO
Rear IO

 

There should be more than enough connectors on the rear of the board as well as inside the system for most people to be happy.  When you consider that this board is about 6" square, you can't expect a whole lot.  ASRock manages to deliver quite a bit though.  Inside are the four SATA ports, PCIe 16x slot, extra USB headers and more.  Unfortunately, there is no support for Firewire.  I'd take Firewire over the Serial port that comes standard.

PCIe & SATA
PCIe & SATA
LAN & USB
LAN & USB

 

The power connector is a standard 24-pin affair, although I'm sure that they could do with something a little less.  ASRock keeps things standard though so that this board can be used in almost every case with pretty much any standard PSU.  This is pretty darn handy and the position of the power connection really couldn't be better - especially when installed in the Element Q chassis from Thermaltake.

 Power Connector
Power Connector

 

On the next page we'll cover the specs before we jump into testing.


 

A330ION Specs:

Below are some of the features of the A330ION from ASRock as taken from the product page here. 

  • Intel®  Dual-Core Atom™ Processor 330 (1.6 GHz)
  • ASRock DuraCap (2.5 x longer life time), 100% Japan-made high-quality Conductive Polymer Capacitors
  • NVIDIA® MCP7A-ION Chipset
  • Supports FSB533 MHz
  • Supports Dual Channel DDR3 1066/800 non-ECC, un-buffered memory, 2 x DIMM slots, Max. capacity up to 4GB
  • Integrated NVIDIA® GeForce 9 Series, DirectX 10 VGA, Pixel Shader 4.0, Max. shared memory 512MB
  • Multi VGA Output options: D-Sub, DVI-D and HDMI
  • Supports HDCP function
  • Supports Full HD 1080p Blu-ray (BD) / HD-DVD playback
  • 1 x PCI Express 2.0 x16 slot
  • 4 x SATAII 3.0 Gb/s connectors, support RAID (RAID 0, RAID 1), NCQ, AHCI and "Hot Plug" functions
  • 2 x Powered eSATAII/USB Connectors
  • Gigabit LAN 10/100/1000 Mb/s
  • Supports ASRock Instant Boot, Instant Flash, ASRock OC Tuner, OC DNA, Good Night LED
  • EuP Ready
  • 7.1 CH HD Audio (VIA® VT2020 Audio Codec)
  • Windows® 7 Logo Ready
  • Free Bundle : CyberLink DVD Suite - OEM and Trial; Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi MB - Trial
  • I/O Panel: 1 x VGA/D-Sub Port, 1 x VGA/DVI-D Port, 1 x HDMI Port, 1 x Optical SPDIF Out Port, 4 x Ready-to-Use USB 2.0 Ports, 2 x Powered eSATAII/USB Connectors, 1 x RJ-45 LAN Port with LED

 

 General
CPU - Intel® Dual-Core Atom™ Processor 330 (1.6 GHz)
- Supports FSB533 MHz
- Supports Hyper-Threading Technology
- Supports Untied Overclocking Technology
- Supports EM64T
Chipset - NVIDIA® MCP7A-ION
Memory - Dual Channel DDR3 memory technology
- 2 x DDR3 DIMM slots
- Supports DDR3 1066/800 non-ECC, un-buffered memory
- Max. capacity of system memory: 4GB
*

*Due to the CPU limitation, the actual memory size may be less than 4GB for the reservation for system usage under Windows® OS.
BIOS - 8Mb AMI Legal BIOS
- Supports "Plug and Play"
- ACPI 1.1 Compliance Wake Up Events
- Supports jumperfree
- SMBIOS 2.3.1 Support
- VCCM Voltage Multi-adjustment
- Supports Smart BIOS
 Audio, Video and Networking
Graphics - Integrated NVIDIA® GeForce 9 Series
- DX10 VGA, Pixel Shader 4.0
- Max. shared memory 512MB
- Three VGA Output options: D-Sub, DVI-D and HDMI
- Supports HDMI Technology with max. resolution up to 1920x1200 (1080P)
- Supports Dual-link DVI with max. resolution up to 2560x1600 @ 75Hz
- Supports D-Sub with max. resolution up to 1920x1440 @ 75Hz
- Supports HDCP function
- Supports Full HD 1080p Blu-ray (BD) / HD-DVD playback
Audio - 7.1 CH HD Audio (VIA® VT2020 Audio Codec)
LAN - Gigabit LAN 10/100/1000 Mb/s
- Giga PHY RTL8211CL
- Supports Wake-On-LAN
 Expansion / Connectivity
Slots - 1 x PCI Express 2.0 x16 slot
Connector - 4 x SATAII 3.0 Gb/s connectors, support RAID (RAID 0 and RAID 1), NCQ, AHCI and "Hot Plug" functions*
- 1 x IR header
- 1 x COM port header
- 1 x HDMI_SPDIF header
- CPU/Chassis FAN connector
- 24 pin ATX power connector
- Front panel audio connector
- 2 x USB 2.0 headers (support 4 USB 2.0 ports)

*Please noted that AHCI/RAID mode is not supported under Windows® XP/XP 64bit OS.
Rear Panel I/O I/O Panel
- 1 x PS/2 Keyboard Port
- 1 x VGA/D-Sub Port
- 1 x VGA/DVI-D Port
- 1 x HDMI Port
- 1 x Optical SPDIF Out Port
- 4 x Ready-to-Use USB 2.0 Ports
- 2 x Powered eSATAII/USB Connectors
- 1 x RJ-45 LAN Port with LED (ACT/LINK LED and SPEED LED)
- HD Audio Jack: Rear Speaker / Central / Bass / Line in / Front Speaker / Microphone
 Other Features / Miscellaneous
Unique Feature - ASRock OC Tuner
- Instant Boot
- ASRock Instant Flash
- ASRock OC DNA
- Hybrid Booster:
- CPU Frequency Stepless Control
- ASRock U-COP
- Boot Failure Guard (B.F.G.)
- Good Night LED
Support CD - Drivers, Utilities, AntiVirus Software (Trial Version), ASRock Software Suite (CyberLink DVD Suite and Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi MB) (OEM and Trial Version)
Accessories - Quick Installation Guide, Support CD, I/O Shield
- 1 x Bundled Intel® Dual-Core Atom™ Processor 330
- 2 x SATA Data Cables (optional)
- 1 x SATA 1 to 1 Power Cable (optional)
Hardware Monitor - CPU Temperature Sensing
- Chassis Temperature Sensing
- CPU Fan Tachometer
- Chassis Fan Tachometer
- Voltage Monitoring: +12V, +5V, +3.3V, CPU Vcore
Form Factor - Mini-ITX Form Factor: 6.7-in x 6.7-in, 17.0 cm x 17.0 cm
- All Solid Capacitor design (100% Japan-made high-quality Conductive Polymer Capacitors)
OS - Microsoft® Windows® 7 / 7 64-bit / Vista™ / Vista™ 64-bit / XP / XP 64-bit compliant
Certifications - FCC, CE, WHQL
- EuP Ready (EuP ready power supply is required)

 

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 

 

Test System Specs:

The test system specifications for this system are pretty much the same as the ASRock ION Nettop.  It comes with a non-upgradeable Intel Atom 330 CPU, NVIDIA ION graphics and a decent audio codec.  Instead of plugging in a small laptop Hard Drive, we used an older 400GB 3.5" SATA drive as well as a full-sized optical drive.  The only thing that really improves the performance of this A330ION motherboard over the Nettop is that it uses DDR3 memory instead of DDR2.  Keep in mind that the DDR3 is clocked in at 1066MHz as this is the fastest speed supported by the chipset.  Our review of the Nettop included DDR2 memory at 800MHz.  We will see if that is enough to improve performance on the limited 533MHz FSB.


 

Once we had Windows 7 installed on this little system we proceeded to take a few screenshots of the system through CPU-Z.  Please note them below before we continue.

CPU-Z Main
CPU-Z Main
CPU-Z Mobo
CPU-Z Motherboard
   
CPU-Z Memory
CPU-Z Memory
CPU-Z Graphics
CPU-Z Graphics

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 1066MHz (DDR3-1066), but in the image above, you can see that we have it running 1104MHz and this is where the system runs at "stock".  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.

 

Subsystem Tests - Network:

One area that we have started 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 10% during the single-threaded test and 18% during the multi-threaded test.  This is very good CPU utilization for a little box like this.  Single threaded performance was the lowest we've seen, but multi-threaded keeps up with much more expensive and powerful systems.

 

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.  We've included performance numbers from the stock-clocked ION Nettop for reference.  You can see that the motherboard system with standard sized drive and DDR3 has a slight lead over the more compact system.

 PCMark

The performance of the A330ION motherboard edges out the ION-based Nettop on everything but memory.  The DDR2-800 with tighter timings actually showed better performance in this test, yet overall system performance of the A330ION shows better.  We'll see if that holds true as we continue.

 

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.  We've included the results from the Nettop once again for comparison.

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.  The results are very close, but most of the time the A330ION board has the upper hand. 

 

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.  Again the A330ION board takes a slight edge in this benchmark as well.

  PMCore

Although the Atom fails miserably when it comes to real number crunching the A330ION board does slightly better than the smaller solution from ASRock.


 

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 under-powered system 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 "Entry" pre-configured settings with 3DMark 06 running the stock benchmark.

 3DMark Chart
3DMark Vantage

 

While the Atom + 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.


 

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 the Intel Atom Nettop from ASRock once more for comparison.  The Nettop uses DDR2 while the A330ION uses DDR3 - other than that, system specs are virtually identical in regards to video playback.

  HD Video

 

Both ION-based systems are virtually identical in performance and we see no more than 1-2% of difference either way.  This is within margin of error and both systems can play back HD video very easily.

 

Conclusion:

With the price and availability of ITX systems coming down, the A330ION motherboard from ASRock is a decent choice for a quiet, Home Theatre PC or web-connected computer.  The A330ION board supports four SATA devices internally as well as two eSATA devices, a bunch of USB ports and HDMI, DVI-D and even a VGA port.  If you have some extra DDR3 and a hard drive lying around, it makes a cheap system that can get a lot of little jobs done.  If you need a full system, you should still consider a cheap AMD-system and you'll have more power.  In the end, it's a great little board that is loaded with features.  The Atom + ION combination is pretty solid, but when doing any kind of encoding or compression, it shows that it is weak sauce.  For web apps, it's a great little unit though.

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.  You can easily add a Blu-Ray drive to your ITX system and have a great little HTPC that will keep you happy for many years.  ASRock uses their solid-state capacitors to ensure long life.

 

Pros:

  • Small ITX form factor
  • ION Chipset gives the Atom some life
  • Dual-core 330 with HyperThreading
  • HDMI, DVI-D & VGA output
  • Two eSATA/USB ports for extra external storage options

 

Cons:

  • Nothing really stands out

 

BCCRating

Silver

I'd like to thank ASRock for sending out this little ITX motherboard for us to play around with.  It's not a bad board at all and is worth consideration if you are looking to build a PC for a small space.

Please post your comments and questions in the forum at the "Comments" link below.