Atom + ION: empty promise? Certainly compared to CULV!
Straight up: despite the hype, while the Atom/ION platform provides some advantage over a conventional netbook on at least some real world applications, it does not begin to compare to the dual core CULV machines that share the same form factor and similar pricing.
The CULV Aspire Timeline 1810TZ with a dual core Pentium U4100 and Windows 7 Home Premium is two to three times faster than the HP Mini 311 with Atom 270, W7HP, and the full ION, on all of the things that matter to me…and it does, with ease, things the HP Mini still simply can not do well, or do at all.
Pairing the nVidia ION graphics accelerator with an Atom 270 is like pairing an energetic professinal sprinter (nVidia ION graphics acceleration) with a six-year-old (Atom processor) for the three legged race. There are portions of the course where the sprinter carries most of the weight and they go faster than the six-year-old can on his own, but for most of the course, the pair are pretty much limited to the six-year-old’s pace…certainly, tied leg to leg, they never achieve the pace you would expect, or hope for, from a professional sprinter.
Of course, if you allow the sprinter to pick the 6-year-old up and carry him, they do go, at least for a short time, faster. You see a lot of bench-marks published for the HP Mini 311 where that is essentially what they have done. In the real world the course is much more varied, and very few programs are written to allow the sprinter to do all the work.
On the other hand, in the CULV machine, you have an enthusiastic 14-year-old gamer (the GM4500 integrated graphic acceleration) paired leg to leg with a talented advanced amateur sprinter (child of a pro, maybe not turned pro yet but showing the breeding of one: the ULV processor, often dual core). They might not match the speed of the pro-sprinter, and they might not even match the full possible speed of the amateur, but they certainly will, and do, run circles around the Atom/ION pair. At least, as I say, in any three legged race that matters to me.
If you want to know how I came to this conclusion: read on.
If you are in the market for a slightly bigger, more powerful, higher resolution, alternative to a conventional Atom Netbook, as I recently have been, you have basically two choices:
1) An ION powered super netbook like the 11.6 inch, 1366×768 resolution, HP Mini 311…or…
2) A CULV powered, 11.6 or 12.1 inch mini-laptop (thin-and-light) with the same screen resolution, like the Acer Aspire One 1410s/Timeline 1810s, or the Asus U20.
The ION platform pairs a conventional netbook Atom 270 or 280 processor with the nVidia ION Graphics Accelerator. This combination, in theory, should boost performace just where netbooks are weakest, in the graphics department.
The CULV machines (Consumer Ultra Low Voltage) come with low voltage versions of the processors that power real computers: single and dual core Centrinos, Pentiums, and Core2s, paired with integrated GM4500 graphics acceleration. The low voltage requirement means they do not have the full processing power of their larger siblings, but they do provide incredible (by last year’s standards) battery life, and large bump up in general processing power from the Atoms.
On the graphics front, there is no doubt that the discrete ION acceleration engine is much more powerful, and potentially considerably faster, than the integrated GM4500 graphics engine that runs with the CULV machines.
I recently, kind of by accident, ended up testing both an HP Mini 311 ION based machine and a CULV Acer Aspire Timeline 1810TZ. Long story, but the gist is that I installed all my work-a-day applications on both machines and compared performance side by side, doing the kinds of things I do everyday on my netbook/laptop, and the kinds of things I want to be able to do, but could not on my trusty netbook.
My previous travel workhorse was the 10 inch, Atom based, Windows XP Acer Aspire One 250, about which I have nothing but good to say, and I have owned and used two other Celeron based netbooks from Asus, a 7 inch Linux machine, and a 10 inch XP, both with SSDs instead of hard drives.
What I need my travel computer to do is:
1) all my net based stuff, surfing, twitter, facebook, smugmug, flickr, gmail, google reader, etc. etc: so basically the machine must run Chrome really well. Adobe AIR is a strong second since I use some AIR based twitter and facebook clients.
2) process and catalog my images on the road: it has to run Lightroom, and should run PhotoShop Elements (ideally at the same time).
3) display decent quality steaming video from Hulu and CBS.com. I don’t watch TV…but I do follow some shows on the internet.
4) open and do some light editing on MicroSoft Office documents: Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. Office, or one of the immitations, must run at least okay.
5) manage my iTunes library and my iPhone apps: iTunes 9 is right at the limits of what an Atom processor is up to, believe one who has a lot of experience.
My Aspire One handles all that relatively well. Lightroom and PhShEl at the same time is painful, but marginally possible. Editing a PPT on a screen that small can be done…just.
What I want my new machine to do, that the Aspire One could never handle, is:
6) play 720 HD video from my camera: QuickTime? Windows Media Player? Media Player Classic? Don’t care. It just as to work. (My Aspire One could just about manage Media Player Classic…if I shut down everything else, and ignored the occasional abrupt jump in the video.)
7) edit 720 HD video: much harder. I never did find a program that would come even close on the Aspire One.
So, with those needs in mind, and mindful of the new ION and CULV offerings, along about Thanksgiving, I went shopping. I spent two days reading reviews and studying specs, and then ordered the HP Mini 311 with ION graphics and Windows 7 Home Premium 32bit. Again, part of the long story, but a week later I ordered an Aspire Timeline 1810TZ with dual core Pentium su4100, with integrated GM45oo graphic acceleration, and Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit.
I now have both machines, and I have installed all my software on each. I upgraded the HP to 3 Gigs of memory, and the Aspire came with 3 Gigs. I enabled ReadyBoost on both, using identical SanDisk Cruzer flash drives. And I have run tests on the things that matter to me. Not scientific. Not bench-marks. Just press Start on an action and the stopwatch on my iPhone at the same time, and hit stop when the action finishes. Twice. Once on each machine using identical files and identical actions. I also tested HD video in various players, Hulu full screen, and garnered an impression of routine acts like sliding the sliders in Lightroom, scrolling in Adobe AIR apps and Chrome, etc.
Results, in no particular order. And remember, the HP Mini is already faster than the Aspire One 250 in almost every action, by at least a noticeable amount.
PhotoShop Elements 7.o
Smart Adjust action on same image
HP: 10 sec./Acer: 4.8 sec.
Unsharp Mask, radius 30, amount 18
HP: 8 sec./Acer: 1.3 sec.
Adjust colors: + 2 blue:
HP: 2.8 sec./Acer: 1.1 sec.
Filter: Brush strokes; ink outline
HP: 12.5 sec./Acer: 9 sec.
export jpeg to disk: (includes rendering changes on original file as well as saving to disk)
HP: 12.5 sec. /Acer: 3.9 sec.
edit psd copy with Lr changes in PhShEl
(from pressing start to image open in PhShEl, includes time to render copy, open PhShEl, load image)
HP: 33 sec. /Acer: 10 sec.
Switch modules and load image for development.
HP: 7.3 sec. /Acer: 2.4 sec. (takes longer the first time the Dev. module is used)
Windows Movie Maker
2 min. video from 720 HD file, with title, save to disk as .avi
HP: 11:50 sec. / Acer: 5:06 sec.
Cyberlink Director 8
same vid with transition saved as .avi
HP: 4:54 sec. /Acer: 1:39 sec.
The Acer plays 720p HD video in QuickTime Player without stutters. HP will not.
There is a very slight delay in Lightroom sliders on the HP. None on the Acer.
The Acer plays 720p HD clips in the edit module of Corel VideoStudio 2x just fine. HP will not. In fact, HD video editing is very possible on the Acer using either Corel or Cyberlink. It is problematic on the HP at best.
Both machines play Hulu streaming video at full screen very smoothly.
Scrolling in Seesmic Desktop (Adobe AIR app) is noticeably faster and smoother on the Acer, as is scrolling in Chrome…but both are enough better than the Aspire One to make the differences between the HP and Acer insignificant.
It is not that the HP Mini 311 is slow…it is significantly faster than a conventional Atom netbook in most routine actions, even in Lightroom and PhotoShop Elements. It is just not at all fast compared to a CULV, dual core machine like the Aspire.
So, not scientific at all. But enough so that the HP Mini is going back to Amazon, and the Aspire Timeline 1810TZ will be my new travel computer. No doubt. The HP Mini with ION might excel in a few tasks, and with a few apps, but day-in and day-out, at least the way I work and the way my days go, the CULV based Timeline 1810TZ is simply the more capable machine.