Introduction to the Asrock Ion 330 Nettop
Yeah it has been a long time coming. The day that we see low (I mean LOW) power systems in the form of desktops. For the past two years or so we have witness low power in the form netbook’s or mini-pcs. From the start these little laptops have been a huge hit with college students, people on the go and the individual just looking for an inexpensive way to browse the internet. But honestly why should we not have this technology be more of a permanent solution and not just a portable one? Well it isn’t anymore. Companies like ASUS, MSI and Asrock have been putting the Atom processor in to desktops which have are been labeled nettops.
The nettops may not give us the power that the SFF from Shuttle or other manufacturers. But they do allow us to keep more of our money in pockets at the end of the month. And if that isn’t enough they take up less room than the SFF rigs. This along make them ideal for home theatre PC’s and other places where space is an issue. And in many cases the lower profile makes them look better as well.
Our good friends at Asrock as grace us with one of their new Nettop Ion 330. This model is one of two that ASrock produces. The Ion 330 is based on the Nvidia Ion chipset obviously. And the other S330 is based on the Intel 945C chipset. They are both centered center the Intel Atom 330 dual core processor. The feature set of both are pretty similar as they both supply HD 1080P playback through HDMI, slim-line DVD device and a 2.5″ hard drive. But the most important features once again are the small size, money saving and light multitasking. So, read on to see if the Nettop Ion 330 is a considerable unit to be place in your entertainment center.
A word from ASRock about the ION 330
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.
Packaging and contents
The Ion 330 comes in a classic green and white box that displays both color options of the nettop, which is black and white. Besides the images and a few feature listings the box does not really say anything about the specifications of the unit. So I would suggestion doing some research first.
Inside the box besides the computer itself you are given a driver CD, quick guide, a 65W power adapter with cable, HDMI to DVI adapter and an anti-slip pad.
|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|
|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|
ASRock has overcome the technical obstacles and exclusively invented a new technology that allows you to turn on your PC in just a blink of an eye! Not only it saves energy, money, it also helps system running speed. This feature is applicable to both Windows® XP and Windows® Vista™!
ASRock OC Tuner is a user-friendly ASRock overclocking tool which allows you to guard your system by hardware monitor function and overclock your hardware devices to get the best system performance.
Our long life solid capacitor is sourced form 100% Japan-made high-quality Conductive Polymer Capacitors.
ASRock ION 330 comes with Dual-Channel memory, which is 2 times faster than the single channel memory. Comparing with other NetTop which supports only single channel memory, ASRock ION 330 with Dual Channel memory design can truly deliver the performance of Atom 330 dual-core CPU.
– EMI Test
– Vibration Test
– Drop Test
– Acoustic Test
– Thermal Shock Test
– Power Consumption Test
– Power Line Disturbance Test
Closer look at the outside
Before we get into the examination of the system I would like to say a few things about the Atom 330 Processor as it needs a paragraph or two of its own.
The Atom 330 is the newest of the Atom family of processors. The first was a single core unit that we saw in many of the first generation netbooks. The newer micro-processor is a dual core unit that rated at 1.6GHz just like the previous model. Operating at a front bus of 533MHz at 1MB of total cache it is able to multitask at a moderate level. The above numbers are all the reasons why the processor can run at a TDP (Thermal Design Power) of 8 watts which is not including the rest of the system.
Now back to the Nettop Ion from Asrock. Besides the Atom 330 processor the nettop comes complete with a slim-line DVD with recorder, a 320GB 2.5″ hard drive and 2GB of 240-pin PC6400 of ram with support for 4GB. The above is more than enough power for what the unit was meant for. And for those that choose to add more they can. Considering the largest laptop is 500GB at 7200RPM, you can add plenty of speed and size to the storage capacity. And if more speed is needed a SSD can be supplemented.
Besides the processor the nettop is centered around the Nvidia Ion graphic processor and chipset. The Ion is fully DirectX 10 compatible and capable of supporting screen resolutions up to 2560×1600. And with Azalia high definition audio you are almost guaranteed to have a visual and audio good time when playing your favorite DVD movie. And if you were to substitute the DVD with a Blu-Ray Rom things get that much better.
Back to the system now. The model we got was the black one. The Ion 330′ enclosure is simple but sleek. The only thing showing in the front is the DVD loading door, Asrock logo, power button and a area for venting. One thing that I would have like to see on the front of the Ion 330 is a couple of extra USB ports. This would have been nice for people like me that carry family photos, digital movies and music on phones and flash drives.
Continuing the tour around to the back of the system we see all the inputs in which the unit has to offer. In the case of the Ion 330 we see they are numerous. For major storage input as well as other devices there are a total of six USB ports. I would have sacrifice two of them to the front but I won’t get on that soapbox again. For connecting to a network a hard-wired LAN is provided. An integrated wireless LAN would have made the unit complete. But adding a simple USB wi-fi adapter would solve this small issue. Like I stated earlier the unit is capable of hi-def audio and video inputs. Typical are the audio inputs but the visuals are ported through a HDMI connection. But if you wish to remain analog there is a VA port as well.
Now it is time to open this baby up
Asrock did a great job getting everything packed inside the tiny enclosure. The real heart of the system is the AMCP7A-Ion motherboard that is based on Nvidia’s Ion chipset. Nvidia developed the chipset to be a low price competitor to Intel’s version. Ion offers DirectX 10 technology for those that are into digital technology and Nvidia’s pride and joy, Cuda. Cuda enable a performance boost for those that ask for more from their video experiences rather you are watching the video, playing a game or making the video.
The overall layout of the motherboard is ideal for what the unit is made for. Because of the small components that are used the board is not overcrowded by any means. We know that the system uses a dual core Atom 330 processor which is being cooled by the aluminum heatsink with the active cooling sitting off to the right. And to provide the system with all the necessary resources two stick of PC6400 are included. For added cooling a small 50mm cooling fan blows around the surface of the motherboard in the area of where the Ion chipset sits.
The two SATA connections are supporting a Seagate Momentus hard drive which spins at 5400 RPM and has 320GB of capacity. And other plug is attached to a Phillips/Lite On DS-8A3S DVD drive that has burning capabilities. It is a tray loaded that burns at 8X in a slim line form factor with a SATA interface. Asrock does offer a model of the IOn nettop with a Blu-Ray player as well.
The Ion 330 does not come with the most detailed BIOS out there but it does allows you to enable and disenable major components of the system. There is even an overclocking mode to play with.
Testing and benching
For testing we loading the latest version of Windows 7 64-bit with all the updates and latest drivers from Nvidia and Asrock.
Chances are a lot of individuals would purchase this type of setup for one of two reasons: as a home theatre box or a everyday system for web browsing, low level game playing and office production. So we decided to test based on the both setups.
We begin the whole testing phase simple by doing a fresh install of Windows 7. And to my surprise we were granted by a beautiful picture and wonderful sound. I was a far cry from my initial install of Win 7 beta. As I had to go through installing of various drivers and settings to get things to work. This is no fault of the nettop but of Windows. Even with everything working with the RC install of Win7 we still updated all drivers with the newest ones.
One of my favorite movies is Samuel L. Jackson Formula 51 so this is what is playing on the screen below. The CPU usage shown in task manager says that we still have resources left over to multi-task a little.
Idle temps were well within specs.
HWiNFO™ and HWiNFO32™ are professional hardware information and diagnostic tools supporting latest components, industry technologies and standards. Both tools are designed to collect and present the maximum amount of information possible about computer’s hardware which makes them suitable for users searching for driver updates, computer manufacturers, system integrators and technical experts as well. Retrieved information is presented in a logical and easily understandable form and can be exported into various types of reports.
One of the most complete hardware information programs on the market is HWiNFO. Its one of the only diagnostic programs that gives you all the information you need on a system on one page.
One reason why the Atom processor is great for low power computing is due to its low operating point and low operating voltage which is 800MHz and 1.1625 maximum respectively. The Asrock box comes with two gigs of ram pre-installed but 256MB of it does to the Ion graphics. This was more than enough for me to enjoy some of my favorite DVD’s and some light web gaming nothing to extreme at all.
Futuremark’s 3DMark Vantage 1.0.1
3DMark Vantage is a PC benchmark suite designed to test the DirectX10 performance of your graphics card. We’ve been making 3DMark for over 10 years, with each new edition using the latest 3D technology to determine real-world performance.
A 3DMark score is an overall measure of your system’s 3D gaming capabilities, based on comprehensive real-time 3D graphics and processor tests. By comparing your score with those submitted by millions of other gamers you can see how your gaming rig performs, making it easier to choose the most effective upgrades or finding other ways to optimize your system.
3DMark is widely used by the PC industry, press and media as well as individual users and gamers, for comparing performance levels between whole systems or even specific components.
The sweet thing about the new 3DMark Vantage is that you can test your test under different scenarios like movie watching and office productivity. And after 90 minutes of complete testing we see that we obtained a score of 1426 under the TV and movie suite and for the Productivity suite we got a 1776.
Super Pi 1.5 (XS Modded)
Super Pi is a program that calculates pi to a specified number of digits after the decimal point up to a maximum of 32 million. The Gauss-Legendre algorithm which is a windows version of a program used by Yasumasa Kanada in 1995 to compute Pi to 232 digits.
Super Pi is used by many overclockers to test performance and stability of their systems. In this community, Super Pi has become the standard for providing benchmarks to compare pi calculation times and demonstrate their overclocking skills. The program can be used to also test the stability of a particular overclocking speed. If a computer can calculate PI to the 32 millionth place after the decimal without a mistake, it is considered moderately stable in terms of RAM and CPU performance. More intensive CPU and RAM tests include calculations that run for hours instead of minutes and better test system stress levels.
The Intel Atom processor is no rocket ship compared to other processors but we did manage to get 2m46s in a 1m Cal of Super Pi.
Maxon’s Cinebench R10
CINEBENCH is a real-world test suite that assesses your computer’s performance capabilities. MAXON CINEBENCH is based on MAXON’s award-winning animation software CINEMA 4D, which is used extensively by studios and production houses worldwide for 3D content creation. MAXON software has been used in blockbuster movies such as Spider-Man, Star Wars, The Chronicles of Narnia and many more.
MAXON CINEBENCH runs several tests on your computer to measure the performance of the main processor and the graphics card under real-world circumstances. The benchmark application makes use of up to 16 CPUs or CPU cores and is available for Windows (32-bit and 64-bit) and Macintosh (PPC and Intel-based).
The combination of the Intel Dual Atom 330 processor and the Nvidia Ion graphic and chipset is the ideal solution for anyone needing a smaller form factor setup for whatever reason. We felt that it’s a perfect setup for anyone wanting a video playing device that does more than just play videos. The Nettop served several purposes for us which were: a HD video player, video storage server with the addition of a external drive, a web browser and a somewhat a game machine. And all this in a very small enclosure that is just bigger than a Wii console. Being my first time in such a small enclosure I was impress to see how much Asrock was about to fit in here. A lot this was because of the slim-line optical drive and the laptop sized hard drive and a can’t forget about the ITX Ion based motherboard.
You can not have high definition playback with out the right connections. And the Nettop them. If you are wanting 1080 support then there is the high in demand HDMI connection that will also carry audio through the television or a digital receiver. This is the route we took as it is the best for video playback. For those that are limited on or not any HDMI connections the Nettop has a single VGA as well. And if you are left to use the VGA connection you can still get great sound through the digital optical outlet. For video the only connection that is missing from the unit is the DVI. So, an adapter is needed for this missing option.
We really like the looks of the Nettop but we did find that it was short on the external connections. The unit offered more than enough USB ports that total six but fell short on firewire and eSATA ports as there are none. With the rising numbers digital and video cameras being sold Asrock should have added firewire to the box. And if you wanted to use the box as a PVR, a eSATA plug would have being ideal.
The model we tested, Ion 330 is a great unit but is lacking a Blu-Ray drive for the ultimate video playback box. No sweat here. Asrock does also offer another unit with an include Blu-Ray drive called the Ion 330 BD. Obviously, BD standing for Blu-Ray drive. If you plan to use such a machine for the purpose of watching video this is the model we would recommend.
The Ion box would set you back anywhere from $380 to $650 depending on what model you decide to purchase. Yes, you can build such a computer with all the available parts that are on the market. But will the cost of building be cheaper or more expensive than the total price of the Asrock Ion? It all depends on how you build up such a rig. A few motherboard manufacturers are producing integrated Atom motherboards for such a case that would cost you approximately $100 and then you throw in the price of a slim optical drive, laptop hard drive, ram, case without power supply you have a machine totaling more than that of the Ion based on the dvd drive.