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CPU Intel Atom 230 (Diamondville)

Author: Aleksandr Mitrofanov
Date: 19/08/2008

A year ago, Intel announced the release of a new CPU series - Atom. These new CPUs are aimed solely at mobile computers, and their specifications fully meet the requirements of such devices. This first of all applies to power consumption which is below 4W (TDP). Such low indicators have been achieved due to a new architecture which does not resemble any of the previous Intel's architectures, although uses some of the features. The core comprises 47 mln transistors, and because they are manufactured following the 45-nm process technology it becomes clear why Atom is such a miniature and power-saving CPU.

Currently, Intel offers two series of the Atom processor in its assortment. The first is named Z (processors Z500-Z540), it is based on the Silverthorne core and is aimed at mobile systems of the MID class (Mobile Internet Devices). The second series based on the Diamondville core was announced quite recently (in March this year) and includes two models (N270 and 230). It is aimed at desktop systems (Nettops) and value notebooks (Netbooks).

  Core Clock speed, GHz FSB, MHz L2, K TDP, W Process technology, nm Core area, mm2 Q-ty of transistors, (mln)
Atom Z500 Silverthorne 0,8 400 512 0,65 45 25 47
Atom Z510 Silverthorne 1,1 400 512 2 45 25 47
Atom Z520 Silverthorne 1,33 533 512 2 45 25 47
Atom Z530 Silverthorne 1,6 533 512 2 45 25 47
Atom Z540 Silverthorne 1,86 533 512 2,4 45 25 47
Atom N270 Diamondville 1,6 533 512 2,5 45 25 47
Atom 230 Diamondville 1,6 533 512 4 45 25 47

atom-sizes.jpg

All Atom processors offer L1 56 K cache size, 32 K of which is reserved for the instructions cache and 24 K - for data. Also, all the processors are able executing 32-bit code and support additional instruction sets MMX, SSE, SSE2, SSE3, and SSSE3. As regards 64-bit code (x86-64), it is supported by only the Diamondville core and only in the Atom 230 model. Currently, all the Atom processors are single-core. At the same time, they offer support for the Hyper-Threading which allows executing two parallel command streams.

Closer to the end of 2008, Intel is planning to release first dual-core Atom processors. There are rumors in the Internet regarding the model Atom 330 which will run at 1.6 GHz (FSB=533 MHz), with 512 K of L2 cache reserved per each core.

Atom processors of the Z series support the virtualization technology, as well as the C1E Speedstep power-saving technology. Besides the Z series, the C1E Speedstep is supported by Atom N270 built on the Diamondville core.

The assortment of Atom processors is quite wide, and includes two cores for various systems. To avoid a mishmash, it is important to note that the processors operate with certain chipsets, and it is just they which determine the purpose of the final product. Along with new processors, Intel has release a series of chipsets UL11L, US15L, US15W which are also aimed at operation of the Atom series Z processors (the Silverthorne core).

intel-u-chipsets.jpg

The chipsets offer similar specifications, each comprising a chip that implements functionality of the "north" and "south" bridges. The new chipsets support Intel Atom processors having the system bus speeds 100 or 133 MHz (400/533 MHz QPB), offer the integrated single-channel controller for 400- or 533-MHz DDR2 memory (the maximum memory capacity makes up 1 GB). Also, the chipsets of the new series offer the integrated graphic core Intel GMA500 which along with 3D graphics provides hardware decoding of the video formats H.264, MPEG2, VC1, and WMV9. At the same time, they support the D-SUB and DVI-I, as well as TV-Out outputs. Besides, there is the bus controller PCI Express spec 1.0.

A few words on the expansion options of the UL and US chipsets - they support one IDE link, eight USB 2.0 ports, as well as the HD audio subsystem.

The chipsets UL11L, US15L, US15W are a component part of the Centrino Atom 2 platform which also includes Atom processors, Wi-Fi, WiMAX, and 3G modules. The heat emission of UL11L is 1.6W, and that for chipsets of the US series - no more than 2.3W. In the end, the overall heat emission of the "UL11L + Atom CPU" combination is merely 2.25W! That is just what is needed for mobile devices since the unparalleled low power consumption provides a long operation time.

As regards the processors Atom N270 and Atom 230 built on the Diamondville core, they are aimed at cheap, power-saving and small-size systems (Nettops and Netbooks) with the 945GC chipset. That is just the system, namely, the motherboard, we are testing now:

Gigabyte GC230D

Gigabyte GC230D.

Note that the massive radiator with a fan is meant for cooling the chipset, and the CPU itself uses a low-profile radiator (shown on long shot).

Externally, the CPU looks like this:

atom_cpu.jpg

As you can see, the Atom 230 processor is soldered into the motherboard, so you won't be able upgrading the system. If the CPU is "burnt down" as a result of overclocking, then you will have to replace the motherboard as a whole.

The CPU-Z utility displays the following information:

intel-atom-230-133.gif

This version of the utility gives an incorrect reading for the CPU core (Silverthorne, instead of the right Diamondville).

Below are the specifications of the motherboard Gigabyte GC230D:

Gigabyte GC230D
CPU
- Intel Atom 230 (Diamondville)
Chipset
- North bridge Intel 945GC
- South bridge Intel ICH7
System memory
- One 240-pin slot for DDR-II SDRAM DIMM
- Maximum memory capacity 2 GB
- Supported memory DDR2 400/533
- Onboard power indicator
Graphics
- Integrated GMA950 graphics core
Expansion options
- One 32-bit PCI Bus Master-slot
- Eight USB 2.0 ports (4 integrated + 4 additional)
- Integrated High Definition Audio
- 10/100 Ethernet LAN controller
Overclocking options
- HTT adjustable within 100 to 700 MHz
- Adjustable voltage on the memory and FSB
- Support for the EasyTune utility
Disk subsystem
- One link for UltraDMA133/100/66/33 Bus Master IDE (with support for up to two ATAPI devices & RAID 0, 1)
- Support for the SerialATA II (2 links - ICH7)
- Support for LS-120 / ZIP / ATAPI CD-ROM
BIOS
- 4 Mbit Flash ROM
- Award Phoenix BIOS with support for Enhanced ACPI, DMI, Green, PnP Features and Trend Chip Away Virus
- Support for @BIOS, Q-Flash
Misc
- One port for FDD, one serial and one parallel ports, ports for PS/2 mouse and keyboard
- IrDA
- STR (Suspend to RAM)
Power management
- Wake-up on modem, mouse, keyboard, LAN, timer, and USB
- 20-pin power connector ATX (ATX-PW)
- Additional 4-pin power connector
Monitoring
- Monitoring the temperatures of the CPU, voltages, indication of rotational speeds of the two
- SmartFan
Dimensions
- ATX form factor, 170x170 mm (6.68" x 6.68")

Gigabyte GC230D: Board Layout

To start with, this motherboard will need a PSU with the main 20-pin power connector.

board.jpg

The additional 4-pin connector is positioned in the upper-right corner of the board. Near the only DIMM socket, there is a 3-pin CPU_FAN connector to plug in a CPU cooler.

dimm.jpg

Besides it, there is one more 3-pin connector: SYS_FAN - on the bottom edge of the board.

As regards the expansion options, the board uses only one PCI slot.

sb.jpg

Near it, there is the south bridge ICH7 due to which the motherboard Gigabyte GC230D provides operation of two SerialATA-II and one Parallel ATA links. In the end, up to four hard disks can be plugged in to the board altogether.

Besides, the board uses the Realtek RTL8101E LAN controller and the ALC662 audio codec which supports output to six audio channels.

lan.jpg

sound.jpg

On the board, there are eight USB 2.0 ports, four of which are mounted on the rear panel, with 4 more ports connected with brackets.

back_panel.jpg

Here is a schematic diagram of the components.

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BIOS

Gigabyte GC230D is equipped with the Award BIOS Phoenix system.

bios.jpg

The memory settings (standard kit) are gathered in the "Advanced Chipset Features" section:

bios_memory.jpg

There is also the parameter that detects the capacity of memory reserved for the needs of the integrated graphic core GMA950. The parameter in charge of selecting the memory operating frequency is in the overclocking section:

bios_select_memclock.jpg

Now move on to the section to do with the system monitoring.

bios_health.jpg

The board keeps track of the CPU's current temperature, voltage, and rotational speeds of the two fans. Besides, the user can control the rotational speed of the CPU cooler with the Smart Fan feature.

bios_smartfan.jpg

Overclocking and stability

Now let's look at the power converter. It uses a 1-phase power scheme in which there are two 820 mkF and one 470 mkF capacitors.

power_supply.jpg

The settings required for overclocking are gathered in the "Frequency/Voltage Control" section:

bios_over.jpg

Therefore, Gigabyte GC230D allows adjusting the system bus speed within 100 to 700 MHz in 1 MHz increments.

bios_select_fsb.jpg

Here are the remaining overclocking tools:

Motherboard Gigabyte GC230D
CPU multiplier adjustable -
FSB adjustment within 100 to 700 MHz (1 MHz)
Vcore adjustment -
Vmem adjustment +0.4 V (0.1V)
Vtt adjustment +0.3V V (0.1V)
PCI-E adjustment within 90 MHz to 150 MHz (1 MHz)

Note that the board lacks the most important overclocking feature: Gigabyte GC230D is unable raising voltage on the CPU core (Vcore). Therefore, we can't determine the frequency capability of the Diamondville core, and the overclocking result will directly depend on how successful a CPU specimen is. Since Atom 230 is soldered into the board, we can't try it with another motherboard. So we had to experiment with the available specimen. The final result is a stable operation of the CPU at 1.92 GHz:

atom-160.gif

Performance tests

The major problem in comparing the performance was to find the right rival. There was the only way - compare the speed of Gigabyte GC230D versus that of Gigabyte 945GCMCL on which the CPU Intel Celeron 215 (1.33 GHz, 10x133, Conroe-L core) is soldered in, plus 1GB of RAM. The other system is built on the base of the motherboard Foxconn 45CMV (Intel 945GC) and the CPU Core 2 Duo E6550 (2.33 GHz, Conroe), with 2 GB RAM. All the test systems used the integrated graphic core.

In our test setup, we used the following hardware:

Test setup
Video card Intel GMA950 core
Sound card -
HDD Samsung HD160JJ
Memory 1x 1024 MB 1024 MB GoodRAM DDR2
GP1066D264L5/2GDC
Power supply unit PowerMan 300 W
OS Windows XP

pcmark.gif

3dmark.gif

3dmark_cpu.gif

3dmark01_nature.gif

3dmark03_game1.gif

3dmark03_games.gif

Test results in games (FPS).

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ssam.gif

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x2.gif

d3.gif

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Another test - WinRar (Kb/s.; the higher, the better)

winrar.gif

Final Words

In our view, processors of the Z series (Silverthorne) combined with chipsets of the U series is a big leap forward in the area of mobile devices. Their low power consumption will make it possible to provide a long operation without re-charging, and the Atom architecture will let run regular x86 applications. As regards Atom N270 and Atom 230 (Diamondville) processors, their combination with the desktop chipset i945GC is not quite successful, in our view. The thing is, the power consumption of this chipset is 22 W, which fully sets back the advantages of Atom in terms of power saving. Unless there is power saving, then performance is of priority, at which Atom is definitely weak as compared to Intel Celeron (Conroe-L).

atom_vs_945gc.jpg

At the top - CPU Intel Atom, at the bottom - Intel 945G.

One thing - to play Quake 3 comfortably (>60 fps) at 800?600?32 on a communicator which then can be put into the pocket. And quite a different thing is to play the same game on a desktop PC. If games and 3D applications don't matter, then why the developers are not using Atom 230 in combination with the mobile chipset i945GSE whose power consumption (together with the "south bridge") does not exceed 5.5W? Still not clear.

As regards the motherboard Gigabyte GC230D, we found no faults with it - it is a perfect product which fully reveals the capability of the CPU Intel Atom and the chipset i945GC. Another thing is that the efficiency of the combination seems rather dubious, regardless of the motherboard manufacturer.

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