Intel released a new generation of Atom processors based on 32nm transistors. The Atom D2500 and D2700 are intended for cheap mini- or all-in-one PCs. Atom processors with model numbers starting with N are used in netbooks, a product category that has been losing market share since the arrival of tablets. A logical use for Atom processors will of course be the upcoming Windows 8 x86 tablets.
Thus far the Atom processors have not impressed very much. The energy efficiency sacrificed too much performance, and compared to the ARM competitors they weren't even that efficient. AMD's Fusion counterpart with its powerful integrated GPU was more interesting for light-weight computers. Does the new generation Atoms change our perception? Hardware.Info examined the new top model Atom, the D2700.
Except for the transition to the 32nm production process little has changed in the architecture of the Atom processors compared to the previous generation. The CPU is still based on the good old Pentium CPU, which has a very basic architecture compared to current standards. This means that it is very energy efficient when combined with a state-of-the-art manufacturing process. The new D2500 and D2700 Atom processors have two cores, and the D2700 also supports HyperThreading. The D2700 has a clock frequency of 2.13GHz. The L2-cache size (512kB per core) also hasn't changed compared to the previous generation. In other words, we don't expect much better performance from the CPU except perhaps better efficiency thanks to the 32nm transistors.
The most important innovation on the new Atoms is that Intel has integrated a new type of GPU. Intel calls it HD Graphics 3600, but it's actually a PowerVR SGX545. This quad-core GPU is suitable for DirectX 9. In an era where DirectX 11 is becoming the standard this is not that exciting, but the integrated HD video decoder is a significant improvement compared to the previous generations that struggled with H.264 YouTube video in SD quality. Playing HD video in higher resolutions was just not possible with the previous Atoms.
The TDP of the D2700 processors is extremely low with 10 watts. The mobile versions of the chip, the N2800 and N2600, are even more efficient with 6.5 watts and 2.5 watts, respectively. The new Atom has a surface area of 56 mm², a fraction of the size of modern high-end desktop CPUs.
Intel's competitor in this segment is AMD's E-series, also intended for affordable mini-PCs, all-in-ones and netbooks. The E-450 was recently introduced as successor to the E-350 and it has a higher clock frequency of 1.65GHz. These processors codenamed Zacate have two cores, an integrated Radeon HD6320 DirectX 11 graphics card and a TDP of 18 watts.
Neither the Intel Atom nor the AMD E-processor are available separately. It's also not possible to put one separately into a socket, because they are soldered to the motherboard. We tested the new Intel Atom with a Foxconn D270S mini-ATX board. To test the AMD E-450 we used a mini-PC by Sapphire.
Here's a bit of spoiler regarding the benchmarks we'll get to in a couple pages: these processors are slow. The PCs they're meant for are not intended for heavier work than browsing the internet. They are definitely not suitable for any type of serious computing, with one exception: a Media Centre or Mediaplayer PC. We'll address that at the end of this article.
We performed the complete processor test on the CPUs, as much as possible anyway. We compare the Atom and the E-450 with the most affordable desktop processors by Intel and AMD in the form of Intel's Celeron/Pentium and AMD's A4/A6 series. Starting on page three you will find the benchmark results. AMD processors are marked in green, Intel processors are blue, the Intel D2700 is black and the AMD E-450 is red.