ASUS AT3IONT-I Deluxe Review

ajmatson - 2010-05-20 17:16:44 in Motherboards, CPU's
Category: Motherboards, CPU's
Reviewed by: ajmatson   
Reviewed on: August 17, 2010
Price: $189.99

Introduction:

When it comes to media center PCs you want to have hardware that uses low energy and produces low heat but that is powerful enough to run all your media with no hiccups. Sure, that i7 powerhouse and the beast of a GTX480 series card can play your HD video files with no issues but, the heat and the power consumption will drive you over the edge. When it comes to picking the right hardware then your best bet is to go with something a bit less extreme. Even low power desktop chips produce enough heat that they need to be surrounded by fans and an active CPU cooler. Today, we are going to take a look at a compact, low power, motherboard, CPU and video combo platform designed to give you the best media experience possible with the least amount of drawbacks.

The ASUS AT3IONT-I Deluxe is one such combo that places an Intel Atom 330 Dual Core processor on the same board as an nVidia ION graphics processor and packs it with all the features you could ever need. This combination is designed to be the basis of your ultimate media computer in an all-in-one design. This way, you limit your power consumption by not having to add on power hungry peripherals such as massive video cards or high-end quad core processors which would be wasted on media playback.

 

Closer Look:

The packaging gives off a media style theater look to it. There is not much going on at the front of the box but the back has a picture of the board and accessories as well as highlights of some of the features. The big features include integrated wireless access, media gate features, full HD video playback and a quiet, fanless design. When you open the package you first see the cables and the user guide. The main hardware is well protected in the first sub-layer which we will look at next.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When you remove the upper layer of the box you get to the first layer of the packaging. This is where the motherboard combo is protected and it makes sure that your precious components are not damaged. Under the hardware layer is where the rest of the accessories are kept. The ASUS AT3IONT-I Deluxe comes with a wealth of accessories to get you on your HTPC path. With the motherboard and CPU combo you get the manual, driver CD, I/O back plate, two SATA cables, the laptop style power brick, the SATA power adapter, a Wi-Fi Antenna, the media remote and the remote IR receiver.

 

 

 

Now that everything is out of the box we can get a close up look at the hardware.

Closer Look:

Getting the board out of the box and anti-static bag you get a sense of the sexy design. This board just looks clean and well made. The layout is not overly crowded (even with the massive heat sink which covers about 25% of the surface area). The colors mesh nicely for anyone who places this in a case with a window. This is a mini ITX design and measures 6.75 inches x 6.75 inches square. ASUS has designed this board using their Stack Cool 3 technology. Stack Cool 3 is a design that uses 2 + 2oz of copper sandwiched in between layers of the PC Board. This keeps any heat produced evenly distributed throughout the whole board and cooler by up to 20% over traditional board designs. ASUS also employed a silent, fanless design for cooling the Atom processor and the ION chipset. The design also uses solid capacitors which offer longer life and stability.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The back panel offers so many connections you won’t ever be asking why something was not included, well maybe you will but it will be minimal! Starting at the top, there is the power plug, the antenna connection port, a single PS/2 port and six USB 2.0 ports. To provide the video out from the system there is a VGA port and an HDMI port for full 1080p playback. For the audio there is an Optical S/PDIF out port, a set of 2 channel RCA audio ports and the 6 channel analog audio ports. For connectivity, the AT3IONT-I Deluxe has you covered any way you need with an integrated 802.11b/g/n card and antenna, integrated Bluetooth and a Gigabit LAN port. The Bluetooth uses an Atheros Chip and is v2.1 compliant with a transmission speed of up to 3Mbps and a maximum range of 10 meters. The Wi-Fi uses an Atheros AR9285 chip to provide wireless speeds up to 150Mbps with 802.11n (This chip does not support channel bonding for 802.11n). The wireless chipset also supports the latest hardware security and encryption including WPA2 with AES.

 

 

The AT3IONT-I Deluxe uses an Intel Atom 330 dual core processor manufactured using a 45nm process. The CPU is clocked at 1.6GHz with a 533MHz front side BUS and 1MB of L2 cache. The Atom 330 supports HyperThreading, SSE2, SSE3, SSSE3 and 64-bit instructions. The voltage needed for the processor is a low 0.9V-1.1625V with a maximum TDP (Thermal Design Power) of 8 watts. For video processing, the AT3IONT-I Deluxe uses the nVidia ION chipset. The ION gives a graphics boost over other integrated graphics in its class. The ION supports both CUDA and PhysX technologies and offers dual display viewing when used with the VGA and HDMI connections together. The VGA port supports resolutions up to 2048 x 1536 and the HDMI interface supports up to 1920 x 1080. To keep the chips cool, there is a large single heat sink which uses a fin design that allows for natural airflow to grab the heat and transfer it away from the critical parts. The memory for the board is placed in the two dual channel DIMM slots. You can place up to 4GB of DDR3 unbuffered memory with speeds up to 1066MHz.

 

 

When it comes to the connection headers there are just enough for what you need without going overboard. There is a single PCI Express x16 slot but be careful with what you use it for. You can place a dedicated video card for a boost but with the power being supplied by the brick there are no PCIe power plugs for the high end cards. Above the PCIe slots there is the front panel audio header, four SATA II ports which support up to 3Gbps speeds and offer RAID 0,1 and ACHI storage solutions and the front panel power headers right next to the memory slots. To the left of the heat sink there are two blue USB 2.0 headers in case you need more USB ports or wish to extend them to the front of your chassis. There are also three fan headers to power case fans around the board allowing it to remain cool and efficient. To the top of the board, ASUS also included a COM port header to support older devices but you need to purchase a COM bracket separately.

 

 

To power the SATA drives you need to plug in the "Y" adapter into the molex plug on the board. This allows you to power only up to three SATA devices including hard drives and optical drives. I found that only having three power plugs was quite odd considering there are four SATA ports on the board. For the Media Gate program and media playing, there is an IR receiver that can be plugged into one of the USB ports. This allows you to use the included remote control with your HTPC for your movies, music and more.

 

 

How about we put the hardware in the case and take a look at the software included with the AT3IONT-I Deluxe?

Closer Look:

ASUS Home Theater Gate:

The heart of the ASUS AT3IONT-I Deluxe are the media functions. This board is geared toward home theater PC setups. To give you an out-of-the box experience, ASUS has included their version of media software called Home Theater Gate. It is a simple easy to use portal for your video, audio and photo media. It works perfectly with the included remote control with no additional setup. There are four options you have when you start the utility. You can play your music and videos, browse your photos and even listen to Internet radio. When you choose video you can select your file and it will open in your selected video player. By default, Home Theater Gate only uses Windows Media Player for video and DVD playback for standard definition video. If you want to play high definition BluRay video then you must purchase and install a player and the codecs from a third party vendor. Home Theater Gate supports PowerDVD 8 or later, WinDVD 9 or later, and TotalMedia Theatre 3 or later. For Internet Radio, the utility uses mediaU Internet Radio Player.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ASUS Video Security:

Another addition that ASUS has included for your media PC is ASUS Video Security. This security capturing system uses a web cam or other video capturing device to record security images for any area that you want. Once you setup the utility with your capture device you then set the program to active by pressing "Start". The utility will go into detection mode using motion activity as the trigger. When something or someone passes in front of the camera, the motion will activate the utility and it will capture images. You can then go back later and view the images to see if any intrusions or unwanted activity has been committed. This is great for home security or even to protect your home theater PC by catching unauthorized users in the act.

 

 

 

ASUS Update & PC Probe II:

Two other utilities that are included with the AT3IONT-I Deluxe are standard on a lot of ASUS boards. The first one is ASUS Update, which is a BIOS updater from within Windows. You can select the BIOS from a file or connect to the ASUS Update FTP site and download the latest release. The utility will then flash the BIOS and restart the OS (all from within the Windows environment) making it very user friendly for updating. The second utility is ASUS PC Probe II, which is a temperature and voltage monitoring utility. With PC Probe II you can view the hardware temperatures, fan speeds for fans connected to the motherboard headers and the voltages for the hardware and from the power supply.

 

 

Now that we have seen the software included we can boot into the BIOS and get a look at what makes the system tick.

Closer Look:

The BIOS on the ASUS AT3IONT-I deluxe is enough to get you up and running with little customization. When it comes to pushing your system for the highest stable speeds you can get, the BIOS is where all the magic happens. To give you a better view of the BIOS I am going to break it down into sections based on what each tab offers.

 

Main:

The Main section of the BIOS is where you setup your storage configuration, system times and view system information. For the storage configuration you can set your SATA ports to ACHI, SATA, or RAID mode. This particular board supports RAID 0 and 1 so you can select your HTPC to have faster access or redundancy for your media.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advanced:

In the Advanced section of the BIOS you have system level controls such as enabling HyperThreading, setting your chipset configurations for the GPU frame buffer size and controlling your onboard devices. You can enable or disable the onboard audio, integrated WLAN or Bluetooth and set how your USB handles legacy devices and the speed they will run at.

 

 

 

Jumper Free Settings:

Jumper Free is where you can overclock your system more. You can set the Atom CPU to pre-set speeds using the Load Optimized setting, control your BUS, memory and GPU speeds, alter voltages and set your memory timings.

 

 

 

 

Power:

In the Power section is where you set the power states and suspend modes. You can monitor your hardware's voltages and temperatures and set the fan controls.

 

 

 

Boot and Tools:

The last two sections are the Boot and Tool tabs. In these sections you can set the boot device priorities, disable the boot logo and error reporting, enable BIOS level passwords and more. You can also enable and change the Express Gate settings and flash your BIOS to the latest version using ASUS EZ Flash 2.

 

 

 

 

Now that we have dissected the BIOS we can start on the testing and see what the hardware has in store for us.

Specifications:

CPU
Intel® CPU on Board
Integrated Dual-core Intel® Atom™ processor 330
Chipset
NVIDIA ION™ Graphics Processors
Front Side Bus
533 MHz
Memory
2 x DIMM, Max. 4 GB, DDR3 1066/800 Non-ECC,Un-buffered Memory
Dual Channel memory architecture
Please refer to www.asus.com or user manual for Memory QVL.
Expansion Slots
1 x PCIe x16
VGA
Integrated NVIDIA ION graphics processor
Support CUDA technology
Support PhysX technology
Supports RGB with max. resolution up to 2048x1536x32Bppx75Hz
Supports HDMI with max. resolution up to 1920x1080x32Bppx60Hz
Dual VGA output support: RGB & HDMI
Storage
Southbridge
4 xSATA 3 Gb/s ports support RAID 0, 1, AHCI mode
LAN
Gb LAN
Audio
ALC887 6-Channel (for 6 Channels+2 channel)
USB
10 USB 2.0/1.1 ports (2 ports at mid-board,8 ports at back panel)
ASUS Unique Features
ASUS CrashFree BIOS 3
ASUS EZ Flash 2
ASUS MyLogo 3
ASUS Express Gate
Home Theater Gate
ASUS Q-FAN
Stack Cool3+
AI NET2
Back Panel I/O Ports
 1 x D-Sub
1 x PS/2 Keyboard
1 x HDMI
1 x S/PDIF Out (optical)
1 x LAN(RJ45) port
6 x USB 2.0/1.1
6 -Channel Audio I/O
1 x BlueTooth
1 x 2-CH RCA AUDIO
WiFi 802.11b/g/n
1 x DC
Internal I/O Connectors
2 x USB connectors support additional 4 USB ports
1 x COM port header
1 x CPU Fan Connector & controller
1 x Chassis Fan connector & controller
1 x Power Fan connector
1 x Front Panel connector
1 x High Definition front panel audio connector
BIOS
8 Mb Flash ROM , AMI BIOS, PnP, DMI2.0, WfM2.0, SM BIOS 2.5, ACPI v2.0a
Accessories
User's manual
1 x I/O Shield
2 x SATA cable(s)
90W Adaptor & Power Cord
1 x 4-pin to SATA Power cabel
Remote Controller & Receiver
WifFi Antenna
Support Disc
Drivers
ASUS PC Probe II
Anti-virus software (OEM version)
ASUS Update
User's Manual
Form Factor
 Mini ITX Form Factor
6.75 inch x 6.75 inch ( 17.1 cm x 17.1 cm )

 

Features:

 

All information courtesy of ASUS @ http://usa.asus.com/product.aspx?P_ID=iHWm73RqE6MCmCtw

Testing:

To test the ASUS AT3IONT-I Deluxe motherboard/processor combo I will be putting it through the paces with well known benchmarks designed to stress the components. The benchmarks will include a variety of scientific and video tests which will push the limits of the hardware giving us a score to see how well it does. I will also be monitoring the heat and power usage throughout the testing to see how little it uses and how efficiently it runs. The case I am using has three fans on it. One 120mm in the front, another 120mm in the rear and one 120mm on the side panel. All three will be plugged into the motherboard headers so the speeds will be controlled by the hardware giving a better idea of cooling efficiency. Testing results will be comprised of the results delivered by the AT3IONT-I in both stock and overclocked trim with no comparison devices listed. A high performance desktop it is not, but it is a powerful media center.

 

Testing Setup:

 

 

Overclocking:

Overclocked Settings:

Overclocking the ASUS AT3IONT-I Deluxe was a bit of a challenge. This board did not like any of the changes I tried to make manually. The RAM was so finicky that even loosening the timings to values different than what AUTO would set caused instabilities. I tried manually dropping the memory speed and raising the FSB and no joy.  The system would just not load past the boot process. The only way I was able to increase the CPU speed was to use the presets. Surprisingly it was very stable at the highest preset of 2.1GHz which did give the system a boost but not enough to really write home about. Nevertheless, it is an increase so that is what I ran the tests at. One thing to remember is this is a board designed for use as an HTPC so low power and low heat are the main focus. Not overclocking.

 

 

 

 

Benchmarks:

  1. Apophysis
  2. WinRAR
  3. Geekbench
  4. Office 2007
  5. POV Ray 3.7
  6. PCMark Vantage Professional
  7. Sandra XII
  8. ScienceMark 2.02
  9. Cinebench 10
  10. Cinebench 11.5
  11. HD Tune 3.50
  1. Far Cry 2
  2. Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2
  3. Batman Arkham Asylum
  4. 3DMark 06 Professional
  5. 3DMark Vantage

Testing:

The first part of our testing will be the system specific benchmarks.

 

Let's get started with Apophysis. This program is used primarily to render and generate fractal flame images. We will run this benchmark with the following settings:

 

 

The measurement used is time to render, in minutes, to complete.

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

Lower is Better

 

WinRAR is a tool to archive and compress large files to a manageable size. We will use 100MB and 500MB files to test the time needed to compress these files. Time will be measured in seconds. Additionally, I will use the built-in benchmark as a comparison.

 

ZIP:

 

Lower is Better

 

 

RAR:

 

 

Lower is Better

 

Geekbench:

 

Bibble 5:

 

Since the Atom is a low-end processor, it takes some time to complete the tasks, but when overclocked, it makes for a world of difference.

Testing:

Office 2007 Excel Big Number Crunch: This test takes a 6.2MB Microsoft Excel spreadsheet and performs about 28,000 sets of calculations that represent many of the most commonly used calculations in Excel. The measure of this test is how long it takes to refresh the sheet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lower Is Better

 

POV Ray 3.7: This program features a built in benchmark that renders an image using Ray Tracing. The latest versions offer support for SMP (Symmetric MultiProcessing) enabling the workload to be spread across the cores for quicker completion.

Higher Is Better

 

PCMark Vantage x64 is used to measure complete system performance. We will be running a series of tests to gauge performance of each individual CPU to see which CPU, if any, rises above the others.

 

Again you can see at 1.6HGz the Atom is really under powered, but at 2.1GHz it starts to make some waves.

Testing:

SiSoft Sandra is a diagnostic utility and synthetic benchmarking program. Sandra allows you to view your hardware at a higher level to be more helpful. For this benchmark, I will be running a broad spectrum of tests to gauge the performance of key functions of the CPUs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Processor Arithmetic

 

Multi-Core Efficiency

 

 

Memory Bandwidth

 

 

Cache and Memory

 

 

Physical Disks

 

 

Power Management Efficiency

 

The ION platform has some of the worst memory speeds and latencies I have ever seen but the resultant low power means less heat.

Testing:

ScienceMark tests real world performance instead of using synthetic benchmarks. For this test, we ran the benchmark suite and will use the overall score for comparison.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

  

 

 

Higher is Better!

Cinebench 11.5 is useful for testing your system, CPU and OpenGL capabilities using the software program CINEMA 4D. We will be using the default tests for this benchmark.

Higher is Better

 

HD Tune measures disk performance to make comparisons between drives or disk controllers.

 

Higher is Better

 

 

Lower is Better

 

Again, you can see the low raw power of the Atom processor at stock speeds.

Testing:

Far Cry 2:

Featuring a new game engine named Dunia, this game looks to be another one to stress your video card. Built especially for Far Cry 2, this engine allows for real time effects and damage. This next generation First Person Shooter comes to us from Ubisoft surprisingly - not from Crytek. The game is set in a war-torn region of Africa where there is a non-existent central government and the chaos that surrounds this type of social environment. If you have seen the movie Blood Diamond, you know the setting. Ubisoft puts the main storyline of the game into focus with these statements: "Caught between two rival factions in war-torn Africa, you are sent to take out 'The Jackal', a mysterious character who has rekindled the conflict between the warlords, jeopardizing thousands of lives. In order to fulfill your mission you will have to play factions against each other, identify and exploit their weaknesses and neutralize their superior numbers and firepower with surprise, subversion, cunning and of course, brute force".

In this version of the game, you don't have all the beautiful water but instead, the beauty and harshness of the African continent. Most games give you a set area that can be played through, while Ubisoft has given the gamer the equivalent of 50 square kilometers of vast African continent to explore while in pursuit of your goals. The settings used are just a few steps below the maximum in-game settings and offer a good blend of performance versus visual quality.

 

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Even with everything on the lowest settings, Far Cry 2 is too much for Atom and ION combination, barely playable even at overclocked speeds.

Testing:

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is the latest iteration of the venerable first-person shooter series, Call of Duty. Despite its long, successful pedigree, the game is not without substantial criticism and controversy especially, on the PC. Aside from the extremely short campaign and lack of innovation, the PC version's reception was also marred by its lack of support for user-run dedicated servers, which means no user-created maps, no mods, and no customized game modes. You're also limited to 18-player matches instead of the 64-player matches that were possible in Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Despite all this, the game has been well received and the in-house IW 4.0 engine renders the maps in gorgeous detail, making it a perfect candidate for OCC benchmarking.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Again, even at the lowest settings the ION was barely able to break 20FPS which, is not playable for a first person shooter.

Testing:

Batman: Arkham Asylum is a new game that brings together two bitter foes, the Joker and Batman. The Joker has taken over Arkham Asylum, Gotham's home for the criminally insane. Your task is to rein in the Joker and restore order. This game makes use of PhysX technology to create a rich environment for you to ply your trade.

 

Video Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Batman Arkham Asylum shows promise on low settings, passing the 30FPS mark making it playable albeit if not too visually pleasing.

Testing:

3DMark06 is one of the benchmarks that always comes up when a bragging contest is started. 3DMark06 presents a severe test for many of today's hardware components. Let's see how this setup fares. The settings we will use are listed below.

 

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When overclocked, the Atom scored surprisingly over 1500pts which is average for boards with integrated graphics and higher-end processors.

Testing:

Featuring all-new game tests, this benchmark is for use with Vista based systems. "There are two all-new CPU tests that have been designed around a new 'Physics and Artificial Intelligence-related computation', CPU test two offers support for physics related hardware". There are four preset levels that correspond to specific resolutions. 'Entry' is 1024x768 progressing to 'Extreme' at 1920x1200. Of course, each preset can be modified to arrange any number of user designed testing. For our testing, I will use the four presets at all the default settings.

 Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Because of the hardware limitations I was only able to run the Entry test for 3DMark Vantage. The higher runs were not able to produce scores. For the Entry setting the board did score respectably for an integrated combo.

Power Consumption:

Since this is a low power HTPC inspired hardware combo I wanted to measure how efficient it was when operating in different states. All of the scenarios were conducted using a WattsUpPro power meter using the average power consumption over 5 minutes for each run.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Temperatures:

To gauge how hot the system will run I wanted to record the temperatures during idle, load and when overclocked. To simulate the load I ran SuperPi and FurMark 1.8.2 at the same time stressing both the Atom processor and the ION GPU. To measure the temperatures, I used the ASUS PC Probe II utility for the CPU and the motherboard and FurMark for the GPU temperatures. The ambient temperature was kept at a constant 22°C during the entire test.

 

 

World of Warcraft:

Since WoW is a big game that is playable on lower-end hardware, I wanted to take a run and see what the Atom and ION combo could do with this game. I applied the highest resolution of my monitor of 1920 x 1200 and set the game on defaults. After playing for a bit, I pulled up the in-game FPS counter and surprisingly, I was able to run the game at an average of 34fps.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Express Gate:

Express Gate is an almost "instant on" environment that ASUS has implemented for their motherboard. When you start your computer you have the option to boot into Express Gate and within seconds be online and surfing the web, chatting, watching media and more. Express Gate is a stripped down version of Linux made to be ready for use in much less time than it takes to boot into your main operating system.

 

 

 

 

 

Conclusion:

For a media platform the Atom and ION work very well together. When it comes to power, the whole system uses less than 50 watts of power even when overclocked and placed under load. When it came to temperatures, surprisingly the heat sink design did quite well with the little airflow in the chassis. Even when overclocked to 2.1GHz the temperatures stayed well below operating limits with the maximum operating temperature for the Atom 330 being 85.2°C. Speaking of overclocking, this was the one big limitation of the system. But really, that's far from what it was designed to do. You can set the system to use one of the presets for pushing the CPU but if you deviate and try to tune the AT3IONT-I Deluxe yourself, you are going to run into a wealth of problems. This is especially the case if you try to alter the memory settings.

The AT3IONT-I Deluxe is a joy of a board to work with. It offers you reasonable performance at a great price. The inclusion of so many connectivity sources including the 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi and integrated Bluetooth chip means you can setup and run this as an HTPC anywhere you want without having to use wires. Add in the accessories included and you have one great base for your media PC. ASUS has really put a lot of time into the design of this combo and it shows. With a dual core Atom, Integrated ION graphics and DDR3 memory, you have all of the power you need without the overhead, power consumption and heat of a higher-end system.

 

Pros:

 

Cons: