Zotac IONITX-P-E Integrated Motherboard Review

ajmatson - 2010-12-15 06:32:31 in Motherboards
Category: Motherboards
Reviewed by: ajmatson   
Reviewed on: February 13, 2011
Price: $199.99

Introduction:

With the rise in popularity of HTPC and small form factor media/gaming rigs as well as the rise in electricity costs, low power high performance platforms are taking center stage. With the inception of the ION platform, the once back shelf products are now receiving a new lease on life. We have seen a number of ATOM/ION based combos being released however they still did not offer the bang that some customers were looking for. As a way of background, these small ITX form factor boards are paired with low power processors and GPUs designed to offer the user a platform that will provide them with strong media capabilities as well as some casual gaming in a compact, low-power design. While not able to break world records, they are perfect as high definition media players and small gaming rigs.

Zotac has been one of the pioneers in the ITX platform and now they have taken the ION platform a bit further by coupling it with an ultra low voltage Intel Celeron processor designed to give the user a boost in performance over the ATOM combination. I have seen SU Celeron's in laptops but this is a first for me seeing it in a desktop setup. Will the beefier processor make a difference in media and gaming as well as everyday tasks?

 

Closer Look:

The Zotac IONITX-P-P comes in a rather small box due to its size. The packaging uses Zotac's black and yellowish orange color scheme. On the front of the package there are several product logos showing off what the ION board has under its hood. On the rear, there is an image diagram of the board with an explanation of highlights of the components as well as other features that makes the board and CPU combo a competitor in the ION market. On the right side panel there is a list of the specification for the Zotac ITX P series board.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Opening up the package presents you with the accessories that are included as well as the mainboard and CPU combo which is what we really want. Included with the IONITX-P-E board are three SATA data cables, one SATA power adapter, two wireless antennas for the integrated Wi-Fi, the back panel shield, and the driver CD and documentation for the board.

 

 

Now that we have the package open we can get a closer look at the board itself.

Closer Look:

The Zotac IONITX-P-E board is a tiny ITX size measuring 17cm square but don't let its little size fool you. This compact board packs a punch including a formidable CPU and GPU combo, several expansion slots and full size memory DIMM slots. Combine that with a number of connectivity options and you have a small scale warrior ready to chew at its competition. Zotac uses the same color type scheme from its packaging on their boards. The PC Board is a black with a yellow and orange scheme for the expansion slots. The punch is the use of a low power processor along with a high powered integrated ION GPU which will allow you to run media and even some games at amazing resolution and frame rates once not possible for a board combo of this size. To cool the CPU/GPU combo, Zotac has included an active system which includes an aluminum heatsink with a 60mm fan to maintain the lowest possible temperatures.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Despite its mini design, the back panel sports a number of connectivity options. There is just enough room on the back panel to include all of the options and still even have room for the PCI Express expansion slot. Starting from the top there is a lone PS/2 port, six USB ports, an HDMI port, optical audio ports, a DVI port, a VGA port, one eSATA port, one gigabit networking port, three analog audio ports, and the two Wi-Fi antenna connectors. The audio support includes six channel high definition audio and 7-Channel LPCM digital audio using the HDMI port.

 

When it comes to expansion on the board itself there is a full size PCI Express x16 slot which allows the user to increase graphics power if needing something beefier than the integrated ION graphics. Above that is a Mini-PCI Express slot for the integrated Wireless N network card as well as three SATA 3.0Gbps ports. For headers there is a front panel audio header behind the analog audio ports, two USB 2.0 headers behind the LAN port, a COM header under the SATA ports, and the front panel connections along with the speaker and SPDIF header to the right of the PCI Express x16 slot. On the right hand side of the board there are the two full size memory slots which support DDR3 memory up to 8GB with a maximum speed of 1066MHz.

 

 

The heart of this system is the integrated CPU/GPU combo. The IONITX-P-E series uses an Intel Super Low Voltage SU2300 processor. This CPU has dual cores clocked in at 1.2GHz, has a 1MB cache size and uses an 800MHz FSB speed. The maximum TDP for this CPU is 10 watts and is manufactured using a 45nm process. The CPU is integrated in the board so you cannot remove it and replace it should you want an upgrade so keep that in mind. The partner in crime is the integrated graphics which is an NVIDIA ION GPU. The ION sports up to 16 CUDA cores, is clocked at 450MHz for the core and 1100MHZ for the shaders and is DirectX 10.1 compliant. It also offers digital resolutions of up to 2560 x 1600 and analog resolutions up to 2048 x 1536 and uses shared memory up to 512MB DDR3. The ION also supports NVIDIA's PureVideo HD for full decode of 1080i/p resolutions.

 

 

Now that we have a good breakdown of the board and processors we can get on to the BIOS.

Closer Look:

The BIOS is where all of the hardware tweaks happen, Even though this is a mini board, don't count it out when it comes to tweaks. I am going to go through the sections of the BIOS and point out some key areas that will allow you to tweak and overclock giving you every bit of power you can harness from the Zotac IONITX-P-E Motherboard.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Main:

When you first boot into the BIOS you are presented with the "Main " section. In this section you have the options to adjust the system time and date as well as the ability to view information for the system including the BIOS version and build date, Processor count and speed and the amount of system memory present.

 

Advanced:

In the Advanced system you have control over advanced options such as drive configurations, power suspend states, CPU options like virtualization and Speed step technology and more. There are also options for SATA type such as AHCI mode or NVIDIA Raid and USB modes for legacy control.

 

 

 

 

PCIPnP, Boot, and Security:

Three smaller sections are the PnP, Boot and Security tabs. In these sections options such as IRQ assignments, boot selections and priorities and password options are available to optimize and protect your system.

 

 

 

Chipset:

The last section is the Chipset tab. This where you have options to tweak and overclock the system. You can adjust system speeds, voltages and timings for the processor, memory and ION GPU. You have the ability to run the system in a Linked or Unlinked mode for finer control and adjust the memory allocated for the ION processor. There are also fan controls to adjust the fan speeds based on temperatures.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now that we have looked at the board and BIOS it is time to get to the good stuff, the testing.

Specifications:

Model:
IONITX-P-E
Chipset:
NVIDIA ION
CPU Socket:
NA (integrated CPU)
Dimensions:
6.7in x 6.7in - 170mm x 170mm
Form Factor:
Mini-ITX
FSB:
800 MHz
Memory Size:
Up to 8GB
Memory Slots:
2 x 240 pin DDR3 DIMM
Memory Type:
DDR3
Onboard Audio:
Onboard 6-channel high-definition audio / 7-Channel LPCM digital audio (HDMI)
Onboard LAN:
10/100/1000Mbps
Package Contents:
3 x SATA cables
1 x SATA power adapter
2 x WiFi Antennas
DVI-to-VGA adapter
1 x I/O back plate
PCI Express Slots:
(1) Mini PCI Express, (1) PCI Express x16
Power Connector:
20 Pin
RAID:
0/1/0+1
SATA:
3 SATA 3.0 Gb/s ports
USB:
10 (6 on back panel, 4 via pin header
Video Ports:
VGA + DVI-D + HDMI

 

Features:

 

All information courtesy of Zotac @ http://www.zotacusa.com/zotac-ionitx-p-e-intel-celeron-su2300-1-2ghz-dual-core-mini-itx-intel-motherboard.html

Testing:

To test the Zotac IONITX-P-E motherboard combo, I will be running a series of synthetic and video based benchmarks designed to push the limits of the hardware. I will then be placing the scores up against another ION based board that I previously tested to see how it stands up. To keep all tests fair, all hardware will be run at their stock speeds, latencies, voltages, etc. This way, there is no outside interference messing with the scores and comparisons.

 

Testing Setup:

 

Comparison:

 

Overclocking:

Overclocked Settings:

Overclocking the Zotac board was easy. However, one issue I ran into (which was the same with the ASUS ION board) was that any increase in memory speed over 1066MHz or auto setting of the timings causes the system to not boot. I find it odd that this happened on two ION boards. As far as the CPU is concerned, I was only able to squeeze a bit extra bringing up the cores to 1.35GHz each. While not a crazy overclock, any extra speed that is free is definitely a bonus. Since this processor has a locked multiplier I started by pushing up the voltage a bit and raising the FSB until i hit my wall of 225MHz which with a six times multiplier, yielded the 1350MHz overall clock speed.

 

 

 

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 4.60
  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:

 

Higher is Better

 

Bibble 5:

 

Lower is Better

 

In these first tests the Intel Celeron in the Zotac board is showing a powerful start.

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.

 

Higher Is Better

 

Again here in the Office 2007, POV Ray and PCMark Vantage tests the Celeron CPU shows the additional power it has over an ATOM.

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

 

 

 

Memory Latency

 

 

Cache and Memory

 

 

Power Management Efficiency

 

 

The Zotac was the overall fastest in the Sandra tests only falling behind in the Multi Core Bandwidth test.

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

 

In Sciencemark, the Celeron dominated the scores but in the rest of the tests they were close.

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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With the GPUs being the same, the difference in CPUs really showed here.

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 here the power of the Celeron processor had a advantage.

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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Again in Batman AA, the Zotac board is in the lead.

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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 3Dmark 06 the Zotac board remained in the lead over an ATOM based board.

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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As suspected, the Celeron/ION combo was faster than the ATOM/ION combo especially in the CPU scores.

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 five 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.

 

 

Conclusion:

I must say I was very impressed with the performance of the Zotac IONITX-P-E combo board. The added performance that the dual core Intel Celeron processor added over the Atom used in most other ITX boards was evident. First I wanted to start off with a couple of key features that really make this board stand out. Number one is the expandability that it offers with the use of a full size PCI Express x16 slot along with a Mini-PCI Express slot which comes populated with a wireless-N card and dual antennas allowing for high speed wireless connectivity perfect for an HTPC setup. In addition you have full size memory slots which allow you to pack up to 8GB of DDR3 memory which is more than enough for any setup you might need. While small in size don't be fooled. This combo packs a punch when it comes to scores as we saw in the benchmarks which really surprised even myself.

Overclocking performance was a bit disappointing but for a low power board I really did not expect much. That being said, any bit of extra performance you can squeeze is free so it is a bonus. HD video play back using a 720p video file was fluid and smooth. The CPU usage stayed an average of about 50 percent with no jitter during the playback with either the video or audio. The ability to play HD video and output it via HDMI makes this a perfect platform for your media center computers. Gaming on low resolutions was bearable - just don't expect to break any frame rates on high resolution.

The power consumption was very low considering all that was running in the test system. This helps save money on electricity costs and allows you to run the system constantly without having to always shut it down. Temperatures did get a bit high some times especially when overclocked however; it was still within safe limits. All in all, this is a very rock solid processor, graphics and motherboard combo. At $199 this platform is a steal in my opinion and the only gripe I have is the lack of integrated Bluetooth. Being a media type platform, Bluetooth is invaluable with mini Bluetooth keyboards and media services between cell phones and other portable devices. If you are looking for a solid HTPC board I would highly recommend the Zotac IONITX-P-E board.

 

Pros:

 

Cons: