Preparing the Cedar Trail platform to its market release, Intel wanted to rejuvenate its Atom series and lift its functionality up to the modern level. The Cedar Trail was supposed to offer the basic minimum most users want to have from their small and low-power computers. Netbooks and nettops with the earlier Atoms could only get popular by utilizing an Nvidia graphics core together with the Atom. Without that addition, the Atom platform would lose much of its appeal. The success and high sales of the Nvidia ION and AMD Brazos platforms make clear what configurations with energy-efficient CPUs users want to buy. One of the most demanded features is HD video playback but Intel’s default graphics core couldn’t offer this functionality.
On the other hand, Intel didn’t want to invite third parties to the development of an up-to-date Atom platform. Thus, the Cedar Trail platform and the Cedarview CPUs were supposed to be a full-featured and Intel-only alternative to the AMD Brazos and Nvidia ION. Intel promised us a lot of innovations in the third-generation Atom (codenamed Cedarview): increased computing performance, a graphics core with hardware acceleration of Full-HD video, increased 3D performance and lower power consumption.
The result doesn’t quite match the promise, though. The only thing we have no complaints about is power consumption. It is indeed lower thanks to the transition to 32nm tech process, so both D and N versions of the Atom are the most energy-efficient CPUs available today.
As for the rest of the functions, Intel has to do some work on them in order to compete with the AMD Brazos, which is going to be released in its second version soon.
The increased computing performance of the Cedarview was supposed to be ensured by higher clock rates, but the senior 2.13GHz version of the CPU quickly left the production lines and didn’t get very popular. The existing Cedarview is only a few percent faster than the Pineview in real-life applications and is not much faster than the AMD Zacate series.
The new graphics core licensed from Imagination Technologies was supposed to boost 3D performance. However, it doesn’t support DirectX 10 and cannot offer playable speed in 3D games. Besides, its drivers make the Cedar Trail incompatible with 64-bit versions of Windows.
The new graphics core was also supposed to open the Full-HD world to Atom users. But so far, it is only part of that world. You can only play video in MPEG-2 and H.264 formats. There are problems with VC1 on the software level while MPEG-4 part 2 is not supported on the hardware. The new platform isn’t perfect when it comes to playing video via a Flash-based player, either.
Considering the annoyingly poor responsiveness of the GMA 3600 graphics core in the OS’s standard windows interface, the overall picture is downright gloomy. If we take only those features that really work (not just written in the specs), the updated Atom platform is not fundamentally better than its predecessor, and is even worse in some respects. The only piece of good news is its reduced power consumption, so the Cedar Trail is going to be perfect for home mini-servers. But it won’t be good for netbooks or nettops, at least until Intel has polished it off.
So, we still recommend you the AMD Brazos platform for building compact and low-power stationary or mobile systems. Another option is Intel’s energy efficient Ivy Bridge series we are yet to cover in our reviews.