The 2009 release of Intel’s Atom processors was a revolutionary event on the market of x86 computers. Not very fast but highly economical, those CPUs proved that there existed a huge range of applications for which sheer speed was not the top priority. The Atom gave rise to a whole new class of devices, namely netbooks and nettops which featured small size, low weight, low power consumption, and attractive price. Computers of that kind were quick to win the customer’s heart and rose to huge popularity in just a few years. Thus, the Atom was an unquestionable success as a concept.
Meanwhile, the further development of that concept showed Intel’s conservative side. People loved the economical Atom but its integrated graphics core was not up to the mark, especially as it lacked hardware acceleration for HD video, limiting the Atom’s applications in home and multimedia PCs. As a result, users were prone to prefer configurations that solved the problem of poor graphics performance in some way. For example, Nvidia’s ION platform got some recognition at first as it replaced Intel’s integrated graphics core with Nvidia’s own which featured a video decoder and provided higher 3D graphics performance. However, Intel didn’t seem to take any notice of the high sales of alternative Atom-based platforms and later forced third-party chipset makers to give up using their system bus through a court decision.
So the lucrative market of inexpensive HTPCs was lost for the Intel Atom platform while AMD seized the opportunity by offering its alternative codenamed Brazos. Although AMD’s solution wasn’t any faster than the Atom in sheer computing, it did sport a much better graphics core with a hardware HD video decoder and high 3D graphics performance. Besides occupying the niche of inexpensive compact multimedia computers, the Brazos platform was competitive in the Atom’s traditional habitat, becoming in fact one of the most successful of AMD’s recent projects. There were fewer Atom-based nettops and netbooks because they were replaced with products based on AMD’s E series processors.
In early 2012 Intel tried to make the Atom more attractive by replacing its graphics core. The company put its stake on the PowerVR solution which could accelerate HD video playback in various formats. It was ill-fated, though. First of all, Intel never managed to release a problem-free 64-bit driver for it. And second, the new graphics core proved to be unexpectedly slow with the ordinary 2D interface of the operating system. That’s why Atom CPUs are but seldom viewed as an option for compact nettops today. Talking about the Atom’s current role, Intel focuses on mobile gadgets (for which the Atom is reincarnated as a SoC solution) or micro-servers.
When it comes to desktop applications, Intel suggests a completely different approach, offering adapted CPUs with Core microarchitecture: mobile ULV processors in FCBGA packaging. The Celeron 847 is one of the popular solutions of that kind, being widely used on various mini-ITX mainboards. It is a dual-core Sandy Bridge CPU with reduced clock rates and voltage. Can it make a worthy opponent to the Brazos platform and carry on the Atom’s traditions? We’ll check it out in this review by testing the MSI C847IS-P33 mainboard.