Articles: CPU

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Graphics Performance

We do not normally test 2D graphics performance in our reviews but the Cedarview-based Atoms made us change our custom because their integrated graphics core GMA 3650 was criticized for being too slow at rendering the OS interface. Driver updates have improved this situation, so opening, closing and moving application windows is fast enough now, yet we want to show this in numbers using PassMark Performance Test 8.0 which has a handy 2D graphics benchmark.

So indeed, the GMA 3650 core from the Atom D2700 has the lowest speed but the AMD E-350 isn’t much better. The Celeron 847 is ahead of both, but modern Ivy Bridge Celerons make the OS interface even more responsive. One thing must be noted specifically: the Atom D2700 is the only CPU in this review that is incompatible with Windows 7’s Aero interface. Although you can enable the latter, the rendering speed plummets down, so it becomes impossible to work even with simplest applications.

HD video playback is important for HTPCs which run on mini-ITX platforms with economical processors, so we want to check out this usage scenario, too.

Atom (Cedarview), E series (Bobcat) and Celeron (Sandy Bridge) processors all feature hardware engines for accelerated decoding of HD video in popular formats. That’s why every tested platform ensures smooth playback of 1080p video without dropped frames. There is only one exception. The Atom D2700 can easily play video in H.264 and MPEG2 formats but has problems with VC-1, dropping frames. The AMD E-350 and the Celeron 847 are blameless. We tested their Radeon HD 6310 and HD Graphics cores before and found them capable of decoding HD video, even in 1080p/60fps format, without any flaws.

However, as higher resolutions and bitrates get more popular, inexpensive processors may find it difficult to cope. So we use in our next test a widescreen 4096x2048p@24fps clip encoded in H.264 format with a bitrate of about 22 Mbps. Played via DXVA with enabled hardware decoding, we have dropped frames. And the number of dropped frames depends directly on the CPU's capabilities. The diagram below shows the average number of displayed frames (up to the maximum of 24 fps) when the test video is reproduced in the software player Media Player Classic – Home Cinema version 1.6.6 with K-Lite Codec Pack 0.9.8 and with video decoding (including UHD) enable via LAV Filters.

As you can see in the diagram, none of the economical processors can decode 4K video properly as the Celeron G1610 does. We always have some dropped frames: more on the Intel Atom D2700 and AMD E-350 and less on the Celeron 847 (about 30% of the total) but there are dropped frames anyway. In other words, it is impossible to build an uncompromising media player out of an inexpensive energy-efficient platform. You need heavier weapons for that. On the other hand, if you are not getting ready for UHD formats but prefer conventional Full-HD resolutions, the AMD E-350 and the Celeron 847 can be recommended for a compact and economical HTPC.

As for 3D performance, the platforms we’re discussing in this review can hardly be recommended even as entry-level gaming systems. Their 3D performance is too low, so you can only run games with low system requirements on them. There are fundamental differences between the integrated graphics cores, by the way. The Radeon HD 6310 core in the AMD E-350 is the most advanced variant in terms of specifications. It is the only one to support DirectX 11. The Celeron 847’s Intel HD Graphics only supports DirectX 10 (while the HD Graphics core of Intel’s LGA1155 Celeron processors has full DirectX 11 support). The Atom series is only compatible with DirectX 9. 

The actual performance is illustrated by the results of the DirectX benchmark 3DMark Cloud Gate.

The Atom D2700 can’t pass this test for some reason whereas the Intel Celeron 847 is expectedly slower than the AMD E-350. The HD Graphics from the Celeron 847 is the fastest integrated graphics core among the economical processors but it is only half as fast as its newer version.

A low performance of the integrated graphics core is not the only reason why inexpensive economical platforms can’t be used for gaming computers. They often lack sheer computing speed. We can illustrate this fact by running a few games which don’t have high system requirements. Take note that they run at a low resolution (1366x768 pixels) and at the lowest visual quality settings.

Even with such relaxed settings we can’t make our economical platform deliver good performance. As expected, the frame rate is often limited by the CPU, which is true for the E-350 at least, especially in Starcraft 2 and F1 2012. The Celeron 847 is superior to the AMD processor in these games, although the latter’s Radeon HD 6310 shouldn’t be any worse than the first-generation Intel HD Graphics.

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