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Testbed Configuration and Testing Methodology

Our goal was to build an energy-efficient high-performance Mini-ITX system using AMD components and check out its performance in comparison with the Mini-ITX platforms with LGA1156 processors. therefore, during our test session e are going to compare our Asus M4A88T-I Deluxe based system with different AMD CPUs inside against a system with Intel Clarkdale CPUs and a popular Zotac H55-ITX WiFi mainboard.

As a result, we ended up using the following hardware and software components during this test session:

  • CPUs:
    • AMD Athlon II X2 250e (Regor, 2 cores, 3.0 GHz, 2 MB L2);
    • AMD Athlon II X3 420e (Rana, 3 cores, 2.6 GHz, 1.5 MB L2);
    • AMD Athlon II X4 615e (Propus, 4 cores, 2.5 GHz, 2 MB L2);
    • Intel Core i3-530 (Clarkdale, 2 cores, 2.93 GHz, 4 MB L3);
    • Intel Core i5-661 (Clarkdale, 2 cores, 3.33 GHz, 4 MB L3).
  • Mainboards:
    • ASUS M4A88T-I Deluxe (Socket AM3, AMD 880G + SB710, DDR3 SDRAM);
    • Zotac H55-ITX WiFi (LGA1156, Intel H55 Express).
  • Memory:
    • 2 x 2 GB DDR3-1333 SDRAM DIMM (Kingston KHX1600C8D3K2/4GX) 9-9-9-27;
    • 2 x 2 GB DDR3-1333 SDRAM SODIMM (Apogee AS2G733-13G) 9-9-9-27;
  • Hard drive: Kingston SNVP325-S2/128GB.
  • Power supply unit: Tagan TG880-U33II (880 W).
  • Operating system: Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate x64.
  • Drivers:
    • Intel Chipset Driver;
    • Intel Graphics Media Accelerator Driver;
    • ATI Catalyst 10.11 Display Driver.

Note that we used integrated graphics, which is more typical of the Mini-ITX systems. No external graphics cards were used.

Power Consumption

We would like to start with the power consumption tests instead of the performance tests, which usually come first in our articles. It is the power consumption tests that should tell us if it makes any sense to compare the systems using energy-efficient AMD processors, with two, three or four cores against platforms with dual-core Core i3 and Core i5 processors.

The graphs below show the full power draw of the computer (without the monitor) measured after the power supply. It is the total of the power consumption of all the system components. The PSU's efficiency is not taken into account. The CPUs are loaded by running the 64-bit LinX 0.6.4 utility. We used FurMark 1.8.2 utility to load the graphics cores. We enabled all the power-saving technologies for a correct measurement of the computer's power draw in idle mode: C1E, AMD Cool'n'Quiet and Enhanced Intel SpeedStep.

We have already pointed out before that systems built around AMD processors consume less power in idle mode. And in this case, energy-efficient processors from AMD managed to outshine the system with Intel inside quite substantially.

However, in case of high CPU utilization we see proof of what we have just discussed above: you will need to use only energy-efficient AMD CPUs if you want to build a system that would consume the same amount of power as dual-core Intel LGA1156 processors. Nevertheless, a Core i3-530 based system will still be the most energy-efficient option. The formal TDP of this processor is declared at 73 W, but as we see from the obtained results, the entire system consumes considerably less power, which indicates that Intel claims higher TDP for their processors, especially when it comes to the junior CPU models.

We also see pretty interesting results when the graphics core is also heavily utilized. As the number of cores in AMD processors increases, the total power consumption of the corresponding platform suddenly goes down. And there is no mistake here: as we will see later on, the performance of the integrated graphics core changes accordingly. As a result, the most energy-efficient combination for our ASUS M4A88T-I Deluxe would be AMD Athlon II X2 615e. As for the high power consumption readings taken off a system with Intel Core i5-661 inside, this CPU has an overclocked graphics core, unlike other Clarkdale processors.

When the operational load on all parts of the AMD platform is at its highest, it manages to remain at the level of an Intel Core i3 based system. On the one hand, this is a very good result, but on the other, we should still keep in mind that we had to use special energy-efficient CPUs to accomplish it. At the same time I would like to draw your attention to another interesting fact. The results suggest that a 100 W PSU may be more than enough for a pretty powerful Mini-ITX platform.

However, when we get to video playback, ASUS M4A88T-I Deluxe based systems perform real well. And this isn’t surprising at all. Al contemporary graphics cores accelerate HD video decoding without loading the system CPU, so that it remains almost completely idle during HD video playback causing the total system power consumption to be maybe 5-6 W higher than in idle mode.

Summing up the results of our power consumption tests I can conclude with all certainty that we picked the right AMD processors to compete against Intel’s LGA1156 Mini-ITX platform. Energy-efficient Athlon II CPUs do allow you to build a system with almost the same power consumption level as the systems with regular dual-core Clarkdale processors inside. Now it is time to move on to the performance tests.

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