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Temperature and Power Consumption

Before we get to comparative performance tests of our ION2 platform, let’s check out the changes to the power and thermal parameters of the new system brought in by the additional graphics chip. According to the official data, the calculated heat dissipation of the Nvidia G218 chip is 15 W. this is exactly the same as Intel Atom D510 dissipates together with Intel NM10 chipset. It looks like ION2 platform doesn’t seem to be that energy-efficient after all, even from purely theoretical standpoint. And despite that fact Zotac put this platform into the same exact ZBOX case that was initially developed for the original Pine Trail platform. Won’t ZBOX HD-ID11 system get overheated during work?

In order to check whether our concerns are justified, we decided to monitor the thermal performance of our ZBOX HD-ID11. The first test was performed when the processor was loaded by Prime95 25.11 in Blend mode. The system didn’t get overheated, but I can hardly call the detected thermal conditions favorable. The temperature inside the nettop exceeded 60 degrees C, as you can clearly see from the thermal readings taken off the SSD diode. Besides, the case itself was pretty warm on the outside.

If the load falls primarily on the graphics core, things get even worse. For our second test we used Furmark 1.8.2 utility and detected the temperatures beyond 70 degrees C inside the system case. By the way, the part of the case next to the CPU and GPU got so hot that I couldn’t hold my hand on it long enough. However, we cannot complain about the system stability even in these thermal conditions.

ZBOX HD-ID11 components can run even warmer than that if the CPU and GPU are both loaded with work simultaneously. But even though the thermal readings in this case are simply horrific, the system remains perfectly stable.

However, even though we didn’t detect any issues during our stress-tests, we have to say that long-term operation at such high temperatures may eventually lead to system malfunction. We are mostly concerned about the hard drive temperatures, which may rise as high as 75°C, as we have just seen. The acceptable thermal conditions for conventional 2.5” HDDs are below 60°C.

And even though the BIOS of our system offers pretty advanced options for the rotation speed adjustment of the fan cooling major chips, this feature doesn’t do much for the cooling efficiency but merely allows to change the dependence of the fan speed on the temperature. It cannot raise the fan speed beyond 5,000 RP, which is a real pity. However, the fan in ZBOX HD-ID11 starts to generate very distinct noise at maximum rotation speed, so speeding it up even more could have resulted in very uncomfortable acoustic mode.

High temperature is the result of a much more serious problem. In order to get to the bottom of this, we decided to compare the practical power consumption of ION2 and previous generation ION platforms. When we measures full system power consumption (without the monitor), we got the following results:

Strange as it might seem, but the new ION2 platform consumes just a little bit more than its predecessor in burn mode, even though it has more major chips in it. It must be the use of the latest manufacturing processes that has its positive effect on the system thermal performance. As a result, ION2 platform remains a pretty energy-efficient solution. And it means that horrible thermal conditions of our ZBOX HD-ID11 system can be explained by the use of a too small system case equipped with not very efficient cooling system.

By the way, note that the external graphics chip does have very serious effect on the overall system power consumption, even though it is manufactured with the latest 40 nm process. While the GPU is not loaded, ION2 consumes even less power than the previous generation platform. This situation changes the moment GPU’s shader processors kick in.

Nvidia engineers understood it very well, that is why they developed a special Optimus technology that allows lowering the power consumption of the ION2 platform by disabling the GT218 chip when it is not needed. The idea behind this technology is very simple: Nvidia graphics processor works only when high 3D performance is required. In all other cases, the image is displayed on the screen by the video controller integrated into Intel Atom processor.

However, unfortunately, Nvidia Optimus technology found its way only in a few ION2 netbooks with 10-inch screen. Nettops designed to work with large displays and TV sets, such as ZBOX HD-ID11, do not support it. This is because the integrated graphics core in Atom processors supports only 1366x768 maximum resolution when the monitor is connected via digital interface. As a result, the Nvidia GT218 and the graphics core inside Intel Atom processors working together within Optimus technology set very unpleasant limitations when the monitor is connected via DVI or HDMI port and make the key multimedia features of the ION2 platform quite questionable. Therefore, Optimus technology, that seems to be a pretty attribute of ION2, can in fact work the way it should only in a few netbooks with small screens.

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