Despite many analysts and reviewers’ skeptical attitude, small and inexpensive computer systems Intel called nettops, have secured their market positions quite well. And the reason for this success is not just the fact that computers like that allow saving some desk space and money, if the user doesn’t really need special computational resources. Nettops’ success can be also explained by the fact that they can eventually replace a number of common consumer devices such as video players, for instance, but at the same time offer much more diverse functionality. In this case, however, it is not only thanks to Intel who developers and introduced the major components for systems like that – Atom processor and companion-chips for it. We should also thank Nvidia Company for coming out with their timely offering for Atom processors – GeForce 9300 chipset.
The resulting “Intel-on-Nvidia” platform abbreviated to ION turned out a real success and become an inspiration for many computer enthusiasts having overshadowed the original platform that consisted only of Intel components. It is the ION based systems that allow combining the functionality of a traditional home computer system with that of a multimedia player and thus replacing a large ATX desktop with a compact Mini-ITX box. Of course, it doesn’t make much sense to compare the computational capacity of systems like that, but we really need super-high speed only in a limited number of tasks and applications. And if we are not talking about contemporary games or creating and editing media content, then it turns out that a home system doesn’t really need to be that powerful at all. Therefore ION based nettops become increasingly popular as a great replacement for standard desktop systems or as a worthy addition to them.
In other words, nettops managed to take over a pretty significant market niche. They have partially taken over the place previously occupied by budget systems, but most importantly they also got into those segments where traditional computer systems have never been used before: now they are standing side by side with digital consumer electronics solutions offering comparable aesthetics and significantly broader functionality. The growing habitat of computer systems within digital home is a very good sign. However, it also means that from now on those people who have never been very involved with computer technologies will have to learn to find their way among all these new solutions. However, it is fairly easy to pick out a nettop: neither Intel, nor Nvidia decided to flood the market with a vast variety of processor and chipset modifications. As a result, you can actually select a nettop judging by the looks and the number of ports for peripheral devices. The same is true for the mainboards that most enthusiasts would use to put together a nettop system of their own. Most ION based solutions have one or two distinguishing features, but other than that they offer not only similar functionality but also identical performance.
However, there is still one dilemma most potential ION users face. The thing is that mainboards and computer systems based on ION platform can be built around two different processors: single-core Atom 230 or dual-core Atom 330, which is in fact a complex processor consisting of two single-core ones.
As we have already seen during our Zotac ION-ITX-C mainboard tests, single-core processors are powerful enough for a home media system. However, it doesn’t mean that having a more powerful Atom 330 CPU in an ION platform makes absolutely no sense. In our today’s review we are going to determine how the user can benefit from having an extra processor core and if it makes sense to pay a little extra for a more expensive and less energy-efficient modification. And the major reason for us to undertake this investigation was the arrival of Zotac ION-ITX-A mainboard that differs from the Zotac ION-ITX-C primarily by the sue of Atom 330 CPU instead of Atom 230 one.