Monday, August 30, 2010

ASUS AT3IONT-I Deluxe Review

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Most custom HTCP builds are probably based on the Intel Atom/Nvidia Ion combo. The fact that it's a cheap solution , widely available and supported allows it to act as a key enabler for such Atom/Ion based HTCP custom builds. However, in order to achieve the full HTCP experience, where you can enjoy key additional benefits such as :
  • Hooking up a remote control
  • Have low power consumption
  • Emit low or even no noise
  • Wireless LAN & Bluetooth
takes some additional effort to put into place. It's easy to start with off with an Atom/ION board, but in addition to that there are a lot of other pieces of the HTCP puzzle that we need to fill in. Thus people end up buying additional components to hook up to their Atom board, adding to the cost, and the potential issue of having components that don't work all that well together.

Asus has tried to address this issue with the Asus AT3IonT-I Deluxe. It's a complete package, not only offering the Intel Atom/Nvidia Ion motherboard, but additional features like remote control, onboard DC/DC converter (eliminating the need for a PSU), WiFi , Bluetooth and perhaps most importantly, a complete passively cooled system. For completing your build, all you need is a case, some memory and storage, and your good to go.

The ASUS AT3IonT-I Deluxe package
When looking at the sheer size of the package, one can already tell that it is feature packed, and that all these necessary goodies are included for having a nice custom HTCP build.

The package includes
  • The motherboard
  • AC/DC power adapter + chord
  • WLAN antenna
  • Remote control (including batteries)
  • USB based remote control receiver
  • 2 SATA cables
  • IO shield
  • User manual + driver CD

A closer look at the motherboard
When looking at the board, the first thing you'll notice is the large blue heatsink with the Asus logo on it.

Underneath is the Dual Core Atom 330 CPU, and the Nvidia Ion GPU. The heatsink will be responsible for dissipating the heat coming from these 2 components.

When comparing the size and structure of the heatsink above with the older AT3N7A-I Atom/Ion board from Asus, you can see that the AT3IONT-I is more designed for full passive use :

Moving to the I/O panel of the board, you'll see that the board has all the connectors you would expect for an HTCP build.

From left right on the IO panel you'll see :
  • DC Power input port
  • WLAN/WIFI Antenna port (802.11n)
  • PS/2 keyboard connector
  • VGA
  • HDMI
  • Optical S/PDIF out
  • Bluetooth module
  • 2x USB
  • Gigabit ethernet LAN (RJ-45)
  • 2x USB
  • RCA out ports (left/right)
  • Analog line in / line out / microphone
A very interesting feature from this combo is that there is a built-in DC/DC converter on the board, meaning you don't need a seperate internal PSU in the case, but rather use the provided AC/DC power adapter provided by Asus. This hooks in directly through the motherboard via the I/O panel, providing enough power to the board for overall operation.

The motherboard can accept 2 modules of DDR3 RAM. If you're someone like me who still has some DDR2 sticks lying around, this actually turned out to be a negative, as I had to buy an additional 2GB DDR3 module now :)

The board also has 4 Serial-ATA (SATA) ports, meaning you can hook up to 4 devices on this board. I'll only be using 1 SSD for storage, and a blu-ray player for HD video playback.

A molex connector is also provided on the board, and combined with the provided power chord allows you to power up to 3 devices. As there is no internal PSU in the case, the board will now need to power any additional devices (SSD, blu-ray player).

To conclude, on the board we also have the WLAN card, and the Bluetooth module sticking out of the I/O panel

Remote control

The Asus remote control works out of the box in Ubuntu 10.04. You can use it to control your XBMC environment. Some keys weren't working (return / home key) in XBMC, but I'm sure they can be assigned by configuring the key mappings appropriately.

Test setup

The Asus board was fitted into a Lian-Li PC-Q07 case, with no case-fans attached. The case provides room for fitting an internal PSU, but no internal PSU will be used. As already stated, the provided AC/DC adapter will provide the power to the Asus mainboard. This leaves additional room in the case for heat dissipation.

Ubuntu 10.04 and Windows 7 were used for testing. XBMC was used as the main media player for the system.

The Asus board is a fairly complete system as it offers you :
  • Embedded CPU (Atom 330 dual core CPU)
  • Embedded Graphics (Nvidia Ion)
  • WIFI / Bluetooth / Gigabit LAN
  • DC Power port (using the Asus power brick, there's no need for an internal PSU)
This leaves us with the following additional components to complete the build :
  • DDR3 Memory (A single 2GB DDR3 module was used)
  • Storage (A Kingston SSD module was used)
  • Optical drive (A lite-on blu-ray player was used)
All in all a very simple build due to the complete package that Asus provides with this one. An additional benefit is that we can assume that all of these components will work nicely together.

Power Consumption and Temperatures
Initial temperatures 
When booting the machines, initial temperatures were

CPU temperature26
GPU temperature31
Mainboard temperature25

This was in a room  with an ambient temperature of around 25 degrees celcius. After about 40 minutes into operation, temperatures stabilized with the following numbers

CPU temperature50
GPU temperature60
Mainboard temperature39

During this period, the computer was sitting idle at the gnome desktop.

Under normal load, they never exceeded these temperatures.

Temperatures while decoding 1080p video content

While decoding 1080p High Definition video content using XBMC in Ubuntu, GPU temperatures maxed out at around 70 degrees C. The CPU temperatures remained below the 60 degree C mark.

CPU temperature55
GPU temperature67
Mainboard temperature41

Temperatures were measured using the following shell script in Ubuntu

gpuTemp=`nvidia-settings -c :0 -tq GPUCoreTemp`
cpuTemp=$(echo `sensors | grep "CPU Temperature"`|awk '{print substr($0,19,2)}')
mbTemp=$(echo `sensors | grep "MB Temperature"`|awk '{print substr($0,18,2)}')
echo `date`,${gpuTemp},${cpuTemp},${mbTemp} >> $output

This script was put in the crontab (type crontab -e to load up the crontab editor), and is scheduled for execution every minute.
*/1 * * * * /home/asus-ion/
That way, we can build up historical data including the 3 major temperature categories (CPU,GPU,mainboard) and import it in a spreadsheet.

For more information on Cron, checkout the Cron HOWTO on the Ubuntu community site

It took about 40 minutes into the 1080p decoding to push the GPU to 69 degrees. It never got above that. It took roughly the same time to get the GPU back to the 60 degree mark.

Keep in mind that this is a completely passively cooled system emitting zero noise.

Power consumption

The system consumed 44 Watts during 1080p video decoding. Under normal load, it was consuming around 36 Watts.

One strange thing that I noticed was that the power brick is always consuming around 20 watts, even when nothing is connected to it, or the system is in sleep mode.

With all other power adapters I have lying around the house, this isn't the case.... I can imagine some ineffecienty, but 21 watts does seem like an awfull lot.

I would have to say I'm pretty impressed with the overall system. Asus have provided a great package here that simplifies your build in terms of gathering the necessary components to complete your HTCP build. By providing the power adapter, remote control , WLAN, bluetooth and passive cooling all in one box, builders will have an easy time assembling this. With the right case, this results in a build that is more then capable of playing your favorite HD content, while maintaining low power consumption, and zero noise emission.


  1. I've read somewhere that to achieve the most from ION in this motherboard, we should utilize both memory slots (something called dual line architecture or so). Have you tried that configuration?

  2. It's true that the Atom generation before PineTrail (like this dual core Atom 330) features a dual channel memory architecture, but I don't think memory bandwidth is an issue for the Atom/Ion platform when used in an HTCP context. (where you're just playing high-definition video)

    Most likely you'll see a small performance gain in synthetic benchmarks, but in real life I doubt it will even be noticeable.

    Even with one DDR3 module , 1080p video decoding is flawless....