Asus AT3IONT-I Deluxe review

Author: Chris Barry
Editor: Howard Ha
Publish Date: Thursday, August 5th, 2010
Originally Published on Neoseeker (http://www.neoseeker.com)
Article Link: http://www.neoseeker.com/Articles/Hardware/Reviews/asus_at3iont_deluxe/
Copyright Neo Era Media, Inc. - please do not redistribute or use for commercial purposes.

MiniMax Home Entertainment Center!

HTPCs are becoming increasingly popular in the enthusiast community, however two of the largest problems with HTPCs are size and cost. Users usually solve the cost problem by searching for cheap parts, or by reusing parts from old PCs. After all, HTPCs don't need to be all that powerful. The size problem, however, is a little bit harder to solve. One solution is to use a mini ITX motherboard.

Mini ITX boards come in a few different varieties. Some of these boards are like any other motherboard, only smaller. You can find ITX boards that support AM3, AM2, 775, and 1156 sockets. Or you can find solutions, like the Nvidia ION, that have the processor attached to the motherboard. However, some users feel that the latter don't fit the requirements they'd be looking for.

Asus feels differently and developed the AT3IONT-I Deluxe. This is a mini ITX board based on the Nvidia ION chipset, and it is equipped with an Intel Atom 330 processor. Not only that but it is capable of full HD playback, and comes pre packaged with a wireless card. Another great little feature is the Home Theater Gate, which is like an OS before you even get to the OS.

Will this fanless solution work well as a home entertainment center, or will it fall a few feet short? Before we find out, let's pull it out of it's packaging and take a closer look at the board.

Closer Look:

Taking a quick look at the top of the Asus AT3IONT-I Deluxe shows a large blue heatsink. Under this heatsink are both the Intel ATOM 330, and the Nvidia ION chipset. The rest of the board looks like a miniature motherboard. It is even equipped with a PCIe X 16 slot, but that's not all. The Asus AT3IONT-I Deluxe features Stack Cool3 technology, which should help spread the heat across the entire motherboard to hopefully help with the cooling process.

To better describe its compact form factor, this board's width is almost that of its I/O ports. So let's take a look as to what we'll be able to utilize in terms of I/O ports. Starting from the right we can see that we'll be able to use standard audio ports, or S/PDIF-out ports. We'll also be able to utilize 6 USB ports, 1 LAN port, 1 HDMI port, 1 D-Sub port, 1 PS/2 port, and one BlueTooth port. You'll also notice a DC power connector. The reason for this is because the Asus AT3IONT-I Deluxe will pull all the power it needs straight from your wall. In fact, turning the board over reveals a place where the 24Pin Power connector could have been located. To the right of this empty area we can see the Molex connector, that will allow us to power our HDD's and DVD drives. Right above these two crucial components are the two memory slots that will support up to 4 GB of DDR3 memory.

Taking a look at the corner of the Asus AT3IONT-I Deluxe allows us to see the included wireless card. We can also see that the board does indeed have a USB header, and three 3Pin fan connectors. You'll also be able to utilize a total of four SATA 3.0 connectors. Flipping the board over reveals six screws which are responsible for holding the cooler in place. However, we're going to remove these so we can see what's underneath.

With the heatsink off we can clearly see the two cores located at the center of the board. The larger one is the Nvidia ION chipset. This baby is packed with 16 cores and should be capable of playing games like WoW. To the right we can see the dual core Intel Atom 330. This tiny little chip is clocked at 1.6GHz, and should hopefully pack all the power we'll need to run an HTPC!

Now let's take a look at what was included with the board, and some of its special features.

The Bundle:

One of the best parts about purchasing a motherboard is receiving all the extra goodies that come with it. For the Asus AT3IONT-I Deluxe, one of the most important is the DC power brick. Without this baby your mini ITX setup wouldn't be more then a fairly expensive paperweight, albeit a very cool looking one.

While the power brick will do a great job at powering the AT3IONT-I, it won't do much in terms of powering your HDD's and ODD's. For those you'll need to use the included Molex to SATA power cord. Simply plug this cord into the board's Molex connector, and you should be good to go, provided you don't need to power more than three things. One of the largest objects in the bundled package is the remote control. This will allow you to control the home theater features of the AT3IONt-I.

Also included in the software bundle are two SATA cables, as well as a power cord to use with your DC power brick. Along with those items you'll find a USB receiver to use with your remote control, and an antenna to use with the built in wireless.

Unique Features:

Asus Express Gate

The Asus Express Gate is a nifty little "OS" before the actual operating system. When you power on your system it will quickly boot straight into the Asus Express Gate. From there you will be able to browse the Internet, play some online games, instant message friends, or make calls via Skype. This can be very useful for users who want to check the Internet quick, without having to worry about actually booting into Windows.

Asus Home Theater Gate

Asus wouldn't be able to call the AT3IONT-I a mini home theater without some sort of home theater software. The Home Theater Gate does is just that. Once you've booted into Windows you'll be able to launch it. From there you'll be able to play music, look at pictures, watch videos, or listen to Internet radio.

PC Probe

Last but not least is the Asus PC Probe. This can be considered the ultimate PC monitoring tool. It will provide you with information such as temperatures and voltages. It will also let you know if anything starts to get too hot!

Let's get to the benchmarking!

Test Setup

The Asus AT3IONT-I will be compared to both X58 and P55 systems which will utilize Core i7's and Core i5's. The AT3IONT-I will not be able to perform as well as these systems, but this comparison will give you an idea of what the AT3IONT-I is capable of.

Benchmarks used

There will be a set of system gaming oriented benchmarks. Bioshock requires a custom run since it does not have a benchmarking tool. For this one, Fraps will be used to record the framerates, while for all the other gaming tests, the built-in benchmarking tool will be used. For all of these, the tests will be ran at three different resolutions: 1280x1024, 1680x1050 and 1920x1200.

Sandra, by SiSoftware, is a tool capable of benchmarking about every component found inside a computer. The processor arithmetic and multi-core efficiency will be ran as well as the memory bandwidth and latency benchmarks.

For the most part the Asus AT3IONT-I Deluxe ranked at the bottom, and this is understandable considering it uses integrated graphics and an Intel Atom. However the scores weren't all that bad, and many low level users may find this type of computer to be perfect for them.

POV-Ray, for Persistence of Vision Raytracer, is a 3D rendering software that has impressive photorealistic capabilities.

Running this benchmark on the AT3IONT-I Deluxe was painfully slow, and took the better part of a day to complete. However if you do purchase this setup, you shouldn't be running any kind of raytracer, so the lack of performance shouldn`t be too disappointing in this regard.

Using WinRAR, I will compress our custom 100MB, 500MB and 1000MB files using the best compression setting in the ZIP format and time how long it take to do so.

Cinebench 10 is another rendering program, also optimized for many-core processors. I will run both the single-threaded benchmark as well as the multi-threaded.

The Asus AT3IONT-I Deluxe surprisingly didn't perform all that bad in our WinRAR benchmark, however our Cinebench benchmark showed that the AT3IONT-I's performance is a little bit lacking. However, it's not meant to perform as well as a higher end i7 rig, so again the performance difference shouldn't be that disappointing.

HD Tune is a benchmarking program for hard drives. Beside the drive itself, their speed they can reach heavily depends on the chipset.

PCMark is a benchmarking suite from FutureMark, who also make the reknown 3DMark. It includes many tests to calculate overall system performance like hard drive speed, memory and processor power. It is a fairly good indicative of general real-world performance.

It was a pleasant surprise to see the Asus AT3IONT-I Deluxe perform right at the center of our charts in the HD Tune benchmark. In the PCMark suite we saw the AT3IONT-I once again perform at the bottom of the charts, however it still performed well enough for many users to consider it usable!

Bioshock is an older game, but it can still stress the heck out of your hardware. This game combines a thrilling story with beautiful graphics. This combination makes for an overall great benchmark.

Left 4 Dead is an extremely popular first person shooter with zombies. You and three other survivors must fight your way through a post apocalyptic, zombie infested, world in order to survive. This game makes for a great real world gaming benchmark.

The Asus AT3IONT-I Deluxe obviously didn't score ideal framerates in either of these two games, however both were borderline playable. Users purchasing an ION setup, such as the AT3IONT-I, probably wouldn't be using it to play games. That being said, you actually will be able to play some games with the ION chipset. Just remember, the framerates will be a little low.

Conclusion:

We've seen ITX boards with the Nvidia ION chipset floating around for a while now, and many users have found that these setups make perfect HTPCs. They're cheap, offer decent performance, are small, and very power efficient. Not only that but these chipsets are actually powerful enough to play some of the newer games. Of course the framerates will be a little lower than most would like.

Asus's AT3IONT-I Deluxe compares favorably to other ION boards. It will allow you to use up to 8GB of DDR3 memory, comes with built in wireless, and if the integrated video isn't enough for you, you'll be able to install a PCIe X 16 compatible video card. However if you do so, chances are you'll need to seek an alternative power source, because the AT3IONT-I's integrated PSU will not power something like a GTX 260.

Asus designed this board with the HTPC in mind, and for this reason included many features that make the AT3IONT-I Deluxe a great HTPC choice. A great example of this is the included remote control, or the Asus Home Theater Gate software. The Asus Express Gate included in the AT3IONT-I will allow you to browse the Internet, play games, or chat with friends, all before ever booting into Windows.

As far as performance goes the AT3IONT-I performed worse then the higher end setups. However, this is a no brainier as it was simply not designed to. It's equipped with a dual core Intel Atom 330 processor, which can actually pack a punch. Many lower end users will find that this little computer is all they need. Plus, the AT3IONT-I can actually play games, with iffy FPS.

I'd recommend this board to anyone looking to build an HTPC. If you're on a tight budget and want a tiny, minimalist PC the AT3IONT-I Deluxe may be a good choice, and would make an extremely great HTPC rig. It could possibly make for a great budget build.

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