Conclusions and Analysis

For an incredibly inexpensive and low power part, the VIA Nano L2100 CPU was very impressive from a performance perspective.  Using just 20 watts or so of power at load the Isaiah architecture running at 1.8 GHz could handle our media encoding, our PCMark05 general purpose tests and even a little gaming.  The numbers aren’t going to impress you enough to make this your next gaming system of choice but for budget notebooks and PCs I can easily see VIA’s part providing enough power. 

The Intel Atom processor was also impressive, just not in terms of raw power.  The VIA Nano easily outpaced it nearly all of our benchmarks but the fact that our idle and load power consumption numbers were just 4 watts apart certainly raises an eyebrow.  It is this extremely lower power consumption that will put the Atom CPU in MIDs and smaller devices where the VIA Nano will not be able to fit thermally.  The Atom CPU still got the job done in our tests though – it just wasn’t able to keep up with the superscalar design of the Nano.  
Platform Considerations

If there is egg to be thrown in anyone’s face from this article, it is on Intel for its locking down of the Atom platform.  Since Computex this year I have been hearing complaints from board vendors on the amount of restrictions Intel is putting on them for Atom products.  Vendors are not allowed to build Atom motherboards with PCI Express, digital video outputs or more than one memory slot.  VIA on the other hand is openly courting board manufacturers to put as much technology on a mini-ITX design as they can – as long as the DO build one! 

VIA Nano and Intel Atom Review - Battle of the Tiny CPUs - Processors 43

The ability to install a PCI Express graphics card into the VIA Nano reference board, not to mention use DIMMs, certainly adds to its appeal for any consumers looking for a super-cheap system build and for OEMs looking for a way to differentiate in the market.  VIA sees the Nano processor as its ticket to success while Intel appears to fear Atom will cannibalize its Celeron sales.

Power Considerations

We’ve already discussed the power implications on the previous page, so I’ll make this brief.  Both the VIA Nano and Intel Atom processors are extremely power efficient; especially when compared to Intel Core 2 and AMD Phenom parts.  The Nano uses more power at load than the Intel Atom CPU does but it is also a much faster platform overall.  The Atom only uses 4 watts (!!) or so at load making it probably the least power hungry part we have ever tested here. 

So your decision between the two parts comes down to one of performance and power – if you need a low power part that performs well then the Nano is for you but if need the absolute lowest power consumption and can give a little back in performance then the Atom will fit your design nicely.

Pricing and Availability

The Intel Atom-based D945GCLF mini-ITX platform can be found today for between $70-75 on our very own PC Perspective pricing engine.  The VIA Nano reference platform that I tested will not be sold to the general public; instead you will have to wait for VIA’s board partners to build one and start selling it.  First out of the gate will likely be Gigabyte and pricing should be competitive with that of the Atom platform – you should expect to pay less than $100 for a setup like I tested today. 

As for WHEN you’ll get your hands on the VIA Nano products – look for them by the end of August.

Final Thoughts

Both the VIA Nano and Intel Atom processors and platforms have their own positives and drawback but it was really the VIA Nano L2100 processor that impressed me the most.  Coming from a very small CPU design team here in the US, the Isaiah architecture is able to outperform Intel’s similarly priced and placed Atom processor while offering a much more open platform design.  In theory this should allow OEMs and end-users to be much more creative with their Nano implementations than Atom – we’ll be eager to see what retail products form around this very potent product.  As for VIA, they are basically betting it all on the Nano – it’s all or nothing from here on out.

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