Power Consumption, Blu-ray Playback, and Conclusions
One of the best features of any mini ITX motherboard is its power-saving properties. The A330ION used only 48 watts during load testing in CineBench 10, which is almost 30 watts less than the Zotac 9300-ITX Wifi. This is a significant statistic for any user wanting to build a low-power HTPC for their entertainment center.
High-definition Blu-ray playback
One of the key features the NVIDIA ION chipset has is its embedded GPGPU technology codenamed CUDA. NVIDIA’s CUDA is a general purpose parallel computing architecture that
leverages the parallel compute engine in NVIDIA’s graphics processing
units to solve many complex computational problems in a fraction of the
time required on a CPU. We extensively covered this technology back in August 2009. The ION has 12 CUDA cores to help the A330ION offload some of the workload from the Atom 330. We used ArcSoft’s TotalMedia Theatre to test 1920×1200 high definition Blu-ray playback because of its support for CUDA and Blu-ray. Overall, we were thoroughly impressed with the HD playback we noticed as we watched the 96-minute Avatar movie. We didn’t notice any lag during playback and the audio was crisp and captivating. We calculated the CPU had to do between 25 and 35 percent of the workload to output the Blu-ray movie to our 1920×1200 24″ LCD. The rest of the workload was managed by the ION chipset.
The Atom 330 really limited the performance of the A330ION during almost every benchmark we used to evaluate this motherboard today. The ION chipset performed as expected, but the processor seemed to be the bottleneck our new review today. The Atom 330 has many features that make it quite enticing like a 1MB cache, 533MHz FSB, dual core design, and four threads for multi-threaded applications. It is considered a mid-range option in the current line of Intel Atom processors too. For HTPC purposes it should be more than adequate, especially for 1080p Blu-ray playback. But, I wouldn’t recommend it for any high-end games or CPU-intensive applications.
The main features that are key selling points for the A330ION would have to be its DDR3 memory support, mini ITX footprint, low-power consumption, good overclocking features, and a PCIe 2.0 x16 slot for expanding the board’s gaming and video capabilities The board’s SATA 3GB/s ports has RAID 0 and 1 capabilities to give users more performance through using two SATA hard drives in RAID 0. I also like the 7.1. audio on board, which seemed to work well when I connected it to my Onkyo 7.1 system I use for my home entertainment center.
Pricing and Availability
We’d like to thank ASRock for providing the A330ION for our review today. Our standard benchmark suite really pummeled the A330ION in every measurable aspect of this board. But, the motherboard comparisons we used in our benchmarks didn’t make things easy for the A330ION either. This mini ITX board will definitely give budget users the right performance for the right price without making them purchase a new processor or graphics card. The board’s ability to support DDR3 is great, but it maxes out at 4GBs, which is a little disappointing. Support for DirectX 10 is also a plus, but it would be nice to see DX11 support in future revisions. Overall, the feature set and price point makes the A330ION a great solution for budget HTPC builders looking for a low-power, mini ITX solution that can handle Blu-ray playback on 1080p LCDs. This board might also be able to handle better games with a discrete graphics card too.