The HP Mini 210’s Intel Atom N455 processor, clocked at 1.66 GHz, is representative of what you’ll find in most single-core netbooks available today. Atom has never been known for its diversity, particularly when it comes to netbooks. As of the time of this writing (April 15, 2011) well over half the netbooks listed for sale on Newegg are equipped with either this exact processor or a similarly clocked Atom, such as the N450.
As such, the HP Mini 210 can be considered broadly representative of current Atom single-core processors. This means we have the setup for a showdown, as we also recently tested the single-core AMD E-240 Fusion APU in the Toshiba Satellite C655. We also have recently tested the dual-core AMD Fusion in the Sony Vaio Y and a dual-core Atom processor in the ASUS Eee PC 1215N.
First, let’s delve into the most straight-forward of benchmarks – SiSoft Sandra.
These results yet again point out the massive disparity between netbook hardware and more mainstream products like the Lenovo U260, which was powered by a Core i3-UM processor, but that’s expected. As said, the real contest is between Atom and the single-core AMD E-240, and in these benchmarks it seems that Atom holds up well, beating AMD’s new Fusion APU at almost every front – although not by much.
This victory may be short lived, however. The weakness of the IGP bundled with Atom is well known, and could drag it down in our next line of benchmarks, as some of them have a substantial graphics element to them.
Here we can see the strengths and weaknesses of Atom more clearly. In Peacekeeper and PCMark Vantage, two benchmarks that can take advantage of the greater GPU power found in the AMD E-240, the AMD E-240 powered Toshiba C655 is able to achieve a clear lead over the HP Mini 210.
Admittedly, some of this performance increase could be due to greater amount of installed RAM; the Toshiba had three gigabytes installed, while the HP Mini 210 shipped with only a single gigabyte. However, I think that much of the performance improvement comes from the GPU. For example, we can see that the AMD E-240 powered Toshiba clearly stomps the Intel Atom powered HP in the PCMark Vantage Gaming benchmark, and also wins by default in the TV and Movies benchmark; the HP Mini 210 could not return a result after three runs.
Now let’s move on to gaming performance, an area where Atom is a clear underdog.
Our normal Far Cry 2 and Just Cause 2 benchmarks aren’t listed. The reason is simple; I couldn’t get the HP Mini 210 to run them. I was not surprised to find that Just Cause 2 would not run, but I was caught off guard by the fact that Far Cry 2 would not load despite the fact we normally run that benchmark in DirectX 9.
In addition to those failures, the HP Mini 210 proved incapable of running Defense Grid: The Awakening at any detail setting beyond Low. From this information I found on the Defense Grid support forums, this appears to be a shader model issue; GMA 3150 simply doesn’t support the features used beyond the Low detail setting. As such, a direct comparison with other laptops I’ve benchmarked with this game isn’t possible. But it’s not really necessary, either. At 1024×600 on Low detail settings the HP Mini 210 managed an average of just 4.72 FPS.
Obviously, the GMA 3150 isn’t able to handle 3D games, even those that are not particularly demanding. For comparison, the AMD E-240 in the Toshiba Satellite C655, managed 22 FPS with the game running at a resolution of 1366×768 with High detail turned on.
3DMark 06 illustrates well why the HP Mini 210 was struggling. There simply isn’t much punch to be found in the GMA 3150 IGP that is shipped with this Atom processor. Clearly, AMD’s Fusion APUs have Atom beat here, and by no small margin. While a Fusion APU can play some 3D games smoothly, the GMA 3150 struggles with even the most rudimentary 3D graphics.
Given the poor performance in gaming, it’s natural to be curious about the HP Mini 210’s HD video performance. Does Atom have a chance of displaying even 720p YouTube content smoothly?
Well, the answer to that question is simple – No. The Atom, combined with its stock IGP, can’t display 720p YouTube videos smoothly. Not even close, as the framerate is about half what you’d need to provide smooth playback. 1080p is hopeless, although to be fair it was also hopeless on the AMD E-240 powered Toshiba Satellite C655.
While Atom’s poor integrated graphics are partially responsible for the slow framerates, the single-core design can also be blamed. It seems that single-core netbook processors struggle with YouTube HD, no matter how powerful a GPU they’re paired with.
Now let’s take a look at boot and resume times.
As said in the software section, the HP Mini 210 comes with the Quickweb OS that boots before Windows in about ten seconds. HP’s justification for this is that there are times when booting into Windows simply isn’t practical; perhaps you simply want to check an email, for example.
The irony is that Quickweb boots by default and you need to click a button in the Quickweb interface to continue into Windows. This only further increases the hassle of booting into Windows, forcing the total boot time above one minute.
Fortunately, resuming from hibernate only takes a tad over twenty seconds. Which begs the question; is the ten seconds of time you save by booting into Quickweb instead of resuming Windows really worthwhile?
Overall, the story told by these results is clear. The Atom processor, and its GMA 3150 IGP, is among the slowest hardware available today. It’s the IGP that really lets the HP Mini 210, and many other netbooks, down. Watching HD video or playing 3D games isn’t enjoyable on a laptop equipped with this hardware, which significantly reduces the overall appeal of the product.
The limited performance also translates to real-world problems. It is not unusual for programs to freeze up on the HP Mini 210 because of an apparent lack of processor resources. However, it would be unfair to single out the Atom processor. As mentioned in the PC Perspective review of the Toshiba Satellite C655, we found the same issue with the AMD E-240, which has a far superior GPU but similar CPU performance.