Review Updated: Poor performance due to motherboard issue
Update: The VIA Nano board reviewed here was in fact a test platform based on a modified EPIA SN18000, not a retail board as stated in the article. Unfortunately, VIA has informed us that some of the reference boards provided to media showed some under-performance due to a fault in the re-working process, which can be quite tricky concerning re-soldering embedded chips. We are expecting to get a replacement board and will do the review over again as soon as possible.
Today we have the opportunity to check out VIA's latest invention, the Nano. The VIA SN board is feature-rich compared to any Atom board you may encounter. It even comes with a PCIe slot, mini PCI-slot, Compact Flash slot, SATA RAID and IDE, and such a specification sounds too good to be true.
The most annoying thing on that board is the fan, which spins at a sky-high speed, but gladly you can enable fan control inside the BIOS-screen.
The layout is quite packed as expected on a mini-ITX board, but sadly VIA failed to include a USB header in the design, so if you want to use front USB there is no way to do that. Another downside is the VGA-only connection. Meanwhile even VIA should have noticed that DVI is the way to go. Refresh-rates are also quite low, only allowing 85Hz on CRTs. This board is clearly industrially oriented because it features a COM port, which is quite useless nowadays but two LAN adapters, one Gigabit PCIe chip and a standard 10/100 PHY connected to the VT8251 Southbridge. VIA incorportated an HD audio chip, but sadly there is no digital out and only three analog connectors. Setting up a 7.1 system is not possible.
On the EPIA SN1800G board you'll find the most powerful Nano, clocked at 1.80GHz
Intel Desktop Board D201GLY2A
Celeron 220 1.20GHz
J&W Atom Board (provided by J&W Technology)
Atom N270 1.60GHz
VIA SN1800G (provided by VIA)
VIA Nano L2100 1.80GHz
A-Data 1GB PC2-6400 CL4
ITX 80W external/internal power supply
Seagate Barraczda 7200.9 80GB (provided by Seagate)
Special Thanks to Ken Wong and Andy Fok from J&W for their incredible support.
VIA hyped Nano quite well, telling the world it will be faster than Intel's Atom. They told us how much they also improved the FPU, but they failed to impress, completely. It is even slower than Atom which, as we all know, is unbelievably slow itself, but VIA proves it can do worse than that. The Celeron 220 is still the champion in this class.
VIA Nano 1.80GHz
Intel Atom N230 1.60GHz without hyperthreading
Intel Atom N230 1.60GHz with hyperthreading, which helps
Intel Celeron 220 1.20GHz
It gets worse with super-pi. Nano makes a come-back to our past, and sets you back 10 years ago, when we were happy to see such results. Both Atom and Nano are no match for the quite old Celeron 220.
VIA Nano 1.80GHz
Intel Atom N230 1.60GHz
Intel Celeron 220 1.20GHz
We now know the FPUs are quite lame, but to check out ALU performance we also ran the benchmark provided by the SiSoft Sandra Lite Suite. As you can see here, the Nano is behind the Atom, whereas the Atom benefits from hyperthreading quite well, especially when it comes to ALU performance.
While running an .avi movie and lame at the same time, we measured how much power consumption there is. The Nano board does have quite high peak power consumption which you can't see in the chart, because it is powering down very fast. So, we decided to show you average power consumption. VIA did a good job on idle power, but Atom is better under load. The Celeron board does follow in a close second, but you have to remember, the Celeron is not a very power efficient CPU, consuming 2.5 times as much compared to the Atom.
Atom or Nano are sufficient for everyday use under Windows. Windows installation takes longer compared to a conventional dual-core deskop CPU, but it is not that dramatic. We checked some movies and DVDs, which were not a problem for any of the systems. Trying 720p encoded h.264 turns the situation around. The Nano was not able to play such an H.264 720p content, the Celeron did quite well, mostly with 100% load but smoothly. In this category the Atom is surprisingly the clear winner with about 60% CPU load and hyperthreading helping it to decode properly.
Using such system for surfing, emails, watching non-HD video content is not a problem and this is the sole purpose of such a system. Unfortunately, VIA does not target the mass-markets with its board. Fitted with the strongest of their CPUs they will not attract other masses, too. The fan spins too high, but without the fan it gets too hot. In the industrial sector customers look only for passive solutions to reduce maintenance. Now there is only a single board in the market with a measly 1GHz CPU which runs passive, but quite halving the CPU-power makes it very slow.
Another problem is that such boards will not fit in any ITX cases, because on the back VIA included a mini-PCI and a Compact Flash slot. Of course, there is the biggest argument against it: price. The board retails for €200 and more, which is quite insane. Atom boards are available for about €60, the new Atom 330 dual-core boards are already listed for under €70. So, getting in the mass-market is obviously not VIA's goal. While all-solid designs are now common in the normal desktop market, we wonder why a €200 board is not built in such a way.
As long you don't need all the features VIA provides, you can stay with an Atom board and save lots of money. If you wait six weeks longer, you will get a dual-core Atom which will compensate for its poor performance. Next year Intel should provide an adequate, power-efficent chipset which will make such offers much more attractive.
For VIA it's simple to say: they improved their CPU, but their hype didn't follow suit.