Goodbye Pentium 4, Hello Atom

Sadly, I fried my Pentium 4 test system a few days ago, which had proven invaluable in my performance testing of Paint.NET v3.5. I went to turn it on* and the screwdriver missed by a few millimeters, shorted the wrong pins, and … bzzzt. No more P4.

* Since this system was “bread boxed,” meaning that it wasn’t inside of a case or anything, turning it on involved shorting the two pins that the power button is normally wired directly straight to.

Fortunately I have one of these on the way from newegg. Along with twenty dollars worth of RAM (2 GB), I will soon have a new performance test bed.

It’s a motherboard with a soldered-on Intel Atom 330 CPU for $80. It’s dual-core, supports 64-bit, and has HyperThreading. And it runs in a small 8W power envelope (well, the CPU itself anyway).

Think about it: for $80 you can get started with a system that supports 4 hardware threads! I will probably disable the second core and HyperThreading, as my primary purpose is low-end, single-core performance testing. It will be interesting to see how the Atom scales with HyperThreading and the second core turned on.

My main complaint is that this motherboard only has VGA output: DVI is not an option. For what I’m using it for, this won’t matter, but it certainly prevents me from recommending it to others, especially for HTPC / Media Center systems.

Maybe in a few months I’ll be able to purchase a Dual Xeon based on the Nehalem/Core i7 architecture. 2 chips, 8 cores, 16 threads … we’ll pit it against the Atom and see who wins ๐Ÿ˜‰


13 thoughts on “Goodbye Pentium 4, Hello Atom

  1. usedHONDA says:

    I hope you make good use of that system; it’s probably just as fast/slow as my system after all…

    Hey, if you want to invest enough pain into it, you can always liquid-cool your Atom and overclock it to AMD Phenom speeds:


  2. Zing says:

    You will be pleased to hear that Paint.NET is running smoothly on my 6-year-old P4, 2.66 GHz with 758 MB RAM.
    Still no luck in the lottery to buy a new one so I keep on benchmarking each new Paint.NET version ๐Ÿ˜‰

  3. Frank says:

    Sorry to hear about your machine. =(

    Stopped by the site as I was using Paint.Net this morning and was wondering about a feature.

    I saw that you have something called composite layers planned for V4, not sure what that entails but here was my scenario.

    I’m working on some graphics where there are groups of layers that I have to keep in separate layers, but that I toggle visibility on and off frequently. I find myself working this way a lot. Any chance of a way to group layers without merging them to make this a little more streamlined?

    Maybe there is just a better way to use Paint.Net I’m not aware of.. anyway good luck with your new rig, newegg is awesome, should have those parts already. =)

  4. Ronan says:

    Hi Rick,
    Would an even lower spec system not be better for testing. For example, my dad is running on 320 mb RAM and I don’t even want to check the processor. Should it not be an older PC as the Atom is fairly new?

    A bit off topic but, tomorrow is my Birthday. Could you mention me in a blog post?

    Thanks ๐Ÿ˜›
    Ronan Burke
    Almost forgot, I am 14 tommorrow:D

  5. Rick Brewster says:

    Ronan — Actually, from browsing newegg it’s pretty much the best quality, cheapest, lowest-end combo you can get. All the others are either more expensive, have lots of weird chips on them (and subsequently who knows if they’ll work on Vista or Win7), and suspect chance of being in any system that a real user would have.

    And the Atom is just wicked cool.

  6. Ronan says:

    Oh BTW: I recommend for your low end graphics card, using a 72mb unicorn lol That is my graphics card and it is shocking. I think I read somewhere on this site the Paint.Net will be GPU accelerated like Photoshop?

  7. Irfan9727 says:

    Paint.Net is running smoothly on my old toshiba laptop with 800mhz processor and 128 mb ram, so that atom testbed is not low-end at all compared to this :))

  8. Olen says:

    What’s with this? You are thinking of a dual zeon core…and you can’t afford a case and normal power switch? Ever hear about putting the cart before the horse???

  9. Rick Brewster says:

    Olen, what’re you talking about? Nobody said anything about affordability of a case/power supply. You seem to have a chip on your shoulder for some reason.

    Ever hear of making sense?

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