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˜‰