Based on the largely positive reaction there has been to the recent deluge of netbooks and nettops that use Intel's low cost and low power Atom CPU, it would be fair to assume Intel has these markets all sewn up. However, while Intel certainly has the PR budget and manufacturing capacity to spread the word and flood the market with these devices, it doesn't necessarily have the best low cost, low power CPU. At least that's what VIA would like us to believe.
Announced around the same time as Intel's Atom, VIA's new Nano CPU is widely reported to be faster than Atom yet draw only slightly more power (dependent on clock speed). Indeed VIA has been claiming Nano can even run Crysis and playback Blu-ray video.
On top of this VIA also has its OpenBook Mini-Note reference design, which is essentially exactly the same as the netbooks we've come to know and love but with a Nano CPU inside. So, it would seem there's set to be quite a battle over the next few months to see which is the superior low power, low cost platform.
With this in mind, we've been pestering VIA for quite a while to let us have a play with Nano and a couple of weeks ago it came good, sort of. Rather than the shiny OpenBook mini-notebook we were expecting, VIA actually provided us with a mini-ITX desktop platform.
So, a little disheartened we went away and collected up a similar Intel Atom based mini-ITX motherboard, courtesy our chums over at bit-tech, and set about seeing just what these budget CPUs are capable of.
Now, we understand that for notebooks and other mobile devices, ergonomics and battery life can be rather more significant than CPU performance, at least up to a certain point. But unfortunately, those are obviously both things we can't test directly here. However, what we can do is see how much power these desktop platforms draw during our testing and extrapolate a performance/power ratio for the two CPUs, which should give us some idea of potential battery life.
Also, in our reviews of the various netbooks we've seen so far, we haven't gone into much detail about performance, so we thought this would be a good opportunity to see just what you can and can't do on netbooks.
So, without further ado, lets get stuck into some testing.