First we looked at the performances of the various GPUs integrated into our solutions. They are the NVIDIA GT218 on the ION platform, the Radeon HD 6310 in the E-350 APU, the GMA 3150 in the Atom alone and HD 2000 in the Core i3s.
We used three different graphics modes, a minimal mode at 1280 x 720 (720p low) and a medium mode at 720p and 1680 x 1050. This allowed us to get an idea of the limitations of the integrated GPU and processor.
Far Cry 2 1.03
We used Far Cry 2’s low and medium modes, which are both exclusively DirectX 9.
It was impossible to run FarCry 2 on the GMA 3150, which isn’t really surprising. In comparison to the Atom + ION, the AMD APU did 10% better, though the scores were still too low to consider the title as playable. The HD 2000s are out front but are still far from being playable.
Crysis Warhead 1.1
The Low and Medium modes correspond to the ‘mainstream’ and ‘gamer’ modes in Crysis Warhead :
The faster Core i3 processors give no advantage here, with all our GPUs similarly limited. The ION solution has a slight advantage, but none of the solutions is really playable. Crysis Warhead won’t run at all on the GMA 3150, showing that the chip is not supported.
H.264/MKV video playback
Although the integrated graphics chips on the Mini-ITX solutions weren't designed for gaming, it surely isn't too much to expect them to manage video playback. Once again, this comes down to a software issue. We used two MKV files, encoded at H.264 using x264 at 1080p and 720p respectively. These files have an average bitrate of 17 and 4 Mb/s.
We used version 1.5 of Media Player Classic which supports video decoding acceleration (DXVA) on all platforms. We measured fluidity, noting any jumpiness, as well as average and maximum processor occupation. We used the rendering mode that is enabled by default, EVR Custom Pres:
At first there was some jumpiness during playback of MKV files on the ION platform. We managed to work out that the problem was linked to playback of subtitles that were integrated in our files. There is a school of thought that advises installing Haali Media Splitter and deactivating the Matroska filter in MPC-HC, the theory being that the H.264 decoder used in Media Player Classic doesn’t work with DXVA if subtitling is activated.
In practice and even when we reduced the size of the texture used for subtitles, the rendering of subtitles still posed a problem on the ION platform, both with the internal and external Matroska filter, a problem that we didn’t come across on the other platforms.
Playback on the Atom on its own, without DXVA support for H.264 on the GMA 3150, is handled by the processor alone and jumpiness was then omnipresent as soon as processor occupation of one core got up to 100%.
At 1080p the problems got worse, with playback on the Atom on its own virtually impossible. We didn’t succeed in getting smooth playback with subtitles on the ION platform. Without subtitles, processor usage on the platform was much lower, as of course was the workload.
The E-350 stands out here with perfect playback, with and without subtitles.
YouTube H.264 video playback
We tried to play a YouTube HD video at 720p and 1080p on our various platforms. We used the latest version of Adobe Flash 10.2 and Firefox 4 beta 10 in our tests. We measured the number of frames that weren’t displayed as well as smoothness:
The ION platform achieved perfect fluidity here, as did the E-350 once YouTube had updated its video player for Stage Video (full DXVA acceleration).Update 22/02/11
: There is still a problem with version 10.2.152.26 of Flash, verified by AMD and Adobe
when it comes to acceleration of videos for which the H.264 playback component hasn’t been updated on the server side for Stage Video. YouTube has however updated its component for Stage Video and YouTube videos now play correctly, including in HD. This doesn’t however mean that the problem has been resolved definitively for video sites which haven’t updated their video playback component. This is for example the case for DailyMotion where HD video playback still doesn’t work in fullscreen (DXVA inactive, processor occupation 90% and over). Finally, while Chrome uses a slightly more recent version of Flash (10.2.154), this made no difference to the bug in our tests.
It should be noted that without ION, the Atom on its own plays the video without any apparent jumpiness and the Flash stats tool shows a framerate oscillating between 24 and 25 frames per second. Visually however it looked as if only one frame in two or three was displayed.
At 1080p, the results were pretty much the same, once again with reduced fluidity on the Atom on its own, even though there was no apparent jumpiness.
We tried to play several Blu-rays encoded in various formats and at various bitrates with a beta version of PowerDVD 10 that is more recent than the one that is publicly available. Unfortunately the software wasn’t very stable and this made it difficult to make a good comparison. In spite of this, here are our impressions. We didn’t bother to test the Atom without ION as the GMA 3150 wouldn’t have a hope with this task on is own:
There was just a very little jumpiness with the E-350 during playback of The Dark Knight in scenes where throughput sometimes got high. Playing the same scene several times didn’t however reveal the same problem repeatedly. It may therefore be linked to the fact that the version of PowerDVD that we were using was very much a beta.
With REC things were more complicated as this Blu-ray is one of those with maximum average bitrate at the same time as being encoded at 1080p50i. We noted some occasional jumpiness which didn’t appear on the ION platform or on the CPU rendering on the Core i3 platform. Once again, the fact that the problem also transpired when using the Radeon HD 5450 indicates that it may well be a more general ATI driver problem or one of PowerDVD support for ATI cards, probably in terms of handling of deinterlacing.
We will re-evaluate Blu-ray playback in more detail on these platforms once we have a more stable version of PowerDVD.