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Zotac Zbox AD03BR
Selecting a Playback Node

James F. Carter <jimc@math.ucla.edu>, 2012-03-11


Aurora is our Dell Inspiron 400 Zino which we run MythTV on and use for displaying the recorded TV programs. It blew its graphics processor, or CPU (GART involvement), or something; anyway, it has become useless for video playback. Replacing the motherboard did not improve the situation, and we have decided not to put more effort into repairing it. The next step is to pick a replacement for Aurora. Since Aurora is still functional except for 3D graphics, we're not going to actually scrap it, and so the new machine needs its own name: Iris.


There are several heterogeneous requirements for Iris.

The requirements point toward an Intel Atom dual core processor. ARM gives lower power but we are not ready to deal with the software issues there.

Tentative System Selection

Extensive web research (see below) leads to a different conclusion: The credible Atom processors will be underpowered, with marginally adequate graphics, and with moderately high electrical power for the computational capacity. Comment posters are much more pleased with the AMD E-350 Fusion Zacate with on-chip Radeon HD 6310M. This CPU first surfaced about 2011-02-xx (13 months old). The best vendor for systems of this type is Zotac's Zbox product line. Some of these are available on Amazon.

From the numerous Zotac product offerings this is the one I'm targeting:

On Amazon:

A happy discovery: the AMD E-350 does have AMD-V instructions, i.e. it does do virtualization. You need to turn on SVM Secure Virtual Machine mode in BIOS setup. The forum poster said that every AMD CPU has this. Unlike Intel.

Information from the Web

Here is the web research that led me to pick the AMD E-350 in the Zotac system. It's roughly in chronological order, for historical interest, and so is not too well organized.

Checking Out Atom Processors

Before possibly investigating other vendors' offerings, let's look at these more closely. Intel's basic specs for Atom N270: Launched 2008. 1 core, clock 1.6GHz, L2 cache 512Kb, FSB 533MHz, 32bit architecture, max power 2.5W, no virtualization. yes SpeedStep. These machines may be OK for a replacement for Jacinth, but there won't be enough CPU power for the new Iris.

Logic Supply's LGX AG150: Review dated 2012-03-08 by J.P. Ishaq. This fanless machine has an Intel Atom N2800 (1.86GHz dual core) with the Cedar Trail chipset. Currently this chipset's GPU is not supported on Linux or even 64bit Windows -- you can ony run 32bit Windows 7 on it, if you want 3D graphics. They quote the perfomance on the Passmark benchmark ($24, combined CPU, 2D and 3D graphics):

So what I learned from this: The N270 is way far from handling the load. The N2800 and D525 are fractionally less capable than what Aurora has now -- probably would be OK. The N2800's chipset is presently impossible to handle. But we could consider a D525.

Here is another possibility from Logic Supply in the home and office category. SolidLogic Atom T-3410 Mini-ITX System, $266 (build and test, add $59). Available with several mobos and processors.

Additional options on this system:

As configured: $395.

D525 systems from other vendors:

The Atom D525 for a HTPC

Primary question: what do people think about the D525 in a HTPC (home theater computer)?

Tom's Hardware forum,

Engadget review of Lenovo Thinkpad X120e

By Joanna Stern (2011-02-07). She likes it. Lots of processing power. It has a AMD Radeon HD 6310M. Some benchmarks: On 3DMark06, the lower number is with the GPU turned off.

Machine PCMarkVantage 3DMark06
Lenovo ThinkPad X120e (AMD E-350) 2465 2080
HP Pavilion dm1z (AMD E-350) 2510 2213
Lenovo ThinkPad X100e (AMD Athlon Neo) 1511 1080
HP Mini 5103 (Atom N550 dual core) 1523 143
Asus Eee 1215N (Atom D525/nVidia ION-2) 1942 181/2480
Acer Aspire One 721 (AMD Neo K125) 1814 1235
Dell Insp. M101z (AMD Neo K325 dual core) 2572 1311
Lenovo ThinkPad Edge 11 (Intel i3 ULV) 2964 1105
Alienware M11x ((Intel core2 2x SU7300) 2689 654/5593

Jimc's conclusions from this table: The E-350 is about 1.25x faster than the D525 in CPU, and its graphics performance is about twice that of the competitors (except Alienware is 2.7x E-350).

Anand (of Anandtech) reviews the E-350.

Anand reports on power consumption of some boards. These were all done with the same power supply to bypass differences in the vendors' provided supplies. Power in watts for the whole system except as noted. The H.264 video playback uses GPU decoding.

Board Idle CPU maxed H.264 1080p
AMD E-350 (1.6GHz) 24.2 32.2 33.4
-- CPU only 3 9 8
Atom 330+Ion (Zotac) 34.9 38.9 40.6
Atom D510 (1.66GHz) 35.2 38.6 40.5
Athlon II X2 255 (3.1GHz) 41.5 91.2 55.6
-- CPU only 7 47 12

Jimc's conclusion from this report: the CPU is minor in power drain, in these low power boards (except the big horking Athlon). Other components draw major power. Jimc suspects that termination on the various buses is the major culprit.

Other miscellaneous forum postings

I read a lot of material but didn't take detailed notes. In other forum postings, some people are suggesting the Intel i3-2100t for low power applications. There are a lot of positive vibes for the AMD E-350 and few partisans defending the Atom variants.

AMD E-350 on Linux

What are people's experiences with AMD E-350 (radeon 6310M) and Linux?

Xorg Radeon driver support

On jimc's system, xorg-x11-7.6 radeon driver announces support for AMD Radeon HD 6310, in Xorg.0.log.

Techenclave's review of the AMD E-350.

This is a tech forum/blog site in India. Review by Dark Star (2011-10-02). They are testing

Dark Star's points: On Windows, using Catalyst 11.8 Radeon driver. Playing 1080p used 7% to 20% CPU. On Linux they used fglrx 11.8. It can play 720p (using a lot of CPU) but doesn't work on 1080p. If you install some VAAPI packages and mplayer-vaapi, it renders the 1080p with no problems, from the command line (similar CPU as with Windows), but the GUI players don't use VAAPI. Hiss, boo.

Tidbit: Setting up XBMC on E-350

How to set up XBMC on AMD Fusion E-350 by Chessplayer (2011-08-11). He uses fglrx and VAAPI.

FreeBSD on AMD E-350.

OP: Tingo (2011-11-19). He has an Asus E35M1-1 (AMD E-350, integrated Radeon 6310) with FreeBSD on it. He is using xorg-minimal-7.5.1, radeon driver. gtkperf finished in 135.43 secs for 1000 rounds. Tidbits from his Xorg.0.log file:

He had one screwup: when you exit from XFCE, it didn't restore the text console. Another user has an Intel GMA 4500 which runs in 186.13 secs. He mentions that a GeForce 2MX (10 years old nVidia) does about 130 secs.

On AMD E-350, exit from X-server, screen goes blank.

OP: Jan Engelhardt (2011-07-28): Xorg in OpenSuSE 11.4 doesn't properly restore the text console. No KMS auto loaded by udev. Stefan Dirsch says: I doubt the Fusion is supported without KMS. Jan says: Kernel 3.0.0 provides KMS for it (doesn't say if it helps).

AMD E-350 and fglrx get a segfault.

OP: Feddischon (2011-08-30). Logicien says: KMS and fglrx don't work together. He uses KMS and Xorg radeon driver with a 9802 (our device) and it works great, he says. Turned out to be a bad upgrade to fglrx; reverting (?) fixed the prob.


How to play BluRay and HD DVD Video

More comparison of Zotac Zbox systems.

Restricting to E-350, prices are USD as quoted by Zotac (MSRP):

Model Price Optic HD+Mem Wifi Other
ZBOXNANO-AD10-PLUS-U $315 no 320Gb yes Remote, IR, Ant
ZBOXNANO-AD10-U $231 no no yes Remote, IR, Ant
ZBOX-AD02-PLUS-U $326 no 250Gb yes HDMI,dual DVI-I
ZBOX-AD02-U ?? no no yes HDMI,dual DVI-I
ZBOX-AD03BR-PLUS-U $504 Bluray 250Gb yes HDMI,dual DVI-I
ZBOX-AD03BR-U $399 Bluray no yes HDMI,dual DVI-I


I ordered the Zotac ZBOX-AD03BR-PLUS-U with AMD E-350 and Radeon HD 6310, from Amazon, for US $380.

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