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MSI C847IS-P33 Mainboard - Intel Celeron 847 For Atom (Part 1)

6/25/2013 10:40:38 AM

By combining an energy-efficient Celeron 847 processor with an NM70 chipset, Intel created a new desktop platform for SFF PC, which can easily push the Atom and Brazos off position. Our experiment this time will show that whether the new product with Core microarchitecture is able to compete with specialty energy-efficient and inexpensive processors.

The release of Intel's Atom processor was a revolutionary event on the market of x86 computers. Not very fast but highly economical, those CPUs could prove that there existed a large range of applications where absolute speed was not a top priority. Atom makes a whole new class of devices rise, namely netbooks and nettops which featured small size, low weight, low power consumption, and attractive price. Those types of computer quickly captured the hearts of users and rose to huge popularity in just a few years. Therefore, the Atom was an unquestionable success as a concept.

MSI C847IS-P33 mainboard

MSI C847IS-P33 mainboard

Meanwhile, the further development of that concept showed Intel’s conservative side. People loved the economical Atom, but its integrated graphics core was not the highlight, especially the lack of hardware acceleration for HD video, limiting the Atom’s applications in home and multimedia PCs.  As a result, users were prone to prefer configurations that solved the problem of poor graphics performance in some way. For example, Nvidia ION platform got some recognition by the replacement of Intel's integrated graphics core with Nvidia's, which has the function of a video decoder and offered higher 3D graphics performance. However, Intel did not seem to pay attention to of the high sales of alternative Atom-based platforms and then forced the third-party chip manufacturer to give up using their system bus through a court decision.

So the lucrative market of affordable HTPCs was lost for Intel Atom platform, while AMD grabbed opportunity by providing its alternative codenamed Brazos Although AMD's solution was not faster than Atom in sheer computing, it really brought a better graphics core with a hardware HD video decoder and high 3D graphics performance. Besides occupying the niche of inexpensive compact multimedia computers, the Brazos platform was competitive in the traditional territory of the atom, in fact it become one of the most successful projects of AMD. There were fewer nettops and netbooks based on Atom because they were replaced by products based on E series processors of AMD.

Early in 2012, Intel tried to make the Atom more attractive by replacing its graphics core. The company put its stake in PowerVR solution which could accelerate HD video playback in various formats. Even so, it was too risky. First, Intel did not manage to release a problem-free 64-bit driver for it. And second, a new graphics core proved to be surprisingly slow with normal 2D interface of the operating system.  That's why this Atom CPU was rarely seen as an option for compact nettop.  Talking about the current position of the atom, Intel focuses on mobile gadgets (for which the Atom is reincarnated as a SoC solution) or micro-servers.

When it comes to desktop applications, Intel suggests completely different approach, which provides adapted CPUs with Core microarchitecture: mobile ULV processors in FCBGA packaging.  Celeron 847 is one of the common solutions of this type that is widely used in many mini-ITX mainboard.  It is a dual-core Sandy Bridge CPU with tons of pulses and voltage drops.  Is it possible to create worthwhile components for Brazos platform and continues the tradition of the atom.  We will check it out in this review by examining MSI C847IS-P33 mainboard.

Close-up view of flatform: Intel Celeron 847 CPU + Intel NM70 Chipset

Having experimented with Atom CPUs and can not find any way to make them stay in the compact PC, Intel switched to Plan B, which meant the promotion of CPUs with high-end Core microarchitecture, but adapted for low power consumption. Fortunately, the Core is a versatile microarchitecture that can be used for those high performance and energy saving applications. Intel want to propose a configuration as an alternative to the platform based on the latest Atom Cedar Trail which contains extremely economical components that originally designed for mobile solutions. Considering that low prices are always a main character of Atom CPU, those units are not so expensive.

Therefore, the platform positioned by Intel as a basis for SFF PCs is based on the dual-core Celeron 847 processor (or its single-core cousin Celeron 807). There’s nothing particularly new about it as it was introduced as a mobile solution two years ago, but it's only recently that Intel has driven it into the nettop and mini ITX mainboard. It's no wonder then that the Celeron 847 is produced on old 32nm technology process and represents the Sandy Bridge design.

Celeron 847 has a typical TDP of 17W, but its actual heat dissipation is much lower. On the majority of mainboards it is only equipped with a small aluminum cooler with 40mm fan. Low power consumption and heat dissipation are guaranteed by forcefully lowering the voltage to about 0.5V. The clock rate is very low under such conditions - only 1.1 GHz. We should not forget that though it is still a full functionality Sandy Bridge. It is a CPU with out-of-order execution, each of its cores capable of crunching through up to four x86 instructions per clock cycle.

It's still a fully functional Sandy Bridge

It's still a fully functional Sandy Bridge

In addition, the Celeron 847 boasts a few new features that are comparable with the Atom series including a shared 2MB L3 cache, SSE 4.2 support, and a dual-channel memory controller. The Intel HD Graphics core is fundamentally superior to the Atom’s GMA 3600. It has no problem with HD video decoding, DirectX 10 support and offers high performance, despite it has lower clock rate in the original Sandy Bridge CPU (800 MHz in 3D mode and 350 MHz in 2D mode).

The Celeron 847 boasts a few new features that are comparable with the Atom series

The Celeron 847 boasts a few new features that are comparable with the Atom series

Being originally conceived as a mobile solution, Celeron 847 CPUs are manufactured as BGA1023 chips and get soldered to mainboards. As with the Atom, there’s no talking about upgrades, of course.

Intel Celeron Processor 847

Intel Celeron Processor 847

Intel’s NM70 chipset serves as the Celeron 847’s companion. It's almost like the 7 series chip from Intel as Intel Z77, but its capabilities are severely limited. The NM70 is closer to the mobile HM70 chipset in specifications and has the same specified TDP of 4.1 watts, but the number of PCI Express slots and USB ports is reduced, which gives us the following characteristics:

The chip is connected to the CPU by a DMI 2.0 standard line has a bandwidth of 20 Gbps, making the Celeron 847 + NM70 Express pair similar to any other Sandy Bridge or Ivy Bridge platform except for the limited expansion capabilities. Specifically, they do not allow using external graphics card and only offers four PCI Express lanes for additional controllers.

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