I tested video decoding performance by playing the Iron Man 2 trailer in a variety of formats. Windows Media Player was used in full-screen mode for the H.264 QuickTime clips, while Firefox was used for the windowed YouTube test. In each case, I used Windows 7's Performance Monitor to record minimum and maximum CPU utilization for the duration of the trailer.
|Iron Man 2 H.264 480p||9-40%||Perfect|
|Iron Man 2 H.264 720p||4-53%||Perfect|
|Iron Man 2 H.264 1080p||6-62%||Perfect|
|Iron Man 2 YouTube 720p windowed||32-82%||Choppy|
Rest assured, Zacate's UVD3 video decoding logic does a terrific job with H.264 content in Windows Media Player. Playing back high-definition Flash clips in Firefox turned out to be another story, though—there were quite a lot of dropped frames, even if I tried running the video in full-screen mode.
I asked the AMD folks about this, and they told me they'd been able to get smooth high-def Flash playback out of one of the same test systems without issue. Puzzled, I tried updating Firefox and the Flash plug-in to the latest versions. No dice. After some more prodding, I learned that AMD had run its internal tests in Internet Explorer. Sure enough, the same video played back as smooth as silk in Internet Explorer 8 with the latest Flash ActiveX plug-in. Interesting. I'd probably chalk this issue up to immature drivers. Hopefully, final Zacate systems will be able to deliver smooth Flash video in any browser.
Temperatures and power consumption
I didn't bring an infrared thermometer or a power meter along, but AMD was kind enough to provide some, so I took the bait and got some readings while running the benchmarks you saw on the previous pages.
First, I amused myself with the infrared thermometer, pointing the beam at various surfaces (and the inside of my mouth, when the AMD guys weren't looking). I measured 27.4°C at the base of the APU heatsink with the system at idle and 32.5°C during our Far Cry 2 benchmark's third consecutive run. The fan speed seemed pretty much constant, and it was barely louder than a whisper.
I also checked the power meter while the Far Cry 2 test was finishing: it reported 33.6W draw at the wall. In x264, a purely CPU-bound benchmark, power draw at the wall was about 26W. Keep in mind these figures are for the entire system and were taken upstream of the power adapter, which AMD told me has an efficiency of around 83%.
AMD has pulled off quite an impressive feat with Zacate. On the CPU front, the dual Bobcat cores clearly play in the same league as Intel's entry-level CULV and CULV 2010 processors. That means performance largely acceptable for everyday tasks, from web surfing to file compression. Even enthusiasts using an ultraportable or a nettop as their second or third PC ought to find this kind of performance acceptable.
On the graphics front, meanwhile, Zacate succeeds in outpacing both previous AMD solutions and current Intel ones by a fair margin. The only system that came close was our Zotac nettop, which has an Nvidia Ion integrated graphics chipset. You'll be hard-pressed to find any ultraportable notebooks toting that kind of hardware these days, though; the closest thing you'd probably find would be something with a discrete, next-generation Ion GPU, and that's a different class of hardware—nothing like the elegant two-chip Zacate-Hudson combo AMD will offer as part of the Brazos platform.
As I said last time, the only question that remains is battery life. If Zacate manages to match or exceed current solutions in terms of run time, which seems entirely possible considering the Brazos platform's very spartan power draw, then AMD might just end up with the most attractive ultraportable platform on the market early next year. That would be a refreshing first, after the misses and near-misses we've seen from the company so far.
Of course, Intel isn't asleep at the switch. With such heated competition from its chief rival, perhaps it won't hesitate to whip up some Sandy Bridge-based CULV 2011 solutions, which could have considerably better graphics performance than current, CULV 2010 offerings. And the next generation of Atom processors, also due next year, might give netbooks some much-needed oomph. There's no telling whether Intel will be able to reach the sweet spot of power efficiency and performance AMD appears to have achieved with Zacate, though.