Is the NVIDIA ION platform worth it for home theater PCs?

There has been a lot of buzz around nVidia’s ION platform, and the central question being addressed in this post is simple. Is the nVidia ION platform really worth the money? If you’re planning on building or buying a media PC for a home theater, then the simple answer is yes.

What is nVidia ION?

The nVidia ION platform consists of an nVidia chipset which is connected to Intel’s Atom processor. The Atom is a very small processor that is not powerful enough to display any sort of decent graphics or video. In short, the Intel Atom processor lacks the ability to play video, making it seemingly worthless for home theater PCs. Luckily for Intel, nVidia’s chipset saves the Atom processor by making it useful for home theater computers. The ION chipset contains a graphics processing core which is more than capable of displaying flawless high definition, video. 720p, 1080p, everything plays flawlessly with the nVidia’s ION chipset because it can do the complex and computationally intensive task of displaying high definition video. Of course, the ION platform is fully capable of outputting with a regular DVI or HDMI connector, making it ideal for connecting it to your television. Without the ION chipset, you can not connect an HDMI connector to a computer with an Intel Atom processor. Period. Intel’s default chipset is extremely primitive when compared to the ION.

Other advantages

Aside from being able to flawlessly play HD content with the ION chipset, there are other advantages as well. The ION uses about the same amount of power on average as Intel’s default chipset. This means you aren’t going to need any additional fans or any noisy components in order to keep the computer cool. The ION is also advanced enough to enable playing 2d and 3d games on your computer. Intel’s chipset for the Atom processor is simply too primitive to play any sort of modern game. Having said that, please keep in mind that the ION is not, and is not meant to be, a high end gaming solution, but it can play most modern games at reasonable settings.

The cost

This blog is about saving money, so what sort of cost will the ION add to any computer? Reports have been claiming that the addition of the ION graphics processor will add approximately 50 dollars to the total cost of the system. This is actually pretty reasonable considering that it allows you to play and display video in true HD quality, even with the puny Atom possessor. The ION is worth every penny because there is simply no alternative. If you’re building or buying a media or home theater PC, the absolute best choice is anything with nVidia’s ION processor inside.

Posted under Shopping, Technology

This post was written by admin on May 24, 2009

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Save money when running scientific applications

Some scientific problems require so much computation, that they can not be run on any single supercomputer. Instead, these projects rely on people like you and me to download software which runs on your computer. These scientific applications only use your idle CPU cycles, so you typically don’t notice the program running on your computer at all.

These projects include:

Folding@home

SETI@home

GIMPS

And many more

Don’t get me wrong, I love science, discovery, research, and progress. But it’s important for you to understand that these programs will make your computer use more electricity. When processors are idle, they only consume so much electricity. However, when a processor is working at full load, it can consume about 50 watts of additional power. This actually isn’t too disastrous. Let’s assume you turn your computer off when you’re not using it. Now let’s assume that your computer is on for 6 hours a day and you pay the national average for electricity. In this scenario, you will be paying about $9.81 per year just to run the scientific application.

Protein folding simulation

Some of these projects are very important for humanity. For example, Folding@home is using its results you help understand protein folding in order to better understand how to cure diseases and cancer. Pinching every last penny is one thing, but frankly, ten dollars a year is not an unreasonable amount of money to donate for a worthy cause. Everyone who owns a computer and internet connection should be running programs like Folding@home. Unfortunately, some scientific projects are dramatically less important. For example, GIMPS is dedicated to finding very large Mersenne prime numbers. These numbers may be interesting to statisticians, but will never contribute to a worthy cause like curing diseases. You should choose a program which interests you *and* helps humanity.

With that being said, there is one more thing which is worth bringing up. Graphics cards are extremely good at numerical calculations. NVidia has released something called CUDA, which transforms its graphics cards into number crunchers. In fact, using special software, a single nVidia graphics card can be well over 100 times faster than a CPU. So why am I mentioning this? Well, if you have an 8-series nVidia graphics card, you can download a CUDA-enabled client for Folding@home, and all the scientific calculations will be run on your graphics card!

A typical midstream GeForce 8 series card

A typical midstream GeForce 8 series card

Like the CPU, it will still cost you more electricity when you run scientific software on your graphics card, but the performance per watt can be over 100 times better than your CPU! This means that if you spend 10 dollars a year for electricity and run the program on your graphics card, the amount of work you contribute to the project can be well over 100 times greater!

Okay, so you don’t want to cough up 10 dollars a year in donations, I can understand that. If you have a recent nVidia graphics card, you can run Folding@home on your graphics card for just three days a year, and still produce as much work as someone would produce by running for an entire year on a CPU. If you run the program for 3 days a year, you can expect to spend a measly 8 pennies a year, which is nothing.

In conclusion, if you want to save money while contributing to humanity, one of the best things you can do is run Folding@home on an 8-series or higher nVidia graphics card, even if it’s just for a couple days a year.

Click here for more information about the CUDA Folding@home client application.

Posted under Saving Electricity

This post was written by admin on August 14, 2008

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