Intel Pine Trail Explored with ASUS Eee PC 1005PE


Of Pines and Atoms

Of Pines and Atoms

Netbooks are fine and swell for their intended mobile net-centric usage needs, but as we all know, Intel's default platform for these devices was growing long in the tooth. As such, Intel's upgrade to the new Pine Trail platform, which was first made known in 2009, was much expected. Just like how the enthusiast and mainstream platforms were updated quite thoroughly with the Nehalem based architecture and its derivates, the netbook saw a similar update in terms of operations topology. We'll get you up to speed on the changes with Pine Trail.

Right from the initial netbook platform launch, the ageing Intel 945GSE class chipset was holding the entire platform back. While the platform had a small update last year with a more power efficient Atom processor (Z5xx series) and a system controller hub (Poulsbo or also known as the US15W SCH) to replace the traditional dual chipset solution (945GSE + ICH7M) on the motherboard level, this update didn't have much impact on the netbook's performance. While the SCH attempted to combine all the Northbridge and Southbridge functionality with a PowerVR graphics core in a single chip, the Atom architecture was mostly untouched.

Now moving on to the Pine Trail platform, it consists of a Pineview Atom processor and Tiger Point I/O hub. The Pine Trail is mostly seen as the true successor to the original netbook platform (while the Poulsbo chipset implementation was more of an in-between step-up and wasn't widely adopted). Unlike the previous implementations, the new Pineview processor integrates the memory controller and graphics core directly on the CPU die. This is in-line with the modern processor designs of today.

Where the main power hog of previous Intel Atom systems were the outdated chipset, doing away with the Intel 945GSE only means that power consumption will dip even lower than before. Compared against the old platform, Intel claims both power and physical size reductions of the platform, by about 20 per cent and 60 per cent respectively. Furthermore, all I/O functions will now be handled by the new I/O hub, dubbed Tiger Point (NM10).

The graphics core in Pine Trail has also been improved from the ancient Intel GMA 950 of the first netbook platform, to the new Intel GMA 3150. Though there's no mention of support for HD playback, we'll be testing this later in our review of the ASUS Eee PC 1005PE, our first trial of a Pine Trail equipped netbook to see if it will at least play 720p HD clips. However, Intel has mentioned that future units may come packed with a Broadcom Crystal HD chip for HD playback. Currently, the only way to properly play HD content without any issues on a netbook is to ensure you buy one with NVIDIA's ION platform. However, with the new Pineview processor architecture using DMI connectivity and not the traditional FSB protocol as well as the CPU integrated graphics core, it makes things a lot trickier for anyone to supply capable chipset but Intel.

After all, if the new Pineview processor coupled with a Broadcom Crystal HD chip works just fine, then the NVIDIA ION is really out of business - unless of course they still pair their platform with older Atom processors. We will have to see what NVIDIA's ION2 will bring to the table, but for now, it seems that having the Intel Pineview processor coupled with a Broadcom Crystal HD chip seems the way to go.

Now that we've summarized what the new platform entails, let's take an actual look on how it performs via our review set of the ASUS Eee PC 1005PE. Our review unit features the basic Intel Atom N450 processor (Pineview class) and the NM10 chipset (Tiger Point), though it lacks the Broadcom chip for HD performance. As mentioned earlier, we'll be testing the default integrated Intel GMA 3150 graphics core on HD video clips later. For now, let's take our usual look at the familiar looking exterior of the ASUS Eee PC 1005PE:-