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Atom and Geode duke it out

I would have expected that Atom-powered NASes would be flooding the market by now, pushing aside the current crop of low-to-mid priced products based on Marvell's ORION Media Vault Processors.

But so far, the only way to get an Atom-based NAS has been to roll your own. Thecus, however, has selected AMD's Geode low-cost CPU to power its N4100PRO and upcoming N3200PRO. So I was able to get a feel for the Geode's performance when I recently reviewed the N4100PRO.

Since I also had performance data for my DIY Atom NAS, I wanted to include an Atom / Geode comparison in the N4100PRO review. But as I went to write up the comparison, I found that my Atom data wasn't really suited for a fair comparison.

So I went back to the bench, and ran new tests on both the Atom-based NAS and the Thecus N4100PRO. The goal was to get as good of an apples-to-apples comparison as I could get, considering that I couldn't exactly match operating systems.

The Contenders

To review, Table 1 shows the components used in the DIY Atom NAS. The configuration is the same as used in the Atom DIY articles, except for two changes: 512 MB vs. 2 GB of RAM; and Openfiler 2.3 instead of Ubuntu Server for the OS.

CPU Intel Atom
Motherboard Intel BOXD945GCLF
RAM Kingston 512 GB DDR2 667 (PC2 5300)
Data Drives Hitachi Deskstar HDS721680PLA380
80GB 7200RPM 3.0 Gb/s SATA 8MB
Ethernet Intel PRO/1000 PCI
OS Openfiler 2.3
Table 1: Atom NAS component summary

I reduced the RAM to try to match the miserly 256 MB of RAM that Thecus included in the 4100PRO. But the smallest DIMM I had on hand was 512 MB, so that's what I used. As for the OS, I thought I would give Openfiler a shot, since I had yet to try it and it had been suggested over in the Forums.

Table 2 shows the same component information for the N4100PRO. As noted earlier, there is only 256 MB of RAM. Both products have PCI-based Ethernet, which will limit uncached top speed to just shy of 67 MB/s.

CPU AMD Geode LX800
Motherboard Thecus custom
Data Drives WDC WD1600AAJS-0 Caviar Blue
160 GB, 7200 RPM 3.0 Gb/s, 8 MB
Ethernet Intel 82541 PCI gigabit Ethernet controller
OS Openfiler 2.3
Table 2: Thecus N4100PRO component summary

Previous experiments included trying Western Digital's VeliciRaptor drives, which I didn't find made much difference in performance. So I didn't move drives from NAS to NAS, since both sets of drives were 7200 RPM SATA with 8 MB caches. I did, however, use only two drives in the N4100PRO's RAID 0 array, to match the maximum capacity of the Atom NAS.

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