Zotac ZBOX: AD02 vs. ND22 Linux shootout

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toehser Offline
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This is a comparison of 2 Zotac SFF PCs, the ZBOX-AD02-U vs. the
ZBOXHD-ND22-U, as a Linux HTPC used with a 37" 1080p HDMI HDTV for
XBMC, Boxee, and sundries. It also includes what I did to get them
working, and so includes a skeleton of a guide for setting them up.

I ended up having one of each sitting side-by-side under the TV to
compare because my initial research, preferences, and prejudices led
me to purchase the AD02, but I became frustrated trying to get it to
support 1080p well under Ubuntu, and began to suspect the ND22 would
offer a solution to my issues, so I shelled out for the other one also.

Questions/suggestions are welcome while I have both machines, which
should be for a while, I'm not sure what I'll do with the one I don't keep.

They have an identical cases other than the color of the circle logo.

The AD02 is an AMD/ATI Zacate Fusion APU, 2 cores at 1.6GHz,
the ND22 is an Intel CULV SU2300 an NVidia ION graphics at 1.2GHz.

Some of this comparison shows differences between the AMD/ATI and
NVidea ION graphics. Some of it shows differences between the AMD
E-350 and Intel SU2300 CPUs. Some is probably the audio chipset.

I run the audio out an optical cable to a DTS 5.1 receiver, I did NOT
test any HDMI audio features, if you care, I just can't help there. I
guess I could turn the volume on the TV on if anyone cares.

Note: This applies ONLY TO LINUX. If you run some other operating
system, the layers of graphics drivers and libraries obviate any
applicability, though the CPU stuff may compare similarly, the video
and audio and drivers milleau is totally different.

Both machines are running with identical Kingston SSDNOW 16GB
SSD drives, they both have identical gigE NFS mounts to the media
file server. Media playing is over the gigE NFS but I did the XBMC
compilation timings right on the SSDs.

Physically, the AD02 has 2GB of DDR3-1066 that came with it as an
AD02-PLUS-U, the ND22 has 4GB of similar DDR3-1066, but for these
tests, both machines are limited with the Linux boot parameter
"mem=1500M" so that they see identical memory configurations.

I configured them *identically*, at the end, I'll list the details...

I though I had to use "classic-no effects" for tearing. I also
found that allowing xbmc aspect ratio fit != 0 caused tearing.

CORRECTION: To completely get rid of tearing, I had to add:
Section "Extensions"
Option "Composite" "Disable"
EndSection
To the ND22 /etc/X11/xorg.conf, but, then it was fine.

First impressions and thoughts:

- The green AD02 circle is more appealing than the orange ND22 circle.

- Price is similar at some vendors, but overall the AD02 is cheaper.

- The ATI leaves an overscan area of the HDMI 1080p black, the NVidia
uses the full HDMI 1080p area for video, which I think gives it an
effective resolution that is higher, and without resampling by the TV.

- The BIOS setting stuff was more intuitive for me at first on the AD02
but the ND22 was fine once I got the hang of it (mostly regarding fan
settings to keep them quiet).

- Lm-sensors by default detects more of the ND22 temperatures than AD02.

Now, to some meat. One of my goals is to see how well XBMC and
Boxee can do on these machines, with a 'canned' Linux distribution.
I'm starting with Ubuntu Natty, backports and proposed repos turned on,
all updates applied, and the default 'additional proprietary drivers'
for the graphics on both. I will do some "heroics" to get them
working, but as little as possible of PPAs, compiling my own stuff, and
patches, and pre-release versions of stuff.

I did want to use the most current xbmc, so here is the first thing-

Building XBMC from the tips of the git repository:

time (make distclean; ./bootstrap; ./configure --prefix=/usr \
--enable-vdpau --enable-vaapi; make -j3)

ND22 real 33m49.420s user 55m38.690s sys 4m24.900s
AD02 real 49m11.574s user 81m33.750s sys 6m10.020s

OK, so, on CPU based tasks, the ND22 is *significantly* faster.

Now, in addition to results with XBMC, which will showcase any
accelerated performance available in the bleeding-edge XBMC, I'll
also test with plain old boxee (there was a modification necessary
to the package dependencies so the xmlrpc would work, the same for
both machines), which I think has no support for any acceleration,
and so will give a sense what the CPU alone can manage.

Plain boxee, 720p files run on both basically OK, but the ND22 runs
with about %15-20 idle, the AD02 runs maxed out on both CPUs, and it
eventually sometimes has audio sync issues, and very occaisionally
some stuttering in the video playback.

Plain old boxee, 1080p files, the AD02 not only is very jerky, but the
sound isn't working on many files. ND22, it stutters, but is _almost_
tolerable, and the sound works, with slight sync problems. Of course
they are both maxed on CPU. I do not recommend either for 1080p files
without accelerated video...

ADDENDUM: I discovered that even the old boxee has a VDPAU option
and will play 1080p (only with the ND22 of course) *if* you turn *off*
auto-detection of mode in boxee, and manually select VDPAU. FWIW,
boxee seems to have horrible CPU-usage-all-the-time issues, but, it
was able to play all the 1080p stuff, and I like the interface.

Now, for the (accelerated) XBMC tests...

First, without going to a special PPA repository, accelerated video
for the AD02 will not work under Ubuntu Natty, and 1080p just isn't
watchable, so I did do special heroics for the AD02, to make it sort of
fair, installing a PPA to get xvba to work- the xvba package in Natty
is borked and won't install. This was done only on the AD02, by using
'apt-add-repository ppa:rexbron/bugfixes'. This is a personal custom
version to fix a bug. I then was able to install the xvba-va-driver.

AD02 problem: Sometimes, the AD02 will refuse to see the audio device when
I start playing a video - changing it from optical to analog or analog to
optical in xbmc seems to make it see it again (it is really playing optical
in both settings...) This is even though the xbmc sound effects were fine.
I don't know what causes this, and it never happens in the ND22.
CORRECTION: It has now happened on the ND22 also... maybe an xbmc bug?

I am able to play much 1080p fine in both boxes with some caveats.
The ND22 runs about %92-95 idle, the AD02 runs about %80-85 idle.
This might not indicate a difference in video acceleration, as the
ND22 is faster in the first place, and with the same amount used,
will have more left. I tested with 10-15 different movies at varying
bit-rates and configurations. I just eyeballed them, I didn't run any
fancy tools to measure anything, suggest them if you would like me to.

HOWEVER, there is this file called "killa-sample", probably it has
a high bit-rate with a lot of detail... It looks TERRIBLE on the AD02,
and PERFECT on the ND22... Clearly, there are problems in acceleration-
land for the AD02 still. It is unwatchable on the AD02.

I have more audio sync problems in the AD02 than the ND22. The ND22 has
never gotten off, the AD02 does fairly often. Usually, stopping and re-
starting the video fixed it. Xbmc settings didn't seem to really help.

At one point, X completely locked up on the AD02 in this configuration,
I was able to switch to a text terminal, but "service gdm restart"
completely locked the machine, I had to hard-power-button it. Note,
this is beyond just xbmc crashing - that happened during my testing
6 times on the AD02 and 2 times on the ND22.

Summary and opinion:

AD02 Pros:

- Price. Roughly $15 cheaper, though at Newegg they are the same price.

- Principal. The underdog, may be more principled than Intel or Nvidia.

ND22 Pros:

- Superior CPU performance, nearly 50% faster processor on CPU stuff.

- Video chipset performance. Both presented a good 1080p picture for
most content, and when acceleration worked, both decoded H264 without
much CPU usage. However, some content (such as, the killa-sample file)
was handled by the ND22 but crumbled on the AD02.

AD02 Cons:

- Requires the latest bleeding-edge drivers and libraries, to the point
where the latest release of Ubuntu, even with backports and proposed
changes, won't work for 1080p, without bugfix PPA repositories.

- Sound synchronization problems.

- Video instability. X completely locked up once, only happened on AD02.

ND22 Cons:

- None really

OPINION:

The price difference of the AD02 is far too small to justify choosing it
for a Linux XBMC HTPC at this time. It is possible that with patches and
even more bleeding edge customizations, the AD02's issues could be worked
around, however, the ND22 just works. The AD02 had weaknesses with the
CPUs, the video, and the sound - what else is there? Great green circle...

P.S., Configuration details (identical on both machines):

Bios settings for IDE were changed to AHCI mode.
Ubuntu Natty Narwal was install from the "alternative" 64bit image on USB.
Logged in with "classic, no-effects" mode.
Set appearance to "clearlooks".
Set font size to %125.
In Synaptic:
Added "proposed" and "backports" repositories.
Removed both "overlay" and "libOverlay" to kill overlay scrollbars.
Set security updates to automatic.
Updated and performed a full upgrade.
Set login screen to automatically log me in.
Set login screen to default to classic with no effects.
Turned off the screensaver lock on timeout.
rebooted
installed the "proprietary video driver" (NVidia on one, ATI on the other).
rebooted
did sudo passwd root
disabled wifi
installed (with aptitude)
ssh buffer atop dstat lzop chromium-browser vdpau-va-driver libvdpau-dev vainfo gdebi autopoint libva-dev nfs-common libdvdnav-dev libdvdread4 lm-sensors
installed (with aptitude) everything from the xbmc build README.ubuntu list
did gdebi boxee.deb
did sensors-detect
mounted /mnt/media and /mnt/10mWork from my NFS server in fstab
ran the xbmc build (shown above) and then "make install" for xbmc
(This post was last modified: 2011-08-01 03:14 by toehser.)
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neoflex Offline
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Post: #2
great work, thanks
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rhodeski Offline
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Post: #3
Brilliant writeup Wink

Pretty new to all this, and fairly linux-averse Oo

Take it the results (i.e. pros / cons) would be comparable running xbmc live? Or would that not even be possible on the AD02, given the heroics required? ^^
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PatrickVogeli Offline
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Post: #4
great review of those machines. However, it's difficult to believe that AMD is slower than the SU2300/ION combo... wasn't it supposed to be much faster?
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darkscout Offline
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Post: #5
see my sig.

I love the underdog, but when a solution "just works" it just works.

[Image: aeKO.jpeg]
Code:
GRANT ALL PRIVILEGES ON `xbmc_%`.* TO 'xbmc'@'%';
IF you have a mysql problem, find one of the 4 dozen threads already open.
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pingadam Offline
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Post: #6
Many thanks Toehser for your comprehensive write-up. I'm looking to use one of the Zotac ZBOXes as a general-purpose low-energy usage home server (web development, programming) and spare desktop machine, and maybe HTPC usage too later on.

The ND22 looks very good, but for me one big downside (compared to AD02 or ID41 models, which are the other two I'm investigating) is the lack of USB3 ports for high-speed backups (I'll be using eSATA to increase effective "on-board" storage). I just wish the ND22 had the USB3 ports of the other models (and ION2 instead of ION would be a bonus too, but not essential).

For general-purpose (as opposed to specifically HTPC) usage, do you link the AMD Fusion "Zacate" platform will be well-supported in Ubuntu 11.10, or more importantly for me by the time the next LTS arrives (i.e. Ubuntu 12.04) in April next year? If so, then I'm happy to dual-boot with Windows 7 for now, until the platform is fully supported. If not, then it's not even worth considering for Linux (only Windows 7). I guess with 8Gb RAM and a 1Tb Hard Drive (which is how I would configure the system) I can always run Linux in VirtualBox (especially as the AMD E-350 supports hardware virtualization [AMD-V] - indeed the SU2300 supports Intel's VT-x equivalent I believe - unlike the Atom D525).

Alternatively, does anyone know of a Mini-ITX motherboard that supports the features of the ND22 (i.e. SU2300, ION or [better still] ION2, 8Gb DDR3 RAM, eSATA, etc), but also includes USB3? I'd be happy to build my own Mini-ITX PC around such a motherboard if one exists!

Many thanks again for your review (and for any advice of the above questions).

Kind regards,

Adam.
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rhodeski Offline
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Post: #7
pingadam Wrote:Alternatively, does anyone know of a Mini-ITX motherboard that supports the features of the ND22 (i.e. SU2300, ION or [better still] ION2, 8Gb DDR3 RAM, eSATA, etc), but also includes USB3? I'd be happy to build my own Mini-ITX PC around such a motherboard if one exists!

How about the Gigabyte GA-H67N-USB3-B3 2nd Gen Core Socket 1155 Mini-ITX Motherboard?


Quote:Gigabyte GA-H67N-USB3-B3 Mini-ITX board supporting Intel 2nd Gen Core FCLGA1155 processors with integrated Intel HD graphics and Realtek ALC889 2/4/5.1/7.1-channel Audio; Up to 16GB of DDR3 1066/1333MHz RAM; Gigabit LAN; 4x SATA; RAID 0, 1, 0+1, 5; VGA, 2x HDMI graphics outputs; S/PDIF Optical and Coaxial; 2x USB 3.0; 8x USB 2.0 (inc 4 internal).

Rear Panel Connectors: Optical S/PDIF Out; Coaxial S/PDIF Out; VGA; 2x HDMI; 4x USB 2.0; 2x USB 3.0; eSATA 3Gb/s; Gigabit LAN; 6x 3.5mm audio jacks.

Board connectors: Processor core power connector (12V 4pin P4); 2x Front panel USB 2.0 headers (for 4 ports); Clear CMOS Jumper; SATA connectors: 2x 6Gb/s, 2x 3Gb/s; Main power connector (24pin ATX); Front panel header; Front panel audio header; 2x 240-pin DDR3 DIMM Sockets; Processor fan header; S/PDIF out header; PCI Express x16 bus add-in card connector; System fan header; Front panel audio header; Battery.

Will take a Intel Dual Core i3-2100T 2.5 GHz 35W TDP so not quite as energy efficient as an ION, but would be a bit more powerful...
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LB06 Offline
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Post: #8
darkscout Wrote:see my sig.

I love the underdog, but when a solution "just works" it just works.
Me too, but I think the only really immoral company here is Intel. AMD and nvidia are... okay, as far as big duopolistic companies go Tongue

AMD does make a lot of promises though that it doesn't keep (regarding Linux/XvBA/VAAPI drivers/support), but that has not so much to do with principles and morality.
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toehser Offline
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PatrickVogeli Wrote:great review of those machines. However, it's difficult to believe that AMD is slower than the SU2300/ION combo... wasn't it supposed to be much faster?
It is much faster than Atoms... but not than the CULV SU2300...
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toehser Offline
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pingadam Wrote:the lack of USB3 ports for high-speed backups

I do backups over gigE, something like tar|buffer|lzop|buffer|nc, so I wouldn't care as much. I only use the USB ports for install media and remote controls.

pingadam Wrote:For general-purpose (as opposed to specifically HTPC) usage, do you link the AMD Fusion "Zacate" platform will be well-supported in Ubuntu 11.10

Already it works fine in Natty, if you don't care about 1080p video playback.
(This post was last modified: 2011-08-01 00:48 by toehser.)
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toehser Offline
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Followup comments #1:

- I made sure I have the new 11.7 AMD driver and the newest NVidia driver, no change in results.

- I discovered that in the ND22, if I have both VDPAU and VAAPI enabled in xbmc, I have problems playing some SD files. If I only enable VDPAU, it works fine. Not sure why it would even bother with VAAPI mattering if VDPAU is there.

TODO:

- Plug them both into kill-a-watt power monitors to see the real power drain.
- Play with some xorg.conf settings I've been seeing recommended in forums.
- Try the openelec thing.
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toehser Offline
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I plugged them both into a Kill-A-Watt, really good news here for the AD02. Playing the same 1080p video:

ND22: 27 Watts
AD02: 15 Watts

I played some more with the compositing/Compiz/settings, it seems that if I set the "Undirect Fullscreen Windows" in the Compiz settings, it does just as well as disabling the compositing.
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LB06 Offline
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toehser Wrote:I plugged them both into a Kill-A-Watt, really good news here for the AD02. Playing the same 1080p video:

ND22: 27 Watts
AD02: 15 Watts

I played some more with the compositing/Compiz/settings, it seems that if I set the "Undirect Fullscreen Windows" in the Compiz settings, it does just as well as disabling the compositing.
Imho you shouldn't be running a desktop environment in the first place. Just start XBMC as a standalone session.
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pingadam Offline
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@Rhodeski: thanks for the motherboard recommendations (i3-based): unfortunately the i3 platform is a bit too expensive and power-hungry I think for the long-term use of the mini-PC setup that I want to use as a home server. The CULV SU2300 would be about the most powerful CPU I would probably want for this, as the primary purpose would be a home server (so potentially powered-on for several hours per day - electricity costs are rapidly rising, at least here in the UK!), secondary a spare desktop-usage machine, and later on maybe HTPC too.

@Toehser: thanks for the info regarding using the AD02 as a general-purpose server (not needing 1080p playback) - that's reassuring for me, as initially I won't be needing this. It would be a significant bonus if it works eventually on the Zacate platform, say by the time of the next Ubuntu LTS in April next year, but certainly not a deal-breaker for me. And the news of the low power-consumption compared to the ND22 is very significant and welcome.

Here in the UK I have found the AD02 to be £20 (around US $30 to $35) cheaper than the ND22 and even the ID41 (Atom D525 + Ion2), so quite a price saving there.

I'm now quite tempted to purchase the AD02. Hopefully the remaining HD video issues will be sorted out and included in the mainstream Linux distro releases in the near future.

Again, many thanks for the feedback.

Kind regards,

Adam.
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LB06 Offline
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I'd more than happily pay 20 quid to get a good experience. Read my sig.. Smile Of course it's possible that all of a sudden the situation will improve radically, but chances are slim, since ATI (even before AMD) has been making promises regarding Linux. After the take-over AMD reiterated its ongoing support for open source and the Linux platform, but problems still exist. Much more than with nvidia. Chances are that by the time AMD fixes its drivers your Zotac will be old and grey.

Regarding power consumption: yeah comparatively it's a big difference, but even if you let it run 24/7, the difference will only be around €6/£5 annually. Note that 27W is less than a regular light bulb uses. You can be much more environmentally friendly and cost concious by lowering the temperature by .2 degrees Celsius.
(This post was last modified: 2011-08-02 13:53 by LB06.)
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