With the ASRock just about holding its own in the cooling department, we threw a few simple tasks its way. First up is Flash performance. We thought we'd take a look at Adobe's recent Flash 10.1 preview, which is supposed to offload work from the CPU to the GPU. Ion is included here and given that BBC iPlayer, YouTube and Flash games stutter nearly as badly as a £20 graphics card trying to play Crysis on other Intel Atom equipped net-tops we've tried, any kind of performance increase would be welcome.

The current version available from the downloads section on the Adobe Flash website is, however the 10.1 preview with GPU acceleration is specifically available from here. To see if the GPU accelerated version did indeed accelerate things we fired up BBC iPlayer in Internet Explorer 8. We loaded the HD version of the BBC's latest Life documentary and allowed it to buffer to ensure the internet connection wasn't the limiting factor.

With Flash installed, playback was a hideous slideshow. CPU usage spent most of its time in the 80 percent range and spiked up to 100 percent. It was unwatchable. We uninstalled that version and slapped on the shiny new 10.1 version, before heading back to the iPlayer website to try again. Playback was silky smooth, as if we'd somehow managed a godlike bit of soldering and wired up a Core i5 in the Atom's place.

ASRock ION 330HT-BD Net-top Review Performance ASRock ION 330HT-BD Net-top Review Performance
Flash on the left shows considerable CPU usage whilst Flash 10.1 on the right sees this dramatically reduced whilst watching the same scene

Unfortunately we hadn't (just as well with the 30mm fan for cooling) but the CPU usage had dropped from in the region of 80 percent to less than 20 percent. This is fantastic news and means one of the main quandaries of Atom based systems has been well and truly laid to rest with a monumental performance boost. If you have a compatible GPU that is.

ASRock ION 330HT-BD Net-top Review Performance ASRock ION 330HT-BD Net-top Review Performance
Click to enlarge

Blu-ray playback was also flawless. We tested it at 1080p in Windows Media Player 11, focussing on performance with and without DXVA. The difference here was much less marked than with Flash, but playback with DXVA enabled was a little smoother and used 10-20 percent less CPU power. This opens up a whole new set of possibilities for net-tops, as with Ion, HD playback should no longer be an issue. Sadly, unless you can cope with the discernible whine of the 30mm fan, the ASRock isn't ideal as a HTPC.

While 2D Flash gaming shouldn't be too much of an issue (now), don't expect Ion to do the same for 3D games. Simple 3D games such as Trackmania are as good as you'll get and we had to reduce the resolution on our 1,920 x 1,080 monitor slightly to 1,400 x 900 to get playable frame rates at normal quality settings. That's really not that bad but it's not going to play modern titles such as Modern Warfare 2 and clearly the benchmark Crysis is out of the question, but then neither would the kind of PC it's designed to replace.
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