HP Mini 311 First Test Results: Is Ion Worth It?

HP Mini 311It’s here, and it could redefine netbooks. The HP Mini 311, with Nvidia’s Ion LE graphics chip inside, arrived in our offices today. But how good is it?

(Update: We now have a full review of the HP Mini 311 with many more benchmarks.)

For months you’ve been hearing that Ion will improve graphics performance on mini-notebooks and offer better HD video playback, but now we have some hard data. We’re in the process of testing the Mini 311 for our full review, and the first test results are in. Let’s compare Ion’s scores to those of the average netbook with Intel’s graphics, as well as more expensive ultraportables powered by Intel’s ULV processor.

We started with PCMark 05, which measures overall application performance in Windows XP. The Mini 311 notched a score of 1,917 on PCMark05, which is almost 500 points above the current netbook average of 1,423. The highest netbook score we’ve ever seen in that test is 1697 for the Dell latitude 2100. Once we get in Ion netbooks that run Windows 7, we’ll do a direct comparison with ULV-based ultraportables using the PCMark Vantage benchmark.

The MIni 311 produced an even more impressive score in 3DMark06, which measures graphics performance: 1,386. That showing is over 1,200 points above the netbook average. The only netbook to beat this score was the ASUS N10Jc, and that had switchable Nvidia graphics. The only other system that comes close is 256 points away, the AMD-powered Gateway LT3103u.

Compared to ultraporable notebooks with Intel’s integrate graphics, the Mini 311’s 3DMark06 score trounces the Intel GMA 4500 graphics inside the MSI X340 (643) and ASUS UL30 (760). The Mini 311 is 501 points better than the overall ultraportable average. In fact, this system has an almost identical 3DMark06 score to the latest MacBook Air.

So what about high-def video playback? We tested the mettle of the Mini 311 by outputting a 1080p iTunes trailer (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs) via HDMI from the system to a 32-inch Samsung HDTV. The Ion-powered netbook held up well, delivering satisfactory detail and great color. We saw only some instances of motion blur, but the clip took 30 seconds to cue up. On the other hand, when we played the same 1080p clip on a Dell Mini Inspiron 10 with an HDMI port, the action stuttered so much that it looked like a slideshow.

Another area where Ion is supposed to shine is video editing. The typical netbook takes about a half hour to transcode a 114MB file from AVI to MPEG-4. Using vReveal, a program that can tap into Ion’s graphics muscle, the HP Mini 311 converted the same file in 6 minutes and 14 seconds. That’s approximately five times as fast. The average ultraportable notebook takes 14:16; so in this case Ion is more than twice as fast as ULV-based notebooks with Intel graphics.

So Ion vastly improves graphics performance and provides a boost to overall performance. But can Ion netbook handle gaming? We ran the Far Cry 2 benchmark on the Mini 311, something we don’t even bother to do on netbooks. With the resolution set to 1024 x 768, the machine averaged 12 frames per second. That’s 4 fps above the ultraportable average and well above the ULV dual-core ASUS UL30 and Aspire Timeline 3810T (5 and 3 fps respectively).  Unfortunately the benchmark wasn’t able to complete the test at the native resolution of 1366 x 768.

Now, 12 fps is far from stellar (frame rates in the high 20s and above is considered playable) but Ion should provide better performance in mainstream games like Spore and even Call of Duty 4. Stay tuned for full results.

Based on our early tests, the addition of Nvidia’s Ion graphics processor to the Atom CPU in netbooks makes a big difference. In fact, this GPU could upend the category.  However, we’re withholding judgment until we get the Mini 311’s battery test results. Ion’s performance gains won’t be nearly as exciting if you have to make too big a sacrifice in endurance.

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  1. Hong Cho Says:

    Intel dual core CULV + nVidia GeForce 9400M (Ion) could be very, very nice. Intel allowing it is a totally different matter, though…

  2. leon Says:

    hurry and test the battery with windows 7!

  3. WoWFan Says:

    Please test World of Warcraft on this netbook please.

    Thanks!

  4. JAKE Says:

    I hope they release something like.. atom + ion + 2gb mem + touchscreen + 32gb ssd + 6hr -ish battery + windows7 home premium + $500 price = WINNER for me

  5. xspeed Says:

    Yes please WOW test would be great

  6. Neil Says:

    Please see if the ram is upgradable, people have mixed reviews about it being what the max amount of RAM is.

  7. Love HP Netbook Says:

    All the performance numbers coming out seem to be solid but…given the price tag I wonder if you’d be better off just getting a laptop.

  8. Darwin Says:

    The latest Mac Book Air is not $1999.00 One model is $1799 and the other is $1499.00. They can both be had for about $100 less if you look around. Comparing this to a MacBook Air makes no sense for any other reasons.

  9. Darwin Says:

    I see you are also comparing it to the Air from two years ago. A lot has changed since then. Try harder.

  10. Matt Says:

    Can’t wait for further info, especially battery life. I’m currently in the market for a netbook, and I’m holding out that this will be the one for me. Hopefully the battery life is up to par.

  11. Neil Says:

    btw whats the clock rates on the nvidia ion?

  12. Felip Says:

    It would be interesting to see at what point is the slow processor limiting gaming performance, so comparing gaming benchmarks with other laptops sporting the 9400M G but Core 2 Duo processors (such as the Macbook Pro or Dell Studio XPS 13) would be very useful.

  13. Xavier Lanier Says:

    I’ve had a chance to play with the Mini 311 and can assure you it runs Call of Duty 4 on low settings just fine.

  14. Savin Says:

    If it runs Farcry2 at 12FPS, then WoW test is pointless. My netbook (Asus AspireONE) runs WoW at about 15FPS at best. It runs Team Fortress 2 on lowest setting at abotu 0.5FPS, and refuses to load up most games that are less than 3 years old.
    The price tag is a little steep, but it will probably drop like a rock by middle of next year. ION will make life much different for many of us.
    I for one would jump on this thing once the price drop a bit, since normal netbook can’t handle any kind of scientific calculations (mine stutters really badly when I analyze my experiments on Excel, let alone trying to use a CAD program).

  15. John Says:

    All sounds very promising, but doesn’t get over the fact this unit sports only a combo audio jack.
    But for that deficiency, it would have been my next computer purchase.

  16. MMOOpti Says:

    Please, please, please test AION: Tower of Eternity on this.
    This would be a sure buy for me, if it could handle AION at native resolution, even if on low setting, at playable framerates.

    Thanks in advance

  17. JM Says:

    I would really see a back to back against the Gateway LT3103u and the HP DV2 Dual Neo X2 with the ATI HD3410 video card. I am excited by your results, but it looks like this is just a pumped up Flash and video media player. Casual gaming to me is a necessity, as long as it can handle WoW or Aion, then it will join my laptop/netbook arsenal.

  18. Bob Says:

    I can’t wait for AMD 2nd Gen UThin platforms with RS780 to come out. If an RS690 is close to 9400M, how big the gap will be with RS780; some reviews have seen 2 to 3 TIMES graphics improvement.

  19. Van Lim Says:

    AFAIK vReveal is a video enhancement software, so maybe you are talking about Badaboom, the CUDA enable video encoder?

  20. push Says:

    yeah! please test World of Warcraft

  21. K. T. Bradford Says:

    Darwin – actually, we compared it to the most recent MacBook Air. I think a wrong link may have snuck in, but click it now, you’ll see the 2009 test results.

  22. MikeP Says:

    Van Lim – We use vReveal, which, as you correctly state, is video enhancement software. However, we bypass the enhancement feature, and just go right to “Share,” which lets us easily transcode the file at the same resolution.

  23. grozza Says:

    based on system requiremets for wow and aion both are easily playable
    on this machine.there is ion and ion le(oem only I understand),the latter only supporting dx9 which
    is enough for these games anyways.ion gpu is geforce 9400…
    http://www.nvidia.com/object/picoatom_specifications.html
    once these ion systems start rolling out now you may want to
    check offcourse which version you have if you are buying
    a system with win7 since dx10 may make a little difference there
    hopefully this helps you guys.
    how about call of duty…check here
    http://www.liliputing.com/2009/09/hp-mini-311-plays-call-of-duty-4-video.html

  24. K. T. Bradford Says:

    The full review is up! Per your requests, we tested some other games like World of Warcraft and Spore. Check it out.

    Also, the price showing for the MacBook Air earlier was probably the latest price from one of our partners. You can often find lower prices for tech if you look around, of course!

  25. Mot Says:

    “Motion blur”?? What are you talking about? If the system is fast enough it will play the video smoothly; if not, it will stutter. There is no “motion blur” between those two options.

    Instead of publishing nonsense subjective opinions, open up Task Manager and look at the CPU utilization while playing HD YouTube content. Does it ever go to 100%? If so, the platform is not suitable for playing HD Flash content.

  26. zonker Says:

    Will it run SketchUp?

  27. Tom Inosanto Says:

    Could you please run Team Fortress 2 or Left 4 Dead on here? This would be the perfect portable solution for gaming on the go for many of us.

  28. Dre Says:

    Can’t wait to see the battery result. Hopefully, it doesn’t eat up the battery by 50%.

  29. Smidgen PC Says:

    I just read the battery life results on the full review. 5 hours and 43 minutes. I can’t decide if that is good or bad. On the one hand it is quite a bit less than what top-class netbooks offer these days. On the other it is still way more than most people will need in one sitting.

    The other thing is…the test is done web surfing, or so the review says. What happens to battery life when doing something that uses the GPU, however? I bet that reduces it.

  30. Edward Says:

    Mini 311 results check the battery. Available full 5 hours 43 minutes. Considered a good one.

  31. Rick Says:

    I bought one. The 1080p claims are completely false. It can not play 1080p with any combination of player/drive I have tried. Shows about 1 frame per 10seconds. Of course I installed the latest Ion and Flash 10.1 drivers; no difference. I feel really ripped off by hp; I feel I’ve been lied to. My trust in hp is broken, and I’m returning the hp after paying international shipping both ways : (

  32. sean Says:

    i love the hp mini 311 but sadly the cheapness of the atom cpu is a slap in the face and major bottleneck for the ion if i was nvidia i would of been pissed

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