The Intel Atom N2600 CPU with built-in GMA 3600 graphics belongs to this year’s Cedar Trail family of processors for netbooks. These latest netbook chips bring several new features and improvements over the previous Pine Trail generation. The new features include hardware-based decoding of 1080p videos, HDMI, and USB 3.0 version support, while enhancements are transition to the more efficient 32nm production process from 45nm, delivering longer battery life, less heat, and better performance.
The clock speed of the CPU cores on the N2600 is 1.6GHz and core count is 2. Hyper-Threading technology enables a total of 4 computing threads. The 64-bit CPU has 1MB of L2 cache, and power consumption of the processor is 3.5W. The on-die integrated Intel GMA 3600 graphics is clocked at 400MHz, up from 200MHz in the previous GMA 3150 series.
We will see how good the Atom N2600 in terms of performance is in this review. I have used the recently reviewed 10.1″ Acer Aspire One AOD270 with 2GB of RAM, a 320GB 5,400rpm hard drive, and Windows 7 Starter.
Other available netbooks with the N2600 currently are the Asus Eee PC 1025C, X101CH and 1011CX, HP Mini 210-4000 and Mini 1104, as well as the MSI Wind U180.
Intel Atom N2600 CPU Performance
In real life use for productivity and web browsing purposes, the N2600 doesn’t bring any noticeable improvement over the old Atom N570, like the chart below shows. The Cedar Trail chip has a minor lead over the N570 and is slightly slower than the AMD E-450, but has a clear lead over the AMD C-60, used in many 10-inch netbooks. The budget Intel CPUs for full-size laptops – the Celeron B800 and Pentium B950 – are much faster and that difference is noticeable in everyday use.
You can find other CPU benchmark results in the gallery at the end of this review.
Intel GMA 3600 Gaming Benchmarks
When it comes to gaming performance, I can describe improvement of the Intel Atom netbook graphics from unusable on the Atom N570 / GMA 3150 and other older parts to barely usable on the N2600 / GMA 3600. You can see in the video below that you can run for example Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare or F.E.A.R. 2 on the lowest possible settings and the lowest resolution of 640×480 with frame rates around 10 fps. During the tests, I’ve experienced screen flickering in F.E.A.R. 2 and Half Life 2: Lost Coast, which I also benchmarked. Another weird thing was bad Half Life 2 performance, with only about 10fps frame rates delivered. I’ve expected this older game to perform better, because it’s not so demanding, but there were obviously some driver or other issues which caused low frame rates. In addition, due to lack of support for DirectX above version 9, I wasn’t able to run DX10/DX11 game Just Cause 2 and 3D Mark Vantage benchmark.
Anyway, PassMark 3D graphics benchmark shows the GMA 3600 is faster than the GMA 3150, but much slower than AMD’s Fusion E-series integrated graphics or Intel HD IGPs on the Celeron and Pentium.
1080p Video Test
Full HD 1080p video playback is an area where the N2600 shines. After the first benchmarks which appeared a couple of months ago, there were negative reports about the CPU not being able to hardware-decode 1080p Youtube videos, due to lack of Flash support for the chip. With the latest Flash version and GMA drivers installed, the tested netbook was almost perfectly capable to decode 1080p Youtube clips. There were some dropped frames here and there, but the played Transformers trailer in full HD appeared very fluid. You can see that in the video below.
The CPU usage of the Chrome browser used for the playback was about 30% and the same percentage of CPU load was used by Windows Media Player during a 1080p video playback from the HDD.
Intel Atom N2600 / GMA 3600 Review Conclusion
As you can see from the benchmark results, the reviewed Intel Atom N2600 isn’t a revolutionary netbook processor. It does provide some better computing speed and gaming, but it’s still far behind full-power laptop CPUs. However, thanks to the N2600 (and also similar 1.83GHz N2800), the 2012 netbooks are fully capable to play full HD videos. Something maybe more important than gaming and raw CPU performance on netbooks is battery life and our review of the Acer Aspire One with the N2600 shows that the new Atom chip is very power efficient, enabling excellent battery life of between 5.5 and 7.5 hours with a 6-cell battery. That’s something that many older Atom or AMD-based netbooks aren’t capable of and due to highly mobile nature of netbook computers that is a big plus for Intel.
In the gallery below, you can find screen shots of all benchmarks we done on the netbook, including Windows Experience Index, PassMark, 3D Mark 06, PC Mark Vantage, and GeekBench.