Atomization of bismuth hydride in a 17 W planar quartz dielectric barrier discharge (DBD) atomizer was optimized and the performance of this device compared to that of a conventional quartz tube atomizer (QTA) for atomic absorption spectrometry (AAS). Modification of the inner surface of the DBD atomizer using dimethyldichlorsilane (DMDCS) was essential since it improved sensitivity by a factor of 2-4. Argon, at a flow rate of 125 mL min-1, was the best DBD discharge gas. Free Bi atoms were also observed in the DBD with nitrogen, hydrogen, and helium discharge gases but not in air. The detection limit for Bi (1.1 ng mL-1) is worse than with the QTA (0.16 ng mL-1 Bi). A poorer detection limit compared to a QTA is a consequence of the shorter optical path of the DBD. Moreover, the lower atomization efficiency and/or faster decay of free atoms in the DBD has to be considered. The performance of the DBD as an atomizer reflects both effects, i.e., atomization efficiency and free atom decay, was estimated to be 65% of that of the externally heated quartz tube atomizer. Nevertheless, this hydride generation DBD-AAS approach can be used for the routine determination of Bi, providing repeatability and accuracy comparable to that reached with a QTA, as demonstrated by analysis of NIST SRM 1643e (trace elements in water). The potential of in-atomizer preconcentration in a DBD atomizer is outlined.