AMD’s new platform for the low-power computing segment, the Fusion was announced at CES this year and products based on the new Brazos platform are already coming out. We’ve received two solutions, one from MSI called the E350IA-E345 and the Gigabyte GA-E350N-USB3, which we’ll be reviewing today.
New platform, first of the many choices to come
For those who haven't heard of the Fusion, the processors aren’t designed to take on the 6-core Phenom II processors, but they’re geared at UMPCs, low-power desktops and netbooks. Both the motherboards we’ve received use the AMD E-Series 350 APU. AMD is calling the new processors Accelerated Processors or APUs. The E-350 runs at 1.6 GHz and runs two Bobcat cores. Like the Intel Atoms, they’re sold as a solution – processor and board with cooling.
The Gigabyte E350N-USB3 board is a mini-ITX board with the trademark blue coloured PCB. There’s a hefty heatsink and fan seated on top of the processor, which seems overkill for a low-power processor such as this. Features such as SATA 3 and USB 3.0 are a nice change from other low-power platforms we’ve seen in the past which are usually limited in some way or the other. Space is a constraint but a PCI-E x16 sized slot has been squeezed into it but sadly, it only functions as a PCI-E x4 slot. Users shouldn't be setting up high-performance PCI-E x16 cards anyway as the low-power APU would be quite limited as far as performance for high-end gaming card is concerned.
Plenty of connectivity options
External connectivity options are plentiful as well. Apart from the D-Sub and DVI ports for video, there’s also a HDMI port which is handy for HTPCs, something this board is likely to be used for.
Design and layout
The mini-ITX format doesn’t leave a lot of space to play with, so the end result is a pretty cramped board. All the space has been efficiently used with the 24-pin power connector lining one side of the board and the two DDR3 memory slots placed close to it.
PCIe x4 slot
The PCI-Express slot is left out of the way of the RAM slots and the SATA ports too are placed above the PCI-E slot so there's no mess with the card blocking the slots. In terms of expansion, there’s no space to add more than a single card, which most likely will either be a high-quality audio card or an internal WiFi adapter. The board uses solid state capacitors and Gigabyte brands this board as an Ultra Durable 3 board, something common on some of their higher-end boards.
In terms of performance, the Brazos platform does fairly well for its power requirements. Cinebench rendering scores were double that of netbooks on Intel’s Atom, we noticed. Although not a fair comparison, it still gives some idea of the kind of performance one can expect from the Brazos platform and Fusion APUs. The same performance can be seen through the video encoding tests as well as the WinRAR file compression tests. It’s obvious that its way behind any of the high-performance processors so don’t expect to be doing 3d modeling or playing games on this kind of setup.
Massive heatsink on a tiny board
A quick run of 1080p clip in Media Player Classic Home Cinema with DXVA enabled ran flawlessly. The CPU utilisation didn't cross 25 per cent with the video running. The performance in HD playback makes it ideal for an HTPC setup. Temperatures were very low during the tests as well.
The new Fusion APU is an improvement over previous low-power processors but the platform itself comes across as a much more feature-rich product. Features such as SATA 3 and USB 3 are not common on low-power, somewhat affordable boards. The PCIe x4 slot is our only little complaint about this platform. The mini-ITX platform has been home to other chipsets in the past but few have brought decent graphics performance to the table. Anyone looking for a cheap HTPC solution would normally have to spend on a good motherboard, then buy an equally expensive processor and then the rest of the package - a cabinet, RAM, hard drive, etc. Priced at Rs. 8,900, it's not as cheap as Intel's platform offerings for the segment. NVIDIA’s Ion platform partly worked well in the mini-ITX format but with the Brazos platform entering the market, there’s more choice for sure and the Gigabyte GA-E350N-USB3 your best. Stick around for the MSI E350IA-E345 review in the days to come.