A few days back, we reviewed the Gigabyte Brazos platform - the E350N-USB3, found it to be pretty good and an ideal solution as an HTPC board. MSI is another popular vendor in India which has started selling Brazos boards as well. Their E350IA-E45 model is next in line for review.
MSI's Brazos offering
As the model name suggest, the MSI E350IA-E45 is also powered by the same AMD E-Series 350 APU and the AMD Hudson controller, which means integrated USB 3.0 support thanks to the Renesas-NEC collaboration with AMD. Let's see if it's any better than the Gigabyte.
The MSI E350IA-E45 like the Gigabyte E350N-USB3 is a mini-ITX format board. Most of the features are identical to the Gigabyte E350N-USB3 board.
Missing DVI port at the back of the MSI E350IA-E45
It has the same number of memory slots, the same number of SATA3 ports, USB3 ports and also the single PCI x4 slot. The MSI has more USB2 ports though. There are few visible differences, one being the ALC887 audio chipset in place of the ALC892 used on the Gigabyte board. There’s also a SPDIF connector present but a DVI connection missing on the MSI E350IA-E45.
A small cooling solution is all the E350 needs
Design and layout
The smaller cooler means that the MSI E350IA-E45 is a little more spacious and looks less crowded, none of which is advantageous since you won’t be plugging lots of RAM or addon cards such as graphics cards and sound cards in. The SATA ports are placed above the PCIe slot, just like on the Gigabyte E350N-USB3.
CMOS battery stuck to the back of the rear panel
One somewhat awkward detail we noticed was that the CMOS battery that’s typically mounted horizontally or vertically on the board itself, was stuck to the back of the back panel ports using a two-sided adhesive pad and connected to the board using a small cable. Awkward, it may be but it's functional.
With the core components being pretty much identical, we noticed performance numbers matched those of the Gigabyte E350N-USB3. The MSI E350IA-E45 board was slower by a tiny bit in some CPU intensive tests and memory benchmarks. CPU utilization during HD 1080p video playback was also similar to the Gigabyte, not crossing 25 per cent in every scenario. To sum up the performance numbers, we reiterate that the performance of the Brazos platform is great for desktop applications, playing HD video clips but really lacking for things like 3d modeling and graphics intensive applications.
The MSI E350IA-E45 doesn’t bring a lot more to the table than the Gigabyte board. The missing DVI port might be an issue for those using LCD monitors with no HDMI port. In terms of performance too, there’s little differentiating them. The only tangible difference that might help make the buying decision easier is the price. The MSI E350IA-E45 is priced at Rs. 7,800, which is a whole Rs. 1,100 less than the Gigabyte E350N-USB3. For the very same performance and a few feature differences, the MSI E350IA-E45 makes very good sense if you are building a basic HTPC for your home.