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MSI E350IA-E45 AMD Brazos Fusion APU Platform Review

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Subject: Motherboards
Manufacturer: MSI
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The AMD Fusion Processors Arrive

The MSI E350IA-E45 mini-ITX motherboard is the first system to hit our test bench that integrates the AMD E-350 Fusion APU into a desktop-ready configuration. By combining great performance per watt with features like SATA 6.0 Gb/s and USB 3.0, the MSI motherboard would make a great contender for a new low cost home theater build. Does it stand out at all from the reference platform we saw last year though?Introduction

I have been looking forward to retail availability of the AMD Fusion APU based platforms since I first got hands on time with them back at GDC in 2010.  Since then I have gone to AMD's offices once or twice to sit down with marketing, engineers, designers and the hardware itself to really put it to the test and to get AMD's take on the platform, it's stance in the market and the company's goals against Intel.

Last November I was able to actually benchmark and test a reference system at AMD's Austin campus to get a preview of how the performance of Fusion-enabled notebooks and desktops panned out and the initial results were intriguing. 

 Unfortunately, our testing was done on the device you see above - hardly indicative of what end users will see in the market in either desktop or notebook form.  While the performance results were great to see as we were still a ways off from the official product release, I knew that getting retail motherboards like the MSI option we are testing today, were critical to put a final stamp on the both this series of APUs and the Fusion philosophy at AMD completely.

Also, we did have a short preview of a Toshiba C655D 15.6-in notebook last month with a full review pending using a single-core iteration of the platform.  Check that out if you are interested before continuing on with this review below.
 

The Brazos Platform and its many forms

What we keep referring to as the "Fusion APU platform" is a bit more complex than that.  Fusion is the term that AMD once used to refer to the idea of combining CPU and GPU components into a single product and die but they seemed to have moved away from that name in favor of individual product names and brands.  The issue is though, the Brazos platform that makes up the motherboards, SFF systems and notebooks we are going to be testing in the near term don't have a fancy name like Athlon or Opteron.  Instead, this is what we have:

  • Zacate (18w)
    • AMD E-350 with AMD Radeon HD 6310 Graphics 
      • 1.6 GHz dual-core
      • 80 stream processors
    • AMD E-240 with HD 6310 Graphics
      • 1.5 GHz single-core
      • 80 stream processors
  • Ontario (9w)
    • AMD C-50 with HD 6250 Graphics
      • 1.0 GHz dual-core
      • 80 stream processors
    • AMD C-30 with HD 6250 Graphics
      • 1.2 GHz single-core
      • 80 stream processors

The official branding of these APUs is the AMD E-series and C-series of processors; not very exciting.  The previous code names were Zacate and Ontario, the former referring to the 18-watt derivatives of the core while Ontario is the 9-watt version for the smallest form factors.  Both power steps of this chip have a dual-core and single-core option with clock speeds ranging from 1.0 GHz to 1.6 GHz.  All of them include 80 stream processors though they obviously run a bit slower on the Ontario option. 

The Brazos platform consists of one of the above processors and the AMD Hudson M1 chipset.  Connecting to the processors via UMI, the M1 controller hub includes support for four SATA 6G connections, 8 USB 2.0 ports, 8-channel audio, networking and more.  Most of the implementations we have seen thus far integrate USB 3.0 (but through an external chip) and Gigabit Ethernet through Realtek.

The CPU portion of the Zacate/Ontario core is based on the first new architecture to come from AMD since the introduction of the K7.  The "Bobcat" core is a low power, dual-issue, out-of-order architecture that puts an emphasis on power efficiency rather than just raw power and it shows with the dual-core version being offered in both 18w and 9w derivatives.
 

The GPU portion of the APU is based on the award winning architectures from AMD's desktop line of graphics cards, though scaled WAY down to meet power requirements.  The Radeon HD 6310 graphics core is the labeled used for the 18w APU SKU that combines 80 stream processors / 2 SIMDs running at 500 MHz each while the Radeon HD 6250 takes those some 80 stream processors down to 280 MHz.

All of that translates into a low power computing option that is aimed squarely at the wildly successful Intel Atom line seen in netbooks, small notebooks and SFF systems.  Our first official retail review will be of the MSI mini-ITX E350IA-E45 for users that want to build their own home theater or SFF system.  Let's see how the implementations of the Brazos platform actually look like.

 


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