Video Decode Capabilities: Is Brazos the New ION?

While Atom may have been the right product at the right time, it was a very conservative architecture paired with a very conservative platform. For netbooks and nettops Intel chose to assume no risk at all, pairing Atom with the proven 945 chipset. As a result, it left a lot of room for innovation - something NVIDIA saw and capitalized on with ION.

While VIA created the mini-ITX form factor, it was really NVIDIA that made it interesting. The first mini-ITX ION platforms gave you almost everything you needed to build a fully capable HTPC. For video playback, with NVIDIA’s GPU (or at least its fixed function decode pipeline) doing the heavy lifting, the fact that you had an anemic Atom a couple centimeters away didn’t matter. The problem with ION is that it had no future. Without a DMI license, NVIDIA would not be able to build future versions of ION for Atom’s successors. Even after the settlement it’s unlikely we will ever see modern versions of ION, especially considering that Intel’s 2011 Atom platform (Cedar Trail) will finally integrate H.264 decode acceleration in Q4.

Where Intel is conservative, AMD will innovate. Brazos adds a number of advantages from a media standpoint over Atom. There’s native HDMI support and a full implementation of AMD’s UVD3 decode engine supporting hardware H.264, VC-1 and MPEG-2 acceleration. Although both of these advantages are also enjoyed by ION the next feature isn’t. Brazos supports Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD MA bitstreaming over HDMI. From a feature standpoint, Brazos is even more complete than ION.

I ran MSI’s Brazos board through our Media Streaming compatibility suite. Below is Brazos’ compatibility score compared to the other devices and HTPCs we’ve put through the suite:

AnandTech Media Streamer Suite

Failed Tests

- 1080p60 60 fps L5.1 H.264
- L5.1 H.264 (16 reference frames)
- FLAC, ASS Subs - High CPU Utilization
- HD Real Media
- Deinterlacing

Numerically, Brazos actually falls behind ION. Allow me to explain why. Our Media Streaming suite tests virtually everything you might throw at a HTPC. When it comes to the most commonly found content, Brazos excels. It can handle Blu-ray discs (although there’s no Blu-ray 3D support), it can deal with 1080p x264s commonly found online and it even accelerates Flash video (more on this later). Brazos’ UVD3 however is tied to clock speed, and the GPU clock of the Radeon HD 6310 is pretty low at 500MHz. As a result, Brazos fails certain tests. The platform is incapable of accelerating and playing back 1080p60 H.264 video. Very little content falls into this category, however if you want to play it you can’t on Brazos. The good news is 1080i60 works just fine.

Brazos’ GPU also fails all of our deinterlacing tests, something we noticed in reviews of AMD’s entry level GPUs. The higher end models don’t have an issue here but the lesser equipped models do. Again, chances are that you won’t want to watch interlaced content on your Brazos HTPC so this is likely not a big issue.

The other shortcomings are videos with components that aren’t accelerated by UVD3. For example, HD Real Video chugs on Brazos as does our heavy FLAC + ASS subs test. If you’re playing non-3D Blu-ray content or 1080p24 x264s you find on the web, Brazos will easily fit the bill. It’s the more eccentric content that you’ll run into CPU limitations with.

Since the Radeon HD 6310 is derived from AMD’s desktop GPUs we get full 23.976 fps support when you select 23Hz in AMD’s Catalyst driver:

Selecting 24Hz yields a 24.000Hz refresh rate.

As I mentioned earlier bitstreaming both TrueHD and DTS-HD MA are supported over HDMI:

The Price: Around $100, The Motherboard: MSI's E350IA-E45 Blu-ray & Flash Video Acceleration
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  • ocre - Friday, January 28, 2011 - link

    hahaha, You need to educate yourself a little more on the advantages/disadvantages of both the x86 and ARM architectures before you go around posting ignorant statements like these. If we assumed your statement: is true: "E-350 has roughly 5 times the performance of Tegra 2" it would still be nothing to brag on becaue the same tegra 2 uses 7-9 times less energy than the E-350. This makes a mere 5 time performance a joke.

    But on top of that, there is no good reasonable way to conclude where these architectures rate towards one another. The software is radically different. There is not enough to go on for any useful conclusion and what little we do have is subject to a very special cases where there is SW that in the end results to similar obtained data. But the entire process is different and while we know the x86 is pretty well optimized, any ARM based counter SW is in its beginnings. X86 has the luxury of optimizations, ARM will only get better when SW engineers find better ways to utilize the system. But this is considering an actual case where there is SW similar enough to even reasonably attempt to measure x86 vs ARM performance. For the most part there the SW of each architecture is so radically different. ARM is extremely good at some things and not so good at others and this doesnt mean it cant be good, in some cases the SW just hasnt matured yet. All this matters little cause at the end of the day, everyone can see that the exact opposite from your statement; The superiority of ARM is just unmatched by x86 when it comes to performance per watt. This is undisputed and x86 has a long long way to go to catch up with arm (and many think it never will). Alls Arm has to do is actually build 18w CPUs, they will be 3 to 4 times more powerful than the e-350 based on the current ARM architecture.
    Reply
  • jollyjugg - Friday, January 28, 2011 - link

    Well your last statement is simply laughable. Because all we have from ARM right now is chips which run in smartphones and tablets. ARM based processors are not exactly known for their performance as much as their power. While it is true that performance/watt is great in ARM today, it also true as any modern microprocessor designer would say that, as you go up the performance chain (by throwing more hardware and getting more giga Hz and other tweaks like wider issue and out of order etc), the mileage you get out of the machine improves so does the drop in performance/watt. There are no free lunches here. I doubt a good performance ARM architecture will be a whole lot different that an x86 architecure. While the lower power is an achilles heal for x86 as is the performance an achilles heal for ARM. You mentioned software maturity. It is laughable to even mention this in this cut throat industry. Intel showed its superiority over AMD by tweaking the free x86 compiler it gave away to developers to suit its x86 architecture compared to its rival and the users got cheated until European commision exposed Intel. So dont even talk about software maturity. The incumbant always has the advantage. ARM first has to kill Intel's OEM muscle and marketing muscle before it can start dominating. Even if it did the former two, there is something it can never do, which is matching intel's manufacturing muscle. Intel by far is way better than even the largest contract manufacturer TSMC whose only task is to manufacture. Reply
  • Shadowmaster625 - Monday, January 31, 2011 - link

    Nonsense. ARM is more optimized that x86. x86 code is always sloppy, because it has always been designed without having to deal with RAM, ROM, and clock constraints. When you code for an ARM device, you are presented with limits that most software engineers never even faced when writing x86 code. When writing software for Windows, 99.9% of developers will tell you they never even think about the amount of RAM they are using. For ARM it was probably 80% 10 years ago. Today it is probably less than 20% of ARM software engineers who would tell you they run into RAM and ROM limitations. With all this smartphone development going on today, ARM devices are getting more sloppy, but still nowhere near as bad as x86. Reply
  • Shadowmaster625 - Monday, January 31, 2011 - link

    Best buy is still littered with them. Literally. Littered. Reply
  • e36Jeff - Thursday, January 27, 2011 - link

    what review were you reading? The only bug that is actually mentioned is the issue with flash, which AMD and Adobe are both aware of and should be fixed in the next iteration of flash. Stop seeing anything from AMD as bad and Intel as good. For where AMD wants this product to compete, this is a fantastic product that Intel has very little to compete with now that they locked out Nvidia from another Ion platform. Reply
  • codedivine - Thursday, January 27, 2011 - link

    Ok one last question. Is it possible to run your VS2008 benchmark on it? Will be appreciated, thanks. Reply
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Thursday, January 27, 2011 - link

    Running it now, will update with the results :)

    Take care,
    Anand
    Reply
  • Malih - Sunday, January 30, 2011 - link

    I'm with you on this.

    I'm thinking about buying a netbook and may be a couple net tops with E-350, which will mostly be used to code websites, may be some other dev that require IDE (Eclipse, Visual Studio and so on).
    Reply
  • micksh - Thursday, January 27, 2011 - link

    how can it be that "1080i60 works just fine" when it failed all deinterlacing tests? Reply
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Thursday, January 27, 2011 - link

    It failed the quality tests but it can physically decode the video at full frame rate :)

    Take care,
    Anand
    Reply

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