Despite what you could buy many years ago for more than a thousand dollars, you can now get the same performance in a motherboard/CPU combo for under $200.  But at present, with your dual core 1.6 GHz chip, there's WiFi, SATA 6 Gbps, somewhat capable onboard graphics, DDR3 support and potentially USB 3.0.  Today, we're entering the realm of Hudson-M1: the Fusion E-350 domain.  For this review we look at three very different mini-ITX Fusion E-350 boards on the market, from the expensive but completely passive ASUS E35M1-I Deluxe, the cheaper but still jam packed ECS HDC-I, and the SO-DIMM equipped Zotac FUSION350-A-E.

The Hudson-M1/A50M sits in the market like a half-way house: no serious grunt in terms of modern CPUs, but comes with all the modern bells and whistles the consumer expects in a low power format.  This is why we're seeing a significant number of HTPCs entering the market based on the platform - I saw several at Computex this year being demonstrated.  However, the big question is - do people want it, and what board should I suggest?

As I've mentioned before, I love performance.  Seeing that number go higher and higher gives me a buzz, even at the expense of power, temperature and cost.  So I apologise off the bat if anything sounds skewed in this article - but I'm rating these boards on the qualities I think every motherboard should have - it should be in the upper echelons of performance, lots of extras that are well deserved rather than just fluff, good software support (if any), aggressively priced, and a sufficient warranty.  After looking at these boards, I can certainly see where some are achieving, and some are falling down.

In terms of where Hudson-M1 sits in the grand scheme of things, let's go through a table of important points against its bigger brother, the Hudson-D3, and Pine Trail (Atom + NM10):

  Hudson-M1 Hudson-D3 Pine Trail
Processors Ontario/Zacate Llano Atom
SATA 6 Gbps + 3 Gbps 6 + 0 6 + 0 0 + 2
USB 3.0 + 2.0 + 1.1 0 + 14 + 2 4 + 10 + 2 0 + 8 + 0
Ethernet 10/100 10/100/1000 10/100
RAID No 0, 1, 10 No
PCIe 4 x PCIe 2.0 16 x PCIe 2.0 4 x PCIe 1.1
PCI No Up to 3 Up to 2
Chipset TDP 4.7 W 7.8 W 2.1 W
Processor TDP 9 - 18 W 35 - 100 W 8.5 - 13 W
Memory Support DDR3-1066 DDR3-1866 DDR3-800
Audio 7.1 7.1 7.1

Obviously it looks like Hudson-M1 sits somewhere in the middle - not small enough for the ultra-extreme in terms of power draw, yet not a fully fledged desktop platform.  You might be thinking in terms of NAS, but there's no RAID support.  There's possibly the HTPC route, assuming it conquers all the tasks consumers want to throw at it, but we've only got gigabit Ethernet and USB 3.0 via a third party controller.  We have the option for discrete graphics, but at only 4 lanes PCIe 2.0, I've got results show that even attaching a GTX 580 merely results in a crippled discrete graphics option which takes up more volume than the motherboard.

AMD are also trying to go down the green route, as my search on information regarding their own take on their products led to a 10-page analysis of the Fusion topology carbon footprint versus the 'Nile' platform (Athlon Neo Dual Core + SB820 + RS880M + HD5430).  You can read the whole story here, and it's worth an insight, even if it is AMD spouting AMD potential.

In terms of what is on the market, there's quite a range a user can select from at a wide range of prices - $100 to $175 for the motherboard + CPU combos, $220-$250 for barebones systems, or $320 for a nettop PC with 2 GB of memory and a 320 GB hard drive.  Today, I'm testing three of the motherboard + CPU combos:

At the high end of this review, we have the ASUS E35M1-I Deluxe which comes in at $175 and has won plenty of awards for having all the bells and whistles.  Sitting in the middle is the Zotac FUSION350-A-E, which was initially at $160 but at time of writing is $145 or $125 with a rebate, which like the ASUS is a completely passive solution, but Zotac are known for filling a mini-ITX board with everything, so that should be exciting.  Also at hand is the ECS HDC-I at $125, which while not passive, has a few tricks up its sleeve worth mentioning.  Let the games begin!

ASUS E35M1-I Deluxe: Overview and Visual Inspection
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  • andymcca - Friday, July 15, 2011 - link

    My bad, missed this on page 11 during my first read-through. Reply
  • tvarad - Friday, July 15, 2011 - link

    Ian,
    I understand your compulsions, but it's like taking a Smart, testing it like a Ferrari and then critiquing it. That's not quite what AMD had in mind on how it intended the board to be used (I own Intel stock, so this is not about taking sides). I have the Asus board and I am using it with a tiny brick that puts out about 47W and powers a Pico-psu 120W 12V-25V wide input range power supply. It's function is as a HTPC/Video Server, hence I have just a 2TB WD HD attached to it, with an external removable media drive. With 2GB Gskill Eco Ram and a 140MM fan, it never goes above 40W when booting up and idles at around 22-23W. With 1080P mkv content play, the consumption goes upto about 30W. I don't plan to overclock it. I'll go out on a limb and say that my rig is more representative of how the board will be used in the real world.

    BTW, the square thingies on the pico-psu (at least the model I'm using) jut out onto the second dimm slot rendering it useless. Something you may want to watch out for.
    Reply
  • triclops41 - Thursday, July 14, 2011 - link

    Easy there, Finally,

    There are things to criticize about this review on benchmarks chosen or other technical details, but I have not seen any pro atom or anti brazos bias by Ian, or anyone else at Anandtech. Maybe some bias towards synthetic benchmarks, that Intel often wins, but that has more to do with the constraints of hardware reviews, not allegiance to some producer.
    Reply
  • Finally - Tuesday, July 26, 2011 - link

    Well said. I still really wonder, why there are so many encoding benchmarks here. After all - how many people actually do encode videos? I've never done so my whole life and don't intend starting to. The funny thing is that these are usually the benchmarks where the press is deriving their ridiculous high speed advantages of new Intel CPUs from...
    If someone came along and said that this "advantage" is completely lost on them, those CPUs wouldn't be that great, because real world game fps are almost always very close to each other...
    Reply
  • corporategoon - Thursday, July 14, 2011 - link

    I don't really have any comments on the benchmarks or thoroughness or balance of this article (seems fine to me) but this is one of the most poorly-written articles I've ever seen on AnandTech. Anand has a serious problem with sentence fragments but most articles that appear on the site are reasonably well-written. The opening paragraph is borderline unreadable. Reply
  • new-paradigm - Thursday, July 14, 2011 - link

    Ok, I may be being dense, but I cant seem to find if any of these boards offer video and sound through the HDMI port? Reply
  • jrs77 - Thursday, July 14, 2011 - link

    I've got two miniITX Atom boards. A Zotac IONITX A-E and an ASUS AT3IONT-I Deluxe (both sporting an onboard PSU with a 90Watt powerbrick !!!). Both of them do work like a charm and I'm even capable of playing MMOs (EvE Online) on them in low settings. They draw some 35 Watt from the plug in the wall under load.

    So why there's no comparison to the Atom-ION boards as they're the direct competition and on the market for a few years now allready?
    Reply
  • stmok - Friday, July 15, 2011 - link

    While the overall article is OK, it just doesn't have that usefulness of your typical Anandtech article in some areas that make it stand out.

    For example:

    Why did you not include the ECS solution alongside the ASUS one for the overclock part on page 15?

    => http://www.anandtech.com/show/4499/fusion-e350-rev...

    What about assessing noise?
    => Sure, you have the two passive mobos, but how loud/quiet was that fan cooled one?
    Reply
  • futurepastnow - Friday, July 15, 2011 - link

    Looks like the big heatsink ASUS uses is mostly for show since the much smaller one on the Zotac board puts it to shame. Reply
  • beginner99 - Friday, July 15, 2011 - link

    ... of bobcat. In the forums you can read it having trouble with 1080p sometimes especially flash. Not ideal for a htpc. The GPU part is mostly useless for a HTPC or NAS. Also these mini-ITX boards are pretty expensive and mini-ITX + core i3 doesn't cost much more and would also not use much more power in idle/normal usage but better max. performance for like flash (HTPC) or Software RAID 5 (NAS).
    Especially for a NAS the price difference is minimal because any small case with lots of HDD bays is pretty expensive.
    Reply

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