Final Words

With the settlement done and no DMI license in place, it's clear that there won't be another ION from NVIDIA (at least not based on x86). What Brazos is however is the ION successor that NVIDIA never built. For just over $100 you'll be able to buy a mini-ITX board with an E-350 that's faster than Atom, faster than ION and more feature rich than both. While I don't believe Brazos has enough CPU power under the hood to be a truly high end HTPC, it's easily good enough for a low cost, value HTPC. Popular codecs are well accelerated and with full DTS-HD MA and Dolby TrueHD bitstreaming support Brazos is solid. Flash acceleration is also present although it looks like there are still some kinks that need to be worked out there.

Overall performance is much better than Atom, particularly in single threaded applications. Brazos and the E-350 can make for a very affordable email/web browsing machine, and run those applications much faster than Atom could. As our more complex workloads showed however, the E-350 is limited to the same type of general usage models as Atom (with a bunch of new media and gaming options). You can run heavier apps on the E-350, you'll just be far better off with an Athlon II instead.

The Radeon HD 6310 proves to be a good match for the Bobcat cores in the E-350. There's not much value in adding a faster GPU via the on-board PCIe x4 slot as most games will be at least somewhat CPU bound. The resulting CPU/GPU combination is something that's typically as good as, if not better than Intel's Core i5 661 in games. In some cases the Radeon HD 6310/E-350 combination nips at the heels of Intel's Core i3 2100. Unfortunately in modern titles that's not always enough to have a playable experience, but with older games you should be able to do more with Brazos than you ever could with Atom or even ION for that matter. The CPU/GPU balance in the E-350 is good enough that I feel like Llano could make for a pretty decent value gaming machine.

Just as was the case with Atom, Brazos isn't going make for a very powerful primary PC. Load up the thread count or throw heavier workloads at it and the E-350 doesn't look all that much better than an Atom D510. What it will give you however is better single-threaded performance than Atom and a much better feature set. Brazos makes those secondary or tertiary computers you build much better than they would have been otherwise with Atom. I would like to see more CPU performance out of the platform and I'm not too keen on meeting the single core versions, but viewed through ION glasses Brazos looks good.

For AMD, Brazos has to be exciting. The company finally has a value offering that it doesn't have to discount heavily to sell. Brazos does very well against Atom on absolute performance, die size and price. The E-350 isn't the most powerful Fusion APU we'll meet, but it's a great way to introduce the family.

Heavy Lifting: Performance in Complex Workloads
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  • nitrousoxide - Thursday, January 27, 2011 - link

    That's cool. When Intel owned everything, try buy a Core i5 with $200 as today. Actually, I'm not quite sure if an i3 will cost less than $150.

    And that's what happened during G80 era. nVidia has the best GPU, much much faster while the R600s are craps, ATI's on the edge of extinction. See what you got? $1000 for the flag-ship 8800 Ultra, $600 for a high-end 8800GTX. A decent card may cost you $400 (8800GTS) and even a crappy (though not as slow as Radeon 2600) 8600GT costs you $250.
    Reply
  • Enlightenment777 - Thursday, January 27, 2011 - link

    Rumors, Rumors, Rumors, Reviews, Reviews, Reviews, when can we buy E-350 motherboards from NewEgg? Reply
  • GTaudiophile - Thursday, January 27, 2011 - link

    What are the differences between high- and low-end HTPCs?

    I am thinking of making a combo HTPC/NAS box of sorts...playing the role of both media streamer (online content, mkvs, etc.) as well as a storage box for machines on the network.

    Will this do it? With what OS?
    Reply
  • djfourmoney - Thursday, January 27, 2011 - link

    Go to the AVS Forums and look at Rene's HTPC Guide, the latest version is $10 but well-worth it.

    Low End HTPC especially AMD in recent years rely on IGP for all video decoding. But this equals the performance of a 785/880 based CPU/Chipset combo and cost about 25% less, less than half the power needed and tiny footprint.

    Unless you need expansion slots, as I said this thing can be built for such a low price you should replace your standard def Cable Box with this. Even with a PCIe Tuner Card that read Clear QAM as most do, it will pay for itself (no box rental fee) in about a year if not less.

    You can not buy a i3 for less than the whole board. In fact for the price of a i3, you can get the Asus with Wifi, Bluetooth and Heat Pipe cooling which is going for 141 Euro listed on European sites. It should cost roughly the same in the States some sources have it coming in around $150.

    Even if that's the case if you don't need USB 3.0 or SATA 3.0, the ASRock and Jetway boards will be the cheapest and think should be under $100 street price.

    Too bad AMD's current drivers don't support HDMI Audio for Linux installs. If they ever solve that, then you really can build a sub-$325 with all brand new parts.

    Just to fully answer your question, a high end HTPC depending on your desires, will have a Core i5 or AMD Phenom II CPU and Mid Range Video Card (HD5770) for some post-processing and 7.1 over HDMI. You can do that or a $200 Asus Xonar card, the GPU is cheaper and will do the same thing...

    Cost would be roughly twice that of a Atom/ION or AMD E350 system ($500-$700)

    Would be Windows 7 with Media Center if you want DVR capabilities or you can run XMBC strictly for media playback or Mediaportal.

    As I said Linux drivers for AMD hardware does not support audio over HDMI, so you would have to go with Toslink.
    Reply
  • GTaudiophile - Thursday, January 27, 2011 - link

    Thanks for the reply.

    I meant high- vs. low-end more in terms of capability? What more can I do with the high-end vs. low? Can a Zacate-based HTPC, armed with 2x 2TB HDDs in RAID 1 stream 1080p from say Netflix and play the 720p mkv episodes of TOP GEAR, smoothly? And when not streaming it will be a locally networked storage array.

    You think Win7 is the best? I currently run FreeNAS now for my NAS...why do I feel like Win7 would be some sort of downgrade?
    Reply
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Thursday, January 27, 2011 - link

    High vs. Low mostly has to do with the responsiveness of the machine more than anything else (for a purely dedicated HTPC). Remember that only video decode is fixed function hardware assisted, everything else (launching apps, navigating around menus, general use stuff) is still run on the CPU core - which in this case may be around the performance of a 2.66GHz Pentium 4 depending on the workload.

    A higher end HTPC can also be multifunction (e.g. do your ripping, transcoding and watching on the same machine).

    Take care,
    Anand
    Reply
  • tecknurd - Friday, January 28, 2011 - link

    I disagree. A low end processor can still be as responsive as a high end processor. The difference between a low end and a high end processor depends on how much work you want to do with the processor. Also it depends on how long it takes a re-encoding or any task to be done. A low processor can do two things if they both consume 50% of CPU usage. One of the tasks could be video playback and other is re-encoding a video. The re-encoding will take longer than a high-end processor.

    Responsiveness is how the user interface software is written. Using a high end processor with a user interface that is slow will not help the responsiveness of the whole setup.

    A example of a low end and a high processor is a computer nerd and muscle builder pounding as many nails in a wood. The muscle builder is able to pound more nails than the computer nerd. Another test is pulling an airliner and again the muscle builder is able to move it. In this example shows that bigger muscles helps to do the heavy lifting, but the efficiency of the smaller muscles of the computer nerd uses less energy although it takes more time.
    Reply
  • zodiacfml - Friday, January 28, 2011 - link

    he refers the system as DVR or HTPC, not just a file server which most will do with Brazos. Reply
  • tecknurd - Friday, January 28, 2011 - link

    Digital audio over HDMI does work in Linux including for AMD hardware, so I do not where you are getting your information. Getting digital audio to work in Linux is a whole different matter all to its self. This goes for any hardware. It is best to use analog output for ease of setup.

    Do not need a $200 Xonar card. A $90 Xonar is all you need although the only times you need this card is its analog audio capabilities.

    An Athlon II is a better buy for a HTPC than a Phenom II.

    The problem using AMD graphic cards in Linux is no video codec hardware acceleration support. Sure there is some, but the short list and its problems makes it has no support. AMD graphic users have to wait until the Xorg team provides VA API or UVD support.

    FYI, ASRock does not have a warranty for end-users, so you have to rely on the store wherever you bought it from. Jetway may seem cheap, but their support is not good.
    Reply
  • djfourmoney - Thursday, January 27, 2011 - link

    I was thinking the same thing -

    You can build a Server with MSI or Gigabyte because those will be the cheapest SATA 3.0 boards. Maybe 12TB (6 SATA ports x 2TB@90 each) plus case and E350, about $800? I found a mITX Server Case that holds

    Get a Sapphire Pure White Fusion which has Bluetooth and 2nd PCIe x1 slot.

    Go Powerline Ethernet, 60GB Kingston SSD, Windows 7 and Windows Home Server with Recorded TV Manager an uTorrent Plug-in.

    Turn your old PC into a Workstation for Ripping Blu-Ray and Encoding.

    Reply

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