System Performance and Power Use

Starting out with the Windows Experience Index (WEI) from the 32-bit version of Windows 7 Ultimate, we can see that the E-350’s 1.6GHz CPU is the lowest scoring component. We wouldn’t place too much stock in WEI, but is does confirm the overall design: the E-350 is a low power and not very fast CPU paired with a moderately fast GPU.

H.264 Encoding

To get a better feel for how that score translates into actual performance, a thirty minute 480i AVC/AC3 file was transcoded using a popular software based h.264 encoder, Handbrake 0.94. Looking at the results above, we can see that the AD03BR-PLUS-U’s CPU is the slowest in the bunch; even substantially outperformed by the first generation Zino HD’s 1.5GHz Athlon X2 3250e. Atom would be slower still, but we’ll bypass that well-trodden path in this discussion.

H.264 Power Use

The lack of CPU prowess is not without benefits, however, as the E-350 has a clear advantage in power consumption. It uses only half the power required by the Core i3-2100T under load. So you use half the power and one-fourth the encoding performance, but there’s still the question of media decoding support. If you want to do video encoding on your HTPC, you’ll be better off with a faster CPU.

With the above charts as a baseline, it should be obvious that application load times and menu navigation inside programs like Windows Media Center will be somewhat slower compared to more powerful CPUs, but in day-to-day use the AD03BR-PLUS-U’s performance was not generally a blocking issue. There were some conditions however where it was problematic however, most notably when stressing the on-board network interface device (NIC). This was especially true when using the drivers provided on the CD and on ZOTAC’s website, where playing large files across the network taxed the CPU past the point where flawless playback was possible.

Utilization dropped to a much more manageable level after installing the most recent set of drivers from Realtek, but as we can see from the screenshot above taken after updating the drivers, it is still possible to experience a CPU constraint during playback if secondary activities/processes are not prioritized appropriately.

Media/Power Performance Table
State Power Range Average Power Average CPU
S4/S5 1.1W 1.1W N/A
S3 1.0-1.4W 1.2W N/A
IDLE 10.0-11.2W 10.2W 0-2%
Full CPU Load (Prime95) 19.3-19.9 19.7W 100%
Netflix SD (Silverlight*)*** 19.5-21.0W 20.3W 92%
Netflix HD (Silverlight*)** 19.6-21.1W 20.7W 100%
YouTube 480p (Flash) 15.4-16.1W 15.6W 31%
YouTube 1080p (Flash) 18.3-20.7W 20.3W 53%
3D MVC/DTS-HD BD ** 23.6-25.2W 24.2W 79.05%
AVC/DTS-HD BD 21.6-23.1W 21.9W 31.68%
VC-1/DTS-HD BD 20.6-21.5W 21.2W 23.82%
AVC/TrueHD BD 22.0-22.6W 22.2W 31.94%
VC-1/TrueHD BD 21.7-22.3W 22.1W 22.66%
VC-1/TrueHD M2TS
(MPC-HC DXVA/ffdshow)
16.0-16.5W 16.1W 25.42%
VC-1/TrueHD M2TS
(MPC-HC FFmpeg*/ffdshow)**
18.6-20.1W 19.2W 66.63%
VC-1/DTS-HD M2TS
(MPC-HC DXVA/ffdshow)
15.8-16.6W 16.2W 12.89%
VC-1/DTS-HD M2TS
(MPC-HC FFmpeg/ffdshow)**
18.0-21.4W 19.4W 55.66%
VC-1/TrueHD M2TS
(Arcsoft/ffdshow)
15.1-15.8W 15.4W 22.78%
VC-1/DTS-HD M2TS
(Arcsoft/ffdshow)
15.5-16.6W 16.1W 9.16%
AVC/TrueHD M2TS
(MPC-HC DXVA/ffdshow)
17.2-18.0W 17.5W 29.38%
AVC/TrueHD M2TS
(MPC-HC FFmpeg*/ffdshow)**
19.0-20.5W 19.5W 84.15%
AVC/DTS-HD M2TS
(MPC-HC DXVA/ffdshow)
16.7-17.8W 17.4W 15.90%
AVC/DTS-HD M2TS
(MPC-HC FFmpeg*/ffdshow)**
18.6-20.9W 19.4W 75.50%
AVC/TrueHD M2TS
(MS DXVA/ffdshow)
17.6-18.5W 17.8W 33.41%
AVC/DTS-HD M2TS
(MS DXVA/ffdshow)
16.8-18.4W 17.4W 21.07%

* Software decoder
** Severe playback issues observed
*** Minor playback issues observed

With a maximum power draw of 25.2W and an idle power of ~10.2W measured at the wall with a Kill A Watt P4460, we can again see where AMD’s Fusion realizes significant benefit from the platform’s design. There are several important points to take away from the above table, with the most important being the relative strengths (GPU) and weaknesses (CPU) of the ZBOX AD03BR-PLUS-U during media playback. Where decoding is possible using the AMD 6310’s UVD, performance is good; on the other hand, when we push those duties onto the CPU performance is not. In the case of HD content, the result is generally unwatchable.

For local content that is not a problem, with DXVA support provided from all of the major commercial players, and from the free/open source software (FOSS) community via MPC-HC as well. Internet content using Flash is only limited by the quality of the media and available bandwidth. Netflix is a different story, however, because it relies on Silverlight for playback, which does not currently support GPU decoding. This should be addressed with Silverlight 5, but it’s not in the current beta release. Interestingly, HDMI 1.4 3D Blu-ray playback is at least partially supported by the driver (i.e. playback begins and the display switches to 3D mode), but it was not watchable so the feature will need to be disabled in the player software if watching MVC discs.

Introduction Audio and Video Formats and Options
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  • babgvant - Friday, June 10, 2011 - link

    The slim, slot loading BD drive is a big part of the cost increase. At retail a drive like the one in this system would go for $120+. ZOTAC sells a similar E350 system w/o an ODD for ~$320 (http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N8... Reply
  • wkeller - Saturday, June 11, 2011 - link

    You can have a Foxconn NT A3500 barebone E350 for around $200 (without memory/disk). Runs very quit and uses very little power. Also has lots of USB2/3 ports in a very small case. Reply
  • Penti - Saturday, June 11, 2011 - link

    Nice, but as we know the problem with something like Zacate is that it won't be powerful to do (more advanced gpu-accelerated) interlacing and stuff like that. If you need to playback virtually anything you still need a CPU that's powerful enough to do software decoding. We already know that a low-end AMD-gpu is still not powerful enough to do post processing. You won't escape from the problem by just integrating the graphics, it's still a good system on it's own though. A Intel Mini-ITX system with Z68 with external graphics would be interesting by it's strengths too albeit some other properties, especially if your system also do encoding, or handles heavier TV-capture/viewing tasks.

    Zacate does a good job handling a cheap platform that does bitstream decoding and so on though. But it has limits. Systems to playback pirated or ripped content and all sorts of formats including web-streamed or online content normally doesn't always work out perfectly. Flash Player doesn't always work out so good with hardware acceleration either thanks to it's awkward architecture. The all-round system takes some work, it's not effort less. This fills a place, this system. It comes in a quite nice form factor. BD makes it quite costly compared to the pure Zotac Brazos barebone though, it's ~190 dollars less on newegg. A DVD-only system would also had cost less. Like their Atom-based system with only a plain old DVD-drive. It's also quite preferable over the Atom based BD-system with ION-NG for the same price. All for a pretty reasonable price. If you don't need even more power that is.
    Reply
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  • Hugh R - Sunday, June 19, 2011 - link

    Is the DVI output dual link? I'm wondering whether it can drive my 2560x1600 monitor.

    The official specs and manual are silent on this issue. That probably means that it is only single link.
    Reply
  • Oscarcharliezulu - Saturday, June 25, 2011 - link

    Bluetooth was not mentioned so presuming another USB port used up for my dinovo mini.

    Would people say the zotac is better than my amd4850e on a 780g (amd 3200) ?

    Hdmi support is better as is image quality, but not sure I can give up the CPU speed which give me a lot of flexibility.
    Reply

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