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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  • Anato - Saturday, July 16, 2011 - link

    I'm worried about Anandtechs reputation and objectivity of AMD reviews. As a reader I can say from the text when the article is about AMD even if I hide all the product names and technical words. The wording is different and the questions put up are doubtful. Also focus is put to things where product is not intended to.

    Then there is benchmarks where always there is this "magical" Intel on top of the chars, but no word about the setup (mb, cpu, memory) costing 3 times more. Words from Atom review: "When the Atom first appeared I immediately did my best to characterize its performance."

    Next big thing is that there is no Atom on the chars, why? No wonder Core i5 2500K beats up the E-350, but why is it not put to power chars?

    PSU, if you don't have the gear to test then don't publish misleading results instead. Never have seen this happen on Intel, like "We only had one DDR3 Dimm"

    Last two points go to GF 580? Who would put this to Atom/E-350 board? And again no Atom around "holding GPU back".

    I really appreciate what you are doing in SSD-front and many other areas but for me this review isn't right.
    Reply
  • duploxxx - Thursday, July 14, 2011 - link

    Official Hudson D3 TDP = 7.8W, doesn't mean it actually draws that much power.

    so pls change power draw to TDP....
    Reply
  • Spivonious - Thursday, July 14, 2011 - link

    The first one looks like it has great potential for an HTPC build. Stick it in an ITX case with a fan to exhaust the hot air and you have a quiet, powerful, and small HTPC. Reply
  • SanLouBlues - Thursday, July 14, 2011 - link

    The DirectX 11 patch for Crysis 2 is out now. Reply
  • Vepsa - Thursday, July 14, 2011 - link

    I'm considering a Hudson board for my home server (probably the ECS one to be honest) and I'm wondering if the SATA/eSATA ports support port multiplier technology. If they do, the would be just about perfect for me. Reply
  • yeeeeman - Thursday, July 14, 2011 - link

    Until I have seen two or three reviews on the Internet who don't try to give a wrong impression about the power consumption of an AMD system based on E-350.Even myself, and I'm not a pro in this domain I have a 200W power supply who gets much better results than the you've used. Reply
  • ckryan - Thursday, July 14, 2011 - link

    I love the ITX form factor. I love it's limitations. I love the necessity of axing the dead weight -- no PATA, no PCI, ect. Graphical UEFIs are great, and I'm ready to do away with the trusty old BIOS. So there isn't much to get in the way of, even if the E-350 isn't the hottest of the new hotness. Thanks, Ian, for an excellent round up. It's easy for motherboard reviews to get lost in the shuffle, and this roundup is worth the read. Reply
  • onlineaddy - Thursday, July 14, 2011 - link

    So, what's the author's conclusion/recommendation? Is any one of the three worth our hard-earned $? Reply
  • Rick83 - Thursday, July 14, 2011 - link

    First of all: 100Mb LAN test was a waste of time/space, especially the graphic.
    A Gbit LAN test on the other hand might have been interesting, as these small computers can be used as thin clients, relying heavily on low latency and high troughput.
    Also, the processor time graphic should have been for Gbit LAN, as pushing 8MB/s over a line is not nearly as taxing as doing the same for 80 MB/s (buffering a movie off remote storage, loading a user profile during log-in, etc)

    The performance graphs seemed to me to be an excercise of futilty, dedicated to measuring noise. Three identical chipsets and three identical cpus would not diverge beyond noise in the clock generator.
    The conclusion is also way too performance oriented.
    The Zotac isn't bad because its performance is middling or because it lacks overclocking. As a passive design, overclocking can be safely ignored anyway, and a socket 1156 board can be gotten in miniITX size that will blow this out of the water, at a similar cost.
    What is wrong with the Zotac, is that there are plenty of issues, that have arisen during testing.
    Not as bad as an unstable UEFI image, but the lower than average usb-performance, the latency spikes - those can be really annoying.
    And, frankly, the ECS, including VGA? That's a bit archaic...
    I think performance for platforms that are not performance oriented is not really the most important point, even if that's what you're used to.
    In general, for mainboards performance isn't the most important factor. Build quality, stability, software and features are far more important, as is the quality of the onboard non-PCH hardware, like sound quality, WLAN performance, LAN performance, quality of the VGA outputs, memory compatibility and many other things that sadly don't get covered in main board reviews.

    I'd be glad if more relevant (perhaps only to me) factors for purchase decisions were to feature in future reviews.
    And please test that ASUS Gene-Z soon, pretty please?
    Reply
  • IanCutress - Thursday, July 14, 2011 - link

    Hi Rick,

    I'm always open to comments or alternative tests that could be run - updating the test suite is always in motion as and when what is required. Bare in mind that as we're individual reviewers at AT, we don't all have access to the appropriate gear for testing right away. If you've got any suggestions, you can email me from my name at the top of the review.

    All the best,
    Ian
    Reply

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