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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  • mschira - Friday, July 15, 2011 - link

    I find it hard to believe how calmly the praises for the 33% overclock are. Just face it the Lano platform can use all the speed it can get, and that 33% sounds healthy enough.
    At 1.6 I think Lano is slightly underpowered, at 2.1Ghz, well slightly less i.e. not anymore.

    It hard to understand why AMD isn't coming up with a 2Ghz variant of Lano. I fact I find it very concerning. It looks as if AMD is just not determined enough to compete with Intel.
    M.
    Reply
  • Rick83 - Friday, July 15, 2011 - link

    E350 is not Llano.
    And mini ITX E350 is not meant for overclocking and performance.
    Thus I find this to be a bit of a non-feature. Better to get a passively cooled 32nm Intel S1156 Pentium, if you need more performance.
    As far as I know, the only drawback this level of performance has, is when flash movies at extreme settings are played. While this may be important for some, it's not needed in a general browsing/mail machine that does the odd office application. Nor in most home cinemas, where local mkvs or disks are played.
    Yet for this overclock you give up on passive cooling and instead get a tiny, and presumably relatively whiny fan. Not worth the hassle.
    Reply
  • AmdInside - Friday, July 15, 2011 - link

    I have an older ITX case I would like to continue using and it puzzles me why almost all of these mobos use a 24-pin connector when there are so many ITX cases with a 20-pin connector. Reply
  • andymcca - Friday, July 15, 2011 - link

    Does anyone spend money on WHS for NAS? Seems like a waste. (Don't get me wrong, I see some reasons to get it if text scares you and you are doing something more complicated. And have money to burn. Or live on a pirate ship.)
    RAID is supported in the Linux kernel, and is better than any junky fakeRAID a motherboard might provide. And with 6 SATA 6Gb/s ports, this makes a damn fine NAS!
    Reply
  • andymcca - Friday, July 15, 2011 - link

    Though the lack of 1000 Gb/s ethernet is sad :( Reply
  • andymcca - Friday, July 15, 2011 - link

    I'd settle for 1Gb/s :) Reply
  • Rick83 - Friday, July 15, 2011 - link

    which all of these boards have. Reply
  • burpnrun - Friday, July 15, 2011 - link

    Firstly, the author starts by positioning the AMD CPU/boards in a HTPC context. Then promply forgets any consideration of a HTPC role. Not one video/encoding/decoding/transcoding benchmark. Instead, "games" and "computational" benchmarks. WTF? I'm wondering, is this guy competent?

    Secondly, as other posters have commented, the author's/article's power consumption measurements are so outlandish as to be laughed at. I mean, seriously warped versus reality. Incompetence (and determined reluctance to remeasure/fix) is brashly showing through at this point.

    The coup-de-gace of this idiotic review, though, is the inclusion of a Nvidia 580GTX for games, a role the Brazos CPU/Chipsets are not positioned towards. A 580GTX? In a 4x PCIe slot? And there are problems? WOW. I wonder why? At this point I concluded that not only was the author totally incompetent, but the motive of the article was also highly suspect.

    Until Arnand cleans up this stinking pile of pseudo "review", I'm not coming back here. I'm not a Intel or AMD fanboy, but this is such an incompetent, biased, purposeless (or was there a mission here that tried to be masked by "review" status?) article that a line has to be drawn in the sand against outright c*rap "reviews" like this.

    Anand, you should be ashamed to even have this piece of junk on your site!
    Reply
  • ET - Friday, July 15, 2011 - link

    If this is the worst review you've read in 15 years, uou must not read a lot of reviews, so your threat of not coming back probably means that the next review you'll read in five years will be on another site. If you really want, I can point you to a lot of other sites with worse reviews.

    Not saying that this review is perfect, but come on, lots of other reviews of the E-350 have done exactly the same things, and some of your issues are nit-picking. Would you had been happier if a lower end discrete card was put in the PCIe slot? Putting a very high end one just illustrates how CPU bound this platform is.
    Reply
  • AnandThenMan - Friday, July 15, 2011 - link

    "lots of other reviews of the E-350 have done exactly the same things"

    Post the links, I'd like to read them. Thanks.
    Reply

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