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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  • ET - Saturday, July 16, 2011 - link

    Here are a few links to E-350 reviews using a desktop PSU. Not a comprehensive list by any means:

    http://www.guru3d.com/article/amd-brazos-platform-...
    http://www.overclockersclub.com/reviews/sapphire_f...
    http://www.xbitlabs.com/articles/mainboards/displa...
    http://www.eteknix.com/motherboards/jetway-nc85-e3...
    http://www.tweaktown.com/reviews/4093/asus_e35m1_i...

    And of course Anandtech's first review of the platform:

    http://www.anandtech.com/show/4134/the-brazos-revi...
    Reply
  • ET - Friday, July 15, 2011 - link

    In the conclusion you say about the ECS: "Having 33% free of anything is usually a good idea, so when it comes part of the package with very little increase in power consumption, it is a good thing. As a result, all the benchmarks and all the games had much, much higher scores than the other boards we tested."

    Unfortunately these gaming performance figures don't appear in the article. This looks like an oversight that needs to be corrected.
    Reply
  • Mitalca - Friday, July 15, 2011 - link

    I second that.
    Through the review there's a lot of times when Ian talks about the marvell the ECS did with the 33% OC. Then why you didn't show the results?
    One of the bigest flaws in this review, that make a lot of people suspect of a way-too-much-biased review.

    Testing with a 580 is ridiculous, even if you want to "provide a plausible maximum ceiling". I spend $500 and I only get 50% more frames. What about a U$ 50-100 gpu?? If the CPU and the memory are by far the bottleneck, we should see similar results.
    And, once you show the huge benefits that overclocking does to the iGPU, why not try it with the dGPU?
    Reply
  • ET - Saturday, July 16, 2011 - link

    The main thing I would like to see added to the discrete GPU test is an AMD GPU. The CPU usage of NVIDIA and AMD drivers are different, so results may be different.

    I don't think that a discrete GPU is worth using with the E-350 in any case, and the test with the GeForce 580 pretty much proved that. It's just too CPU limited.
    Reply
  • xorbit - Friday, July 15, 2011 - link

    This review is a steaming pile. At least it lends credibility that Anandtech might not be biased, just woefully incompetent.

    An HTPC review without HTPC benchmarks and coupling the chips with impropper PSU/GPUs.
    Reply
  • silverblue - Friday, July 15, 2011 - link

    Without wanting to start a huge squabble, if you guys think you could do better... Reply
  • lestr - Friday, July 15, 2011 - link

    Tom's already did: Daily Hardware 7/6. 8 boards with more relevant tests though somewhat incomplete.

    My big question is: WHAT is AMD afraid of? SUCCESS? AMD fanboy but when they could really kick a** they give us another "almost".

    Another question: Does the PCIe slot support anything other than graphics? Can I stuff a Hauppauge 2250 or a Ceton card in it? This is totally ignored on almost ALL current ITX boards. You're about as likely to win the Kentucky Derby with a 3-legged horse as playing any games on this platform. What's the point?

    The E450 (1.65 / 1333 / HD 6320) is due out any time. Standards on this platform should include 6 audio outs (hello Asus!), mPCIe, fp USB3.. how about DUAL channel memory? What's a few more watts anyway? Is 35W APU too many? RAID?

    I wish AMD would pull out all the stops and do this little thing right.. entice the partners as well. If they can't do anything else but bury Atom/NV ... AMD needs to win something sometime.. why not NOW?

    Any comments, Ian?
    Reply
  • mino - Friday, July 15, 2011 - link

    Brazos is sigle channle.

    There are 35W Llano E2 series APU's on the way.

    Brazos is SOLD OUT for 3 quarters allready ... talk about AMD being afraid ...
    Reply
  • medi01 - Sunday, July 17, 2011 - link

    Idiot detected. Reply
  • Wander7 - Friday, July 15, 2011 - link

    Just by looking at the two heatsinks and not doing any measurements, it looks like the Asus' heatsink is suffering from air stagnation because the fins are too close together.... Reply

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