ECS HDC-I Review

Indybird - 2011-05-26 17:41:48 in Motherboards
Category: Motherboards
Reviewed by: Indybird   
Reviewed on: July 17, 2011
Price: $130

Introduction:

Media center computers and set-top boxes are two of the biggest current trends in home electronics. This is partly due to the increase in popularity of Internet video streaming services such as Hulu and Netflix. A media center set-top box needs to be capable of not only streaming video, but must also access the user's home library of music, pictures, and video. Though there are many big contenders such as the Xbox 360 and Apple TV, there is still a market for custom built media center boxes. Building a media center computer is easier than ever thanks to the industry shift toward small, low-power, HD-capable motherboards. Because of the low power requirements of these boards, and very little need for expansion cards such as sound cards or TV tuners, users can build compact, low-power media center computers that rival big-brand boxes in price and functionality.

ECS, long time provider of quality motherboards, is on the front line of this trend with its AMD Fusion-based offering, the HDC-I. There are a lot of AMD Fusion motherboards on the market right now and each offers a different array of features. The HDC-I comes equipped with a very practical and desirable offering of features: integrated Bluetooth, integrated Wi-Fi-N, USB 3.0, four SATA 3.0 ports, and two DDR3 DIMM slots. With a feature list like that, it is obvious that ECS is not messing around in this market. Let's see how it compares to the ION-based and fellow Fusion-based boards.

Closer Look:

The ECS HDC-I comes in a small, shiny, green box. On the front you're presented with a basic feature list; AMD Radeon HD 6310 Graphics, Bluetooth, Blu-ray 1080p playback, USB 3.0 support, and an included wireless card. Around the back you get a view of the board along with a much more detailed list of HDC-I and general AMD Fusion features. The sides of the box are pretty plain; just the sticker with basic specifications and barcodes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Upon opening the box you are presented with a direct view of the board wrapped in an anti-static bag. After removing that, you are presented with a wide array of accessories. You have your basic manual and quick start guides, the driver disk, four SATA cables, I/O cover, and the Wi-Fi parts. The Wi-Fi consists of the Mini PCI-E card, the antenna mount, the antenna, a PCI bracket, and a low-profile PCI bracket. The inclusion of four SATA cables and the Wi-Fi with two different-sized brackets makes for a very comprehensive accessory package.

 

 

Now onto the board itself.

Closer Look:

The board itself is pretty sleek; ECS opted for a black and dark-grey theme. The chipset heatsink takes up about a fifth of the board and is topped with an ultra-quiet 40mm fan. To the left of it, you'll find the Mini PCI-Express slot. Though this is intended for the included Wi-Fi card, this is a completely standard slot and can accommodate any card. To the right are the two DDR3 DIMM slots. Overall, the board maintains a very standard layout with connectors placed close to the edges and in logical locations.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The I/O panel of the HDC-I is extremely well equipped. The VGA, DVI, and HDMI connections are all provided by the integrated HD 6310 graphics. In the audio department you'll find standard 5.1 analog connections along with a Toslink S/PDIF output. There are six USB 2.0 ports; four standard black ports and two red ports with extra power for USB charging. In addition, there are two more blue USB 3.0 ports, which of course are backwards compatible to 2.0. Aside from the standard gigabit Ethernet, ECS also provides a single eSATA 6.0Gb/s port. The blue dongle-looking item is the integrated Bluetooth receiver; despite appearances, it is not removable.

 

The HDC-I has the full compliment of standard internal connections. On the far left is the standard front panel HD Audio header. Right next to it is the front panel connections header, which strangely has its labels on the other side of the heatsink. Next to that are the two USB 2.0 headers, followed by four SATA 3.0 connectors. Along the bottom you'll find a PCI-Express 2.0 x16 slot, and although it does not support the full x16 bandwidth, it is capable of running full-size graphics cards.

 

Once we take the heatsink off we can get a closer look at the Fusion APU and Hudson-M1 FCH. The APU contains both the Zacate CPU and the HD 6310 GPU; an amazing piece of engineering considering its small die size and 40nm process. The dual-core processor is clocked at 1.6GHz with an L2 cache of 512KB per core. Out of the box, the core voltage ranges from 1.25V to 1.35V with a maximum TDP of 18 watts. The integrated HD 6310 GPU supports DirectX 11 and has a core clock speed of 500MHz. The southbridge chip is the AMD Hudson-M1 FCH (Fusion Controller Hub). The FCH supports up to six SATA 3.0 interfaces with AHCI 1.2 support and 4-channel HD Audio.

 

 

 

With the hardware out of the way, let's check out the BIOS.

Closer Look:

The ECS HDC-I BIOS is a little more on the simple side. Since this is not a performance and tweaking board, the BIOS has only the standard slew of options. The main menu contains your basic language and date & time options.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The first item on the advanced tab is the LAN configuration, which simply allows you to enable and disable the onboard LAN. Next is the PC health status where you can view the system temperature, voltages, and fan speeds. The CPU configuration tab shows you the processor specifications and current speeds. SATA configuration is just that; you can change the SATA port modes and enable or disable ports. Lastly, USB configuration allows you to turn on and off the regular USB, USB 3.0, and Bluetooth adapter.

 

 

You can control the internal audio, integrated graphics memory, and chassis intrusion settings from the north and south bridge menus.

 

The Frequency/Voltage Control tab sounds quite promising in the overclocking department. However, it only has basic memory options.

 

With the BIOS settings out of the way, let's get to the testing.

Specifications:

CPU:
AMD Dual-Core Processor E350 
Chipset:
AMD™ Hudson-M1 (A50M)
BIOS:
AWARD BIOS, 16Mbit Flash ROM
Memory:
2 x 1.5V DDR3 DIMM sockets supporting up to 8GB
Graphics:
AMD Radeon™ HD 6310 Graphics
Expansion Slots:
1 x PCI Express x16 slot (running at x4)
Storage:
4 x Serial ATA III 6Gb/s connectors
Audio:
VIA® VT1708B 8-channel High Definition audio CODEC
LAN:
Atheros AR8151 GIGA LAN
Wireless card IEEE 802.11b/g/n (Optional)
Rear Panel I/O:
1 x RJ45 LAN connector
1 x Audio port (Line-in,4x Line-out, SPDIF out)
1 x D-sub(VGA)
1 x DVI Port
6 x USB 2.0 ports
2 x USB 3.0 ports compatible to both USB 3.0/2.0 devices (blue)
1 x Bluetooth
1 x HDMI Port
1 x eSATA 6Gb/s port
Internal I/O:
1 x 4-pin CPU_FAN connectors
1 x 3-pin SYS_FAN connector
1 x Clear CMOS header
1 x Case open header
2 x USB 2.0 headers support additional 4 USB 2.0 Ports
1 x F_Audio header
1 x F_Panel header
Form Factor:
Mini ITX 170x170mm
OS Support:
Microsoft Windows 7/ Vista/ XP

 

Features:

 

All information courtesy of ECS @ http://www.ecs.com.tw/ECSWebSite/Product/Product_Detail.aspx?DetailID=1259&CategoryID=1&DetailName=Feature&MenuID=106&LanID=9#Socket FT1

Testing:

To test the ECS HDC-I, I will be running a series of synthetic and real-world benchmarks that will test the system's ability to process large files and run 3D video. For comparison, the HDC-I will be pitted against four other Mini-ITX media-focused boards — two ION platform boards (one Celeron, one Atom) and two E350 Fusion boards. Unless otherwise stated, all hardware is run at their stock speeds, latencies, voltages, etc., to prevent any outside interference.

 

Testing Setup:

 

Comparison:

 

Overclocking:

Overclocked Settings:

The ECS HDC-I BIOS doesn't have any real overclocking features, so there will be no overclocked comparisons in this review.

 

Benchmarks:

  1. Apophysis
  2. WinRAR
  3. Geekbench
  4. Office 2007
  5. POV Ray 3.7
  6. PCMark 7
  7. Sandra XII
  8. ScienceMark 2.02
  9. Cinebench 10
  10. Cinebench 11.5
  11. HD Tune 4.60
  1. Far Cry 2
  2. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
  3. Batman: Arkham Asylum
  4. 3DMark 06 Professional
  5. 3DMark Vantage

Testing:

 

Let's get started with Apophysis. This program is used primarily to render and generate fractal flame images. We will run this benchmark with the following settings:

 

 

The measurement used is time to render, in minutes, to complete.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lower is Better

 

WinRAR is a tool to archive and compress large files to a manageable size. We will use 100MB and 500MB files to test the time needed to compress these files. Time will be measured in seconds. 

 

ZIP:

 

Lower is Better

 

 

RAR:

 

Lower is Better

 

Geekbench:

Higher is Better

 

Bibble 5:

Lower is Better

 

The HDC-I performed very well in these tests; it actually topped WinRAR zip tests, Geekbench, and Bibble 5. Strangely, its performance on ZIPs was a stark contrast to the RARs. 

Testing:

Office 2007 Excel Big Number Crunch: This test takes a 6.2MB Microsoft Excel spreadsheet and performs around 28,000 sets of calculations that represent many of the most commonly used calculations in Excel. The measure of this test is how long it takes to refresh the sheet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lower Is Better

 

POV Ray 3.7: This program features a built-in benchmark that renders an image using ray tracing. The latest versions offer support for SMP (Symmetric MultiProcessing), enabling the workload to be spread across the cores for quicker completion.

Higher Is Better

 

PCMark Vantage is used to measure complete system performance. PCMark runs a large variety of tests to simulate all the different performance-oriented tasks on a computer.

Higher Is Better

 

Once again, there's nothing significant either way. The board scores in the very middle of the group in Excel and has similar results to its fusion counterpart in the POVRay benchmark.

Testing:

SiSoft Sandra is a diagnostic utility and synthetic benchmarking program suite that contains benchmarks for each individual piece of hardware. Sandra provides detailed results on its various system tests.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Processor Arithmetic

 

Multi-Core Efficiency

 

 

Memory Bandwidth

 

 

Memory Latency

 

Cache and Memory

 

Power Management Efficiency

 

Sandra tends to show the raw performance of the system overall, and this shows that the HDC-I is about mid-range in performance even amongst its fellow fusion boards.  

Testing:

ScienceMark tests real-world performance via commonly used CPU-intense calculations. For this test, we ran the benchmark suite and we will use the overall score for comparison.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

  

 

 

Higher is Better

Cinebench 11.5 is useful for testing your system, CPU, and OpenGL capabilities using the software program CINEMA 4D. We will be using the default tests for this benchmark.

Higher is Better

 

HD Tune measures disk performance to make comparisons between drives or disk controllers.

 

Higher is Better

 

Lower is Better

 

Results here aren't quite as promising; though it is not proportionately bad, it does perform worse in Sciencemark. The less desirable results in HD Tune are strange due to the fact that the HDC-I has the same storage controller as the other Fusion boards.

Testing:

Far Cry 2:

Featuring a new game engine named Dunia, this game looks to be another one to stress your video card. Built specially for Far Cry 2, this engine allows for real-time effects and damage. This next generation first-person shooter comes to us from Ubisoft, surprisingly - not from Crytek. The game is set in a war-torn region of Africa where there is a non-existent central government and the chaos that surrounds this type of social environment. If you have seen the movie Blood Diamond, you know the setting. Ubisoft puts the main storyline of the game into focus with these statements: "Caught between two rival factions in war-torn Africa, you are sent to take out "The Jackal," a mysterious character who has rekindled the conflict between the warlords, jeopardizing thousands of lives. In order to fulfill your mission you will have to play the factions against each other, identify and exploit their weaknesses, and neutralize their superior numbers and firepower with surprise, subversion, cunning and, of course, brute force." In this Far Cry game, you don't have the beautiful water, but instead the beauty and harshness of the African continent to contend with. Most games give you a set area that can be played through, while Ubisoft has given the gamer the equivalent of 50km2 of the vast African continent to explore while in pursuit of your goals. The settings used are just a few steps below the maximum in-game settings and offer a good blend of performance vs. visual quality.

 

 

 

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The HDC-I actually manages very playable frames at the two lower resolution. Unfortunately it falls behind at the higher resolutions; but thats not suprising considering the nature of the HD6310.

Testing:

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is the latest iteration of the venerable first-person shooter series, Call of Duty. Despite its long, successful pedigree, the game is not without substantial criticism and controversy especially, on the PC. Aside from the extremely short campaign and lack of innovation, the PC version's reception was also marred by its lack of support for user-run dedicated servers, which means no user-created maps, no mods, and no customized game modes. You're also limited to 18-player matches instead of the 64-player matches that were possible in Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Despite all this, the game has been well received and the in-house IW 4.0 engine renders the maps in gorgeous detail, making it a perfect candidate for OCC benchmarking.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just mediocre frames here, but once again, not particularly worse than the rest of the boards.

Testing:

Batman: Arkham Asylum is brings together two bitter rivals, the Joker and Batman. The Joker has taken over Arkham Asylum, Gotham's home for the criminally insane. Your task is to rein the Joker back in and restore order. This game makes use of PhysX technology to create a rich environment for you to become the Dark Knight.

 

Video Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Arkham Asylum is not kind to the ECS HDC-I. Frames here are significantly lower than the comparison boards.

Testing:

3DMark06 is one of the benchmarks that always comes up when a bragging contest begins. 3DMark06 presents a severe test for many of today's hardware components. Let's see how this setup fares. The settings we will use are listed below.

 

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unlike the mixed bag of real-world game results, the board dominates 3DMark06. 3DMark Vantage results should be interesting.

Testing:

Featuring all-new game tests, this benchmark is for use with Vista-based systems. "There are two all-new CPU tests that have been designed around a new 'Physics and Artificial Intelligence-related computation.' CPU test two offers support for physics related hardware." There are four preset levels that correspond to specific resolutions. "Entry" is 1024x768, progressing to "Extreme" at 1920x1200. Of course, each preset can be modified to arrange any number of user designed testing. For our testing, I will use the four presets at all default settings.

 Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Though the Gigabyte Fusion board still dominates these scores, the HDC-I does extremely well in its overall score. The CPU score shows us once again that the GPU is mostly responsible for the graphics power.

Power Consumption:

Since this board was essentially designed for a low-power media PC, I measured its power use during several typical usage scenarios. All measurements were taken using Kill-A-Watt power meter and were averaged over five minutes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Temperatures:

Heat is, of course, a concern in a media PC due to the fact that these computers often find themselves near hot stereo equipment and/or inside a cabinet with low airflow. To simulate full load, I ran CPU Burn-In and FurMark 1.8.2 at the same time, stressing the whole Fusion E350. To measure the temperatures, I used SpeedFan. The ambient temperature remained around 20 °C during the entire test.

Conclusion:

In an evermore crowded media center market, it is surprising to see products that still offer unique features and feature sets. The ECS HDC-I is unique because it has nearly all the features you would want in a media motherboard. The most interesting inclusion was that of an integrated Bluetooth dongle. This allows you to use Bluetooth wireless mice or keyboards and allows you to sync with your phone, if you so chose. The Mini PCI-Express is also an uncommon, but definitely welcomed addition. Though it is designed for the included Wi-Fi card (more on that shortly), this allows you to install other devices, such as solid-state drives or add-in connector cards. A little more standard, but still welcomed feature, is the PCI Express X16 slot. This further adds to the expansion capabilities of the HDC-I because PCI-E graphics, sound, RAID, and other add-in cards are now available. In the connectivity department we have plenty of USB 3.0 and SATA 3.0 connections. Although these are fast becoming standard equipment on most motherboards, they are still missing from many cheaper, low-power or compact motherboards such as this one. The inclusion of the SATA 3.0 but lack of built-in RAID options is unfortunate, but not a deal-breaker because of the rising popularity of solid-state drives for speed, and cloud storage for reliability.

Performance-wise the HDC-I proved to be more than adequate. It out-performed the basic CPU-only or GPU-only benchmarks, such as decompressing ZIP files or low-resolution gaming. Aside from the benchmarks, I found everyday tasks, such as 1080p HD video-streaming and multitasking, to run without a hitch. Where the HDC-I fell behind the comparison boards was in the heavier benchmarks. Even though most of the comparison boards in these tests did not perform desirably, they still fared slightly better. Out of all the boards tested, the HDC-I was most in need of CPU and GPU overclocking. The omission of this is truly surprising in such a feature-packed board. This doesn't make or break this board because where most Mini-ITX media boards focus only on system performance, the HDC-I goes for the medium performance, but feature-packed design. The processing power of the CPU and GPU are enough to perform all the tasks a modern media center set-top box would need. Where it really shines is in its connectivity; it not only has plenty of the standard connections, but it also introduces less common but extremely useful ones, such as Bluetooth and an internal Mini PCI-E. If you are looking to build an HD media box or a low-power PC without sacrificing connectivity and expandability, then the ECS HDC-I is one of the best motherboard options currently in this market.

 

Pros:

 

Cons: