Gigabyte E350N-USB3 Review

Indybird - 2011-02-28 14:44:43 in Motherboards
Category: Motherboards
Reviewed by: Indybird   
Reviewed on: April 17, 2011
Price: $150

Introduction:

In the last year or two, there has been a strong increase in demand for media PCs and components. Up until recently, a powerful media PC consisted of a desktop processor, micro-ATX motherboard, and a low-end graphics card. The problem with this setup is price, physical size, and power consumption. On the other hand, you also have the recent increase in popularity of net-top computers. The advantage of these, of course, are the exact shortcomings of traditional media PCs — they are cheap, very small, and consume less power. The first company to find the sweet spot between these two extremes was NVIDIA with the introduction of its ION platform in 2009. The idea behind ION was to pair a slower but low-power processor like the Atom with a dedicated graphics processing unit.  While this all sounds great in theory, the ION and even the ION 2 platform were not really capable of playing 1080p video reliably.

On the other side of fence, AMD is, timewise, not far behind Intel and NVIDIA. Just this January, AMD released its Fusion platform that combines a CPU and GPU into a single chip known as the APU (Accelerated Processing Unit). In just the last month, we have seen an influx of Fusion products intended for system builders. Today we have Gigabyte's offering in this department, the E350N-USB3. Gigabyte has a long-standing reputation of making high-quality, full-featured motherboards at all price points. The E350N-USB3 is one of Gigabyte's first motherboards to fit the bill for a low-power media PC. After taking a look over the features, you realize Gigabyte definitely did not skimp in this department — you've got onboard USB 3.0, four SATA III ports, and two DDR3 DIMM slots. The E350N is sizing up to be quite a board, so let's take a closer look.

Closer Look:

The E350N comes in Gigabyte's typical sleek bright white and light blue themed box. Gigabyte's "333 Onboard Acceleration" is prominently displayed on the front of the box, reminding consumers that the E350N has USB 3.0, USB Power 3x, and SATA 3.0. Also displayed on the front are other features like Ultra Durable 3 and DirectX 11. Around the back you get very detailed descriptions of all the features of the board. Strangely missing from the front, back and sides of the box are detailed technical specs of the motherboard.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Inside the box you'll find your basic accessories, including a detailed manual, installation guide, driver CD, two Gigabyte-blue SATA cables, and a very clean labeled and color-coded I/O shield. The board itself comes wrapped in a simple anti-static bag.

 

 

With the contents of the box examined, we can move on to the board itself.

Closer Look:

Much like the theme of the box, the board follows Gigabyte's signature blue color scheme. The first thing you'll notice on the board is the sleek dark grey combination APU and Chipset heatsink. Next you'll notice that all the components and connectors are in very standard locations, and while this is not typical for a Mini-ITX board, it is welcomed. Overall, the board isn't very crowded — there's plenty of room to make all the connections with working room to spare. Around the back you'll find that the heatsink is mounted via four screws in place of clips — also a welcomed feature. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the back I/O panel, you'll find a very adequate set of connectors. The Fusion APU provides VGA, DVI, and HDMI (with audio) video output, allowing this board to be connected directly to anything from an old CRT monitor to a brand new LCD television. For audio, the Realtek ALC892 chipset provides your standard 8-channel analog output plus line-in and mic, along with a Toslink S/PDIF output. With six USB ports total, the E350N is a little lacking in this department, but this is slightly made up by the fact that two of them are USB 3.0. Last, but not least, Gigabyte was kind enough to provide a single PS/2 port, just in case you haven't bought a new mouse or keyboard in the last ten years.

 

Just because the board has plenty of working room doesn't mean there is a lack of internal connectors. On the bottom, from left to right, you'll find the front panel HD Audio header, two USB 2.0 headers, four SATA III connectors, the switch and LED header, a 3-pin system fan connector, and your 24-pin ATX power connector. Of course you can't help but notice the PCI-E X16 slot, but while it supports running full-sized graphics cards, it is only capable of x4 speeds. Not much to speak of near the RAM, other than the actual DIMM slots, which are in a single channel configuration and support 1066MHz out of the box, or 1333MHz overclocked. The CPU power connector is in its standard position right above the APU heatsink.

 

 

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, which is really quite amazing considering the surface area of the chip and its 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 1.25 to 1.35 with a maximum TDP of 18 watts. The integrated HD 6310 GPU supports DirectX 11 and has a core clock speed of 500MHz. The second chip (essentially the southbridge) is the AMD Hudson-M1 FCH (Fusion Controller Hub). The FCH supports up to six SATA III interfaces with AHCI 1.2 support and 4-channel HD Audio. Lastly, this chipset does not support any type of RAID; an unfortunate omission in a media-oriented computer.

 

 

With the hardware out of the way, let's take a closer look at the BIOS.

Closer Look:

If you were entering the BIOS expecting it to be watered down and devoid of options, then you'll be pleasantly surprised. The guaranteed first thing to catch your eye will be the MB Intelligent Tweaker. Thats right; overclocking on a integrated processor. Moving into the M.I.T menu, you'll find a decent set of options. Here you can increase the core speed via the host clock control, raise the memory multiplier, and control system voltages. You can even overclock the onboard graphics from here, but more on that later. Moving on you'll find you Standard CMOS Features, like IDE control and system time. Next are the advanced BIOS features, where you can configure the onboard graphics, control the system cooling, set boot priority, and tweak your other typical advanced features. Next is Integrated Peripherals, where you have control over SATA, LAN, Audio, and USB — all standard fare. Power management also contains your standard options, such as Suspend Type, USB Wake, etc. Lastly is the compulsory PC Health Status page, where you can control the Case Open Status and view system voltages, temperatures, and fan speeds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With our 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:
Realtek ALC892 HD Audio CODEC with 8-Channel
Ethernet LAN:
Realtek 8111E Gigabit LAN
Rear Panel I/O:
1 x PS/2 keyboard/ mouse port
1 x D-Sub port
1 x DVI-D port
1 x HDMI port
1 x optical S/PDIF Out connector
4 x USB 2.0/1.1 ports
2 x USB 3.0/2.0 ports
1 x RJ-45 port
6 x audio jacks
Internal I/O:
1 x 24-pin ATX main power connector
1 x 4-pin ATX 12V power connector
4 x SATA 6Gb/s connectors
1 x CPU fan header
1 x system fan header
1 x front panel header
1 x S/PDIF Out header
2 x USB 2.0/1.1 headers
1 x debug card header
1 x chassis intrusion header
1 x power LED header
1 x clear CMOS jumper
Form Factor:
Mini-iTX, Size 6.8" x 6.8"
OS Support:
Microsoft Windows 7/ Vista/ XP

 

Features:

 

All information courtesy of Gigabyte @ http://www.gigabyte.com/products/product-page.aspx?pid=3681#ov

Testing:

To test the Gigabyte E350N-USB3, 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 E350N will be pitted against three other Mini-ITX media-focused boards — two ION platform boards (one Celeron, one Atom) and another E350 Fusion board. 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:

Overclocking the E350N was a fairly simple task. I started by bumping the bus speed up in increments of five, then adjusting the voltage until it was stable. I finally settled at 110MHz @ 1.5V (+0.250V), which remained stable during all the testing. In addition, switching the memory multiplier from 5.3 to 6.6 yielded a stable 1333MHz clock on the RAM without any voltage increase. Unfortunately, I could not squeeze any extra MHz out of the GPU without causing instability.

 

 

 

 

Benchmarks:

  1. Apophysis
  2. WinRAR
  3. Geekbench
  4. Office 2007
  5. POV Ray 3.7
  6. PCMark Vantage Professional
  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

 

Overall, the E350N performed very well. In Apophysis, its performance couldn't quite match Sapphire's Fusion board, even when overclocked. In WinRAR, it handily beat the other boards on the ZIP tests, but didn't fair as well on the more intense RAR tests. The E350N was really able to stretch its power in the Geekbench and Bibble 5 tests. I was quite surprised to see how big of a difference the overclock made in all four benchmarks.

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 x64 is used to measure complete system performance.  PCMark runs a large variety of tests to simulate all of the different performance-oriented tasks on a computer.

Higher Is Better

 

The Excel number crunch proved to be a stress on the E350N, with it only edging out the Sapphire E350 once it was overclocked. The POV Ray test gave me unusually low scores even after multiple re-tests. In PCMark Vantage, the E350N edged out all the other comparison boards, with its overclocked score taking a clear lead.

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 really shows off the slightly superior processing power of the Fusion platform, especially when overclocked. The E350N maintained fairly high scroes both in the processor and memory.

Testing:

ScienceMark tests real world performance via commonly used CPU-intense calculations. For this test, we ran the benchmark suite and 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

 

Sciencemark displayed a great improvement via the overclock, allowing the overclocked E350N to achieve the highest score of the bunch. In HD Tune, the board displayed slightly higher transfer speeds over the other chipsets.

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 E350N performed fairly well here, performing about the same as Sapphire's E350 and slightly less than the Zotac IONITX. However, with the little bit of overclocking, the board was able to not only pull ahead, but also manage respectable framerates. I was surprised to see the 3D frames increase this much with a processor and memory overclock. This most likely indicates that the graphics core is severely CPU-limited on this platform.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Gigabyte E350N handily took on this benchmark, but much like the other boards, couldn't manage playable frames. Once again, we see the trend of higher framerates with the CPU and memory overclock.

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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

<

 

 

 

The Gigabyte E350N continues to pull ahead in the 3D department, this time in Arkham Asylum. Even before the overclock, the board manages fairly playable frames.

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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Gigabyte Fusion board continues to throw out high graphics scores, this time in 3DMark 06.

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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This test was fairly interesting. The board pulled ahead on the overall score by a large margin, but was behind the other boards in the CPU-only test. In addition, once overclocked, the overall score actually consistently went down.

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 22 °C during the entire test.

 

Conclusion:

Four years in the making, the first desktop iteration of AMD Fusion has proven to be quite the platform. Having reviewed and personally used other low-power media PC platforms, I approached AMD Fusion with skepticism. Previous platforms of this nature still couldn't quite play full HD video and definitely couldn't perform any intense processing like 3D gaming or photo editing. Upon firing up the Gigabyte E350N-USB3, I was surprised to find myself with a very capable system. Full HD video was a breeze — I encountered no stuttering or lag during playback through HDMI. In addition to more CPU intensive tasks, I was even able to do a little tiny bit of 3D gaming. This is all thanks to the AMD Zacate E350 CPU and HD 6310 GPU crammed into the APU.

Aside from the amazing power-to-performance ratio from the Fusion APU, this board comes well equipped in the feature department. The two most noticable features are the integrated USB3.0 and SATA III. These, along with 4x PCI-Express acceleration, are provided by the AMD Hudson-M1 FCH chip, which complements the APU perfectly. Speaking of the 4x PCI-Express acceleration, Gigabyte provides system builders with a PCI-Express x16 slot (4x electrical) capable of running full-sized graphics cards (or any other standard PCI-E card).

What stood out to me was a feature that is unique to Gigabyte's Fusion board — a full-featured BIOS complete with overclocking. On top of just being able to overclock, it actually proved to be very worthwhile. The E350N scored significantly higher in CPU and graphics tests once the processor and memory were overclocked. This left me terribly curious as to the full processing power of the HD 6310 GPU, as it not only appears to be severely CPU-limited on this platform, but it also didn't take kindly to any overclocking itself. Last, but not least, the board supports full DDR3 RAM, which is a huge plus because it is not only lower power, but it is also the current standard for memory.

Unfortunately, this board was not without its weaknesses, namely connectivity ones. There were three very common connections missing from this media-oriented board — Bluetooth, eSATA, and Integrated WiFi. The exclusion of integrated bluetooth isn't a dealbreaker, but many other boards at the E350N's level come with this feature. Next was the lack of eSATA, a more surprising omission. External storage is not uncommon for a media PC, and though it does have USB 3.0, eSATA enclosures are currently far more common. However, the strangest feature missing from the E350N was integrated WiFi. At this point in time, integrated wireless on a platform such as this is almost required. Not having it integrated means that either the PCI-Express slot or one of the few external USB ports will be occupied if wireless connectivity is necessary. The other glaring ommision was RAID support, a feature that is typically desired in a media PC.

Overall, the Gigabyte E350N was a very positive experience. The amount of performance squeezed out of such a small form-factor, lower-power system is truly astounding. Despite missing a couple key connections, such as WiFi, the board still had countless other great features. Being able to overclock and have something to show for it really made me feel like I had a quality performance product. This board was purposely designed to be at the core of a media PC and it truly shows in its performance, power consumption and feature-set. The Gigabyte E350N-USB3, with the AMD Fusion chipset at its core, genuinely allows you to have the best of all worlds in a media PC.

 

Pros:

 

Cons: