Sapphire Pure Fusion Mini E350 APU Mainboard Review

ajmatson - 2011-02-11 05:22:53 in Motherboards
Category: Motherboards
Reviewed by: ajmatson   
Reviewed on: February 23, 2011
Price: $TBD

Introduction:

For the longest time when you wanted a low power media board you either had to choose between low performance or high electricity consumption. The first truly low power processor to come on the scene was the Intel Atom CPU. While it had low power consumption, the CPU was very underpowered especially when it came to media and HD playback. After some time, NVIDIA released the ION GPU which when paired with the Atom processor, took some of the load off of the CPU and placed it on the faster GPU allowing for less choppy playback for HD video and light gaming but the platform was still limited by the low power CPU. Next, Intel released the dual core Atom processor to help alleviate the low performance of the original Atom but again it was still hit and miss especially when playing 1080p video on large screens. AMD was sitting back quietly watching and researching their next move to answer the Atom platform and now we have our hands on that answer which is AMD Fusion.

AMD Fusion is the world’s first Accelerated Processor Unit or APU as better known which combines a dual core processor, the NorthBridge and a discrete level DirectX 11 GPU fused into a single chip. This allows for full desktop processing with minimal power usage for everyday tasks including HD video playback and light gaming. Sapphire, which is well known for their AMD video cards, has been diving full force into the mainboard sector as well. We recently saw their Pure Black X58 Mainboard which was impressive to say the least. Again they are bringing us a big product with their first Fusion board, the Sapphire Pure Fusion Mini E350 APU Mainboard. This board takes all the goodies that AMD Fusion offers and adds a bit of their own such as USB 3.0 support, integrated Bluetooth and more. If you are as excited as I am to see how this platform performs then let’s take a good look at the hardware so we can get on to the testing.

(editor's note: if you're a pilot like me, APU has a completely different meaning :))

 

Closer Look:

The Sapphire APU Mainboard comes packaged in an esthetically pleasing box. Their choice of the black and red color scheme keeps up with the color design of their graphics cards. On the front of the box is a swarm of logos for things the Pure E350 supports including SATA III, USB 3.0 and of course the AMD Fusion design. On the back of the packaging are lists of more of the supported Fusion features and other elements that Sapphire has added to the board. There is also a small blurb about what Fusion stands for. On the right spine is a list of the specifications for you to consider when choosing this platform for your system.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Sapphire Pure Fusion Mini E350 comes packed with everything you will need to get your system up and running. Included with the board is the I/O back plate, two SATA III cables, the Driver CD, documentation and even a case sticker for your system case that says "Fueled by Sapphire".

 

 

Now that everything is out of the box we can examine the board closer.

Closer Look:

Sapphire has chosen to go with a dark color scheme for the Fusion Mini E350 board. The design is very small since this is a Mini-ITX board which only measures 6.8 inches square. Don't let the size fool you though because it has a lot to offer. They have included high-end features such as onboard USB 3.0 support, integrated Serial ATA III 6.0Gb/s connections and even integrated Bluetooth 2.1 +EDR for support of your media peripherals and streaming devices such as your cell phone and iPad. Even with everything the Sapphire Pure Fusion Mini E350 has to offer, the use of strategic positioning kept the board free from clutter so the natural airflow of the case and system will keep the already cooler components even cooler. Since the CPU cooler is smaller due to less heat being generated by the APU and chipset, there is no need for a large bracket to hold it into place so the back of the board only features several screws for holding on the heat sinks. I will explain more what the APU and chipset is below so let's move on to the connections offered by the Mini E350 mainboard.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the back panel there are a number of connections available for you to get the most from your system. For video, the Fusion Mini E350 offers a VGA connector, a DVI connector and even an HDMI port for your HD video needs. Two of the video ports can be used at the same time for multiple displays without the need for an additional video source. When it comes to connectivity, Sapphire has included a Gigabit LAN port powered by the Marvell 88E8057 controller and integrated Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR with the Atheros AR3011 chipset. There is no integrated wireless. However, you can add it with the Mini-PCI Express slot but there is no antenna to route through the back panel. When it comes to audio, the E350 has the standard audio ports including an SPDIF connector. For further expansion, the board offers an eSATA 3.0Gb/s connector as well as four USB 2.0 and two USB 3.0 ports.

 

Just as with the back panel, Sapphire has a number of headers and internal connectors for your use. At the bottom of the board is a full size PCI Express 2.0 x16 slot. Perfect for a more powerful discrete GPU. This slot is only for use with graphics cards and operates at x4 bandwidth. There is also a Mini PCI Express 2.0 x1 connector for use with full size or half height cards such as internal wireless LAN. Keep in mind however, there is no antenna connection on the back panel so you will need to route the antenna elsewhere. For the headers, starting on the bottom left above the x16 slot there is the front panel audio and SPDIF out header, then to the right of the Mini PCI Express slot there is a COM header, a Debug LED and two USB 2.0 headers. Above the ATX power connector there is the front panel headers for power, reset, etc. On the top of the board there are the two SO-DIMM memory slots which support two modules up to 4GB of DDR3 1066MHz memory in a single channel configuration. To the right of the memory slots there are the five SATA III 6.0Gb/s ports and a POST speaker.

 

 

With the heat sink removed we can get a nice close up look at the E350 Fusion APU. The chip is rather small considering the power it packs. The APU is a dual core processor clocked at 1.6GHz and has an L2 cache of 512KB per core. The voltage required for operation is between 1.25 - 1.35 volts with a maximum TDP of 18 watts and a maximum operating temperature of 90°C. The GPU integrated into the APU is a Radeon HD 6310 graphics core with full DirectX 11 support and a GPU clock speed of 500MHz and has 80 unified shaders. The second chip is the AMD Hudson-M1 FCH (Fusion Controller Hub) which uses a x4 first generation UMI (Unified Media Interface) with a transfer rate of 2.5GT/s, support for up to 6 SATA III interfaces with AHCI 1.2 support and 4 channel HD audio. Currently there is no RAID support for the Hudson M1 chipset which is a bummer for a media platform but not a deal breaker.

 

 

Now that we have the hardware down let's take a look at what the BIOS has to offer us.

Closer Look:

The BIOS on the Sapphire Pure Fusion Mini E350 mainboard is not as advanced as some of the higher end boards but then again it does not need to be. It offers just what is necessary to control the board and its features without having too many frills which can become very confusing at times I must say myself. The BIOS on the E350 board is broken down into sections to make it easier to find what you need and make the adjustments that are necessary to get your system up to full working shape. The Main section is brief and has information for you such as the current BIOS version, system date and system time information that you can adjust. The Advanced tab is a bit more in depth with options to configure the CPU settings, IDE settings, ACPI settings for suspend states, USB settings and more. There is also a subsection that will display a bit more information on the processor which in this case is an AMD Engineering Sample Fusion APU. You can also monitor your system's health including temperatures, fan speeds and voltages to make sure you are within stable limits and turn on or off features you may not need.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The latter sections include the chipset section which allows you to make adjustments to certain hardware such as the memory clock speed, turn on the PCI Express speed power policy, and even adjust the integrated graphics processor's shared memory size. The Boot section gives you control over how and in what order your system boots and runs the attached drives. Finally, the Security tab allows you to set both an Administrator password for altering the BIOS options as well as a User password which will allow the user to start the system but not enter and change the BIOS. This is perfect for locking your system down at the hardware level to only authorized users.

 

 

 

 

 

Now that we have seen what the BIOS has to offer we can get down to business with the testing.

Specifications:

CPU:
AMD Dual-Core Processor E350 with AMD Radeon™ HD 6310 Graphics
Chipset:
AMD™ Hudson-M1 (A50M)
BIOS:
AMI BIOS, 16Mb Flash ROM
Memory:
2 Slots SO-DIMM DDR3 800/1066 Single Channel modules
Graphics:
AMD Radeon™ HD 6310 Graphics
Expansion Slots:
1 x PCI Express 2.0 x16 slots
1 x MINI PCI-E x1 slots
Storage:
5 x Serial ATA III 6Gb/s connectors
Audio:
Realtek ALC892 HD Audio CODEC with 8-Channel
Ethernet LAN:
Marvell 88E8057 PCI-Express Gigabit LAN
Rear Panel I/O:
4 x USB 2.0 port
2 x USB 3.0 port
1 x VGA(D-Sub) port
1 x HDMI port
1 x Audio I / O ports
1 x SPDIF Optical Out
1 x Supporting Bluetooth® 2.1 + EDR by Atheros AR3011
1 x e-SATA port
1 x Single Link DVI
Internal I/O:
4 x USB 2.0 headers
CPU 4 pin PWM Fan connectors
3 Pin Chassis Fan connectors
24-pin ATX Power connector
COM headers
Control (Front) panel headers
Clear CMOS jumpers
SPDIF In/out header
4-pin ATX 12V Power connector
Form Factor:
Mini-iTX, Size 6.8" x 6.8"
OS Support:
Windows Vista (32/64) bit
Windows 7 (32/64) bit

 

Features:

 

All information courtesy of Sapphire @ http://www.sapphiretech.com/presentation/product/?leg=&psn=000102&pid=1034

Testing:

To test the Sapphire Pure Fusion Mini E350 APU Mainboard I will be running a series of synthetic and video based benchmarks designed to push the limits of the hardware. I will then be placing the scores up against two other mini ITX boards one with an Atom dual core CPU and one with an Intel Celeron SU2300 to see how the APU stacks up against current comparison offerings. To keep all tests fair, all hardware will be run at their stock speeds, latencies, voltages, etc. This way, there is no outside interference messing with the scores and comparisons.

 

Testing Setup:

 

Comparison:

 

Overclocking:

Overclocked Settings:

The Sapphire Pure Fusion Mini E350 did not have any overclocking abilities in the BIOS and none of the utilities that I tried would work to overclock this particular board. While not a downfall, this will eliminate the overclocking section from this review.

 

 

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:

The first part of our testing will be the system specific benchmarks.

 

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. Additionally, I will use the built-in benchmark as a comparison.

 

ZIP:

 

Lower is Better

 

 

RAR:

 

Lower is Better

 

Geekbench:

Higher is Better

 

Bibble 5:

Lower is Better

 

In Apophysis, Geekbench and Bible 5, the APU had the highest scores between the boards. In WinRAR it was in the middle of the pack.

Testing:

Office 2007 Excel Big Number Crunch: This test takes a 6.2MB Microsoft Excel spreadsheet and performs about 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. We will be running a series of tests to gauge performance of each individual CPU to see which CPU, if any, rises above the others.

Higher Is Better

 

Again here in the Office 2007, POV Ray and PCMark Vantage tests, the Celeron CPU shows the additional power it has over an Atom.

Testing:

SiSoft Sandra is a diagnostic utility and synthetic benchmarking program. Sandra allows you to view your hardware at a higher level to be more helpful. For this benchmark, I will be running a broad spectrum of tests to gauge the performance of key functions of the CPUs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Processor Arithmetic

 

Multi-Core Efficiency

 

 

Memory Bandwidth

 

 

Memory Latency

 

Cache and Memory

 

Power Management Efficiency

 

In the Sandra tests, the Sapphire E350 was in the middle between the Intel Celeron and Intel Atom chipsets.

Testing:

ScienceMark tests real world performance instead of using synthetic benchmarks. 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

 

Again the APU came in the middle of the pack. Faster than the Atom but a bit behind the Celeron dual core.

Testing:

Far Cry 2:

Featuring a new game engine named Dunia, this game looks to be another one to stress your video card. Built especially 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 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 version of the game, you don't have all the beautiful water but instead, the beauty and harshness of the African continent. Most games give you a set area that can be played through, while Ubisoft has given the gamer the equivalent of 50 square kilometers of 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 versus visual quality.

 

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The APU started off a strong second but actually took the lead at the highest resolution.

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 APU started off neck and neck with the Celeron but pulled off the lead again at 1920 x 1200.

Testing:

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

 

Video Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Again in Batman AA, the APU took the win as the fastest at every resolution.

Testing:

3DMark06 is one of the benchmarks that always comes up when a bragging contest is started. 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 combined power of the Fusion APU gave the Sapphire E350 the fastest 3DMark 06 scores.

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 the default settings.

 Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Even though the APU had a slower CPU score than the Celeron, the combined Fusion power gave the platform the highest overall Entry score.

Power Consumption:

Since this is a low power HTPC inspired hardware combo, I wanted to measure how efficient it was when operating in different states. All of the scenarios were conducted using a WattsUpPro power meter using the average power consumption over five minutes for each run.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Temperatures:

To gauge how hot the system will run, I wanted to record the temperatures during idle, load and when overclocked. To simulate the load I ran SuperPi and FurMark 1.8.2 at the same time stressing the Fusion E350. To measure the temperatures, I used the ASUS PC Probe II utility for the CPU. The ambient temperature was kept at a constant 22°C during the entire test.

Conclusion:

What can I say but wow! I went into this review with an open mind and was very pleasantly surprised. As a long time Intel Atom user I have grown accustomed to the low power platform's limitations on what it could and couldn't accomplish. Even being paired with the NVIDIA ION in some of my boards, there were still some things I could not do. During some HD playback, it would stutter every once in a while and even light gaming was a challenge to get by. The AMD Fusion APU definitely put those issues to rest. Not once did the video playback struggle. In fact, I watched the whole Saving Private Ryan 720p video while the APU system was plugged into my HD TV using the HDMI output and I forgot it was running off of the computer so much so that when it was over, I tried turning off my Blu-ray player. Even the gaming benchmarks that were tested were somewhat playable on the lowest resolution which is surprising considering the small size of the platform.

I was kind of bummed about not being able to overclock the system but the stock power was pleasing none the less. The integrated USB 3.0 and SATA III ports are a nice addition since the industry is slowly moving towards the higher speeds as mainstream. I also appreciated the integrated Bluetooth which is nice because you can use Bluetooth keyboards and remotes for this system as an HTPC platform. I was surprised that there was no integrated Wi-Fi card or even an antenna mount. Even the lowest-end boards on the market include integrated Wi-Fi. Even a mounting hole on the back plate would have made the difference so the user could add their own Wi-Fi card without having to modify their case or the back plate. Lastly, I wanted to point out something that is a pro and a con at the same time. The use of SO-DIMM memory has its perks with taking up less space than traditional modules and produces less heat but it is harder to come by as not everyone has laptop memory laying around their house. While not a big drawback that's the reason I included it in both categories.

The Fusion APU while still new, is definitely a big contender on the block. The Atom processor has been the big man on campus with low power systems, HTPCs and netbooks but now with the release of the AMD Fusion APU, I would not be surprised to see a shift in brands for mobile and low power systems. Sapphire did an excellent job of tying in this new processor technology with the features we want and need for the perfect low power platform of the future.

 

Pros:

 

Cons: