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SAPPHIRE PURE Fusion Mini E350 review, part one

SAPPHIRE PURE Fusion Mini E350 review, part one

AMD’s Fusion Accelerated Processing Unit (APU) was introduced at CES this year and was shown in various forms. But just what is Fusion?

What is Fusion?

Fusion is the overall name for the technology behind AMD’s hybrid CPU/GPU lineup, and represents their strategy for the current generation (and presumably future) of processors.

The Fusion APU contains both the CPU cores and a DirectX 11 GPU on the same die.

The currently available Brazos platform pairs one or two 64-bit Bobcat CPU cores with a Radeon HD 6000-series GPU in a single package. The platform is comprised of two members targeting the ultra-portable notebook/netbook and low-power desktop markets: Ontario and Zacate.

Ontario (C-series models) consists of single and dual-core processors designed for extremely low power usage (9 watts maximum).  Currently the CPU portion is clocked at speeds of up to 1.2GHz.  It integrates a Radeon HD 6250 with a core configuration of 80:8:4 (Unified Shaders:Texture Mapping Units:Render Output Units) clocked as high as 280MHz.  Future revisions are expected to implement AMD’s TurboCORE technology which will increase CPU and GPU clock speeds on an as-needed and as-able basis.

Zacate (E-series models) consists of single and dual-core processors designed for low power usage (18 watts max).  Currently the CPU portion is clocked at speeds of up to 1.6GHz, with a 1.65GHz part expected sometime in the third quarter.  It integrates a Radeon HD 6310 with a core configuration of 80:8:4 (Unified Shaders:Texture Mapping Units:Render Output Units) clocked as high as 500MHz.  Future revisions are expected to implement AMD’s TurboCORE technology which will increase CPU and GPU clock speeds on an as-needed and as-able basis.

The Lynx platform, aimed at the mainstream desktop, is expected to be released sometime this summer.

SAPPHIRE sent their PURE E350 motherboard/CPU combo for review, and since it’s such a new type of platform the Icrontic community was polled for usage cases they wanted to see.  These usage cases will be covered in a followup article soon.

Specs

  • Form factor: Mini-ITX
  • APU: AMD E-350
    • Zacate family
    • Dual-core, 1.6GHz
    • GPU Configuration: 80:8:4 (Unified Shaders:Texture Mapping Units:Render Output Units), 500MHz (Evergreen family)
  • Northbridge: Hudson M1
  • Memory support: 2×204-pin DDR3 800/1066 SO-DIMM
  • Maximum RAM: 8GB (2x4GB)
  • Single channel memory
  • Expansion slots
    • 1x PCI Express 2.0 x16 (electrically x4)
    • 1x mini PCI Express x1
  • SATA ports: 5x SATA 6.0Gb/s
  • eSATA ports: 1x eSATA 3.0Gb/s
  • Audio: Realtek ALC892 (8 channel)
  • Marvell 88E8057 Gigabit LAN
  • Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR
  • Video ports
    • HDMI, DVI, VGA
  • USB ports: 4x USB 2.0, 2x USB 3.0

The SAPPHIRE PURE E350 retails for $139.99 (a $20 MIR is available). It comes with a one year warranty, which is much shorter than other manufacturers (three years seems to be the standard).

Also available is the SAPPHIRE PURE E350 White, a lower cost version ($109.99) which lacks one SATA port (4 total), eSATA, surround/digital audio ports, USB 3.0 and the mini PCIe slot.  It does, however, use desktop RAM but is still limited to single channel and DDR3-1066 speeds.

The SAPPHIRE PURE E-350 is laid out pretty well.  The board is less than seven inches long per side, but it doesn’t feel cramped even when installed in its case (for the review a Thermaltake Element Q was used).  Its extremely low vertical clearance allows for a large array of case types from a mini tower down to a low profile case.  The heatsink is surprisingly small, and uses a 40mm fan for cooling.  A mini PCI Express slot sits next to the PCI Express x16 slot.  The Bluetooth antenna extends from the board just above two of the USB ports, but doesn’t extend any further than the VGA and DVI ports.  In the box is an I/O shield, some SATA cables, a manual, and the driver disc.

Test setup

CPU: AMD Fusion E-350 (dual core 1.6GHz)

Motherboard: SAPPHIRE PURE Fusion E-350

RAM: 4GB (2x2GB) DDR3-1066 204-pin SO-DIMM @7-7-7-20 (laptop RAM)

Storage: OCZ Vertex 2 60GB

PSU: 250W

Benchmarks

It should be pretty obvious that this is not a system meant for “benchmark bragging rights”, unless those bragging rights involve low power usage and noise as you’ll see below.  As Fusion is a very unique product and is not in the same class of hardware as previously reviewed hardware, its numbers will be presented on their own.  Also of note is that while the overall numbers will be low, the platform’s true capabilities aren’t really shown by the benchmark suite.

Power & Heat

Brazos is designed for low power computing, and it does an excellent job of keeping its draw to a minimum.  Idle power usage is 21 watts.  A grand total of 38 watts for the full system under load is far less than your average computer or game console.

The Fusion E-350 seems to run a little warm, but that’s because of the relatively small heatsink and fan.  I’m actually impressed that there’s only a 21 degree difference between idle and load temperatures.

Synthetic Benchmarks

PCMark Vantage

PCMark Vantage tests overall system performance in a variety of common tasks such as photo editing, video editing, music, gaming, communications, productivity, and security.  An overall score and individual scores for each test component are provided.

3DMark 11

3DMark 11 tests the DirectX 11 capability of a system including tessellation, compute shaders, and multithreading.  It’s a pretty intense benchmark and visually stunning to boot (this is quite helpful when watching multiple runs of a benchmark).

3DMark Vantage

3DMark Vantage is a DirectX 10 benchmark application.  It provides two GPU tests, two CPU tests, and six feature tests.  Tests include shadow maps, cloth simulation, ray-tracing effects, physics, pixel shaders, and parallax occlusion mapping.

The Zacate family of CPUs isn’t good for hardcore gaming, but it does make an excellent general use system and does extremely well for an ultraportable system.

SiSoft Sandra 2011

SiSoft Sandra’s CPU and RAM tests examine the potential processing power and bandwidth for a system.

Sandra agrees, the Fusion E-350 isn’t a computing powerhouse, but that’s not what it was designed for.  The single channel memory controller tops out at DDR3-1066 speeds. Filling only one or both memory slots doesn’t make a difference in performance.

wPrime

wPrime is a multithreaded benchmark program that tests the CPU by calculating square roots with a recursive call of Newton’s method for estimating functions, performs several iterations to increase the accuracy of the results, and then confirms the calculation results.  This process is then repeated for all numbers from 1 to the requested maximum.  Our test data requests a maximum value of 32,000,000.

DirectCompute Benchmark

DirectCompute Benchmark tests general-purpose computing on both the CPU and GPU.  It uses both DirectCompute and OpenCL APIs to calculate large quantities of FFT-like data and memory transfers.

I wouldn’t really use the Fusion E-350 for GPGPU.

Real Applications

H.264 transcoding

For transcoding we use Handbrake build svn3758, taking The Matrix from two sources (Blu-ray and DVD) to H.264-encoded .m4v files.  The Blu-ray source is used to produce content at both its native 1080p and 720p, while the DVD of the same movie is used for standard definition (480p) H.264 transcoding.

Handbrake doesn’t take advantage of AMD’s AVIVO transcoding acceleration, so anything other than DVD quality is going to be really slow.

MP3 encoding

LAME’s command-line MP3 encoder will be used for this test.  The test CD will be converted using these settings: 256kbps q0 VBR MP3.  This conversion process demonstrates single-core efficiency.

The Fusion E-350 does a respectable job of converting our test CD to MP3.

Games – best playable settings

The requirement for playability is a minimum framerate of 30fps.  Some of the games in our benchmarking suite don’t report minimum rates.  In those cases we’ll use the average reported rate and determine whether noticeable choppiness or slowed play occurs and base the evaluation on those factors.

Crysis: Warhead: For some reason, Crysis: Warhead wouldn’t do anything but crash.  Others have been able to get it working, so it’s most likely a configuration issue on my end.  If I can get it sorted out, I’ll provide an update in the community features article.

Metro 2033: Not playable – 4/16/7 fps (min/max/avg) @ 1024×768, DirectX 9, Quality low, AAA Antialiasing, 4xAF (absolute lowest settings).

Aliens vs Predator: Mostly playable – 32fps avg @ 640×480, Texture quality low, Shadows off, 1xAF, SSAO off, DX11 Tessellation off, 0xMSAA

H.A.W.X.: Playable – 35fps avg @ 1280×720, 0xAA

H.A.W.X. 2: Mostly playable – 27fps avg @ 800×600, 0xAA, all settings low.

Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II: Playable – 7/36/16 fps (min/max/avg) @ 1280×720, Low quality settings

Batman: Arkham Asylum: Mostly playable – 8/66/41 fps (min/max/avg) @ 640×480, 0xAA, Low quality settings

Lost Planet 2: Not playable – 24fps avg @ 640×480, 0xAA, Motion blur off, Shadows off, Detail settings low

The SAPPHIRE PURE E-350 probably shouldn’t be picked up for an as-is gaming system.  The Radeon HD 6310 just isn’t powerful enough to run most games.  There are some exceptions and some that are close to playable at minimum resolutions and settings, but out of the box it’s not suitable for high-end games.  Other gaming options and some additional titles will be explored in the followup “community features” article.

Multi-display

The SAPPHIRE PURE Fusion E-350 does support multiple monitors, but is limited to two at the most.  This is possibly due to a lack of DisplayPort as an option (more than two displays almost always requires a DisplayPort connection or adapter now)  Fortunately it can be any combination of available display outputs on the board.  Using a dual display setup is as easy with the SAPPHIRE board as it is with any normal desktop system and it works just as well.

Given the gaming scores, I don’t believe subjecting this system to Eyefinity gaming would be productive.

Icrontic Stamp of Approval BronzeConclusions

The standard benchmarks might not make the SAPPHIRE PURE Fusion E-350 look terribly good, but that’s more an issue with the benchmark suite than the platform itself.  The suite is geared towards a traditional system with a discrete GPU, and anything with an IGP will struggle.  For general day-to-day computing and quite a few special tasks, though, this board works very well, a fact which will be made clear in the second part of the review.

The only real complaint I have about the SAPPHIRE PURE Fusion E-350 is its short warranty.  Everyone else seems to offer a three year warranty while SAPPHIRE offers only one year.  This is minor, easily correctable, and I hope it gets done.

The community features article is coming soon.  This is where the SAPPHIRE board will be put to use in real scenarios our community members requested.

For now, I’ll have to leave it at this: the SAPPHIRE PURE Fusion E-350 is a great product at a good price, and is awarded the Icrontic Stamp of Approval.

Comments

  1. BuddyJ
    BuddyJ It's so little! I wonder what cool projects you could build with something like this.
  2. mertesn
    mertesn
    Buddy J said:
    It's so little! I wonder what cool projects you could build with something like this.
    Considering this thing has more computing power than the original space program, I'd say the possibilities are endless.
  3. Cliff_Forster
    Cliff_Forster Should have thought to say it before, but I'm curious on how it will fun Mythbuntu or perhaps Boxee on Linux for setting up a free open source HTPC project?
  4. mertesn
    mertesn
    Cliff_Forster said:
    Should have thought to say it before, but I'm curious on how it will fun Mythbuntu or perhaps Boxee on Linux for setting up a free open source HTPC project?
    One of the requested things was a Linux HTPC. I'll see if the Mythbuntu distro works as well as Boxee and XBMC.

    Personally I prefer XBMC over Boxee on Windows (haven't tried Linux yet). Boxee takes a very long time (hours) to scan my media folders and create its database. XBMC takes minutes and has better hardware acceleration support.
  5. Thrax
    Thrax Boxee took 20 minutes to scan and ID my 2TB media collection the first time, and hasn't taken more than about 40 seconds to grab something new since.
  6. mertesn
    mertesn
    Thrax said:
    Boxee took 20 minutes to scan and ID my 2TB media collection the first time, and hasn't taken more than about 40 seconds to grab something new since.
    Interesting. Maybe they improved the speed in a later update. No idea what I was running, but it did take hours to complete. My collection currently sits at 2.3TB.
  7. melvin martin
    melvin martin i bought one the day newegg posted them as in stock i built a machine with 4 gigs of memory and added a onboard laptop wireless card and built it on a lian li spider test bench it is a awsome machine for what it is
  8. GHoosdum
    GHoosdum Nice review. Pretty promising platform for something that uses so little power.
  9. Cliff_Forster
    Cliff_Forster
    mertesn said:
    One of the requested things was a Linux HTPC. I'll see if the Mythbuntu distro works as well as Boxee and XBMC.

    Personally I prefer XBMC over Boxee on Windows (haven't tried Linux yet). Boxee takes a very long time (hours) to scan my media folders and create its database. XBMC takes minutes and has better hardware acceleration support.
    Thanks, I'll be interested in what your experience is like, because I'm strongly considering it for exactly this purpose. I just recently simplified my home theater in a way thats really elegant in the front of the room, but space is limited and the only way I'm going to go HTPC is on a mini itx platform with a single HDMI out to the HDTV. I believe this may solve my problem.
  10. ec
    ec i had difficulty using this with freenas and unraid. also ubuntu does not run well. it seems that marvell ethernet chip is not fully supported yet on linux.

    anybody else have the same issue?
  11. XVII
    XVII Hello!
    What about "Maximum RAM: 8GB (2x4GB)" - is this so?
  12. mertesn
    mertesn
    XVII said:
    Hello!
    What about "Maximum RAM: 8GB (2x4GB)" - is this so?
    According to the specs, yes. I don't have an 8GB kit of laptop DDR3 to test, so I can't really verify that it works, but I doubt they'd list it if it didn't work.

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