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Today we are reviewing the Zotac FUSION350-A-E Mini-ITX motherboard, which comes with an on-board AMD E-350 CPU, four USB 3.0 ports, Wi-Fi as well as additional features. Check it out!
The E-350 is a dual-core CPU with embedded graphics. Actually, AMD calls it an APU (Accelerated Processing Unit). In our articles and reviews, we will still be calling these products “CPUs.” AMD first announced that they would be creating a CPU with an integrated graphics chip in 2006, and gave the name “Fusion” to this idea. Intel, however, copied this idea and released CPUs with integrated video controllers in the beginning of 2010, within its Core i series.
While the A-series are aimed at the mainstream desktop computer market (you can read our review of the A8-3850 CPU here), the E-series is aimed at low-power computers. This platform is called internally “Brazos,” while this family of CPUs has the call-sign “Zacate.” The CPU cores are code-named “Bobcat.” There is also an “Ontario” series (C-series) which has an even lower TDP (and lower clocks).
Keep in mind that, even though they are a competitor for Intel Atom processors, the Bobcat cores don’t have much in common with them. While Atom uses an in-order execution (as well as “Jurassic” CPUs like the original Pentium), the AMD Bobcat uses out-of-order instruction execution, which allows it to be faster, even at the same clock speed.
The E-350 CPU has a 1.6 GHz clock, two cores, a 40 nm manufacturing process, and a TDP of only 18 W. The 512 KB per core L2 cache runs at half the core clock in order to save energy. The GPU embedded in those chips is called Radeon HD 6310, with 80 cores and 500 MHz clock speed. It is compatible with DirectX 11 and supports UVD3 (Unified Video Decoder 3), which improves 2D video performance by hardware-based video decoding.
The memory controller is, of course, integrated into the chip. It supports DDR3 memory up to 1,066 MHz, in single channel configuration. As a companion, the E-350 must be paired with an “FCH” (Fusion Controller Hub, code-named “Hudson”) which takes on the role of a south bridge chip, controlling SATA-600, USB, Ethernet and Audio ports.
The E-350 has eight PCI Express x1 lanes, but four of them are by the south bridge, leaving room for implementation of a PCI Express x4 slot on the motherboard.
The FUSION350-A-E is a Mini-ITX motherboard based on the AMD E-350 CPU. It uses the AMD A50M (“Hudson”) south bridge. In Figure 1, you see the FUSION350-A-E, which uses the Mini-ITX form factor, meaning that it measures 6.7 x 6.7 inches (170 x 170 mm). Notice the big fanless cooler from Cooler Master, with two heatpipes.
As with any Mini-ITX board, the FUSION350-A-E has only one conventional (i.e., rear) slot. Zotac chose to include a PCI Express x4 slot instead of an x16 one. Notice that, being open at the end, this slot is compatible with PCI Express x16 graphics cards (obviously working at x4 speed only) as well as with PCI Express x1 cards. The motherboard has a mini PCI Express slot, which comes with a wireless network adapter.
[nextpage title=”Memory Support”]
The AMD E-350 has an embedded memory controller, supporting DDR3 memories up to 1,066 MHz.
The Zotac FUSION350-A-E has two SO-DIMM (“laptop memory”) sockets for DDR3 memory modules, supporting up to 8 GB. There is no dual channel technology, so the memory is always accessed in 64-bit mode.
[nextpage title=”On-board Peripherals”]
The manufacturer calls the chip paired with the E-350 CPU the “FCH” (Fusion Controller Hub), and the model used on the FUSION350-A-E is the A50M. This chip supports six SATA-600 ports (no RAID support), and the board comes with four SATA-600 ports and one eSATA-600 port.
The FUSION350-A-E doesn’t have parallel ATA or floppy ports.
This motherboard has six USB 2.0 ports, four soldered on the rear panel and two available through one header located on the motherboard. It also has four USB 3.0 ports, two available on the motherboard rear panel and two in the motherboard header, controlled by a VIA VL800 chip.
This motherboard doesn’t have FireWire ports.
The Zotac FUSION350-A-E supports 7.1+2 audio format, which means eight channels plus two independent audio streaming channels. The audio is generated by the chipset using a Realtek ALC892 codec, which has a 97 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the analog outputs, 90 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the analog inputs, up to 192 kHz sampling rate for both inputs and outputs, and 24-bit resolution. These specifications are good for the mainstream user, but if you are looking into working professionally with audio editing, you should look for a motherboard that provides an SNR of at least 97 dB for the analog input.
The audio connectors at the rear panel are independent if you use a 5.1 analog speaker set, but if you use a 7.1 analog outputs, you will need to use the “mic in” or the “line in” connector. The motherboard has an on-board optical SPDIF output on the rear panel, and you can install an SPDIF coaxial output using a header available on the motherboard.
The FUSION350-A-E has one Gigabit Ethernet port, controlled by a Realtek RTL8111E chip.
In Figure 5, you can see the motherboard rear panel, with a shared PS/2 connector for keyboard and mouse, two USB 3.0 ports (blue connectors), DisplayPort output, HDMI port, two connectors for wireless network antennas, DVI-D video output, one eSATA-600 port, four USB 2.0 ports, a Gigabit Ethernet port, and 7.1 analog audio shared audio connectors.
[nextpage title=”Other Features”]
The Wi-Fi adapter that comes with the motherboard is an AzureWave AW-NE785H, compatible with the IEEE 801.11 b/g/n standards.
There is a legacy serial port available on the motherboard header. If you want t
o use it, you will need to buy the adapter, since it doesn’t come with the motherboard.
Figure 7 reveals the accessories that come with the Zotac FUSION350-A-E: manual, drivers and utilities DVD, SATA cables, case rear frame, DVI-VGA adapter, and the Wi-Fi antennas.
As we mentioned before, the CPU comes soldered on the motherboard. Figure 8 reveals the E-350 CPU (at the right) and the AMD A50M chipset (at the left) after removing the cooler.
The two-phase voltage regulator is enough for this low-consumption CPU. All the capacitors are solid, and all the coils are ferrite ones, which is great. If you want to learn more about the voltage regulator circuit, read our tutorial on this subject.
[nextpage title=”Main Specifications”]
The main specifications for the Zotac FUSION350-A-E motherboard include:
- CPU: AMD E-350
- Socket: FT1 (CPU soldered on the motherboard)
- Chipset: AMD A50M
- Super I/O: ITE IT8758
- Parallel ATA: None
- Serial ATA: Four SATA-600 ports controlled by the chipset
- External SATA: One eSATA-600 port controlled by the chipset
- USB 2.0: Six USB 2.0 ports, four soldered on the motherboard rear panel and two available through a header on the motherboard
- USB 3.0: Two ports soldered on the motherboard rear panel, controlled by a VIA VL800 chip
- FireWire (IEEE 1394): None
- On-board video: Yes, controlled by the CPU (Radeon HD 6310); one DisplayPort, one HDMI port, and one DVI-D connector
- On-board audio: Produced by the chipset together with a Realtek ALC892 codec (eight channels, 24-bit resolution, up to 192 KHz sampling rate for both the inputs and outputs, 90 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the inputs, and 95 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the outputs), on-board optical SPDIF connector
- On-board LAN: Gigabit Ethernet port controlled by a Realtek RTL8111E chip, Wi-Fi supporting IEEE 802.11 b/g/n through an AzureWave AW-NE785H Mini PCI Express adapter card
- Buzzer: Yes
- Infrared interface: No
- Power supply required: ATX12V
- Slots: One PCI Express 2.0 x4 slot and one mini PCI Express slot
- Memory: Two DDR3 SO-DIMM sockets (up to DDR3-1066, 8 GB maximum)
- Fan connectors: One four-pin connector for the CPU cooler and one four-pin connector for an auxiliary fan
- Extra Features: Legacy serial port
- Number of CDs/DVDs provided: One
- Programs included: Motherboard utilities and drivers
- More Information: https://www.zotac.com
- Average price in the US*: USD 145.00
* Researched at Newegg.com on the day we published this review.
[nextpage title=”How We Tested”]
We ran some tests comparing the performance of the Zotac FUSION350-A-E with other motherboards with similar characteristics: the ECS HDC-I (which brings the same AMD E-350 CPU) and the Intel D525MW (which comes with an on-board Intel Atom D525). We also included in this test a Core i3-540 CPU, in order to discover if the performance of those motherboards with an embedded processor can be comparable to a mainstream system with CPU integrated video.
During our benchmarking sessions, we used the configuration listed below. Between our benchmarking sessions, we kept that same hard disk, but of course the motherboard and CPU were different. The memory used was not always the same since two of the motherboards tested use DIMM modules, while the other two use SO-DIMM modules, but all the tests were made with the same memory specs.
- Motherboard (Core i3-540): Gigabyte H55M-S2H
- CPU Cooler: Stock
- Memory: 2 GB DDR3-1333, one module
- Hard Disk Drive: Maxtor STM3250310AS (250 GB, SATA-300, 7,200 rpm)
- Video Card: CPU integrated video
- Video Monitor: Samsung Syncmaster 2232BW Plus
- Power Supply: Seventeam ST-550P-AM
Operating System Configuration
- Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
- NTFS filesystem
- Video resolution: 1680×1050
- AMD video driver version: 11.7
- Intel video driver version: 184.108.40.206.2361
- PCMark 7 1.0.4
We adopted a 3% error margin. Thus, differences below 3% cannot be considered relevant. In other words, products with a performance difference below 3% should be considered as having similar performance.
[nextpage title=”Our Tests”]
The new PCMark 7 performs a series of tests and gives scores in the following categories: An overall score called PCMark; a Productivity score, which is the system performance when using applications such as web browsing and home office applications; a Creativity score, which is the system performance when viewing, editing, converting, and storing photos and videos; an Entertainment score, which is the system performance when recording, viewing, streaming, and converting TV shows and movies, as well as importing, organizing, and browsing music, and gaming; and a Computation score, which indicates the processing performance of the system. Let’s analyze the results.
The ZOTAC FUSION350-A-E had a performance similar to the one shown by the ECS HDC-I since they are based on the same CPU.
Agreeing with the results we obtained in the HDC-I review, we saw that the AMD E-350 CPU is faster than the Atom D525, mostly in tasks involving video. We also noticed that the E-350 is slower than the Intel Core i3-540 in processing power, but its embedded video is most powerful in some situations.
Like the ECS HDC-I which we tested before, the Zotac FUSION350-A-E motherboard is a great choice for multimedia and entertainment PCs, as well as for Home Theater PCs (HTPCs). It brings a CPU powerful enou
gh for general web surfing, multimedia watching and entertainment purposes, even without the brute force processing power of mainstream CPUs because of its low clock of 1.6 GHz, around half the clock found on most mainstream CPUs.
This little board is also full of useful and updated technologies, like the USB 3.0 and SATA-600 ports, as well as the included Wi-Fi card, which improves the product’s price/performance ratio. The fact that it uses a passive (i.e., fanless) cooler is excellent if you want to build a quiet computer to be used in your living room or bedroom.
So, if you are looking for a motherboard/CPU combo to build an inexpensive, quiet and low energy consumption small form factor (SFF) computer or for an HTPC, the Zotac FUSION350-A-E is a great choice, thus receiving our Silver Award.