Asus E35M1-M Pro: AMD Fusion Motherboard

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The Fusion APU is the first unique product of the marriage between AMD and ATI. It isn't the game-changer we had hoped it would be, but it certainly puts AMD in the game. AMD's previous nettop and netbook offerings have been half-hearted and ineffective against Intel's Atom and CULV chips, but Zacate (and presumably Ontario) now gives AMD a solid foundation to truly push into this market. The APU may become a bigger player in the future when GPU-accelerated applications become more common, but for now a meaningful discussion of the APU requires us to separate our thoughts pertaining to the CPU and GPU.

The E-350 CPU's performance was inconsistent, trailing Intel's CULV dual core Celeron SU2300 by small margins in some tests and larger margins in others. It was also incredibly slow when encoding video, even more so than Atom. This will probably improve as programmers apply new optimizations to fully utilize the Fusion APU, and while encoding video probably isn't critical for most prospective Fusion adopters, it's worth noting. Subjectively, the Fusion system felt more responsive than dual core Atom and Nvidia ION combinations we've used in the past with Windows 7. It's certainly enough to get through the day-to-day minutia of modern computing without serious lag.

The Radeon HD 6310 seems to have 3D performance more or less equal to ION, but ION isn't that impressive to begin with, especially on high resolution displays. Though the 6310 is basically a cut down version of AMD's Radeon HD 5450, we consider it more of a high-end integrated GPU rather than a low-end discrete video card. It's not nearly as fast as what Sandy Bridge is packing. However, given the speed of the CPU (which may actually limit the GPU), the two portions of the APU complement each other well. Video playback was perfect whether it be downloaded H.264 videos, streaming Flash content, or high quality Blu-ray discs, but more CPU resources were required during playback compared to ION.

From an energy efficiency standpoint, the Asus E35M1-M Pro is generally competitive with the Zotac IONITX-P-E which features a combination of Intel's Celeron SU2300 and nVidia ION graphics. It uses a bit more juice when playing video, especially Blu-ray discs, but its idle and CPU load power consumption are both excellent. Given how frugal it is with power, the massive heatsink likely can be run without direct cooling and our guess is that Fusion based netbooks and ultraportables should offer very good battery life.

The Asus E35M1-M Pro would be great as the core of a home server, especially with the ample number of SATA ports. It of course can also pull double duty as a proficient home theater PC. Retailing for about US$140, it is unclear whether this represents a great value as there aren't any integrated microATX boards with a modern GPU we can compare it to. Its closest analogs are the comparably-priced Atom/ION mini-ITX boards like the Zotac IONITX-G-E/K-E. Compared to them, it has distinct advantages, including extra features like five SATA 6 Gbps ports, eSATA, USB 3.0, FireWire, and two fully controllable fan headers. It is also faster overall than Atom, but if you want a basic system with a little more speed, you can move up to the US$200 Celeron-powered Zotac IONITX-P-E. The other option is a traditional desktop CPU/motherboard combination, which will use a lot more energy.

In any case, the arrival of AMD's Fusion APU is significant, and this is only the very first generation. We look forward to what comes next.

Our thanks to Asus and AMD for the E35M1-M Pro CPU/motherboard sample.

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