Sapphire Pure Fusion Mini E350 Review



Product: Sapphire Pure Fusion Mini E350
Company: Sapphire
Author: James Prior
Editor: Charles Oliver
Date: June 13th, 2011

Technology Overview

The Sapphire Pure Fusion Mini E350 is an AMD Brazos board using a Zacate APU. Before we get started, let's get familiar with some of the technology and codenames we are talking about here - there is a lot that is new.

Brazos

Brazos is the design codename for the platform which features AMD E-series or C-series APUs, with AMD's mobile chipset, Hudson M1. The platform was introduced at CES 2011 for low power platforms, specifically mobile devices such as netbooks and ultra-portable notebooks. AMD's success with this platform launch was greater than forecasted, leading to massive gains in market share and a complete sell out of E-series and C-series APUs in Q1. Not a bad problem to have, as problems go, especially with more than 3 million shipped.

Zacate & Ontario

Zacate and Ontario are the product line codenames that make up the E-series and C-series APUs. At 18W TDP and 9W TDP respectively, these APUs feature a new x86 microarchitecture known as Bobcat and are designed for low power performance, capable of full out-of-order execution with an advanced branch predictor and AMD virtualization technology. Integrated into the die is a Terascale 2, DirectX 11 capable design graphics architecture. 80 stream cores are accompanied by AMD's new UVD 3 decode, providing Blu-ray 3D and DiVX hardware support. Zacate and Ontario APUs are manufactured on TSMC's 40nm process, like AMD GPUs, and unlike AMD's CPUs from Global Foundries. Component integration is high, with a common bus and memory interface used by the x86 cores, the SIMD array, and the UVD processor, as well as the platform interface.

Pure Mini Fuson E-350

In keeping with its mobile origins, Sapphire's Pure Fusion Mini E350 is a mini-ITX form factor suitable for small form factor desktop, HTPC or appliance builds. Sapphire has opted for two SO-DIMM DDR3 memory sockets. This key decision allow for feature expansion in the room freed up from standard DDR3 DIMM sockets. The black PCB is contrasted nicely by the blue, black, grey and red ports and socket colors used. Sapphire includes a two-digit 7-segment LED display for POST code display, and an onboard speaker. The CMOS battery is mounted at 90 degrees to traditional, in a vertical arrangement.

Rear Panel

The rear panel features four USB 2.0 ports, two USB 3.0 ports, eSATA 3Gbps port, Gigabit Ethernet port, HDMI 1.3b output, single-link DVI output, VGA d-sub output, analog 7.1 audio outputs and optical S/PDIF output. Two of the USB 2.0 ports are colored red, presumably for use with high current devices like phones but no mention of support for this is made in the documentation. Above the red USB ports is the illuminated Bluetooth antenna, which is lit when active. At the bottom of the stack is the eSATA 2.0 3Gbps port, which supports AHCI and hot-plug. The USB 3.0 superspeed ports are colored blue, and located under the RJ-45 jack for the LAN connector. The five SATA ports are locate at the top of the board, two parallel to the board and three perpendicular.

Heart of Brazos

The APU and chipset are located adjacent to each other, and have tiny dies on small packages. Both are non-socketed BGA type and are directly mounted to the board, so no APU upgrades will be possible unless you have access to a commercial grade reflow machine, and can procure new un-mounted APUs - not likely. Both chips are cooled by black anodized aluminum heatsinks, with a small 40mm fan on the APU itself. The Radeon HD 6310 integrated into the E-350 APU does not support Eyefinity with the included outputs, able to drive any two of the output at one time. The HDMI output supports [email protected] and 24 bits per pixel (bpp), also known as True Color. The DVI-D port is single-link and supports resolutions upto [email protected] with Deep Color (36bpp), and the VGA port supports [email protected] and Deep Color (30bpp).

AMD Universal Video Decoder 3

Integrated into the APU is AMD's Universal Video Decoder (UVD) processor. Now version 3.0, it is capable of hardware accelerating Multi-View Codec and DiVX video, in addition to the codecs supported under previous versions (AVC, H.264, and MPEG-2). The single SIMD is comprised of 80 stream cores using the Terascale 2 architecture first seen in AMD's Evergreen graphics stack. It is not known if the design received the same tweaks as the rest of the new 6000 series (except the Juniper based HD 6700 series, of course) but it seems likely to be a little more than the Cedar chip used in the Radeon HD 5450. The memory interface is single-channel 64-bit and capable of supporting up to 8GB of DDR3 in the two SO-DIMM slots; DDR3-800 and DDR3-1066 speeds are supported.

Realtek ALC892

The Realtek ALC892 chip provides an internal HD audio front panel connector and S/PDIF I/O header, in addition to the 7.1 channel analog audio out and S/PDIF optical output on the rear I/O shield. The ALC892 is capable of 2 channel streaming to the front panel stereo output in addition to the 7.1 rear output, for different audio on headphones than on connected speakers. The chip also supports Blu-ray protected audio. The APU features AMD’s HD Audio device, which is another Realtek based device capable of outputting multi-channel bit-stream audio (including Dolby TrueHD and DTS Master Audio) over the HDMI output.

L: Hudson; R: Zacate

The Hudson M1 A50 fusion controller hub provides six SATA ports, five of which are enabled internally. Sapphire has restricted the eSATA port to 3Gbps, most likely for compatibility reasons. The Hudson FCH chip doesn't support RAID, leaving ACHI or combined IDE mode operation as the only options. Per port eSATA designation is available allowing more than the physically located port to be used for external devices as required.

PCI-Express Graphics slot + mini PCI-Express x1

Both the E-350 APU and Hudson FCH offer 4 PCI-Express v2 lanes, which are implemented as a PCI-Express Graphics (PEG) slot from the APU and a mini-PCI-E x1 port from the FCH. The PEG slot is physically x16 but electrically x4, and Sapphire denotes it for graphics board use only. One of the remaining PCI-E lanes from the FCH is used for the NEC 7202 USB 3.0 controller, while one of the FCH’s USB ports is connected to the Atheros AR3011 Bluetooth chip.

AMI APTIO

AMI's APTIO bios is used, which supports UEFI v2.1 and 16MB SPI flash ROM. The BIOS is basic, offering little control over system parameters and feels more like an OEM BIOS than for an enthusiast. There are no overclocking options, and the only memory speed control is to select base clock of Auto, 400 or 533; no timings or SPD/XMP support but you can enable interleaving. Voltages are similarly auto-selected, and no adjustment of multiplier or base clock is permitted. The bios is simple to use and read, navigated by keyboard and displaying white lettering on blue background. It's simple and effective, allowing basic controls for enabling or disabling devices like the USB 3, network, audio or Bluetooth controllers. The APU graphics cores can be disabled, or forced to use a specific amount of system RAM up to 1GB, if available.