Asus E35M1-M Pro review

The first AMD Fusion APU hits the test bench with a rough landing

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Although the AMD E-350's status as the first low-power Fusion APU is what makes it so interesting, it's the new Bobcat core that makes it all possible.

Crucially, it's an out-of-order design, an instruction handling feature that first appeared in the Intel Pentium Pro way back in 1995 and has since been the calling card of every PC processor that aspires to truly high performance.

In simple terms it allows more instructions to be handled and more work done per clock cycle.

It's a processing paradigm that's even beginning to appear in the latest smartphones thanks to the new Cortex A9 core from ARM.

Intel's simpler in-order Atom is being left behind.

That said, it's worth noting the Zacate die that forms the basis of the AMD E-350 remains a modest architecture compared to the best desktop CPUs. It can issue just two instructions per cycle compared to four for Intel desktop processors, for example, and its two cores are clocked at just 1.6GHz. That's half the frequency of the fastest full-power desktop CPUs.

Of course, this is a Fusion APU and that means graphics, too.

The graphics core is branded Radeon HD 6310. Architecturally it's really a Radeon HD 5000 class GPU with 80 stream processors in the VLIW-5 idiom.

In other words, it doesn't have the new four-way shader setup that debuted with AMD's Radeon HD 6900 series. Still, the 80 stream processors are double the number seen in any previous AMD integrated GPU and theoretically put the AMD E-350 in roughly the same ballpark for 3D performance as Intel's much more expensive Sandy Bridge chips.

Perhaps even more significant, however, is the E-350's 2D video decode performance.

Intel's Atom platform is notoriously feeble for video decode and typically makes for netbooks barely able to cope with DVD-quality Flash video much less HD content. In the past, this left the door open for the likes of NVIDIA's Ion chipset to add decent video chops.

Fortunately, the E-350 brings AMD's NVIDIA Ion-busting UVD3 engine including full 1080p h.264 video decode support to a simpler, cheaper platform.

However, remember the performance of the UVD3 engine in any given AMD graphics core is a function mainly of clockspeed. The Radeon HD 6310 is clocked at 500MHz and thus much slower than a typical discrete AMD desktop graphics card like, say, the Radeon HD 6850.

Still it's an impressive overall feature set, especially when you consider the size and power profiles.

Those two cores and 80 stream processors, along with PCI Express connectivity, a dual-channel DDR3 memory controller and more fit in just 75mm2. To put that into context, a quad-core chip like an Intel Core i5 760 is fully 296mm2 without graphics.

Power and thermals, meanwhile, come in at 18W for the E-350 plus another 3W for the SATA, USB and ethernet hub chip. That's a little more than a similar Intel Atom platform but lower than an Atom-plus-NVIDIA-Ion solution.

As for the Asus E35M1-M PRO motherboard that's giving us our first taste of AMD Fusion, it's a Micro-ATX mobo but slightly shallower than the full 244mm x 244m maximum.

Despite that, it's extremely well specified. Asus has added 5 SATA 6Gbps ports and a pair of USB 3.0 sockets. The video outputs include HDMI, VGA and DVI ports. But beware the latter is single-link, limiting resolution to a maximum of 1,920 x 1,200.

There's even a PCI Express x16 port for discrete graphics.

However, the Zacate Fusion architecture only sports four external PCI Express lanes. Electrically, then, the Asus E35M1-M PRO is not the full x16 Monty.

Rounding out the spec list is ethernet, eSATA, Firewire, PS2 and optical SPDIF. You even get a fancy graphical EFI firmware interface and support for overclocking.


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