Nothing illustrates our problem with MSI’s E350IA-E45 mobo (reviewed last month) better than the Mvix Minix 890GX-USB3.
Manufactured for Mvix by J&W, the Minix pretty much solves the primary issue we had with MSI’s Fusion-based mother-board: While the MSI board featured a soldered-on CPU in the form of a Fusion E-350, the Minix is far more traditional in that you pair your board with the processor that best suits your needs.
In this case, Mvix gives you an AM3 socket with standard AMD cooling brackets. This lets you run a standard cooler. However, lower-profile cooling units we tried, such as the Silverstone NT07, were an extremely tight fit, to the point where the heatsink literally sat on one of the caps and jumpers. Not good.
In the features department, Mvix hits all the highlights. There’s AMD’s 890GX chipset with the SB850 south bridge, an NEC USB 3.0 controller, the Realtek audio codec, and not one, but two Gigabit ports powered by Broadcom PHYs. Why two? Mini-ITX boards often find themselves pulling duties in odd places, and dual Gigabit ports could accommodate the board’s use as a home-brew router or NAS.
Despite the excitement over AMD’s Fusion, AM3 still has something to offer.
We like that Mvix includes built-in 802.11n. We know a USB dongle is an easy fix, but this is extremely convenient. It’s also a feature MSI neglected.
We tested the Minix 890GX-USB3 with an AMD energy-efficient, 65-watt, 2.6GHz Phenom II X4 910e. Interestingly, Mvix says the board is Phenom II X6 ready, but rates the board for a maximum of 95 watts. We know of no Phenom II X6 processors that have TDP ratings of less than 125 watts. While those are worst-case scenario ratings by AMD, we’d rather err on the side of caution and stick with a 95-watt or lower proc.
Booting the board with the Phenom II and 4GB of RAM, we realized exactly what’s wrong with both Fusion and Atom—their x86 performance. Simply put, the Phenom II gives you “real” x86 performance and never feels bogged down. With both Atom and Fusion, Windows 7 doesn’t feel responsive enough.
In graphics, however, the newer Fusion part does outpace its sibling. This gaming prowess (at low resolutions anyway) isn’t always reflected in our benchmarks. The higher clock speed and faster x86 performance of Phenom II made the older Athlon 64 core in Fusion look far weaker than it actually is. The good news is that the 890GX had just enough juice to run all of the HD video we threw at it. In areas where the 890GX was lacking in graphics performance, its faster x86 cores made up for the shortcoming.
This brings us back to our original premise: Fusion boards with soldered-in CPUs lock you into that CPU, er, APU performance. Traditional boards like the Minix let you run a processor of your choice, be it a 35-watt power-sipping proc or a high-clocked multicore jobbie. Our take is that flexibility is a valuable commodity in a motherboard. Of course, there is also the matter of price. With a street price of $200, the Minix 890GX-USB3 is about $60 more expensive than comparable MITX AM3 boards from Asus and Zotac.