It’s a little difficult to review MSI’s new Fusion-based E350IA-E45. Normally, our motherboard reviews consider the CPU as an adjunct to the board since consumers may populate the board with one of numerous CPUs.
That’s not so with the Mini-ITX MSI E350IA-E45 which, as its name implies, incorporates AMD’s brand new 1.6GHz E-350 with AMD’s Radeon HD 6310 graphics part soldered to the board, so you better be happy with the CPU you get.
Fortunately, AMD’s new Accelerated Processing Unit has a lot going for it. For those who don’t know, the APU enmeshes a dual-core x86 core with a fairly powerful graphics core.
MSI’s Fusion board sips power and can play The Sim 3 too
The x86 side of the E-350 chip is nothing to write home about. It’s essentially a slightly narrower iteration of an Athlon 64 core that will outperform or underperform an equivalent Athlon 64 depending on the application that is being run. More exciting is the graphics core, which features 80 Radeon cores all at a very low temperature and low power consumption. How low? At idle – with a very ungreen WD Raptor drive attached and USB optical drive, the entire system drank 28 watts at idle. Watching 1080P video on YouTube pushed it to about 35 to 38 Watts at the wall.
In a preview late last year, we were impressed by the graphics capability of Fusion and we weren’t disappointed in official Lab tests. Before you get too excited – you need to lower your expectations about five notches and then climb down into the basement if you’re expecting GTX 580 graphics and a free Sandy Bridge to boot for $130. The E350IA-E45 is capable of Blu-ray playback, and played 1080P content on the Internet without issues.
But what about gaming? Here we get conflicted. We think Fusion is a great alternative to Intel’s weak Atom line of processors and integrated graphics in notebooks and netbooks. In a desktop computer, however, you’re not as confined as you are with mobile. With that said, the Fusion and MSI board combo does give you playable performance in Sims 3, and somewhat acceptable frame rates in Left 4 Dead 2 as well as Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. We found it wanting at Call of Duty: Black Ops though. When we say playable, we mean at low resolutions such as 1024x768. So, while gaming is far improved over Atom machines with integrated graphics, you won’t be playing at high-res. The board is perfect for someone building a low-power, quiet HDTV streaming or web box. It’s also fine for someone building a miniature PC that will be tucked behind the monitor.
But, and you knew we would say but, our personal preference is for more heft. Say a Core i3 with discrete graphics ala the Kick-ass (and super expensive) Asrock Vision 3D HTPC we reviewed last month. Or even a socketed AM3 processor part.
That’s not to say the E350IA-E45 has no utility, but you need to calibrate your expectations. In the end, Fusion is clearly a better option than Atom with integrated graphics. It's not everything we wanted, but it's a good beginning.
Low power, low cost and eats most Atom boards for lunch
Could not boot to 3TB drive and perhaps a little off the power curve
Dell Inspiron Zino
Polywell Giada Ion-100
Zotac HD Zbox HD
Asrock Vision 3D
1.6GHz E-350 with AMD Radeon HD 6310 graphics
1.5GHz Athlon II X2 3250e with integrated 780G cihpset