MSI E350IS-E45 Mainboard
AMD has been kind to offer us a typical mini-ITX mainboard that might be used for nettop implementations of the Brazos platform. It is not an engineering sample but an off-the-shelf product from MSI that sells under the model name of E350IS-E45 (MS-7698).
MSI’s Brazos-optimized mainboard lacks any pretense for being special. It is an inexpensive product that is going to win the user’s heart with its affordable price rather than with some exotic functions. The price is about $130, by the way, which seems to be very moderate considering that the MSI E350IS-E45 is a complete platform with a CPU and a graphics core. You only need to install system memory, connect a hard disk and power supply, and you are ready to go.
The MSI E350IS-E45 is based on two chips: an AMD E-350 (Zacate) APU and a Hudson M1 chipset.
The processor contains two Bobcat computing cores, clocked at 1.6 GHz, with 512 kilobytes of L2 cache for each.
The integrated graphics core has 80 shader processors and a clock rate of 500 MHz.
The capabilities of the Zacate+Hudson pair are broad enough to implement everything necessary for a modern nettop in the mainboard alone. MSI engineers only added a Gigabit Ethernet controller (Realtek RTL8111E), an eight-channel audio codec (Realtek ALC887) and a USB 3.0 controller from NEC. With so few chips on board, the mainboard has a simple PCB design with quite a lot of free space, despite its tiny mini-ITX form-factor.
There are two DDR3 DIMM slots here but you should keep it in mind that the Zacate APU only has a single-channel memory controller, so you cannot enable dual-channel access even if you install two memory sticks. There is also a PCI Express x16 slot on the mainboard. It is connected to the processor's PCI Express x4 interface and can be used to extend the mainboard's functionality with an add-on card. You can even install a discrete graphics card into it if you want to.
The mainboard’s back panel offers six USB 2.0 ports, two USB 3.0 ports, a PS/2 port for mouse/keyboard, a Gigabit Ethernet connector, six analog audio connectors, coaxial and optical SPDIF outputs, and video outputs (analog D-Sub and digital HDMI). You can use the two video interfaces simultaneously. Some users might prefer a DVI connector instead of the D-Sub, but MSI thinks that the analog output is going to be a more demanded feature in a nettop. So if you need DVI, you will have to find an appropriate adapter because it is not included into the mainboard box.
On the mainboard’s PCB there are four SATA 6 Gbps connectors and headers for four additional USB 2.0 ports. All in all, this is quite a full and sufficient selection of interfaces for a modern compact computer.
The mainboard is powered up via standard ATX connectors, a 24-pin and a 4-pin one, but its power consumption is really very low as is indicated by the simple 3-phase CPU voltage regulator which even lacks any cooling device. The processor and chipset are only cooled with small aluminum heatsinks, so they do not seem to generate too much heat, either. There is a fan on the CPU heatsink, though. Being small and noisy, it may become a problem for users of this mainboard.
Instead of conventional BIOS this mainboard offers the new-fangled UEFI but this shouldn't provoke any problems as this particular UEFI interface is stylized to resemble the old-school BIOS. In fact, the number of user-defined settings is rather limited here. You can change the memory frequency and timings and control the CPU fan. There is no opportunity to overclock the computing or graphics cores as every clock rate is fixed at its default level.
Here is a list of the mainboard specs as provided by MSI.