Articles: Mainboards

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PCB Design and Functionality


First let’s take a closer look at a more complex PURE FUSION MINI E350 mainboard. Although it is based on totally standard components, such as AMD E-350 processor and Hudson M1 core logic set (South Bridge), it looks very unique. The thing is that the developers tried to turn it into a solution that would be superior to any available alternatives. For that purpose they invested a lot of effort in expanding its functionality to the maximum.

First, besides the PCI Express x16 slot typical of all Brazos-based mainboards (which is in fact simply connected to four PCIe lanes), PURE FUSION MINI E350 also has a Mini PCIe x1 slot. So, this mainboard can easily be enhanced with a Wi-Fi or any other controller. Second, the mainboard has an additional USB 3.0 controller from NEC that supports two additional ports with this standard. Third, there are five 6 Gbps SATA ports. Fourth, the board is equipped with Atheros AR3011 Bluetooth-controller. And fifth, PURE FUSION MINI E350 has a POST-controller, which is a pretty strange choice for a super-integrated mainboard.

At the same time, PURE FUSION MINI E350 definitely has everything any other Brazos-based mainboard has. In other words, there is a Gigabit network controller (Marvell 88E8057) as well as eight-channel sound (Realtek ALC892 codec).

At the same time, being loaded with controllers and connectors has another side to it as well. The developers had to compromise pretty seriously during the design stage, the major being the use of smaller DIMM slots using notebook SO-DIMM memory modules. However, there is nothing bad about it. DDR3 SO-DIMM modules cost almost the same as the regular DDR3, and high-memory frequencies are not that important for E-350 anyway.

The major problems, however, occur with the CPU cooling. The processor is cooled with a small aluminum heatsink with a 40-mm fan on top that rotates at 8000 RPM. Unfortunately, it produces unbearable noise and the most disappointing thing is that the mainboard offers absolutely no tools for adjusting its rotation speed. To be more exact, the options for lowering this fan’s rotation speed have been introduced in the latest BIOS, but they do not really work.

There is a smaller heatsink responsible for the chipset cooling right next to the CPU. Frankly speaking, the idea to use two smaller heatsinks instead of one larger one seems to be flawed. The cooling efficiency of Sapphires system is obviously lower than it could have been with minor modifications. Luckily the heatsinks are fastened using reliable spring-screws and there is a layer of decent thermal interface between the chips and the heatsinks.

The processor voltage regulator circuitry on PURE FUSION MINI E350 has two-phase design, which is quite sufficient for an 18-watt CPU. The board itself requires power supply units with 24-pin and 4-pin connectors.

The back panel of this mainboard is loaded with numerous ports and connectors. There are three monitor outs connected to the Radeon HD 6310 graphics core integrated into AMD E-350” D-Sub, Single-Link DVI and HDMI. Two out of three Outs can be used simultaneously and maximum supported monitor resolution is 1980x1200. There are six USB ports, two of which are USB 3.0 ones. There is also an RJ45 port, an eSATA port, six analogue audio-jacks and an optical S/PDIF out.

You can also connect another four USB 2.0 ports to the onboard pin-connectors and even a COM port, which is a pretty unexpected feature.

This extensive functionality, especially an increased number of SATA ports, makes PURE FUSION MINI E350 a particularly good choice for a home media-server. Of course, it would be nice to have a second Gigabit network interface connector in this case, but the board has at least two slots where you can put an additional controller, so this is not a big problem. But a really frustrating drawback is the missing RAID support, although it is not Sapphire’s fault, since it was AMD who removed it from the chipset.

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