Sapphire PURE WHITE FUSION E350 and Sapphire PURE FUSION MINI E350 Mainboards Review

There appear more and more mainboards based on AMD Brazos and APU AMD E-350. Today we are going to talk about two models offered by AMD’s closest partner – Sapphire Company.

by Ilya Gavrichenkov
06/14/2011 | 01:52 PM

AMD has really succeeded with the launch of their Brazos platform. All the engineering effort put into the development of new Bobcat processor microarchitecture has paid back very well. Zacate and Ontario processors based on it managed to disturb Atom’s monopoly in the energy-efficient and compact solutions segment. And broad popularity of Brazos based netbooks and mini-ITX mainboards is excellent proof of that.

 

 A Zacate family representative, E-350 processor, is superior to Intel Atom almost in every aspect. It is faster, has a fully-fledged graphics core, is relatively energy-efficient and boasts pretty competitive price. Therefore, many mainboard makers who used to push forward Atom and ION based miniature mainboards, have now switched to AMD E-350. Moreover, even the companies, which haven’t been involved with Atom mainboards before, started offering their Brazos solutions. Today we are going to talk about two unexpected Brazos-products like that from Sapphire.

In fact, it isn’t a big surprise that Sapphire joined the makers of AMD based Mini-ITX mainboards. These two companies have has close relationship for a long time. And this is actually why Brazos mainboards from Sapphire pose special interest these days: what if this company managed to take advantage of their privileged position and achieve more with this energy-efficient AMD CPU? Let’s find out!

Packaging and Accessories

Sapphire Company has two Mini-ITX mainboard models built on the Brazos platform: PURE WHITE FUSION E350 (IP-E350M1W) and PURE FUSION MINI E350 (IPC-E350M1). These two mainboards differ greatly from one another in their sole purpose. The first one is a totally typical product of its class, while the second one is a loaded solution being way more superior to its analogues in expansion functionality. We managed to get hold of both these mainboards.

These two mainboard ship in small boxes of the same size and with similar design. Only the color scheme is different. PURE WHITE FUSION E350 box is logically mostly white:

And the box of PURE FUSION MINI E350 is mostly red:

The mainboards major characteristics are listed on the boxes. There are no photos on them on the packaging, so you can’t get an idea of what these boards actually look like until you open the box.

Both mainboards are bundled with the same accessories, which are not very numerous and include the following items, besides the actual mainboards:

PCB Design and Functionality

Sapphire PURE FUSION MINI E350

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.

Sapphire PURE WHITE FUSION E350

The second mainboard from Sapphire called PURE WHITE FUSION E350 is a little simpler. And in fact, Sapphire not just took the top model and removed all the extras from it, but designed a completely new mainboard, which should become one of the cheapest AMD E-350 based solutions in the market. However, they didn’t go crazy with simplifying the board and lowering its cost. PURE WHITE FUSION E350 uses good-quality solid-state capacitors and even carries a few additional onboard controllers.

Nevertheless, most of the mainboard functionality is still implemented via the Hudson M1 chipset. The PCIe x16 slot typical of all Brazos systems works at x4 speed, and there are four 6 Gbps SATA ports. PURE WHITE FUSION E350 doesn’t have any USB 3.0 ports at all, but it uses an eight-channel Realtek ALC892 codec. The only additional controller you will find on this board is a Marvel 88E8059 that delivers Gigabit network support.

Since it is an inexpensive mainboard, it would be naïve to anticipate that it would have a ton of external ports and connectors. There are only four USB 2.0 ports, a Gigabit network port, three analogue audio-jacks and three monitor Outs: D-Sub, Single-link DVI and HDMI. In other words, it is the acceptable minimum, to which you could add another four USB 2.0 ports using the onboard pin-connectors.

However, this mainboard costs only around $100, while the advanced PURE FUSION MINI E350 sells for $140.

At the same time, PURE WHITE FUSION E350 even boasts a few indisputable advantages over its more expensive sister. There are two of them. First, it has regular (and not notebook) DIMM slots fir single-channel DDR3 SDRAM. Second, although it sues the same CPU cooling system as PURE FUSION MINI E350, it allows adjusting the fan rotation speed, though only partially. You can slow down the fan or disable it completely, but you can’t make its rotation speed variable depending on the processor temperature: it simply stops when you select the corresponding option. Nevertheless, this low-cost mainboard is quite fit for quiet systems, because even at 50% rotation speed, the fan is efficient enough to cope with the heatsink cooling.

Features Summary

Here are the mainboard specifications side by side:

BIOS Functionality

Both mainboards use BIOS on AMI microcode with archaic text interface. But in this case it is doesn’t matter that much, because there isn’t much you can actually do in the BIOS Setup. There are not too many BIOS options and the most you can do is disable the additional controllers or set the boot-up devices order.

The following screenshots were taken on the PURE FUSION MINI E350. PURE WHITE FUSION E350 has a similar BIOS with even fewer settings.

 

 

 

 

 

There are no options for enthusiasts to be seen. Even the more advanced PURE FUSION MINI E350 has no overclocking-related options of any kind, not to mention the simpler PURE WHITE FUSION E350. The processor as well as graphics core on Sapphire mainboards can only work in nominal mode.

So, the only thing worth pointing out here would be the fan settings:

Although they only work on PURE WHITE FUSION E350. If you try adjusting these settings on a more expensive PURE FUSION MINI E350, nothing will actually happen. The problem must be connected with the fact that these options are programmed to work with 4-pin fans, while there is a three-pin fan on the board.

Testbed Configuration

We have already tested the performance of AMD E-350 based systems several times before and compared it against direct competitors as well as against fully-functional desktop CPUs. Therefore this time we will only check out a small number of test apps where Brazos-based Sapphire mainboards will compete against similar Mini-ITX solutions from Gigabyte built on Intel Atom D525 and AMD E-350.

As a result, the complete list of hardware and software components for our testbeds included the following:

Performance

To estimate the average platform performance PCMark 7 measures the speed of typical real-life algorithms that are very popular in every-day tasks. In this case we are particularly interested in two scores: PCMark test that characterizes performance under typical desktop load, and Lightweight test estimating the performance of relatively weak systems, which normally do not run resource-hungry and multi-threaded applications.

 

The performance of Brazos-mainboards from Sapphire is a little lower than that of a “reference” Gigabyte platform. The problem lies with relatively weak timings that Sapphire mainboards set by default, which cannot be corrected, because the BIOS doesn’t have the corresponding options for that.

We used the Entry profile in 3DMark Vantage suite to test the graphics sub-system performance.

Here we have no problems with Sapphire boards. Their performance is practically the same as that of the competing solution. As for the Atom based board, it didn’t pass this test, because GMA 3150 integrated graphics core in the processor doesn’t support DirectX 10.

The computational SuperPi test is a great way of checking the performance in single-threaded mode:

As we see, AMD E-350 in single-threaded mode is 60-70% faster than Atom D525. So, the only way energy-efficient Intel processor may reach parity with the AMD solution is under multi-threaded load, when the advantages of Intel Hyper-Threading technology will truly shine.

A great example of a test like that is the Fritz chess benchmark.

Here Atom D525 even slightly outperforms AMD E-350 based mainboards, which also perform very closely to one another.

To test the performance during data archiving we took WinRAR archiving utility. Using maximum compression rate we archived a folder with multiple files 550 MB in total size.

We use the Apple iTunes utility for our audio transcoding test. We convert an audio CD into AAC format. Take note that Apple iTunes can only use two CPU cores.

We used Peacekeeper test to check the performance in Internet Explorer 9.

Brazos platform shows its potential real well in applications, leaving the Pine Trail platform behind in most cases. But our review is about specific Sapphire products and therefore we must say that like any other contemporary platform, Brazos implementations by different manufacturers still perform practically identically.

In conclusion to our Performance section we would like to offer you the HD video transcoding test performed using Cyberlink MediaEspresso 6.5.1704 37777 that allows using the graphics accelerator as well. We measured the time it took to transcode a small H.264 1080p video clip into an iPhone 4 friendly format (H.264, 1280x720, 4 Mbps).

Again both Sapphire products performed impeccably.

Power Consumption

As we have already seen, Brazos mainboards may have dramatically different power consumption. For example, Gigabyte GA-E350N-USB3 participating in our today's test session is a negative character here, because its sloppy design adversely affected its power consumption.

The graphs below show the full power draw of the computer (without the monitor) measured after the power supply. It is the total of the power consumption of all the system components. The PSU's efficiency is not taken into account. The CPUs are loaded by running the 64-bit LinX 0.6.4 utility. We used FurMark 1.9 to load the graphics cores. Moreover, we enabled all existing power-saving technologies to ensure correct measurement of the computer's power draw in idle mode.

Sapphire PURE WHITE FUSION E350 boasts the best energy-efficiency in idle mode. It doesn’t have any additional controllers that is why it consumes very little energy in idle mode – a little over 8 W. Sapphire PURE FUSION MINI E350 is a little worse in this respect, but nevertheless, it can’t catch up with Gigabyte and even Atom based board is still far away enough.

Overall, things do not really change under processor-related load. The only thing we could probably bring up here is that Atom is yet another energy-efficient processor: here Gigabyte GA-D525TUD boasts the lowest power consumption of all. However, Sapphire PURE WHITE FUSION consumes almost the same amount of power, but unlike Atom D525 based platform can easily playback HD video and deliver acceptable 3D performance for low-level apps.

When we load the Radeon HD 6310 core quite heavily, Sapphire PURE WHITE FUSION once again proves how energy-efficient its design is. In this respect, Sapphire PURE FUSION MINI E350 is a little less successful, but do not forget that it has an additional USB 3.0 controller and a lot of SATA ports. Nevertheless, it is important to remember that MSI E350IS-E45 still remains the most energy-efficient mainboard in our possession so far.

Conclusion

If you are looking to build an inexpensive, compact and energy-efficient nettop, media center or home server, then Brazos platform would be an excellent choice, as its performance and functionality would be superior to anything with Atom processor onboard, even including those systems that are enforced with Nvidia ION. Therefore, mainboards like the ones we reviewed today are widely available and very popular.

However, it would be very hard to give any specific recommendations regarding the choice of a contemporary Mini-ITX mainboard based on AMD E-350. All existing models are very similar and there are very few truly unique solutions with completely passive cooling systems.

PURE WHITE FUSION E350 (IPC-E350M1W) and PURE FUSION MINI E350 (IPC-E350M1) mainboards are more typical rather than unique products. In fact, they can’t boast any remarkable advantages that would make them stand out among others. On the other hand, they are free from any obvious drawbacks, too, so if you are happy with the price and the available slots and controllers, then PURE WHITE FUSION E350 or PURE FUSION MINI E350 (IPC-E350M1) can be a good choice. PURE WHITE FUSION E350 is appealing due to its simple design and moderate power appetites, while PURE FUSION MINI E350 offers a lot of SATA ports, supports USB 3.0, has built-in Bluetooth and an additional Mini-PCIe slot. Note that in their current implementation both mainboards have not the best cooling system, but this issue will likely be resolved in the upcoming BIOS updates.