Gigabyte GA-E350N-USB3 £125

4th May 2011 | 11:02

Gigabyte GA-E350N-USB3

A teeny-tiny, and fully-featured motherboard, but still a little weedy

TechRadar rating:

3.5 stars

Only makes sense as the basis of a compact, power efficient but pricey home cinema rig

Like:

Strong feature set; Compact proportions;

Dislike:

Poor CPU performance; Pretty pricey;

Gigabyte GA-E350N-USB3: Overview

We were initially disappointed with AMD's new Fusion CPU, the E-350. Despite that, its low-power CPU-GPU chip, otherwise known as Zacate, does have something to offer in certain small form factor and portable computing niches. Enter, therefore, the new Gigabyte GA-E350N-USB3 motherboard.

Given the performance limitations of the E-350, we reckon smaller is better when it comes to system size.

In other words, what you want is a Mini-ITX motherboard. Ideally, however, you want one that makes as few compromises as possible in return for compact proportions.

What you want, says Gigabyte, is the GA-E350N-USB3.

For starters, you get a PCI Express 16-lane slot for full-power graphics action. Then there are four on-board ports. Not as many as a typical full ATX board, perhaps, but enough to meet the storage needs of most end users.

Gigabyte has also thrown in a pair of USB ports for good measure, and provided a full set of BIOS overclocking options.

Gigabyte GA-E350N-USB3: Benchmarks

Benchmarks

AMD's E-350 chip isn't a big performer. So it makes sense to put it in a small board.

The Mini-ITX Gigabyte GA-E350N-USB3 is as puny as they come, and yet gives nothing away to Asus's larger E35M1-M PRO when it comes to number crunching.

That said, we wouldn't recommend it for anything but basic computing. It's certainly not a plausible cut-price gaming platform.

For the record, the GA-E350N-USB3 does have a full range of overclocking settings in the BIOS.

However, no doubt due to the E-350 chip's highly integrated architecture, the available frequency headroom amounts to no more than a few hundred MHz.

CPU rendering performance

Gigabyte ga-e350n-usb3

Video encoding performance

Gigabyte ga-e350n-usb3

Memory bandwidth

Gigabyte ga-e350n-usb3

DirectX 10 gaming performance

Gigabyte ga-e350n-usb3

Gigabyte ga-e350n-usb3:

Gigabyte GA-E350N-USB3: Verdict

Verdict

Gigabyte ga-e350n-usb3

Mediocre CPU performance put the kybosh on our first review of the AMD E-350 fusion processor. Unfortunately, there's little the E-350-powered Gigabyte GA-E350N-USB3 board can do to change that.

The performance of the 1.6GHz dual-core processor remains only slightly superior to Intel's equivalent Atom processor.

That's particularly disappointing given the E-350 out-of-order instruction execution. In theory, that should make AMD's new Fusion chip much faster than the Atom's simpler in-order architecture.

In practice, however, the GA-E350N-USB3 with AMD E-350 chip onboard still requires six and half minutes to labour through the CineBench R10 rendering test.

To put that into context, the fastest desktop processors are around 13 times quicker. For the record, overclocking isn't a realistic option, with 1.8GHz proving to be the highest stable CPU core frequency.

As for graphics performance, 80 DX11-class stream shaders give the E-350 very respectable raw 3D throughput. But as our benchmarks prove, the CPU simply can't keep up.

Even in a game as undemanding as Call of Duty 4, playable frame rates are out of reach.

That's a shame, because this board is otherwise very promising.

The PCIe x16 slot allows for gaming-class graphics to be added, for instance. And the pair of USB 3.0 ports ensure speed transfer of data to and from external peripherals. You also get a triple whammy of video ports, including VGA, DVI and HDMI, and 6.1 surround sound.

We liked

Gigabyte has given this AMD Zacate-based board some impressive desktop features including PEG16 graphics, USB 3.0 and a full-featured BIOS that even provides several overclocking options. Impressively, Gigabyte has crammed all that into a Mini-ITX form that suits the lower-power processor perfectly.

We disliked

There's only so much you can do with a weak-performing processor. The AMD E-350 fusion chip simply doesn't have the chops to deliver a satisfactory all round computing experience. In that context, high end features such as overclocking support and discrete graphics are effectively redundant.

Final verdict

With everything in mind, it's best not to think of the Gigabyte GA-E350N-USB3 as a cut-price alternative to a proper desktop PC platform.

Instead, thanks to support for AMD's excellent UVD3 2D video feature set, it's an excellent basis for a compact, low-power home cinema system.

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