The netbook and nettop market segments have grown considerably in recent years, and with it a whole new wave of compact and energy-efficient computer platforms. While this may seem like a relatively new idea, it is actually not the case.
VIA Technologies, which you may remember as one of the leading manufacturers of motherboard chipsets from the past, advanced the concept a long time ago and developed the Mini-ITX standard. It's been a decade since they released the first reference design for an ITX motherboard to promote the low-power C3 processor purchased from Centaur Technology.
The first VIA EPIA motherboards were sold in 2002 with the Eden processor. Although the VIA EPIA motherboards were very efficient in terms of space, many argued that they were too expensive for the computing power they provided.
VIA struggled with the technology for six years until Intel began to notice the emerging low-power market in June 2008. The chip giant introduced a series of mini-ITX boards with its Atom processor, taking a big step forward compared to VIA's C3 and C7 offerings. In addition, Atom was the key to making the form factor usable in PCs.
While the Atom processors were still rather sluggish compared to desktop standards that were dominated by quad-core CPUs of the time, they enabled manufacturers like Asus to launch the hugely successful line of Eee netbooks and the dozens if not building hundreds of low power and low power processors. Cost systems that followed. The original Atom "Diamondville" architecture suffered from some shortcomings because it relied on the older 945G chipset for most functions, including the graphics engine.
Intel finally released the "Pineview" architecture at the end of last year, which relocated the memory controller and the GMA 3150 graphics engine to the processor. Both the Atom CPU and the GMA 3150 lacked performance, which is why manufacturers like Asrock, who wanted to build more powerful HTPC-dedicated systems, had to rely on the Nvidia Ion add-on chip for graphics.
In the past, AMD has been known to deliver the best integrated graphics in the industry, but they have rarely tried the low-power netbook and nettop arenas. Now, around three years after Intel released the Atom, AMD is trying to enter this exciting market segment.
AMD Fusion is the marketing name for a number of APUs (Accelerated Processing Units) that are said to have been developed since 2006. The final design is the result of AMD's merger with ATI, which combines general processor execution, 3D geometry processing and other functions from modern GPUs into a single chip.
AMD's ultra-thin platform, codenamed "Brazos", was launched on January 5, 2011 as the company's fourth mobile platform for the ultra-portable notebook market. It features the 40nm AMD Ontario APU, a 9-watt chip for small form factor netbooks and desktops, and Zacate, an 18-watt APU for ultra-thin, mainstream and value notebooks and desktops.
Both low-power APU versions have two built-in Bobcat x86 cores that support DirectX 11, DirectCompute (Microsoft programming interface for GPU computing) and OpenCL (cross-platform programming interface standard for multi-core x86 and accelerated GPU computing). Both also include UVD hardware acceleration for HD video with a resolution of 1080p.
The Asus E35M1-M Pro motherboard we're testing today is, of course, an implementation of the AMD Fusion / Brazos platform, which includes a dual-core AMD Zacate 18W processor (formerly known as the E-350 APU), graphics support for The above standards along with USB 3.0 and SATA 6 Gbps result in a relatively inexpensive package for $ 140. Continue reading…