Gigabyte GA-E350N-USB3 review

1 Mar 2011

A niche product, but AMD's Fusion and a solid feature set make for an impressive board at a decent price

Gigabyte GA-E350N-USB3
Price when reviewed: 
126(£126 inc VAT)
4

Gigabyte’s GA-E350N-USB3 is the first production motherboard we’ve seen to sport AMD’s Fusion platform (in this case, the low-power Brazos version), which is a tempting prospect for manufacturers of cramped mini-ITX boards, with CPU and GPU combined on a single die.

While it isn’t a revolutionary approach, it certainly has enough grunt to handle the sort of computing that Intel’s Atom has monopolised in recent years. An overall score of 0.53 in our application benchmarks is about 15% faster than Intel’s fastest Atom chip.

It’s capable of handling media, playing our 1080p test clips without any stuttering, and it played YouTube HD content smoothly too. You’ll only struggle with games: the ATI Radeon HD 6310 graphics couldn’t cope with even our Low quality Crysis test, so you’ll be restricted to less demanding titles run at reduced quality settings.

Gigabyte has put together a fine mini-ITX board. The last Atom-based board we saw, the Asus AT5IONT-I (web ID: 361255), made do with a pair of SO-DIMM sockets, so we’re pleased to see a pair of full-size, desktop DIMM sockets here that can handle up to 8GB of DDR3 memory – twice the amount of memory the Asus could handle, and at faster speeds.

There’s a PCI Express x16 socket too, which looks like trumps the PCI Express x4 slot included by Asus, but Gigabyte’s slot will only run at x4 speed. As a result, graphical upgrades will have to be restricted to relatively modest cards.

Gigabyte GA-E350N-USB3

The board is necessarily cramped, but Gigabyte has still managed to include a decent feature set. Four 6Gb/s connectors sit between the processor’s heatsink and the PCI Express slot, and onboard connectors include two USB 2 headers, a CMOS-clearing jumper and an S/PDIF output. There’s also a header for attaching a chassis intrusion detection module, should security be a priority.

Display output is provided by HDMI, DVI-D and D-SUB ports, and there are two USB 3 sockets alongside four USB2 connections. There’s also one PS/2 socket, a Gigabit Ethernet port, and an optical S/PDIF output.

Problems, though, revolve around the Gigabyte’s cooling system. While its 40mm fan is by no means loud, it isn’t completely silent either. The heatsink itself isn’t the best: with the fan whirring away, the processor hit a peak of 90 degrees during our stress tests. Running the chip at full pelt for extended lengths of time is an unlikely scenario, but it’s still worth bearing in mind.

At least this new technology offers decent value. At £105 exc VAT, it’s virtually identical to the Asus board while offering more versatility and stronger performance. Other Atom-based boards are available with Nvidia’s ION chip – Zotac’s IONITX-G-E, for instance, costs just £77 exc VAT – but few can compete with this board for speed or features.

If you’ve got spare components hanging around, the Gigabyte makes perfect sense. With strong performance and the inclusion of full-sized DIMM slots, SATA 6Gb/s ports, USB 3 and PCI Express, it’s about as fully featured as mini-ITX boards get.

Details

Price ex VAT £105
Price inc VAT £126
Overall rating 4
Performance 3
Features & Design 4
Value for Money 4
Motherboard form factor Mini ITX
Motherboard integrated graphics yes

Compatability

Processor/platform brand (manufacturer) AMD
Processor socket BGA-413
Motherboard form factor Mini ITX
Memory type DDR3
Multi-GPU support no

Controllers

Motherboard chipset AMD Fusion
Number of Ethernet adapters 1
Wired adapter speed 1,000Mbits/sec
Graphics chipset AMD Radeon HD 6130

Onboard Connectors

CPU power connector type 4-pin
Main power connector ATX 24-pin
Memory sockets total 2
Internal SATA connectors 0
Internal PATA connectors 0
Internal floppy connectors 0
Conventional PCI slots total 0
PCI-E x16 slots total 1
PCI-E x8 slots total 0
PCI-E x4 slots total 0
PCI-E x1 slots total 0

Rear ports

PS/2 connectors 1
USB ports (downstream) 4
FireWire ports 0
eSATA ports 0
Optical S/PDIF audio output ports 1
Electrical S/PDIF audio ports 0
3.5mm audio jacks 6
Parallel ports 0
9-pin serial ports 0
Extra port backplane bracket ports none

Diagnostics and tweaking

Motherboard onboard power switch? no
Motherboard onboard reset switch? no
Software overclocking? no

Accessories

SATA cables supplied 1
Molex to SATA adaters supplied 0
IDE cables supplied 0
Floppy cables supplied 0