Gigabyte GA-E350 WIN8 Motherboard with Embedded AMD E-350 APU

Back in October last year I wrote a post about Intel Atom NM10 chipset Mini-ITX boards. Since then I have built three computers very cheaply by taking old computers and putting these board inside as a replacement for the old board. This has worked well, but there have been issues. The first is that perhaps this board has been deliberately crippled by Intel, or aimed at a completely different market – it has various connectors designed to directly drive LCDs, but it is also limited to 4 GB of RAM, 32 bit editions of Windows (there is only a 32 bit video driver available), and there are only two SATA ports although they do support hotplugging. The second issue is that Intel claims it can play HD video, but in reality it simply cannot handle anywhere near HD, with a lot of stuttering. So three is as much of these as I can ever be bothered with. At that point I went and had a look at what else was readily available (and affordable) in NZ and found that Gigabyte produce one that is based on the AMD Brazos CPU. Since I first looked at it there has been a model change and now the Gigabyte GA-E350 WIN8 board is available. This is somewhat different from this variant described at Tom’s Hardware which you could see by comparing the ports out: the WIN8 board has separate PS/2 mouse and keyboard connectors, no USB3 ports, no DVI port (but does keep the HDMI) and only the standard three audio ports. So there are a few different models of these boards produced by Gigabyte. The best things about this board are four SATA ports, standard DIMM slots for the memory, and it can take more memory (8 GB or so). Unlike the Atom board it is fan cooled, and it also has hotplug capability on all of the SATA ports.
The installed board. Like the Atom board it works fine with just a 2×10 main power connector, unlike that one it makes use of the 4 pin CPU power connector, theoretically this and the fan allow overclocking. Interestingly the original board in this chassis, an Intel D915GAG, used an onboard Molex disk drive power connector – that seems to be an idea that fell out of favour. Probably that was at least in part because the CPU power connector used today is supposed to receive 3.3 volts on 1 pair of pins – whereas the disk drive connector supplies 5 V at its lowest. You can see that the memory is a low profile DIMM in keeping with the formfactor for the rest of the board. Note that parallel port to the left, which is stacked on top of a serial port and VGA connector. Although it doesn’t have the DVI connector, the HDMI socket can be used with a simple adaptor to drive DVI cables.
The inside of the computer’s chassis with the board installed. This chassis is capable of receiving a full size ATX board so it’s understandable it looks cavernous with the Mini-ITX board installed. For the interested this is a Foxconn TS001 chassis. The Enermax power supply is ATX1.2 standard and the original computer would be about six years old. With the extra motherboard SATA ports I can have a DVD writer as well as the eSATA connector bracket in this computer. The latter can be seen lower left and basically lets me plug in any SATA 2.5” or 3.5” hard drive on the outside of the case. The lack of USB3 ports is an issue I have thought of. There are as far as I know, no manufacturers producing PCI cards for USB3 so there is no way of getting USB3 on this board (although fair to say the Atom didn’t allow it either). The SATA external adapter lets me get around that if I take the HDD out of the enclosure and connect it via SATA instead so the lack of USB3 isn’t such an issue but it does seem odd considering an earlier model did have USB3 ports. The other gripe is that the earlier model board also had a PCIe slot instead of PCI.
So this board displaced one of those three Atom boards – another one got displaced recently by another Gigabyte board (an Intel 3 series chipset board with a Core2 Pentium on it) which is in one of my home computers. So one of those Atoms then went into an old computer at work to use as a testbed, and another Atom is in a box waiting to see what else I can use it for.
So far as this E350N board goes, it’s interesting to read the full review of 8 such boards on Tom’s Hardware. With integrated Radeon graphics I expect it would play video much better than the Atom, although I haven’t tried yet. Ultimately this board may end up at home if I decide to do a HTPC – that will probably go into a proper mini chassis instead of a regular one. According to the Passmark CPUBenchmark site the APU’s score is 769, which is on a par with some older Core2 chips, but well below the 3034 score for the Pentium G2120 in my home computer. Supposedly the Atom D2700 has a better score at 831. But I would expect the better graphics of the E350 to make up for any overall deficiency elsewhere.