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MSI AMD Fusion Platform System Prototype – world first exclusive

Rating: 8.5.

First there was the promise, that Fusion was the future. Then, at CES, AMD revealed the combination of CPU and GPU that it calls an APU. Today, Kitguru has in its lab  the world's first AMD Fusion Platform prototype from MSI, exclusively for our reader's delight. It is a model/concept which MSI is hoping will be adopted by system builders across the globe.


This prototype system is built within a glorious Silverstone Sugo case and features high quality Kingston memory and a Western Digital hard drive, with the centre point highlight – the new MSI E350IA-E45 Fusion motherboard.

As this is a prototype build from MSI (to guide system builders) there is no fancy box or packaging. We do love Silverstone Sugo cases however, the brushed aluminum is beautiful.

The front of the chassis houses dual USB 2.0 connectors and underneath is a headphone and microphone port. At the bottom is a power switch which is flush with the surface.

MSI have installed a low profile dual layer DVD burner at the top, fully colour coordinated.

The bundle contains the MSI E350IA-E45 motherboard box, with literature and a software and a driver disc. There is also a power cable and SATA cables (some of which are used in this build).

The Silverstone chassis is diminutive, but still capable of high levels of airflow. All the panels are vented to allow for maximum airflow. It does need cleaned out fairly regularly however as there are no dust filters on any of the vented areas.

At the back we have VGA, HDMI ports next to a single PS/2 socket. There are six USB 2.0 ports and two additional USB 3.0 ports (via the Realtek NEC 720200 chipset). Optical/coaxial audio are offered alongside a 3.5mm audio in/out socket based around the Realtek chipset. Finally there is a 10/100/1000 LAN port for fast networking.

The outer chassis is easily removed from the rear, exposing the internals.

From the top, we can see the 80 Plus certified power supply and the slim profile DVD drive.

The motherboard is a traditional blue and black scheme, similar to other models in the MSI range which we have reviewed in the past. It is a mini ITX design and makes a perfect partner for this Silverstone design. The E350 APU is actively cooled and resides underneath an aluminium heatsink. The motherboard also supports a discrete graphics card, although it this is only a 4x PCIe capable slot.

The Hudson M1 chipset is passively cooled, although there will be decent levels of airflow in this chassis thanks to the large rear fan. The motherboard also has four sata connectors which are 6GB/s. The board supports up to 8GB of DDR3, although this configuration has 2x2GB Kingston HyperX installed … more than enough for the mainstream audience.

MSI have designed the board incorporating quality solid capacitors which are said to have a lifespan of over 10 years. They have also utilised protection circuitry across the USB components.

The Bios will be immediately familiar with anyone who has used an American Megatrends configuration before. While AMD's official specifications limit memory support to 1066mhz, there is the option to push past that, to 1366mhz, which MSI have configured correctly with this particular system build.

Below are a variety of images from the bios.

There is temperature monitoring, voltage adjustments and the M-Flash system which caters for quick and easy bios upgrades from a USB drive.

CPUz and GPUz are due to get updates shortly to correctly read some of the hardware aspects of this platform (The processor is dual core). We can however see the 40nm Zacate APU has been detected with the correct clock speed highlighted (1.6ghz). This product is Direct X 11 capable.

The newest Catalyst Control Center offers a wide range of settings – especially those for a demanding video enthusiast. We are really looking forward to testing similar Fusion hardware running within the mobile space.

To test the Fusion platform today, we are using a wide selection of real world and synthetic tests, clearly labelled. If you are only interested in video quality and hardware performance we advise you to shift forward in the review to the real world and image quality sections. We also felt it would be interesting to compare some of our findings against the Intel Atom platform, in the shape of the 1.8GHz D525 processor.

MSI Fusion Platform System Prototype:
CPU/GPU:
AMD Zacate APU – E350 (HD6310 graphics)
Motherboard
: MSI E350IA-E45
Chassis
: Silverstone Sugo SG05
Memory
: Kingston HyperX 4GB PC3-10700 @ 1333mhz (9-9-9-25) 1.25volts
Hard Drive:
Western Digital WD7500BPKT-22PK4T0 750GB 2.5″ 7,200 rpm.

Supplemental Hardware:
Solid State
: Kingston Hyper Max 3.0 x 2
Graphics Card: Sapphire HD6870 (via the 4x PCIe Slot)
Monitors: Sharp 50 inch 1080p Aquos LCD TV, LaCie 730 (IQ testing) and Dell U2410

Comparison System:
ASRock Ion3D – Atom D525 @ 1.8ghz

Software:
Windows 7 64 Bit
Aida 64
SiSoft Sandra
Cinebench R11.5 64 bit
Cyberlink Media Espresso
Cyberlink PowerDVD Ultra V10
PCMark Vantage
3Dmark Vantage
3DMark 11
HQV Benchmark V 2.0
Left4Dead
Fallout: New Vegas
Resident Evil 5

Technical Monitoring and Test Equipment:
Keithley Integra unit
Thermal Diodes
Raytek Laser Temp Gun 3i LSRC/MT4 Mini Temp
Extech digital sound level meter & SkyTronic DSL 2 Digital Sound Level Meter
Kill A Watt Meter

All results are gained from multiple test runs to ensure any abnormalities are removed before publication.

SiSoftware Sandra (the System ANalyser, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant) is an information & diagnostic utility. It should provide most of the information (including undocumented) you need to know about your hardware, software and other devices whether hardware or software.

Sandra is a (girl's) name of Greek origin that means “defender”, “helper of mankind”. We think that’s quite fitting.

It works along the lines of other Windows utilities, however it tries to go beyond them and show you more of what’s really going on. Giving the user the ability to draw comparisons at both a high and low-level. You can get information about the CPU, chipset, video adapter, ports, printers, sound card, memory, network, Windows internals, AGP, PCI, PCI-X, PCIe (PCI Express), database, USB, USB2, 1394/Firewire, etc.

Native ports for all major operating systems are available:

  • Windows XP, 2003/R2, Vista, 7, 2008/R2 (x86)
  • Windows XP, 2003/R2, Vista, 7, 2008/R2 (x64)
  • Windows 2003/R2, 2008/R2* (IA64)
  • Windows Mobile 5.x (ARM CE 5.01)
  • Windows Mobile 6.x (ARM CE 5.02)

All major technologies are supported and taken advantage of:

  • SMP – Multi-Processor
  • MC – Multi-Core
  • SMT/HT – Hyper-Threading
  • MMX, SSE, SSE2, SSE3, SSSE3, SSE 4.1, SSE 4.2, AVX, FMA – Multi-Media instructions
  • GPGPU, DirectX, OpenGL – Graphics
  • NUMA – Non-Uniform Memory Access
  • AMD64/EM64T/x64 – 64-bit extensions to x86
  • IA64 – Intel* Itanium 64-bit

Considering the 1.8Ghz Atom D525 processor is clocked 200mhz higher and has 2 extra cores the Fusion Zacate APU delivers some fantastic results, often outperforming the higher clocked Intel counterpart. AES-256 Cryptography performance in particular, is excellent.

PCMark Vantage is a PC benchmark suite designed for Windows Vista offering one-click simplicity for casual users and detailed, professional grade testing for industry, press and enthusiasts.

A PCMark score is a measure of your computer’s performance across a variety of common tasks such as viewing and editing photos, video, music and other media, gaming, communications, productivity and security.

From desktops and laptops to workstations and gaming rigs, by comparing your PCMark Vantage score with other similar systems you can find the hardware and software bottlenecks that stop you getting more from your PC.

A reasonably good score, considering the low power ‘all in one' solution, delivering a final score of 2679 PCMarks.

AIDA64 Extreme Edition is a streamlined Windows diagnostic and benchmarking software for home users. AIDA64 Extreme Edition provides a wide range of features to assist in overclocking, hardware error diagnosis, stress testing, and sensor monitoring. It has unique capabilities to assess the performance of the processor, system memory, and disk drives. AIDA64 is compatible with all current 32-bit and 64-bit Microsoft Windows operating systems, including Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2.

A balanced set of results, much in line with low power solutions we have tested before.

CINEBENCH R11.5 64 Bit is a real-world cross platform test suite that evaluates your computer’s performance capabilities. CINEBENCH is based on MAXON’s award-winning animation software CINEMA 4D, which is used extensively by studios and production houses worldwide for 3D content creation. MAXON software has been used in blockbuster movies such as Spider-Man, Star Wars, The Chronicles of Narnia and many more.

CINEBENCH is the perfect tool to compare CPU and graphics performance across various systems and platforms (Windows and Mac OS X). And best of all: It’s completely free.

Neither system is going to replace a high performance desktop configuration for 3D rendering. Still, it's interesting to see the Fusion system slightly outperforming the Intel Atom D525 system.

Futuremark released 3DMark Vantage, on April 28, 2008. It is a benchmark based upon DirectX 10, and therefore will only run under Windows Vista (Service Pack 1 is stated as a requirement) and Windows 7.  This is the first edition where the feature-restricted, free of charge version could not be used any number of times. We are using the Entry preset.

A score of 3439 certainly shows that this system won't be ideal as a hardcore gaming system, however it is respectable, considering the low power demands.

3DMark 11 is designed for testing DirectX 11 hardware running on Windows 7 and Windows Vista the benchmark includes six all new benchmark tests that make extensive use of all the new features in DirectX 11 including tessellation, compute shaders and multi-threading.

After running the tests 3DMark gives your system a score with larger numbers indicating better performance.

Trusted by gamers worldwide to give accurate and unbiased results, 3DMark 11 is the best way to test DirectX 11 under game-like loads.

If you want to learn more about this benchmark, or to buy it yourself, head over to this page.

Performance for gaming is surprisingly good, with the Physics results lowering the overall score.

Our good friends at Cyberlink kindly supplied the software for our BluRay and conversion tests.

Cyberlink PowerDVD 10 is one of the finest solutions for the BluRay experience on Windows and we found this software to work perfectly with this chipset. We tested with the new Extended Bluray Disc of Avatar, one of our favourite sci-fi films in recent years.

The MSI Fusion system delivers a 4% lower overhead with our BluRay testing. Not really noticeable real world, but it shows the added efficiency, especially considering the lower clock speed.

These results are very impressive, with CPU demand moving from a minimum of 7 percent to a maximum of 27 percent.

Many people using this system will be enjoying Flash related content so we feel it is important to test with some of the more demanding material available freely online.

Absolutely no problems with High Definition Flash playback, with plenty of CPU time left over for multitasking.

CyberLink MediaEspresso 6 is the successor to CyberLink MediaShow Espresso 5.5. With its further optimized CPU/GPU-acceleration, MediaEspresso is an even faster way to convert not only your video but also your music and image files between a wide range of popular formats.

Now you can easily playback and display your favourite movies, songs and photos not just on your on your mobile phone, iPad, PSP, Xbox, or Youtube and Facebook channels but also on the newly launched iPhone 4. Compile, convert and enjoy images and songs on any of your computing devices and enhance your videos with CyberLink’s built-in TrueTheater Technology.

New and Improved Features

  • Ultra Fast Media Conversion – With support from the Intel Core i-Series processor family, ATI Stream & NVIDIA CUDA, MediaEspresso’s Batch-Conversion function enables multiple files to be transcoded simultaneously.
  • Smart Detect Technology – MediaEspresso 6 automatically detects the type of portable device connected to the PC and selects the best multimedia profile to begin the conversion without the need for user’s intervention.
  • Direct Sync to Portable Devices – Video, audio and image files can be transferred in a few easy steps to mobile phones including those from Acer, BlackBerry, HTC, Samsung, LG, Nokia, Motorola, Sony Ericsson, and Palm, as well as Sony Walkman and PSP devices.
  • Enhanced Video Quality – CyberLink TrueTheater Denoise and Lighting enables the enhancement of video quality through optical noise filters and automatic brightness adjustment.
  • Video, Music and Image File Conversion – Convert not only videos to popular formats such as AVI, MPEG, MKV, H.264/AVC, and FLV at the click of a button, but also images such as JPEG and PNG and music files like WMA, MP3 and M4A.
  • Online Sharing – Conversion to video formats used by popular social networking websites and a direct upload feature means posting videos to Facebook and YouTube has never been easier.

For our testing today we are converting a 1.1GB 720p MKV file (41m:50s) to Apple Mp4 format for playback on a portable device. This is a common procedure for many people and will give a good indication of system power.

The MSI Fusion system completed the task is around 3:1 real time, which is a pretty good result.

We are now going to test the USB 3.0 and 2.0 speed, so we used two of the fastest drives we have, the Kingston HyperX Max 3.0 128GB, which is an Toshiba based SSD product within a USB 3.0 capable enclosure.

We copied a 3.9GB MKV file to and from the Kingston HyperX USB 3.0 drives… bypassing the slower, internal mechanical drive.

This results are some of the best we have recorded, peaking at around 188MB/s read and 147 MB/s write.

HQV Benchmark 2.0 is an updated version of the original tool and it consists of various video clips and test patterns which are designed to evaluate motion correction, de-interlacing, decoding, noise reduction, detail enhancement and film cadence detection.

There are two versions of the program, standard definition on DVD and high definition on BluRay. As our audience will be concentrating on HD content, so will we.

This has a total of 39 video tests which is increased from 23 in the original and the scoring is also up from a total of 130 to 210. As hardware and software gets more complicated, the software has been tuned to make sure we can thoroughly maximise our analysis.

Read our initial analysis over here.

MSI Fusion System
Dial
4
Dial with static pattern 5
Gray Bars 5
Violin 5
Stadium 2:2 5
Stadium 3:2 5
Horizontal Text Scroll 5
Vertical Text Scroll 5
Transition to 3:2 Lock 5
Transition to 2:2 Lock 0
2:2:2:4 24 FPS DVCAM Video
5
2:3:3:2 24 FPS DVCam Video
5
3:2:3:2:2 24 FOS Vari-Speed
5
5:5 FPS Animation
5
6:4 12 FPS Animation
5
8:7 8 FPS Animation
5
Interlace Chroma Problem (ICP)
5
Chroma Upsampling Error (CUE)
5
Random Noise: Sailboat
5
Random Noise: Flower
5
Random Noise: Sunrise
5
Random Noise: Harbour Night
5
Scrolling Text
3
Roller Coaster
3
Ferris Wheel
3
Bridge Traffic
3
Text Pattern/ Scrolling Text
3
Roller Coaster
3
Ferris Wheel
5
Bridge Traffic
5
Luminance Frequency Bands
5
Chrominance Frequency Bands
5
Vanishing Text 5
Resolution Enhancement
15
Theme Park
5
Driftwood 2
Ferris Wheel
3
Skin Tones
7
Total 179

The MSI Fusion system delivers a very high level of image quality, right up there with some of the currently available discrete solutions. This AMD Fusion demonstration system delivers high quality video that's a measuable 60% better than the scores we got with Intel's HD video engine when we tested it, back in June last year.

Left 4 Dead 2 is a cooperative first-person shooter game. It is the sequel to Valve Corporation’s award-winning Left 4 Dead.

Like the original, Left 4 Dead 2 is set during the aftermath of an apocalyptic pandemic, and focuses on four survivors fighting against hordes of the infected. The survivors must fight their way through levels, interspersed with safe houses that act as checkpoints, with the goal of reaching a rescue vehicle at the campaign’s finale. The gameplay is procedurally altered by an artificial intelligence engine dubbed the “Director” that monitors the players’ performance and adjust the scenario to provide a dynamic challenge. Several new features have been introduced: new types of infected, melee weapons, and a story-arc that connects the game’s five campaigns together.

We are tesing at 720p with settings on high. 2AA is enabled.

We were quite pleased to see a perfectly smooth experience at 720p (1280×720) via our High Definition Television.

Fallout: New Vegas is not a direct sequel to Fallout 3. Though the game offers a similar role-playing experience to Fallout 3 and a few events from the game are mentioned, no characters from Fallout 3 appear. However, the game marks the return of many elements found in previous Fallout titles, including Marcus, a super-mutant from Fallout 2, again voiced by Michael Dorn.

It also incorporates plot lines and ideas that would have appeared in the first scheduled Fallout 3, codenamed Van Buren, such as the Hoover Dam and the New California Republic's fight against Caesar's Legion for control of the Mojave.

We tested with AA and AF disabled and HDR off. Texture quality was set to medium and radial blur quality was set to low.

Performance was mostly acceptable, with only a few drops below the sweet zone of 25 frames per second.

Resident Evil 5, known in Japan as Biohazard 5, is a survival horror third-person shooter video game developed and published by Capcom. The game is the seventh instalment in the Resident Evil survival horror series, and was released on March 5, 2009 in Japan and on March 13, 2009 in North America and Europe for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. A Windows version of the game was released on September 15, 2009 in North America, September 17 in Japan and September 18 in Europe. Resident Evil 5 revolves around Chris Redfield and Sheva Alomar as they investigate a terrorist threat in Kijuju, a fictional town in Africa.

Within its first three weeks of release, the game sold over 2 million units worldwide and became the best-selling game of the franchise in the United Kingdom. As of December, 2009, Resident Evil 5 has sold 5.3 million copies worldwide since launch, becoming the best-selling Resident Evil game ever made.

Good performance levels at our chosen settings, with the graphics card being limited somewhat by the low power processor (and 4x PCIe Slot).

We measure from a distance of around 1 meter from the chassis and 4 foot from the ground with our Extech digital sound level meter to mirror a real world situation.

KitGuru noise guide
10dBA – Normal Breathing/Rustling Leaves
20-25dBA – Whisper
30dBA – High Quality Computer fan
40dBA – A Bubbling Brook, or a Refrigerator
50dBA – Normal Conversation
60dBA – Laughter
70dBA – Vacuum Cleaner or Hairdryer
80dBA – City Traffic or a Garbage Disposal
90dBA – Motorcycle or Lawnmower
100dBA – MP3 player at maximum output
110dBA – Orchestra
120dBA – Front row rock concert/Jet Engine
130dBA – Threshold of Pain
140dBA – Military Jet take off/Gunshot (close range)
160dBA – Instant Perforation of eardrum

Generally, the MSI Fusion System is silent, hovering just under 30 dBA under general use. At peak, the chassis fan spins up a little to help improve air flow, peaking at around 33 dBA. Great results, and especially good for a media center.

The tests were performed in a controlled air conditioned room with temperatures maintained at a constant 24c – a comfortable environment for the majority of people reading this.

Idle temperatures were measured after sitting at the desktop for 30 minutes. Load measurements were acquired by running Furmark and Cinebench together. We included results from a diode which we placed beside the motherboard and the exhaust fan.

The Silverstone chassis helps generate a fair level of airflow across all the components, with the AMD APU peaking at around 61c. Ambient results were great, with the chassis temperatures only a couple of degrees higher than the room.

To test power consumption today we are using a Kill A Watt power meter. We loaded the system with some games and measured results at both full load and idle.

The power results are fantastic, barely pushing past 50 watts at the socket, under full load. This would make an ideal, low power drain media centre for the home.

The AMD Fusion APU has excited us, however to be impressed you need to look at it from a specific viewpoint. Sure, the processor won't handle professional 3D rendering, it won't deliver much of a kick even if your demands aren't quite as taxing. The HD6310 graphics certainly won't transform your gaming experience either.

To sum this system up in a single performance related paragraph however is missing the point.

A computer built around this platform consumes only 50 watts of power under load. Under general use this complete MSI Fusion system requires approximately the same amount of power as an idling Zotac GTX480 AMP! graphics card. How's that for getting things into perspective?

To try and get a handle on the performance for the low end budget market, we compared today against the popular Intel D525 ATOM processor which is clocked higher and has more cores. The Fusion chip in most cases was able to outperform it, even when asked to do tasks that fall outside its comfort zone.

The Fusion system we received from MSI is a prototype build concept that they hope will be adopted by the leading system builders, offering consumers a low cost, low power demand system – ideal for high definition media duties and general office demands. As our HQV testing has detailed, image quality is exceptionally high, and this will certainly attract the discerning high definition media enthusiast. If the onboard graphics don't satisfy, you can add a discrete graphics card, although with a 4x PCI slot, performance is limited.

There is no doubt that the MSI E350IA-E45 motherboard is a fine product that deserves to sell well, but with AMD's apparent lack of interest in pushing the platform this year it seems as if this launch has went more with a whimper, than a bang. This is a shame, because as we have seen today, the Fusion platform is already shaping up to be a serious problem for Intel.

Just before we get to the KitGuru closing statement, let's pause for a brief second and ponder the kind of power draw that the AMD Fusion solution needs in order to play back a BluRay disk in high resolution.

Depending on the application, this AMD Fusion concept system from MSI uses around the same power playing a film than nVidia's GTX480 eats while 'doing nothing'. It's also slightly less than a 50w halogen bulb as well.

KitGuru says: In this lab, Intel's Atom solution had both a 200MHz and 2 additional cores advantage, but the AMD Fusion solution more than held its own – nudging ahead with intensive tasks like Cinebench and BluRay playback. In terms of image quality, testing with HQV shows that Fusion has a considerable lead over Intels Platform. With Fusion, AMD has managed to deliver the baseline platform necessary for customers to create usable solutions with a low demand for power and low operating temperatures, alongside very good media performance. An excellent product if AMD can get not only the pricing and availability right – but also the right energy into its Fusion marketing effort.

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