Sometimes it’s nice to see that good things can come in small packages. For us overclockers, HTPCs are the first thing that come to mind where smaller and quieter is better. Thankfully, processor manufacturers have heard our cries and keep improving their small form factor offerings. Enter the Zotac Fusion ITX A Series motherboard running the AMD E-350 APU that has an impressively small passive heatsink. It promises to be absolutely silent, but hopefully it doesn’t do so at the expense of performance.
Features and Specifications
The Zotac Fusion ITX A Series packs the little Mini-ITX motherboard with every modern feature you’d expect to find on a new motherboard today. It has four SATA3 ports, two USB 3 ports, one HDMI port, one DisplayPort socket, and one optical S/PDIF port, and one E-SATA port. Some might find it unfortunate that the board only takes SO-DIMM RAM (2 slots, DDR3-1066) because of the price premium for the tiny sticks, but this allows for fitting more stuff on the board.
Probably the only thing you might miss is a full size PCI-E x16 slot. That would come in handy if you wanted to add in a more powerful graphics card, but the integrated HD 6310 graphics should be more than adequate for decoding HD video and light 3D acceleration (we’ll explore that in full later). In place of a full size PCI-E x16 slot is a smaller PCI-E x4 slot. This is perfect for adding in a TV Tuner card or possibly another sound card if you really need it. Otherwise, the onboard 8-channel HD Audio should be good enough for most users, including me.
For connectivity, there is a mini-PCIe wireless N card with dual external antennas on the rear I/O panel as well as a single gigabit LAN port. Here it would be nice to have Bluetooth added to the list to give the option of attaching wireless headphones or streaming from a mobile device. But, there are plenty of USB ports available (4 total USB3, 6 total USB2) for adding this later if you need it, not to mention you could swap out the mini-PCIe card.
|CPU Integrated||AMD E-350 APU 1.6 GHz Dual-Core|
|Onboard Video||AMD Radeon™ HD 6310|
|Onboard Audio||1 HD Audio Port (8-channel), 1 Digital Optical S/PDIF output|
|Onboard LAN||Ethernet: 10/100/1000Mbps, Wireless: 802.11n (300 Mb/s)|
|Memory Size||Up to 8GB|
|Memory Slots||2 x 204-pin SO-DIMM|
|Memory Type||DDR3 1066|
|SATA||1 x eSATA 3.0 Gb/s
4 x SATA 6.0 Gb/s
|Video Ports||1 x HDMI, 1 x DVI, 1 x DisplayPort|
|USB Ports||4 x USB 3.0 (2 on back panel, 2 via header), 6 x USB 2.0 (4 on back panel, 2 via header)|
|PCI||1 x Mini-PCI Express (occupied by WiFi card)
1 x PCI Express x4 (open-end)
|Package Contents||3 x SATA cables
1 x DVI-to-VGA adapter
1 x I/O back plate
2 x WiFi antennas
|Dimensions||6.7in x 6.7in – 170mm x 170mm|
|Warranty||1-Year Standard Warranty; 2-Year Extended Warranty|
In The Box
There isn’t anything special included in the box but you do get the normal goodies like a driver CD, manual, SATA cables, and a DVI to VGA adapter.
I was pleasantly surprised to see that the Zotac Fusion ITX A Series came with EFI instead of an older, traditional BIOS. Mainly, this just makes navigating the settings a lot easier. There are added advantages to EFI beyond a pretty user interface and the ability to use the mouse, but that is mainly what it means for end users. The main thing to notice when you are navigating the EFI menus is there are absolutely no overclocking settings. Bummer. But, if you take a step back and realize this is supposed to draw very little power and produce very little heat then the lack of these options isn’t such a bad thing.
Although this board isn’t meant for gaming or heavy computing, I still ran it through all of our standard benchmarks for the sake of comparison. This will give you a better idea of what it can and can’t do, and what you should ultimately expect out of it. I do have two other mini-itx boards which I reviewed previously to pull data from, but unfortunately I killed the Phenom II 560 BE processor at our last benching party, so I couldn’t rerun all of the tests to fill in any data I was missing.
|Zotac Fusion ITX A Series||Mvix Minix 890GX-USB3||Mvix Minix 6150SE-UC3|
|Processor||AMD E-350 APU (integrated)||AMD Phenom II 560 BE||AMD Phenom II 560 BE|
|RAM||Kingston 2x1GB DDR3-1066||ADATA Supreme 2x2GB DDR3-1333||ADATA Supreme 2x2GB DDR3-1333|
|Graphics||Radeon HD 6310 (integrated)||Radeon HD 4290 (integrated)||NVIDIA GeForce 6150SE (integrated)|
For this round of testing, I started out by running Prime95 on small FFTs to see how well the passive heatsink would keep the APU cool. I let the test run for just over half an hour and the core temperature stayed pinned at 80 degree Celsius as shown by both CoreTemp and MSI Afterburner. This was in an open case running on my desktop, but I think it’s safe to say that the cooler is sufficient. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a small ITX case on hand to test the heat dissipation in an enclosed environment but I this board should be placed in a case with good ventilation; either a lot of holes to let the heat out or a large quiet fan to help circulate the air would be preferred.
Looking at the graphs above, we can see that the E-350 APU isn’t particularly strong at crunching numbers or rendering 3D, but it does decently. It somehow beats out the 890GX in 3DMark 03 and 3DMark Vantage while losing in every other test. This just proves that the E-350 (at 18w TDP and 1600 MHz) isn’t meant to be a computing and rendering powerhouse. It doesn’t do too shabby in the 7-zip compression test, so you won’t be waiting eons to compress or decompress archives, but the 3D performance basically means that games will be unplayable. However, you will be able to enjoy all the nice eye candy of 3D accelerated user interfaces like those in Windows 7 and XBMC.
Probably the most important test, at least in my mind as an HTPC junkie, is if this dual core 1.6 GHz E-350 APU with integrated HD 6310 graphics is strong enough to decode full screen 1080p MKV videos without a hitch. I tested this using the Big Buck Bunny video and playing it through VLC as well as XMBC on Windows 7. In both instances, the video played without a hitch and there was no visible stuttering or unsynced audio. I also had no issues streaming the videos over the Wireless N connection.
Overall, I am extremely impressed with the Zotac Fusion ITX A Series motherboard and the E-350 APU from AMD. It is 100% quiet yet powerful enough to extract archives in a timely manner and play full 1080p video. The small Mini-ITX form factor gives you tons of case options so you can build any size system you want. It also has integrated wireless N and gigabit LAN so you can confidently stream media without any issues. The only let down, since we are overclockers, is that there is no way in the EFI BIOS to overclock the processor or GPU. We’ll forgive that, though, since this is a very affordable ($154.99 at Newegg) and capable HTPC platform.