AMD AM1 Platform – Athlon 5350 Review
Yesterday AMD launched their latest high end GPU, the R9 295X2, a £1000/$1500 monster of a product which offered flawless gaming performance at 1080p and impressive performance at 4K resolutions. For the limited consumers who can afford (or need) it there is no single PCB product available to beat it at this time.
Today AMD go to the complete opposite end of the spectrum. The AM1 Platform takes APU technology and looks to keep costs as low as possible while maximising performance and features in the budget market. Today we take a look at MSIs AM1I motherboard along with AMDs $59 Athlon 5350 APU.
MSI package their AM1I in a compact box which notes some of the key platform features along with the build quality enhancements they offer. Those are humidity, electrostatic, electromagnetic and thermal protection. Bundled with the board we get a short manual, software CD, I/O shield and SATA cables.
The board itself is a compact Mini-ITX which uses a glass fabric PCB. Like MSIs higher end boards it features high end components such as Dark Chokes (better stability/efficiency/lifespan) and Dark Capacitors (Low ESR/Low temps) and a lifespan of over 10years of constant use. Centred on the board we find the FS1b socket, allowing us to upgrade our APU/Processor when our budget allows and to the right are two DDR3 sockets capable of holding 32GB of 1600MHz single channel memory. Down at the bottom of the board is a PCIe 4x slot which allows us to upgrade to a discrete graphics card and next to that is a mini-PCIe slot which allows us to install a Wi-Fi card. Also present are two SATA 3 drive connectors.
Power is provided by standard 4-pin and 24-pin PSU connectors and MSI include a CPU fan connector as well as one for a system fan. Elsewhere we have a front panel audio connector and two internal connectors which allow us to add four USB 2.0 ports. These add to the 2 back panel USB 2.0 ports and 2x USB 3.0 connectors. Also on the back panel are PS/2 connectors for Keyboard/Mouse, Serial connector, Realtek GB LAN, 3.5mm audio connectors (Realtek 7.1 audio) and two display outputs. DVI and 4K capable HDMI.
Finally, a few other MSI features also make an appearance here such as a fully featured BIOS, with updates via USB, fast boot technology and fast charging of devices via USB.
Bundled with our kit was a compact cooler, using a new retention mechanism, and a single 4GB stick of AMD branded DDR3-1600. Guaranteed to be compatible with this platform.
For the processor, or APU as it is known, we received AMDs Athlon 5350. Sempron branded APUs are also available for AM1 (from $39) and like the more expensive AMD parts they all feature metal heat spreaders and pin connectors (socket FS1b) on the base.
In terms of key specifications this APU is a quad core model using four AMD Jaguar cores and 2MB of cache. It runs at a touch over 2GHz and features a Radeon GPU built in. This Radeon has 128 cores with GPU frequency of 600MHz.
As is the case with other AMD products we also get support for DirectX 11.2, wireless display, Video enhancements/acceleration.
When AMD were briefing the press on AM1 they noted that it was most comparable with the low end Pentium CPUs, occasionally pairing them with a low end GeForce when the GPU just wasn’t good enough. In reality though the features and pricing of the Intel parts are not comparable with AM1… the price is notably higher for a comparable part and the features more limited on the Intel platform.
What AMD are doing here is bringing performance and features normally associated with a higher price point to a new audience. This means we get some great key features such as SATA3 and USB3 ports to remove the usual bottlenecks associated with low end kit and then added to that a quad core “CPU” mixed with the latest GPU tech. Yes the APU isn’t capable of playing the latest games such as Titanfall with any normal resolution or detail level but it can quite happily play the likes of DOTA2 and Minecraft without issue. Playback of 1080/HD content was also handled with ease and general productivity tasks were responsive.
As a side note, we were not particularly keen on the mounting mechanism used for the heatsink by AMD. It works ok but doesn’t feel quite as secure as some alternatives… and isn’t quite as intuitive to use.
Back to the positives, we should also praise MSI for their approach to the AM1 platform. They could have gone with a really basic board given the audience however the AM1i is far from low end. For a budget price MSI have retained many of the features found in their higher priced products and added some nice extras like that mini-PCIe slot which allow us to easily add a WiFi card without sacrificing an USB port.
Probably the biggest win for the AM1 platform however is its potential for change. By offering a user replaceable APU we have the ability to increase performance as our budget allows over time. In addition to this the inclusion of a PCIe slot also means we can boost graphics performance with ease, just like higher priced systems. For those looking for a few specifics, by dropping a Sapphire R7-240 into the system we were able to play Titanfall at 1280×720 with medium detail, never dropping below 30fps and our 3DMark score increased to 1200.
|MSI AM1i Motherboard RRP: £30|