ECS HDC-I Motherboard Review

Author: Carl Poirier
Editor: Howard Ha
Publish Date: Wednesday, June 15th, 2011
Originally Published on Neoseeker (http://www.neoseeker.com)
Article Link: http://www.neoseeker.com/Articles/Hardware/s/ecs_hdc-i/
Copyright Neo Era Media, Inc. - please do not redistribute or use for commercial purposes.

We've got another ECS board on the test bench today. It's so easy to write an introduction when the previous one didn't turn out well! Talking about it makes an interesting yet simple paragraph. In fact, the previous couple of AMD boards from ECS were all disappointing. What's frustrating is that the team seems to put much more effort into its offerings on the Intel side.

The last offering for the AMD side had been a pretty interesting review, as it simply burned out during the reasonable overclocking session that is part of the Neoseeker testing procedure. Today's ECS test subject has an onboard processor however; it's the popular AMD E-350 APU. It would be tough to ask too much out of such a low power platform, especially considering that the overlocking options are likely to be limited; even on the Gigabyte board, the maximum performance increase allowed is 20%.

However, looking at the packaging, the hope that this might finally be a decent AMD board from the Elitegroup once again hits me. It does seem great; the words USB 3.0, Bluetooth and Wifi can be read on the box.

 

Specifications
CPU - AMD Dual-Core Processor E-350
Chipset - AMD Hudson M1 FCH
Graphics - On APU(ATI Radeon HD6310 graphics)
- Integrated DirectX 11 graphics processor
- Support UVD 3
Memory -2 x 240-pin DDR3 DIMM socket support up to 8 GB
- Support DDR3 1066/800 SDRAM
Expansion Slots - 1 x PCI Express x16 slot (@ x 4 bandwidth)
- 1 x Mini PCI Express x1 slot
Storage Support by Hudson M1:
- 4 x Serial ATA 6.0Gb/s devices
- 1 x eSATA 6Gb/s port
Audio - VIA® VT1708B 8-channel High Definition audio CODEC
LAN - Atheros AR8151 GIGA LAN
- Atheros AR8152 10/100 LAN (Optional)
- Wireless card IEEE 802.11b/g/n (Optional)
Rear Panel I/O - 1 x RJ45 LAN connector
- 1 x Audio port (Line-in,4x Line-out, SPDIF out)
- 1 x D-sub(VGA)
- 1 x DVI Port
- 6 x USB 2.0 ports
- 2 x USB 3.0 ports compatible to both USB 3.0/2.0 devices (blue)
- 1 x Bluetooth
- 1 x HDMI Port
- 1 x eSATA 6Gb/s port
Internal I/O Connectors & Headers - 1 x 4-pin CPU_FAN connector
- 1 x 3-pin SYS_FAN connector
- 1 x Clear CMOS header
- 1 x Case open header
- 2 x USB 2.0 headers support additional 4 USB 2.0 Ports
- 1 x F_Audio header
- 1 x F_Panel header
System BIOS - AMI BIOS with 16Mb SPI Flash ROM
Form Factor - Mini ITX 170x170mm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Specifications are courtesy of ECS @ http://www.ecs.com.tw/ECSWebSite/Product/Product_Detail.aspx?DetailID=1259&CategoryID=1&MenuID=106&LanID=9

The ECS HDC-I sports the same colors as some of the manufacturer's motherboards in the Black Series. It has one full size PCI-E expansion slot running at x4, like most other Brazos boards, and a heatsink topped by a small fan.

The back of the board already reveals part of I/O panel, since ECS has written labels for the most important connectors. Otherwise, there isn't much else interesting to see.

Toward the top of the motherboard is a 4-pin fan connector labeled the "CPU_FAN". It's too bad it wasn't used for the actual onboard heatsink fan, but at least it's there. The clear CMOS jumper is also located near here, but quite far from the battery, oddly enough. An LVDS connector has its spot reserved on the PCB, but the connector itself is missing. This communication standard  was widely used for transporting video data to laptop monitors, however newer interfaces are now preferred. In fact, AMD will no longer support it and VGA starting from 2013. A 4-pin CPU power connector is also missing. If the board can run without it, that's great, as that means less mainstream power supplies can be used, but will it affect overclocking compared to other boards which have this extra source of power? That remains to be seen.

Close to the expansion slot are four SATA 6Gbps ports, the battery which is placed vertically, and two USB 2.0 headers.

Further to the left are two other headers for the front panel. These include the power buttons and the LEDs connections as well as the HD audio ones.

On the other side of the heatsink is something very interesting, a mini-PCIe slot which can accept full length cards! ECS was able to pack this in by putting some low-height components under the expansion card emplacement so that no room was lost. In fact, as will be shown later, a WiFi adapter is provided in the bundle, which fits right in there. The slot can be used for many other purposes however; there are some 3G wireless and GPS modules of that form factor, but the most common uses are for SSDs or TV tuners. For storage devices, it should be noted that the slot is compatible with the mSATA standard.

There is also a 3-pin fan connector beside it which is almost unseen, overshadowed by the awesomeness of the mini-PCIe slot. The heatsink fan is connected to it by default, but in the following picture it has been unplugged so that the wires do not hinder the view. A quick tour in the BIOS shows that the pulse-width modulation has been implemented on the voltage pin directly instead, so the 3-pin fan can still be thermally controlled. The user can set the target temperature as well as the minimum and maximum fan speed in the form of a PWM value from 1 to 255, but apparently it can never stop completely.

At the back is a wealth of connections. There are eight USB ports of which two are 3.0, an eSATA 6Gbps, a Gigabit Ethernet, five analog audio jacks and an optical S/PDIF, an integrated bluetooth adapter, and the three standard video connections. It would have been nice to see a DisplayPort in there, like the "4-most" connections on the 890GX boards, as ECS calls them.

As mentioned earlier, the bundle comprises a mini-PCIe wireless LAN card. It has a wire that leads to an exterior antenna, mounted on an expansion bracket, either full or half-height. There are also four SATA cables, the I/O shield, the manual and driver DVD.

This is how one would install the wireless LAN adapter. One downside to it is that it needs an additional PCI exansion slot, yet many mini-ITX cases can only offer one. In that case, there wouldn't be any place remaining for an expansion card in the full-size PCI-E slot. It would be easy however to drill a small hole somewhere in the chassis, and screw the antenna in there, so anyone who really wants to have both can easily do so if they're handy enough.

The comparison setups will be all the same as in the first review of AMD Brazos. At first, the AM3 platform was going to be left out, but for one reason that's going to be explained on the next page, it will figure in the following graphs.

 

Testing Setup

AMD Brazos


Comparison Systems

 

AMD Brazos

Intel Pineview & NVIDIA ION 2

AMD Sargas

AMD Regor

 

Benchmarks

Overclocking was dead simple on the ECS HDC-I, as the only option available to users to tweak is a predefined Turbo Mode. That means it was also a boring experience. Normally we would be disappointed with such a limited BIOS, but this time it is tough to do so, as the overclock achieved through Turbo Mode is a hefty 33%. That's right; the E-350 can clock in at 2133MHz. The memory multiplier obviously is brought down to 3:8, or else it would have been clocked at almost 1800MHz. The reference clock increases by 2MHz randomly sometimes too, so that's why in the following screenshot the E-350 is actually at 2167MHz.

Update 11/22/11: Neoseeker has learned from a few forum members that the Turbo Mode is not featured on mass production units, supposedly because of stability issues.

It's pretty impressive considering the fact that the Gigabyte board, even in manual mode, did not allow anything higher than 120MHz on the reference clock, from the stock 100MHz.

So for that particular reason, the overclocked scores from the Gigabyte offering as well as those from the Athlon II X2 and Sempron will be compared. It is going to be interesting, as the manual overclocking of the Gigabyte board allowed for a higher memory frequency, but the core clock was much lower.

This program includes benchmarks for most hardware. The CPU arithmetic and multi-core efficiency benchmark will be run, as well as the memory bandwidth and latency tests.

In all tests, the ECS board scores a tad worse than the Gigabyte offering. At 2133MHz, it's significantly faster than the Athlon II X2 in the arithmetic test. The overclocked E350N-USB3 is left behind in every case except for the memory bandwidth, because its DIMMs frequency was privileged over the CPU frequency in the manual overclock, ending at a good 75MHz faster than ECS's Turbo Mode. Despite that, the latency on the HDC-I is lower so a logical guess is that the reference clock also affects the integrated memory controller, thus reducing it. This is exactly what is observed on the Athlon II and Phenom II architecture.

HandBrake is an application that converts sound and video files to other formats. It makes use of all available threads so it can exploit the processor to its full potential. The input video is a 1:48 mp4 file coming from the Lord of the Rings, in 1080P. The file has a size of 96MB and it will be converted to the .mkv file format.

POV-Ray, for Persistence of Vision Raytracer, is a 3D rendering software that has impressive photo-realistic capabilities.

These two benchmarks also show the HDC-I to be a bit slower than the E350N-USB3. Oddly enough, the gain from overclocking is marginal in Handbrake, however in POV-Ray the Sempron gets caught up. The Athlon II and Atom dual-core are still out of reach.

7-Zip is a compression program, much like WinRAR. It features a built-in test, which gives a score for compression and decompression.

Cinebench 11.5 is another rendering program supporting an insane amount of threads. The image is processed by chunks, each running on a particular thread. There is also an OpenGL test which solicits the GPU as well.

The HDC-I is still a bit below the E350N-USB3. With the Turbo Mode activated however, it crushes everything but the Athlon II in the Cinebench CPU test. Its 11 FPS in the OpenGL test is also pretty impressive, as it is now in the territory of the Intel Core i7-2600K.

3DMark Vantage is the stunning sequel to 3DMark 06, which is also going to be run. Futuremark's benchmarking programs have always been at the center of every bragging match; the best way to show that one has got the greatest gaming rig is to show the highest 3DMark score. These benchmarks put systems through a series of strenuous tests, and provides the user with a score to brag about!

3DMark follows the trend and puts today's test subject right below its opponent. Astoundingly, the Turbo Mode increases the score by 34 and 35% respectively, overtaking every other system!

PCMark is similar to the 3DMark suite, except that it includes many other tests like hard drive speed, memory and processor power, so it is considered a system benchmark and not just a gaming benchmark.

HDTune is a benchmarking program for hard drives. Their speed also depends on the chipset so this is why the read speed test is ran.

This time, in PCMark Vantage, ECS sees its offering being put on top of the other Brazos board. In HDTune, there is a very strange phenomenon; the Turbo Mode boosts the hard drive read speed by 30MB/s, with peaks up to 145MB/s in sequential read.

Deactivating the Turbo Mode would bring back the usual speeds, and setting the controller in IDE or AHCI mode didn't change anything. AS SSD also confirmed similar speeds; approximately 125MB/s read and write.

Street Fighter IV from Capcom has a free benchmarking tool that will be used to test the HD 4200 capabilities. World in Conflict is developed by Massive Entertainment and it also has a benchmarking tool, accessible in the game settings. Both games will be tested at 1280x1024. For World in Conflict, the graphics details will be set to "Very Low", and for Street Fighter IV they will be at the lowest settings.

Street Fighter IV reports a small increase in performance by going from the Gigabyte to the ECS board. Overclocked, the latter flies away, getting an amazing 53 FPS in both games.

Flash Acceleration

The popular, free media streaming website now hosts 720p as well as 1080p content, which happens to be quite processor intensive. Fortunately, Flash offers GPU acceleration since version 10.1 to offload work on the GPU, so that's why the CPU usage is measured to gauge the hardware acceleration and processor performance.

Flash has now been upgraded to 10.3 and oddly enough, the CPU usage is up compared to the 10.1 beta. The ECS board seems to score better at stock, however the E350N-USB3 rules once overclocked. This might have to do with the latter's faster memory clock.

 

Power Consumption

To measure power usage, a Kill A Watt P4400 power meter was used. The following numbers represent the power drain for the entire benchmarking system, not just the video cards themselves. For the 'idle' readings, the power drain from the desktop, with no applications running was measured; for the 'load' situation, the average power consumption was taken while running the OCCT power supply test, stressing both the video card and processor, for a couple of minutes.

The HDC-I idles 2W lower than the Gigabyte board. It's impressive considering it powers a Bluetooth and Wifi adapter in extra. The Ion platform remains untouched however.

The HDC-I differentiates itself from its siblings in that it did not end up performing like poop. Whereas the few past ECS AMD boards did not get any recommendation from Neoseeker, this board is going to get one.

Considering its $129 price tag, it is definitely awesome to get integrated Bluetooth and WiFi. The latter, if not used, leaves room for another mini-PCIe device, be it full-length or half-length. Supporting the new mSATA standard is also a plus. Furthermore, it has the ability to thermally control two fans, one of which is 3-pin and the other 4-pin. Having eight USB ports at the back, including two 3.0, is probably more than the average, too. These features altogether make the board ideal for an HTPC setup.

As for overclocking, there are no options to do it manually in the BIOS. Nonetheless, the Turbo Mode shoots for a nice 33% overclock, which proved to be rock solid stable. That's much more than what Gigabyte allowed on the E350N-USB3. At 2133 MHz, Brazos flies; it gets more than 50 FPS average in games that are not too demanding. The power usage is a tad better too, idling at 26W. What this reveals is that Bobcat can do much better than what was experienced in Neoseeker's first look at the platform, leaving the previous IGPs from AMD in the dust, and competing with the latest and greatest from Intel in terms of on-die graphics. The true limits of the architecture are still unknown though; only a completely unlocked board will reveal them, which is what Neoseeker is patiently waiting for.

»Neoseeker.com

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