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Three AMD AM1 Motherboards For The Kabini APU, Reviewed

Three AMD AM1 Motherboards For The Kabini APU, Reviewed
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Targeting power-misers, AMD’s low-energy Kabini-based APUs could easily find their way into entertainment PCs, office machines, and PoS terminals. Of course, you need a motherboard to make it a “platform” and we found three companies willing to help.

Does anyone remember VIA’s C3 processor, introduced more than a decade ago? Designed mostly for x86-based Internet appliances and kiosks, the mini-ITX platform it popularized was admired by builders who just wanted something smaller. After several generations of improvement, VIA's boards achieved some degree of mediocrity. In reality, though, compact dimensions, modest heat, and conservative power consumption were the only reasons anyone voluntarily chose those slow, expensive configurations. Sounds pretty industrial, right? There were even inventive technologists who used the C3 to experiment with automotive entertainment. 

Eventually, the mini-ITX form factor went in an entirely different direction as enthusiasts attempted to copy Shuttle’s portable gaming cubes. Meanwhile, low-power platforms like Intel's Atom continued to take over the roles formerly targeted by the original C3-based mini-ITX platform.

And then there's AMD. In case you missed our look at the company's most recent introduction on the processor side, check out AMD Athlon 5350 And AM1 Platform Review: Kabini In A Socket. And if you're not familiar with Kabini, the APU architecture that drops into AM1, give AMD's Kabini: Jaguar And GCN Come Together In A 15 W APU a read.

While everyone else was running around soldering CPUs onto motherboards, AMD took notice of the enthusiast backlash and retained its upgradeable ZIF socket. On paper, that means you may have an upgrade path, providing the next generation of entry-level APUs is still AM1-compatible. 

Motherboard makers have to appreciate the socketed configuration because it frees them up to design a wider range of products without outfitting each with different soldered-down processors.

Supporting a single PCIe 2.0 x4 slot and four additional x1 devices, that kind of flexibility could be important to some buyers. Even more important to AMD and its partners on the motherboard side is that those interfaces are built into the Kabini APU, without the need for the extra FCH (Fusion Controller Hub, or AMD's name for the southbridge component) found on its higher-end Kaveri platform. AMD’s Kabini–based Socket FS1b processors really are the SoC (System on a Chip) design that companies like Cyrix could have only dreamed about.

AM1 Motherboard Features
 Asus
AM1I-A
Gigabyte
AM1M-S2H
MSI
AM1I
PCB Revision1.011.02.1
ChipsetK16 IMCK16 IMCK16 IMC
Voltage RegulatorTwo PhasesTwo PhasesThree Phases
BIOS0505 (04/15/2014)F1 (01/27/2014)V10.0 (02/21/2014)
100.0 MHz BCLK99.98 (-0.02%)99.80 (-0.20%)99.80 (-0.20%)
I/O Panel Connectors
P/S2222
USB 3.0222
USB 2.0422
Network111
CLR_CMOS ButtonNoneNoneNone
Digital Audio OutHDMI-onlyHDMI-onlyHDMI-only
Digital Audio InNoneNoneNone
Analog Audio333
Video OutVGA, DVI-D, HDMIVGA, HDMIHDMI, VGA, DVI-D
Other Devices9-Pin Serial Com PortNoneNone
Internal Interfaces
PCIe 3.0 x16NoneNoneNone
PCIe 2.0 x161 x Open-Ended PCIe x41 (4-Lanes)1 (4-Lanes)
PCIe 2.0 x1None21 x Mini-PCIe
USB 3.0NoneNoneNone
USB 2.02 (4-ports)3 (6-ports)2 (4-ports)
SATA 6.0 Gb/s222
4-Pin Fan221
3-Pin FanNoneNone1
FP-Audio111
S/PDIF I/ONoneOutput OnlyNone
Internal ButtonsNoneNoneNone
Internal SwitchNoneNoneNone
Diagnostics PanelNoneNoneNone
Other DevicesSerial Com, LPT PrinterSerial Com, LPT PrinterSerial Com
Mass Storage Controllers
Chipset SATA2 x SATA 6Gb/s2 x SATA 6Gb/s2 x SATA 6Gb/s
Chipset RAID ModesNoneNoneNone
Add-In SATANoneNoneNone
USB 3.0Integrated-onlyIntegrated-onlyIntegrated-only
Networking
Primary LANRTL8111GR PCIeRTL8111F PCIeRTL8111G PCIe
Secondary LANNoneNoneNone
WiFiNoneNoneNone
BluetoothNoneNoneNone
Audio
HD Audio CodecALC887ALC887ALC887
DDL/DTS ConnectNoneNoneNone
WarrantyThree YearsThree YearsThree Years

Reminiscing about mini-ITX's history becomes even more relevant as we look at the legacy features enabled by all three boards. Asus even includes a nine-pin serial port on the AM1I-A's I/O panel, making it a more-suitable replacement for legacy manufacturing PLCs. And those printer port break-out headers certainly come in handy when your 20-year-old PoS software still uses a parallel port dongle for authentication.

Display 48 Comments.
  • -5 Hide
    damric , July 2, 2014 12:08 AM
    TL;DR

    Why not throw a mid-ranged discreet GPU in there and see what happens? It's all we really want to know. Otherwise this platform is for strictly 2D flash games.
  • 0 Hide
    jdwii , July 2, 2014 12:19 AM
    This build should not be used for anything other then flash games for HTPC its perfect and light server work i can build this for 250$ and its perfect.
  • -2 Hide
    blackmagnum , July 2, 2014 2:27 AM
    It uses the 'Jaguar' core; the same core technology as the mighty Playstation 4. So, I believe it can handle more than simple flash games!
  • 1 Hide
    zetonfire , July 2, 2014 3:28 AM
    I own this processor paired with a gt 630 from nvidia, 4 gb of ram, hdd 1tb 7200 Rpm and what can i say, it does the job well, it runs 1080p movies with no problem. I play lol with high settings at @ 30-60 fps. At WoW it kinda struggles on 25 man raids but it still playable 20+fps, to mention that settings are nealy high. (both on 1080p). Nfs mostwanted 2012, battlefield 3, grid 2 on 720p 30fps most of the time, some fps drop there and there but still ok.I think if you put a better videocard ( i had the 630 @ house standing for nothing) it could do much better in certain games that are not processor hungry.
  • 4 Hide
    Lightbulbie , July 2, 2014 4:14 AM
    @blackmagnum
    Just because the technology is the same, it doesn't mean that it well perform on par with the PS4.
  • 7 Hide
    wtfxxxgp , July 2, 2014 4:20 AM
    I don't understand why THW doesn't add in games like League of Legends or DOTA2 when testing this type of hardware. I'd like to believe that the person that buys a system like this and DOES NOT buy a discreet GPU is NOT going to be playing games like Far Cry anything. LOL and DOTA2 are free to play, and therefore it is much more likely that they may, at one or other point in time, be tested on this type of system. Make the Games review relevant to the hardware if there is not a discreet GPU, pretty please?
  • 0 Hide
    Eelco van Vliet , July 2, 2014 4:32 AM
    In Europe the prices are a bit different
    Asus 33 Euro
    Gigabyte 32 Euro
    MSI 30 Euro

    I am gonna get the Asus at that price...
  • 0 Hide
    caamsa , July 2, 2014 6:10 AM
    How about the ability to over clock these CPU's with these boards?
  • 0 Hide
    MU_Engineer , July 2, 2014 6:13 AM
    I recently built a wireless router using an Athlon 5150 in a Biostar AM1ML. I'm surprised that $30 board wasn't in the comparison as it has two pretty significant advantages that none of these boards have. It's a micro-DTX board which gives it an extra PCIe slot compared to the mini-ITX units but it still fits in most of the "mini-ITX" cube cases unlike the Gigabyte unit tested here. That second PCIe slot was just what the doctor ordered as I needed to add both a wired Ethernet card and a wireless NIC for that build and it all fit perfectly in a little Silverstone Sugo.
  • 10 Hide
    Puiucs , July 2, 2014 7:28 AM
    again i see reviews and benchmarks for Kabini and none answer the right questions.
    Can it play 1080p/4k videos? (30 or 60fps) youtube or downloaded
    Can it play games that are meant to work on low end PCs?
    What is the HTML5 performance?
    What is the average total cost of the system?
    How can you further improve the system value, depending on the components you choose to buy for it?
  • 10 Hide
    Wisecracker , July 2, 2014 7:41 AM

    My Temash with 2 CUs at 3-400MHz is more than capable of playing RB6: Vegas2 and FEAR at great frame rates. A Kabini with higher clocks and greater memory through-put will play older DX games just dandy.

    It's just a big fail when testers throw BF4 at a 15w APU and exclaim, "It can't play!"

    It's quite dumb, too.

  • 21 Hide
    ta152h , July 2, 2014 7:42 AM
    Tom's should avoid talking about this subject, because every article completely misses the point, and shows a complete lack of understanding of the market.

    These sites often make the same mistake, I think intentionally in some cases (not in Tom's, I think it's just not understanding), of taking products out of their context market. They might put a line up here or there reminding people of the market, but then test it in ways it was never intended to be used. The overall effect is misleading and inappropriate, but under the guise of being accurate since somewhere on some page they mention it's a lower end unit.

    Probably they don't know how to test appropriately. In any case, there aren't the right benchmarks for this type of unit, and so the confused author complains about the CPU on the last page with one last misplaced remark.

    But, for the more informed people, this is a very effective and efficient architecture. It performs as much work per clock cycle as their larger cores, despite being less than 1/3 the size. It's the same size as Bay Trail, despite being on 28nm as compared to 22nm, but has roughly 20% higher IPC, as well as much greater GPU performance. It's a great design.

    Tom's just doesn't know better. They should. They don't. In their blundering and dull-witted way, they think it should be used for gaming, because everyone wanting a gaming processor is going to want one. Kids will be kids.

    Minimally, put a discrete GPU in each, something cheap, if you want to test with games, although it's very difficult to see people buying this platform for gaming in any context. PS4 has that covered with a derivation of this successful architecture.

    To complete the lack of understanding of this baffled author, we have the uninformed remark about the processor costing twice as much as the motherboard. Sadly, this author's lack of understanding precludes him from realizing this is the point. More was put on the APU so it wouldn't have to be put on the motherboard.

    Just a bad article, with no understanding of the segment or product.

    Also, these motherboards and products are more geared for countries that have less disposable income. You can get a 5150 and MB for less than $90, or a 5350 and MB for around $100, and both offer good enough performance to make these attractive products for people needing a computer, but with a limited budget. And no, that market doesn't buy these things for games.

    In any case, the most interesting motherboard for the U.S. market was left out ASRock AM1H-ITX. If you want DisplayPort, it's the only game in town, as well.
  • 1 Hide
    blafrisch , July 2, 2014 8:13 AM
    Any word on what the boot time differences were like across the different motherboards?
  • 1 Hide
    Crashman , July 2, 2014 9:47 AM
    Quote:
    How about the ability to over clock these CPU's with these boards?
    There are no overclocking options, check the BIOS descriptions.

    As for POV, I come at this from the viewpoint of someone who's gamed on Haswell's integrated GPU. I'm just looking for entry-level performance. As in, barely useful 3D. I'm not finding it.

  • 1 Hide
    iknowhowtofixit , July 2, 2014 10:01 AM
    This article is useless. You will find more useful information on Newegg's product page. The tests conducted didn't match the intended application of these parts.
  • -1 Hide
    Crashman , July 2, 2014 10:06 AM
    Quote:
    This article is useless. You will find more useful information on Newegg's product page. The tests conducted didn't match the intended application of these parts.
    I thought it was supposed to be a low-energy multimedia platform with entry-level gaming capability.

  • -3 Hide
    MANOFKRYPTONAK , July 2, 2014 10:19 AM
    For power-miser consumers, meaning it doesn't have much power to do anything!!! LOL, I kid, I kid.

    The same jaguar core that is in the mighty PS4, that must be why the PS4 is sub par, lol...
  • -1 Hide
    Wisecracker , July 2, 2014 10:31 AM

    Asus AM1I-A Mini ITX ---> 25- to 30% OC's

    THG announced the mobo on March 16th ...

  • 1 Hide
    Crashman , July 2, 2014 10:59 AM
    Quote:
    Asus AM1I-A Mini ITX
    THG announced the mobo on March 16th ...
    Really? Dude...
    http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/am1-motherboard-socket-fs1b-athlon-5350,3850-3.html
    No reference clock control in firmware or motherboard software. If you'd like to recommend a different application, feel free.

  • 3 Hide
    iknowhowtofixit , July 2, 2014 11:04 AM
    Quote:
    Quote:
    This article is useless. You will find more useful information on Newegg's product page. The tests conducted didn't match the intended application of these parts.
    I thought it was supposed to be a low-energy multimedia platform with entry-level gaming capability.


    Where are the tests that reflect that? I don't see any HD playback testing. I also don't see but one graph that shows any testing on power consumption. Do you not think people would be interested in seeing results for tests that aren't maxing out the CPU or GPU? What about a comparison to Intel Atom configurations? Anyone who is honestly interested in learning more about this platform could care less how well BF4 benches.
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