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Three AMD AM1 Motherboards For The Kabini APU, Reviewed

Kabini Appeals To Low-Cost, Low-Power

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-AGigabyte AM1M-S2HMSI 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
USB 3.0222
USB 2.0422
CLR_CMOS ButtonNoneNoneNone
Digital Audio OutHDMI-onlyHDMI-onlyHDMI-only
Digital Audio InNoneNoneNone
Analog Audio333
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
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
Secondary LANNoneNoneNone
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.

Thomas Soderstrom is a Senior Staff Editor at Tom's Hardware US. He tests and reviews cases, cooling, memory and motherboards.