The MSI E350IA-E45 Motherboard
The MSI E350IA-E45 is a mini-ITX implementation of the AMD Brazos platform.

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The board itself is pretty standard looking when it comes to mini-ITX platforms as it consists of a pair of DIMM slots and a single full-size PCI Express graphics slot.  The heatsink and fan on the APU itself is paired with a completely passive heatsink on the Hudson M1 chipset and I have to say that I was right away disappointed in the audible noise coming from the APUs fan.  MSI is telling us that this was a very early engineering sample and thus it was using an incorrect cooler (the correct one is seen here) and that this new version has a much higher quality fan with lower noise levels.  I certainly hope so as the high-pitched whine of the fans this tiny can often seem to be coming from a larger device. 

That single PCI Express slot CAN be used for an external graphics card but I would highly recommend not going that route.  The E-350 APU platform has impressive performance for its cost and its power consumption, but putting in even a $50-70 GPU will weight the system so heavily in favor of the graphics that the dual-core Bobcat CPU has no hope of keeping up. 

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Like all Hudson M1 platforms the MSI motherboard will offer 4 SATA 6G connections that should appease enthusiasts making sure they have the fastest options available for storage connectivity.  Even if you don’t use SATA 6G hardware though, having four SATA ports should ensure that any HTPC usage models can have enough storage for any and all DVR recordings.

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The on-board memory controller feature on the AMD E-350 APU is a single-channel DDR3 interface though the MSI board offers a pair of slots supporting up to 8GB of memory.  This board uses a standard 24-pin ATX power connection for power which means it is setup perfectly for many mini-ITX cases and power supply combinations but if you wanted an externally powered device, look at the bottom of this page for a solution.

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There isn’t much in the way of high-end power regulation required for a processor that is only pulling 18 watts at its peak and so we don’t see much in the way of phase counts, VRMs, etc.  A single 4-pin ATX CPU connection though is still recommended for operation. 

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The external connection configuration on the E350IA-E45 is surprisingly robust for such a small motherboard.  For your audible enjoyment (and to help make sure you don’t hear that fan) there is support both analog and digital 8-channel audio with optical and coaxial connections.  Display output is offered up in the form of a legacy VGA connection (great for older monitors and TVs) and an HDMI connection that supports streaming uncompressed audio to a high-end receiver.  There is a single Gigabit Ethernet connection, a single PS2 port, six USB 2.0 ports and even a pair of USB 3.0 ports for high speed external connectivity. 

The only thing really missing for this form factor is an integrated wireless connection that would make local networking easier and more flexible for consumers looking to setup and HTPC or SFF rig. 

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When I started getting in several new mini-ITX motherboards I realized that I didn’t really have any appropriate power supplies for testing.  Plugging in a 600 watt unit to a system that should have somewhere around 50 watts maximum power draw is just crazy and it has the potential to really throw off our power consumption testing results depending on the efficiency of the power supply itself.  Instead I was told by a couple of board vendors to find one of the HTPC AC-to-DC power modules that were very efficient and allowed for external power bricks.  The above unit was purchased at Newegg and is rated to as high as 85 watts.

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For $20, this is a great item to have around even if you are a casual mini-ITX user.  You simply attached one of the double sided ends of the ATX power cable to the converter board and the other to the motherboard; it provides that necessary 4-pin ATX connection as well as two Molex and one SATA power connection for hard drives and optical drives.  It ships with a power brick that plugs into the provide PCB and there you have – a system ready for external power and efficient use. 

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