Ginger 6 In-Win E-350 HTPC review

Compact media PC using AMD's new Brazos low-power processor
Photo of Ginger 6 In-Win E-350 HTPC
£300

Ginger 6′s In-Win E-350 HTPC is the first system we have tested that uses AMD’s new Brazos processor. The new CPU is a canny move by Intel’s rival, designed to take a bite out of the chip giant’s market share. A direct competitor to the Intel’s ultra-low power Atom CPU, it integrates a contemporary DirectX 11 GPU onto the same die; thereby taking advantage of one of the major weaknesses of Intel’s aging architecture. Intel’s Atom has been a very successful product for the company, but with users starting to realise the limitations of computers based around this class of CPU, now could be AMD’s time to steal a march.

As well as powering netbooks and tablets, ultra-low-power processors can also serve as a solid foundation for a media PC like the Ginger 6. Their power consumption is considerably lower than that of full-fat desktop chips – an important factor in a machine that’s likely to be left running most of the time.

<b>What’s inside?</b>
At the heart of the system lies an ASRock motherboard; the E350M1. It has AMD’s E350 SoC pre-installed, which provides the machine with its processing and video capabilities. As with most ultra-low-voltage designs, this is not a user-upgradable CPU – but given that the Brazos excels at handling the multimedia files this PC was designed to tackle, that’s unlikely to be a deterrent.

To the aforementioned motherboard, Ginger 6 has added 2GB of DDR3 memory. This is just enough to run Windows 7 Home Premium 64 bit smoothly, and the board can take more RAM if you desire. Given the system’s intended use for playing high-definition video, a Blu Ray combo drive would have been a nice addition. Unfortunately only a 22x DVD-RW drive is fitted, and the storage provided is a little miserly.

The Seagate 250GB provides enough space for plenty of files, but for just a few quid more a 500GB variant could have been included. The system is housed within a compact Inwin BM639; a nice looking case measuring just 26x11x23cm. This makes the machine small enough to sit next to traditional set-top-boxes and not look out of place. The board provides an HDMI output as well as conventional DVI and VGA, making it no more difficult to connect to a modern TV than any other device.

<b>Performance and usability</b>
Atom-based machines are most commonly paired with Intel’s aging GMA graphics solution – and when faced with modern multimedia files, the results are not pretty. Even standard-definition YouTube videos and those played on the BBC iPlayer aren’t quite smooth, while high-definition videos are completely unwatchable. On the Brazos we were able to enjoy a Blu-Ray quality rip of <i>WALL-E</i> with no dropped frames, and the machine was equally adept when watching HD video on Flash-enabled websites.

The E350′s Radeon HD6310 graphics are also powerful enough to play many mainstream games – though you’ll still need to take into account the processing limitations of a machine in this class. In our PC Mark Vantage benchmark, the system was 50 per cent faster than Intel’s fastest dual-core Atom, but it still struggled in processor-intensive scenarios including video encoding and photo work. The machine is therefore quick enough to be your main PC if you just browse the web and do general office tasks, but power users will need something with a much faster processor.

<b>Marred by noise</b>
The system’s very solid media PC credentials are unfortunately undone by an unnecessarily noisy cooling system. The CPU itself is cooled by a fan that comes provided with the motherboard, but Ginger 6 has failed to enable the readily-available fan control mode that’s provided within the board’s BIOS. The 80mm case fan is the real culprit, however, and even with fan control enabled, it was as a constant irritation when trying to enjoy movies or music. In a normal desktop PC this is a forgivable shortcoming, but in a machine that’s marketed as a media PC it’s not.

Despite this significant oversight the Ginger 6 is still a nice little PC and provides good value for money. It’s fast enough for most day-to-day computing requirements and would be ideal as a second system for children to use for their homework – especially if they already have a small flat-screen TV in their bedroom.

Company: Ginger 6

Website: http://www.ginger6.com/

Contact: Ginger 6 on 01902 714533

Positives
  • Very compact; good value; excellent multimedia performance.
Negative
  • Noisy; slow compared to an Athlon X2.

Verdict

If space is at a premium, the Ginger 6 is decent value at £300, but an unnecessarily noisy cooling system undoes its media PC aspirations. If space isn't at a premium, the same money will buy you a far more powerful Athlon II-based computer.