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The AMD E-350


April 22 2011

At the beginning of this year, AMD introduced a new Zacate E-350 chip (as well as a lower-priced E-240 chip, which we will not look at). The first computers this chip was seen in were 11-inch "notbooks"; computers slightly larger, more expensive, and faster than the 10-inch netbooks which were very popular until the iPad was released.

Indeed, the Zacate E-350 is in, among others, the following 11-inch "notbooks":

In terms of feel, typing on an 11-inch notbook is a more pleasant experience than any of the keyboards the 10-inch netbooks have (I should note that the Lenovo s10-3 had an excellent keyboard until they changed suppliers from Alps to Chicony). The screen on notbooks is usually 1366x768 instead of the 1024x600 display most common with netbooks; this allows notbooks to play games that need a 1024x768 screen (such as Civilization 3) and enables Linux developers have two terminals side-by-side at a legible font size.

In addition to the notbooks, unlike the Atom, the E-350 is readily available in larger notebooks. To name just one model, the Toshiba Satellite C650D lineup includes an E-350 based 15.6" laptop with a DVD player/writer and a webcam/microphone for just under $400. There are also E-350 based motherboards for people who prefer to build their own computers.

Zacate E-350 performance

Looking at the Passmark list of CPU benchmarks, the Zacate E-350 non-GPU performance is nominally (about 15%) faster than a dual-core Atom [1]. Where it smokes the Atom is with GPU (graphics) performance. It is about three times as fast as Atom's built-on GPU, and nearly twice as fast as the ION GPU included with some high-end netbooks.

In terms of gaming--probably the most common way of using a computer where lower performance is noticed--cutting-edge games from five years ago are perfectly playable on an E-350 system. In contrast, an Intel Atom system with the 3150 chipset can only really play hi-end games from 10 years ago [3].

The improved GPU also results in better video playback. Unlike the Intel Atom, the E-350 can smoothly play 1080p Flash videos. [4]

Before concluding the performance section, I should note that the Zacate E-350 does not have the memory limitations that Atoms have. The Atom N455, for example, does not support having over 2Gb of memory, but users of the E-350 based Thinkpad x120e have reported expanding the memory to 8Gb without problem.

E-350 and battery life

One worry I had was the the E-350's higher TDP (18 instead of the Atom's 6.6 watts) would significantly impact battery life. In real-world use, the impact is reasonably small. LAPTOP magazine saw the E-350 based x120e last for 6:05 using a 57 Whr battery; the Atom N455 based S10-3 from Lenovo lasted 6:55 using a 49 Whr battery.

To make this as much of an apples-to-apples comparison as possible, Lenovo's E-350 system lasts 6.4 minutes per watt-hour of battery charge, and their Atom N455 system lasts just under 8.5 minutes per watt-hour.

So, the E-350 uses 30% more energy than a single-core Atom processor.


The AMD E-350 fits a nice sweet spot between the Intel Atom and "mainstream" processors. It resolves most of the performance annoyances some users have had with Atoms--HD video playback is possible and gaming performance is considerably better--with only a minimal impact on price and battery life.

I eagerly await Intel's release of their next-generation Cedar Trail Atoms to see if they will have a higher-performance model that competes with the Zacate E-350.

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[1] The dual core Atom N570 has a Passmark score of 620; the E-350 has a score of 743.

[2] The GMA 3150--Atom's GPU--has a Passmark score of 69. The Radeon 6310, AMD E-350's GPU--has a Passmark score of 205. An ION has a Passmark score of 118.

[3] For example, Quake 3 from late 1999 runs fine on a netbook, but Neverwinter Nights from 2002 is barely playable [3a] on a typical netbook system.

[3a] To cut to the chase: "there were many times when I was thankful for the turn-based nature of the game, since things like number of enemies and area-of-effect spells tend to bog things down considerably."

[4] The linked article was written before the mainline Flash release had AMD HD acceleration support, an issue that has since been resolved.

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