Introducing the Brazos E-350 Contenders

When AMD announced their Brazos offerings, the part that immediately caught our interest was the E-350. The E-240 comes with a lower 1.5GHz clock and a single core, but the same power requirement, so unless that’s priced particularly low we don’t see any reason to consider it. The two C-series parts go after the netbook market, with 9W TDP and clocks of 1.0GHz on the dual-core C-50 and 1.2GHz for the single-core C-30; at least the C-30 makes up for the missing core with a higher clock speed here. But really, it’s the E-350 with its 1.6GHz clock speed, dual cores, and higher clocked HD 6310 GPU that delivers everything we want to see. The real question is, does it deliver enough within its price bracket to match the performance and features on tap?

When we reviewed the HP dm1z a couple weeks back, we were impressed with the overall package, performance, and perhaps most importantly, the price. Reasonably equipped with 3GB RAM and a 320GB 7200RPM drive, you can grab the dm1z for just $450 with HP’s current $100 instant rebate (which looks to continue for the foreseeable future). You can even bump that up to 4GB and still spend just $480 (plus tax and shipping, of course). The overall package was so attractive that it garnered our Silver Editors’ Choice award, missing out on the Gold by virtue of its lackluster LCD, so the competition has a high bar to clear if they want to beat the dm1z.

Today, we have two more laptops sporting very similar specs, with the key difference being the amount of RAM and the capacity and spindle speed of the hard drive. The MSI X370 also mixes things up by moving to a larger 13.3” chassis, which may or may not be a good thing depending on what you’re after. Dustin has the Sony VAIO, courtesy of AMD, while Jarred has MSI’s yet-to-be-released X370. According to MSI, the X370 may not actually go on sale in North America; that would be a shame, as with the right price there’s plenty to like. And since we’re on the subject, let’s discuss pricing a bit more.

Sony’s pricing is a bit high, with an MSRP of $599; that’s not great but we can find the YB online starting at $550. With the HP dm1 going for under $500, you’d need something else to make either offering worth considering; the styling, 4GB RAM, and 500GB HDD might be enough to attract buyers away from the HP. MSI’s X370 is a bit of a wildcard, with one review suggesting an MSRP of $749. I haven’t been able to confirm that, but let’s be blunt: at $750, there’s simply not going to be a market for anything Brazos related. For less money, you can find quite a few higher performing options that offer similar or better graphics and features, with reasonable battery life. Here’s hoping we can get the X370 pricing down to $550 or less.

One thing that shouldn’t be too surprising is the performance. If you’ve read our Mini-ITX Brazos reviewor the HP dm1z review, the only thing that’s going to change performance in any significant way is the battery capacity, with the hard drive having a minor impact on a couple benchmarks. The CPU and GPU at the heart of the E-350 will determine the rest, and all three laptops are very similar as far as performance goes.

We received quite a few requests for additional testing to show exactly where the line is between acceptable performance and sluggishness, particularly in regards to older games. We don’t have comparative results from other laptops yet, but we’ll at least report our performance and impression of the E-350 in this review. The other request was for SSD benchmarks; if you want a faster laptop experience, any decent SSD will get you there. We’re working on one more article comparing Brazos to a selection of other mobile platforms, with all units running 60GB Kingston SSDs. We’ve still got plenty of tests to run, but as you’d expect having an SSD makes a noticeable impact on system boot times, application load times, and general Windows performance. If MSI wanted to ship the X370 with a similar SSD, we would be a lot more willing to pay a price premium.

With the preliminary introductions out of the way, let’s take a closer look at the MSI X370 and Sony VAIO YB before we hit the benchmark charts.

MSI’s Ultra Slim X370: Bigger Isn’t Always Better
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  • arthur449 - Tuesday, March 15, 2011 - link

    One of the biggest issues I see with isn't the lack of information in the bar graphs; it's the time it takes to look at the graphs and determine what you're looking at. The color coding for this review is extremely helpful in this regard.

    Green: Models being reviewed
    Black: Models in direct competition
    Blue: Other/Older models with similar performance in the database

    In the future, it would be great to add the ability for users to choose from a list of pre-tested systems in their account preferences. Those systems chosen would fill in the models typically listed in Blue, while the Black (chosen by author / editor) and Green would appear regardless. So, for example, users could choose a notebook, smartphone, GPU, CPU, SSD, and monitor that directly compares to what they consider a benchmark in that particular market.

    Anyhow, that's just my 2 cents.

    TLDR: I like what you did with the graphs.
  • 7Enigma - Tuesday, March 15, 2011 - link

    Agreed, it was a very easy read. Keep up the good work guys, this review (and more importantly the text discussions regarding the data) were excellent.
  • yudhi717 - Tuesday, March 15, 2011 - link

    the X370 already on sale in Indonesia at $489, there is also the U270 Light at $399, I don't know the configuration / spec.
  • Samus - Tuesday, March 15, 2011 - link

    I've had mine for two months and already noticed two design flaws. The right speaker grill is peeling off, and the screen bezel interfers with the keyboard and the keys are slowly chipping away at the bezels' plastic.

    A Thinkpad it is not, but flaws aside, I enjoy the laptop, but have reservations in recommending something with such build quality.
  • JGabriel - Tuesday, March 15, 2011 - link

    I applaud the addition of a section on older, less intensive, games. While I doubt anyone is planning to play the latest DX11 shooters on this type of platform, it's good to know what kind of performance can be expected from slightly older eye candy like Oblivion, HL2, and Quake 4.

    It might be a nice touch to add Prey and/or Portal to the list. Portal, in particular, seems like the kind of lighter weight game that might be popular on this type of platform.
  • duploxxx - Tuesday, March 15, 2011 - link

    I found this a very strange review, for the first brazos review you compare the HP all the time against the atom, which is the target to start with.

    Now you drag along any culv - SNB - macbook or wathever against it most of them in a way higher price range and start complaining about performance against others?

    Its OEM who define how they will build the systems, with a small margin of AMD defining the upper limit, not like Intel who hard limits all bits and pieces on there platform.

    So now you have it, OEM create some designs which to my opinion are not meant to be for brazos, those are netbook cpu's.

    Anything higher can soon be equiped with E2 and A4 LInao which will knock down any CULV performance wise but AMD should do some platform research and speedbinning for lower TDP bins to compete on all aspects.
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, March 15, 2011 - link

    How many Atom systems do you need to see? I put in three netbook Atoms, plus the Mini 311 (Atom) where I had results, plus the nettop D525 in the 1215N. Then I added to that CULV, ULV, SNB, MBP13, and a several others for good measure. It's called perspective, and never once did I say that Brazos should be faster than Sandy Bridge. The problem for some of these systems is that we're going to start seeing dual-core Sandy Bridge priced around $700 for a decent setup (4GB RAM, 500GB HDD) and that's useful to put into the charts.

    My thinking here is that I wanted to include every reasonable contender in the IGP space. So that's why the MBP13 comes along (both versions), and why CULV is in there, and why Arrandale and SNB are in there. CULV and the MBP13 also compete pretty directly against Brazos in battery life, which is another good reason to bring them along. It's one thing to get two or three times the performance but 1/3 the battery life for twice the cost; it's quite another to get double the performance, similar battery life, and pay only 50% more, don't you think? But of course, I should only show Brazos against systems where it can come out ahead, because that's what it's "meant to compete against."

    What's funny is that you state that the "first Brazos review compared HP to Atom". Um... did you look at the graphs? I have over twice the number of Atom systems in this time; I just added some other points of reference. The result? In my 15-item application charts Brazos sits around the middle, compared to third from last in Dustin's HP review. In games, we already know Brazos is going to get clobbered, but it's still important to show how modern titles run on the platform. However, I added a whole page of 23 additional, older/less demanding titles (several days of work there!) just to give a clearer picture.
  • sebanab - Tuesday, March 15, 2011 - link

    I'm very happy to hear you will also be covering the Ontario.
    I own one (Ao522) and there is one issue I would like to bring to your attention:
    With Brazos, AMD has also introduced what they call "Dynamic contrast and brightness adjust". Problem is that the features are on all the time and can't be turned off. And they can get really annoying while surfing the web.
    I think it's a bug while there are some options regarding this in CCC but they don't have any effect.

    I'm also very curious for the X120e , while I have heard that the LCD is actually acceptable.
    (also please check the fan speed settings)
  • L. - Tuesday, March 15, 2011 - link

    I've personally come to hate HP for their lack of decent products, and their very efficient modern capitalist view (read : designing computers to break right after the 1-year warranty), and my guess is that should heavily influence someone's choice in a new computer/toy.

    On my side, every HP laptop I have seen has had issues (except one that is 12 years old), several from an outsourcing deal at a client's had their mini-fans die twice in a year, my father's hp laptop had to go in RMA even before the first year, my little sister's HP just the same, my godfather's laptop ... again.

    So seriously, I don't know what everyone's perception of HP is, but from my side those people are unable to provide reliable laptops (and I would never not build a desktop).

    In that sense, if anyone comes to me asking for a reference for laptops, I always start with : "Take a decent brand, like Dell, or Asus, or ..."

    Also, my personal experience again, but I had two MSI motherboards and both of them lived only one year, another reason for me not to go there either.

    As a summary : my point of view is surely of little interest, but a track record of actual reliability of manufacturers could be an interesting input to your reviews (as in how HP fails at delivering stuff that holds for 5 years, or how that HDD company's failure rates are unacceptable etc.) as that has some influence on customer's perception of service (like if my HP laptop is in RMA every 6 months for 2 weeks, I need a second laptop).

    Also, thanks for the reviews.
  • olbrannon - Tuesday, March 15, 2011 - link

    It too runs the 350 brazos w/ Windows 7 @64 bit

    I love the size if the screen and the keyboard is -huge- paid $399 + tax. One of the game's I am not seeing here that I play is Dragon Age. It seems quite playable with only some occasional lags on loading areas and some minor frame dropping on occasion. No hdmi out thought only vga. I also have Neverwinter Nights 1 & 2 haven't tried to play them yet.

    I did get a chilpad for it though. thing can get kind of warm running these games.

    It's my first purchase ever of an off the shelf system of any kind quite happy with it so far.

    Speakers aren't bad for such a small laptop either

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