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short REVIEW The Biostar AM1MHP mainboard for AMD's socket AM1 (Kabini)

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  • short REVIEW The Biostar AM1MHP mainboard for AMD's socket AM1 (Kabini)

    So I got myself an AM1 finally. I patched a nice little box together, featuring the AM1MHP mainboard. Here is a quick review.
    Linux = Gentoo Linux, Linux kernel 3.16.3, recent GPU stack, recent KDE, most other stuff is from "stable"

    Biostar AM1MHP

    about 24 Euro (should be 27-30 USD)

    Socket AM1 (Kabini socketed)
    AMD A6 Processor
    AMD A4 Processor
    AMD E2 Processor
    AMD E1 Processor
    up to 25W TDP


    1 x PCIe 16x (mechanical, electr. only 4x)
    1 x PCIe 1x
    1 x PCI via ASMEDIA ASM1083 chip (the functional revision, at least I hope so)
    (in the past iirc. before r3 this PCIe 2 PCI chip had serious issues doing its job due to a HW bug)

    2 x DDR3 (DDR3L) RAM slots, 800 - 1600+ (depending on your APU), max. 16 G
    2 x SATA3 (6G)
    2 x USB-3 (ATX bezel)
    2 x USB-2 (ATX bezel)
    4 x USB-2 (2 headers)
    (this is typical for the Kabini SOCs, they include something similar to an A68M chipset)

    net: RTL8111G 10/100/1000
    sound: ALC662

    1 x VGA (more than 1080 lines)
    1 x HDMI (according to the webpage or manual limited to 1080 lines)
    (a version with DVI was planned but did not yet show up, iirc. there might also be a DP version, and there is a low end VGA only Mini-ITX also)

    front audio header
    front panel header (LEDs, switches)
    CPU fan (controlled)
    SYS fan (looks like it was PWM but it went on full speed all the time)

    incl. 2 SATA cables, ATX bezel and manual + W32 driver CD or DVD

    SuperIO: ITE IT8728F
    which is supported (!) by lm_sensors/Linux kernel
    1 x COM (header)
    1 x LPT (header)
    1 x PS/2 Mouse
    1 x PS/2 kbd

    BIOS chip: GigaDevice GD25Q32B (flashrom supported!)

    the whole box:
    CPU/GPU/APU: Athlon 5350 (4 x 2050 MHz)
    RAM: 2 x 2 GB of RAM (1,35 V DDR3 1600 GSkill ECO 9-9-9-24)
    case: Silverstone SST-SG01S-F USB 3.0 in silver (Aluminium front with better buttons than the plastic version, looks good and is less of a dust catcher)
    PSU: Seasonic G-Series G-360 PSU (this is 80+ Gold and the smallest I could find aside from Pico PSU which do not have enough SATA/Molex cables)
    optical: Pioneer BDR-209DBK put into my main box <-> Asus BD-ROM, DVD/CD burn from my main box went there
    SEMPRE USB 3 PCIe controller card (Renesas chip) feat. a pin header (!), so I could attach the front USB3 panel from the case
    HDD/SSD: Samsung SSD 850 Pro Series 256GB went to my laptop <-> Corsair Neutron GTX 120GB SSD came from my laptop, went into the box (I love high MTBF thingies.)
    mouse: ROCCAT Kone XTD Max Gaming (you gotta support Roccat, right?)
    attached a front bezel USB card reader (CF, SD,...) / USB slot combo
    added a beeper (Yes, actually. I'm oldschool. And I know why. Case did not have one so I bought something small for 2 Euros and placed it on the SPK pin header. Works.)
    kbd / monitor: a WASD mechanical keyboard is still to come, as well as an iiyama IPS 16:10 screen (currently I put something old there, iirc some got-it-cheap-on-ebay iiyama or Eizo 4:3 (at least a nice ratio) 14 or 15" TFT to get it to work until the big screen arrives).

    main purpose is for writing lots of text, hence the low power box but elevated quality main user I/O (kbd, mouse, screen)

    not all components yet tested (like RS-232 and LPT, but I'll do so in the future)

    * has lots of legacy IO
    * modern IO also available
    * features chips that are supposed to be working in Linux with free drivers (most of it is on the APU of course, but LAN, soundchip and SuperIO should be fine)
    * very affordable
    * solid caps (check the website for what else they advertise, though much of it is quite "standard" today just having different names)
    * similar boards available that should feature the same type of layout and chips
    * also 2 variants with E1-2100 (9W TDP) or A4-5000 (15W TDP) soldered available (thinking about getting the first one as carpc)
    available also in miniITX (without the classic PCI then)
    * might be COREBOOT compatible (!!) (flashrom needs some patching for the Kabini but that should work out fine since it is AMD tech)
    * BIOS chip is flashrom supported, too!
    * UEFI setup is okay (besides absent sysfan control), I still want to replace it with coreboot some day.
    * ACPI tables. Not really much MSFT to find, few errors during iasl recompilation. Far better than most stuff I've seen yet.
    * Works now, boots fast (well, SSD + Gentoo, using openrc), seems to be fine allround. Very silent. Very cool. Low energy system.
    Fairly fast. (yeah, it's not a OMGcorei7whatyamacallit, but it is totally fine for the purpose. Libreoffice needed some hours to compile but it was better than I expected.)
    I did not yet test much of the GPU part but I didn't see rendering errors (Gentoo ~amd64 for kernel, mesa, libdrm, libvdpau, xf86-video-ati, llvm and so on, so it's close to bleeding edge, only git code is newer). I might test some stuff in the future.
    * mainboard layout seems to be okay
    * full size RAM slots
    * BIOS chip is socketed (DIP8)
    * standard socketed CR2032 battery, clear cmos jumper

    I don't know about BIOS flashing right now, they might have a mechanism similar to Asus/Gigabyte where you suppy the BIOS image just on a VFAT media (USB stick) and flash right from inside the BIOS setup without any need for Windows or (free)DOS booting.

    Energy consumption (whole system without screen, measured "on the wall"):
    startup: 31 W
    compiling: 30+ W
    load (/bin/stress): max. I could obtain was 36 W, probably if you manage to stress the GPU part also a few W more
    idle: about 18 W

    I think these are fairly good numbers, esp. since it is with "full" periphery and e.g. the sysfan alone takes about 1,3...1,5W, so a lot of things contribute to the whole sum. From idle / stress load you can see a range the APU CPU part operates.
    Did not yet check with powertop or other means to optimize. Maybe I can get a bit "more" (less) from the box.

    If you leave away the optical drive, the extra fan, get a better PSU (pico PSU plus good brick), have a smaller mouse, no cardreader no extra USB3 controller you will likely end up with well less than 15W idle.

    * this is not board specific: nearly no separate CPU coolers for AM1 socket available yet, so buy a boxed one first unless you know what you are doing
    * no DVI version found on any market (who wants HDMI?)
    * not verified yet but HDMI might be limited to 1080, but I'll need 1200 for my 16:10 IPS panel. VGA is officially capable of it.
    I wonder why some interface can be limited like this. As far as I know the APUs are even 4K capable.
    * System fan seems not to be controlled while you can set up everything in the UEFI-BIOS for the CPU fan. I'll get a silent one then, may it spin on full speed.
    * Found no DIL/DIP version on the free market for the GigaDevice GD25Q32B yet. Only SMDish stuff. Meh. Might look out for an adapter and try to solder it there.
    * well, for a file server there are way too few SATA ports, IDE is not available at all. You need to plug in some PCI(e) controllers then. Kinda sucks since there are a lot of crazy chips that have questionable support (Marvell anyone?) or that feature senseless RAID but no JBOD (who the hell uses RAID 0 or 1 anyway?). And I am not interested in RAID and its failures at all (talk about sudden syncing of disks that are not actually in one RAID setup and other horror stories).
    * no USB 3 headers. I don't know if that is a limitation of the APU, the A68M chipset (and I guess Kabini is kinda based on that) was meant for laptops where 2 SATA and some USB2/3 is completely fine. I am spoiled by my fat AMD 79x chipsets which offered a bazillion of USB interfaces back at the time. Or the relatively new A88X for FM2+. This one is full of everything.
    Sure it is also a Micro-ATX mainboard so space is kinda limited.
    At least they do not have a silly TPM header.
    So if you want USB 3 Pin header look out for a controller card that has one (Sempre offers a card).
    * could not get in contact with support to ask some question before buying anything (was interested in the SuperIO). Maybe they were afraid of my tech questions that did not relate to clicking things in Windows setups? I don't know.
    * Somehow sound did not work when I had HDMI audio support in kernel (3.16.x, Gentoo). After kicking it out, I got sound even though alsa seemed to have selected the ALC662. Hmm, whatever.
    I admit it was not a clean installation though since I just took the SSD from my HP 635 laptop (E-350 APU) and used it with minimal reconfiguration. Recompilation is not necessary (similar architecture) but is done over time with the Gentoo typical rolling release. Kernel needed minimal changes in config (threw out some Atheros WLAN stuff from the laptop and so on).

    So I am looking forward to obtain a similar board for a CarPC (when I got money again) and as a possible replacement for my old file keeper driven by a VIA C7. The C7 was fairly good back at the time, it was just that endless mess with VIA's GPU stuff that really drove me nuts.
    Now Kabini chips can fill this "gap", being on similar energy consumption level but offering way more computing power and featuring neat GPU performance with a free driver stack.

    Can't tell under which circumstances the board was made. You know, treatment of workers and environment.

    I have to test it completely but this one might be a fine base for a HTPC, small fileserver or surf station / write your damn PhD thesis finally machine. The AMD stuff is normally fine with the penguin and the board offers only chips that seem to play nicely with Linux. You might even consider coreboot here!
    Having had a bunch of mainboards throughout the years from various vendors I am positively surprised. Especially due to the price you wouldn't expect much. And yes, maybe there are better Realtek soundchips out there but that was not my main concern.
    A few more headers would have been nice but this is also due to a chipset limitation. Well, at least you got some expansion slots for that.

    There are similar boards from other vendors for AM1, but often they feature (in terms of Linux) broken SuperIO chips. And these chips are never mentioned in the data sheets so you never know what you'll get unless you got a hi-res picture on the net showing the chip. Or somebody posting infos about it in a forum.

    PS: Um, sorry, I did not yet install PTS nor will I have time for that currently. So other benchmarks must be postponed.

    Stop TCPA, stupid software patents and corrupt politicians!