What can you do with 25 watts?
Well lets take a moment to think about it. Today you can get light bulbs that put out about the same amount of light as a 60W or 70W bulb. You can get a pair of speakers that put out twice as much sound than a 25W speaker could only years ago. 25 watts can do a lot of things these days. As technology advances and power requirements continue to shrink, more and more can be done with less. With smaller and smaller manufacturing techniques, power efficiency will continue to increase. What took hundreds of watts to achieve years ago, can now be done with a fraction of the power. Today I am writing this blog to shed some light on a processor that is rated at 25W. AMD's Athlon 5350 happens to be the APU in the spotlight. It's a full quad core CPU and a GPU all in one! It amazes me to think that's even possible. Remember when AMD stuck the first GPU onto a CPU die when they introduced Llano. To think it was only a few years back and now we have the same thing, but using so much less power is quite remarkable.
|AMD Athlon 5350 APU|
When I first approached AMD about doing a project on this little APU, they were a bit surprised. I mean out of everything they have, this little power house was the one I was interested in. Apparently this thing is a huge seller in the latin America region. Should be here too if you ask me! I feel all the high end products get the most attention in tech. But sometimes those high end products don't always fit the bill. See the great thing about low end products like this, is the much smaller power requirements. Hench my big thing on 25 watts. With such a low draw, you can fit this bad boy into such smaller places. High end CPU's and GPU's suck massive amounts of power from your outlet. In doing so yes they are powerful, but also generate lots of heat. They require large power supply's and cooling solutions. This limits how small your build can go. Why do you want such a small build? Well one great use is for a console sized HTPC. In this case I am using it to make a small emulation PC.
Now before we get into the in's and out's of this build, we have to have a talk since I said the word "Emulation". I don't condone software piracy! Please do yourself a favor and make sure you own any games you plan on playing via emulators. Whether it be a physical copy or a ROM file that was extracted say from a Steam version download. Just make sure the people that deserve the money for their work get paid. We all want to see developers continue to make great games. But if they aren't making any money doing it, its not going to happen. For those not in the know, emulation is the action of copying one computers functions with another. Classic video game consoles are computers and can be essentially simulated via emulation on PC's.
So with that out of the way, lets see just how small and what kind of performance you can expect with such a small power envelope.
Yes... That my friends is a Sonic The Hedgehog Sega Genesis cartridge. As you can see from this picture, the case I selected for this build is smaller than a Model 2 Sega Genesis. I found the Super Micro case on NewEgg in the server case section. It's just about the exact size of a mini-ITX motherboard. Your not going to fit a high end 125W APU in there without modification of the case. Let alone trying to get the power supply in order for such a small build.
Its a fairly simple case with two USB 2.0 ports on the front. There is a slim 60mm fan on the side for a exhaust. The power button and the USB ports share a PCB that spans the width of the case along the very front. It's extremely compact and makes for a awesome little console!
I decided on using USB Super Nintendo controllers for the input. These work great and can be snagged off eBay rather cheaply.
I swapped out the stock AM1 cooler for this cooler form Arctic Cooling. I had read the stock cooler can get on the noisy side. The Arctic is extremely quite and probably a bit overkill. For storage I was lucky to get this 240gb PNY SSD extremely cheap off NewEgg. Think I paid $60 for it? Super deal!
|Arctic Cooling Alpine M1 and PNY 240gb SSD|
Amazing to think how far we have come in storage too. The Sega Genesis cartridge is actually bigger in physical size, but pales in comparison in storage capacity.
|240gb on the left, 384k on the right!|
I must admit, I love me some MSI products and tend to use their motherboards a lot. For this build I chose their AM1i motherboard. It's a basic board but does offer HDMI out which is something I wanted to have.
|MSI AM1i motherboard|
Powering this little beast can be tricky due to the space limitations. Obviously you can't use a standard ATX power supply. A Pico PSU is a special PSU that makes use of a power brick to keep it's size extremely small. They are great for such small builds and work fairly well. Cheap and effective, you can get them form online retailers for mini-ITX or eBay.
|120W Pico PSU|
Taking a closer look at the AMD Athlon 5350 you can see it's a bit smaller than a typical CPU. My Hands are not that of giants like they might appear in these photos. The APU is just on the smaller size. Quick look at the specs of this little monster..
AMD Athlon 5350 APU: 25w with 4 CPU cores running @ 2.05 GHz and 1 GPU core running at 600mhz. Created on the 28nm manufacturing process and sports 2MB of L2 cache.
|I promise I don't have giant hands!|
|Small but effective|
With everything installed, there is little room left to be spared. Just need to make sure the cooler gets proper ventilation through the exhaust fan. I used a single stick of 4gb DDR3 1600 memory. These AM1 APU's only make use of single channel memory, but it does not hinder performance.
For testing I ran a few emulators targeting the 32/64 bit era. For fun I threw in a run of Sonic the Hedgehog. This APU is more than enough to run NES, Sega Genesis, or Super Nintendo. The 32 bit systems and up are the more challenging systems to emulate. I'm pleased to report the AMD Athlon 5350 handles Nintendo 64 and PlayStation 1 games easy. Granted I did not play around much with settings, everything ran well. My PlayStation game of choice "Crash Bandicoot 2" did drop to about 57 fps in spots. But again no tweaking so I probably could have improved this. The games were running higher than the original systems internal resolutions. So they were slightly enhanced, but I did not tinker with AA or AS settings. They looked and performed great on my 42" LED TV. Now I did shoot some video but I forgot to take pictures. So I took some screen grabs from the video for this blog post. Once I better learn my editing software, I will try to put the video up as well.
|Crash Bandicoot 2 PS1|
|Super Mario 64 Nintendo 64|
|Sonic The Hedgehog Sega Genesis\ Scan Lines enabled make it look messy in the video but great in person...|