|We have had a few weeks with three A85X motherboards and AMD’s top of the line Trinity APU, the A10-5800K, which combines 4 unlocked Piledriver CPU cores (stock 3.8GHz, turbo 4.2GHz) with an integrated Radeon HD 7600D GPU with 384 Radeon Cores at 800MHz.
We’ve written several in-depth articles on AMD’s new Virgo platform--A85X chipset, FM2 socket and Trinity APUs--covering both the basics of the new A85X chipset, as well as CPU and overclocking performance. The FM2 socket is brand new for Trinity APUs and is not backwards compatible with FM1--sorry, Llano owners.
Now, the whole point of Trinity is that the integrated graphics are supposed to be robust enough to use without a discrete graphics card--after all, if you’re running discrete graphics (unless you’re trying AMD’s dual graphics), you don’t need an integrated GPU at all, and are probably better off with a regular Piledriver or Phenom chip and the 990FX platform. But as we’ve shown before, the integrated graphics on Trinity APUs are more than capable of replacing a budget discrete card, and can push out playable frame rates in plenty of games, even at relatively high resolutions. This makes Trinity a great choice for budget-conscious people who still want to game from time to time.
A85 FCH (Hudson D4) block diagram
All three motherboards, of course, run the A85X chipset, the block diagram for which you can see above. The A85X chipset integrates nearly everything you could want in a motherboard, though some mobo manufacturers add their own features anyway--most frequently an additional USB 3.0 controller. With an A85X mobo, a Trinity APU, some RAM and a boot drive, you’ve already got a system going--one with plenty of SATA ports, PCIe slots (though only at 2.0 speeds), onboard sound, even an infrared header if you’re making an HTPC. It makes sense as a mainstream motherboard for applications (and users) that don’t require discrete graphics and audio.
Because A85X is designed for APUs with onboard graphics, you’d think the boards themselves would feel a bit, well, budget. Here you’d be mistaken: all three boards we tested look and feel like premium mobos, with robust overclocking support and plenty of high-end features. Despite this, none of the three motherboards--Asrock’s FM2A85X Extreme4-M, Asus F2A85V-Pro, and Gigabyte F2A85X-UP4--is over $140, and the cheapest, the Asrock board, is a mere $90. That’s a good price range for a board designed for APUs that top out at $130.
|Asus F2A85-V Pro|
|At $140, the Asus F2A85-V Pro is the most expensive of the three motherboards in our roundup. Does it have the features to match its price?
The F2A85-V Pro has a black PCB and follows the same dark blue/light blue/black color scheme as the rest of Asus’ mainstream motherboards. It has the full complement of rear panel ports: PS/2, two USB 2, four USB 3.0, DisplayPort, HDMI, SPDIF, VGA, DVI, eSATA, Ethernet, and HD audio. It has three physical x16 slots, two x1 slots, and a PCI slot.
One feature overclockers will appreciate is the DirectKey, which when pressed makes your next reboot go into the UEFI automatically. The ASRock board has a similar, software-based feature, but having a dedicated button for that really helps the Asus board stand out for overclockers. All the fan headers on the motherboard are four-pin PWM headers, which work with Asus’ Fan Xpert 2 to allow fan tuning from within the UEFI and with a software utility. Asus also includes AI Suite II, of course, as well as a disc full of other utilities (plus a little bit of bloatware). Another useful feature is BIOS flashback, which allows BIOS flashing without a CPU or RAM installed, just the PSU. No question about it, this is one full featured motherboard.
|The Gigabyte F2A85X-UP4 is a full ATX board, and by A85X standards it’s pretty luxe. It has three physical PCIe 2.0 x16 slots, though the only the first has 16 actual lanes. The second has eight, and the third a mere four. The board also has three PCIe x1 slots and even an old-school PCI slot--this is clearly a board designed for purposes other than gaming.
In addition to all the ports and outputs of the Asrock board, the Gigabyte also has a DisplayPort. It has four USB 3.0 and two USB 2.0 in the rear. This is a bit awkward if you have a USB keyboard, mouse, and external optical drive, as you’ll have a hard time installing the drivers for the USB 3.0 ports without all three.
Gigabye officially supports DDR3/1866 at the highest, while the other two boards support overclocking up to DDR3/2400 in theory (or "2600+," in ASRock's case. Finally, Gigabyte opts for Realtek audio and Ethernet controllers and adds an Etron USB 3.0 chip for two additional USB 3.0 ports in the rear panel.
|ASRock FM2A85X Extreme4-M|
|The Asrock FM2A85X Extreme4-M is the only micro-ATX motherboard in this roundup, and at $90 it’s much cheaper than the other two boards we tested. Despite this, the board looks great, with a black PCB and black plastic bits. The southbridge cooler has a subtle gunmetal grey color with gold ASrock logo.
Asrock bundles the board with plenty of additional software, including a program called “XFast RAM,” designed for 32-bit systems with more than 4GB of RAM, to allow the unused memory to be used as a RAMdisk. It also has XFast LAN--designed to optimize Web traffic--and XFast USB. Overclocking tasks are handled in the OS by Asrock’s Extreme Tuning Utility.
|UEFI and Overclocking|
|All three A85X boards have UEFIs (Unified Extensible Firmware Interfaces), which replace the boring and ancient old text BIOS screens. All boards have mouse support, and--best of all for hardware reviewers--all now support saving screenshots directly to a USB device. No more aiming a camera at your computer monitor! Each board vendor has its own particular take on the UEFI, from the familiar to the silly.
Asus F2A85-V Pro UEFI
The Asus F2A85-V Pro uses the same UEFI as other mainstream Asus boards, with its Basic and Advanced modes. Most people who bother to go into the BIOS at all will spend their time in Advanced mode. The AI Overclock Tuner delivers serviceable overclocks with little effort, and for those who are even lazier, the OC Tuner got our A10-5800K up to 4.4GHz easily. The Asus' UEFI isn't fancy, but it gets the job done and doesn't show lag. We'd say it's the best of the three UEFIs in this roundup.
Gigabyte F2A85X-UP4 UEFI
The Gigabyte UEFI isn't too different from the Asus one, though we did notice a lot more mouse lag. The mouse was never not laggy. As with the Asus, overclocking is easy; simple multiplier changes can be done just by typing in the multiplier, and more advanced options like bus speed and voltages can be accessed easily. The UEFI includes Gigabyte's 3D Bios, which is a cute way to quickly find board settings by clicking on a picture of that part of the mobo, but we didn't spend much time with it, preferring the normal UEFI.
ASRock FM2A85X Extreme4-M UEFIASRock's UEFI is certainly the flashiest of the three in this roundup. You can't tell from the screenshot, but those stars in the background actually twinkle and sparkle. Adorable, right? That QR code in the corner with the legend "Get details via QR code" actually just links to a PDF of the manual, which is neat but not as neat as actually giving you details of what you're looking at. The overclocking menu for the CPU is excellent though with menus full of designated increments, rather than full edit control, and no indication of which voltages and clocks are the default. This leaves you scrolling through menus full of outrageous and possibly dangerous configuration options. Fortunately, you'll only need these manual controls if you want to go over 4.6GHz on the CPU, because of the excellent (and stable) preset overclocks. The choices for GPU overclock restrict you to Auto or preset speed settings from 400MHz to a boggling 1900MHz--twice as fast as stock. But, as we're sure you realize, just because there's an option listed doesn't mean it'll actually work.
As noted in the Overclocking Desktop Trinity section of our Virgo platform review, the A10-5800K is a bit finicky, and overclocking potential of course varies on a per-chip basis. We used the same APU for all three boards but we saw slight variations on each board. We ran all of these overclocks with a Cooler Master Hyper 212 Evo cooler in an open-air chassis and didn't mess with stock voltages except by letting the auto-overclock features of each board do their thing.
As mentioned above, on the Asus board we got the CPU cores to a stable 4.4GHz just by using the auto-overclocker. The auto-overclock won't touch GPU speeds, but cranking ours up from the stock 800MHz to 1013MHz was as easy as selecting that speed from a drop-down menu. We did not have to adjust the GPU voltages. The Gigabyte board, on the other hand, could only sustain a 4.3GHz CPU multiplier overclock and a 1000MHz GPU clock, bluescreening consistently at 44x. The ASRock board was yet another beast, with great CPU overclocks but terrible GPU overclocks at stock voltage. Because the ASRock's CPU OC presets include voltage adjustments, it’s easy to get a stable overclock. The 4.6GHz preset was easy and stable on the A10-5800K. Overclocking the GPU was harder--anything over “Auto” (the default 800MHz) on the Asrock board caused PCMark 7 to freeze during the GPU portions of its benchmarks. One annoying feature of the Asrock board’s UEFI: There’s no indication of “stock” clocks or voltages for the GFX Engine Voltage. There’s Auto, then a range of presets. This makes it difficult, for example, to set the graphics voltage to “stock” and slowly increase until the system is stable.
That said, each board has many overclocking options and fine control options, so patient overclockers should see higher stable overclocks with a little bit of work.
|Test Setup and PCMark 7|
Futuremark's PCMark 7 is the latest version of the PCMark whole-system benchmarking suite. It has updated application performance measurements targeted for a Windows 7 environment and uses newer metrics to gauge relative performance, versus the older PCMark Vantage.
Below is what Futuremark says is incorporated in the base PCMark suite and the Entertainment, Creativity, and Productivity suites, the four modules we have benchmark scores for you here.
The PCMark test is a collection of workloads that measure system performance during typical desktop usage. This is the most important test since it returns the official PCMark score for the system
As we'd expect, there's not much variation between the scores on each motherboard, although the Gigabyte board did score slightly lower than the other two boards. Nothing too surprising here.
|3DMark 11 and Cinebench 11.5|
As you'd hope from three motherboards with the same chipsets, OS, CPU, drivers, and clocks, 3DMark 11 performance was consistent across each board.
Cinebench R11.5 is an OpenGL 3D rendering performance test based on Cinema 4D from Maxon. Cinema 4D is a 3D rendering and animation suite used by 3D animation houses and producers like Sony Animation and many others. It's very demanding of system processor resources and is an excellent gauge of computational throughput. This is a multi-threaded, multi-processor aware benchmark that renders a 3D scene and tracks the length of the entire process. The rate at which each test system was able to render the entire scene is represented in the graph below.
The A85X boards wrung identical performance from the stock-clocked A10-5800K in multithreaded performance, though the ASRock board lagged slightly behind the other two in the single-threaded test. This isn't a shocking development at stock clocks, but it's nice to have more confirmation that nobody screwed up the implementation.
|POV Ray and LameMT|
POV-Ray , or the Persistence of Vision Ray-Tracer, is an open source tool for creating realistically lit 3D graphics artwork. We tested with POV-Ray's standard 'one-CPU' and 'all-CPU' benchmarking tools on all of our test machines and recorded the scores reported for each. Results are measured in pixels-per-second throughput; higher scores equate to better performance.
Are you sensing a pattern? The Virgo platform again impresses with its consistency at stock speeds. The only slight outlier is the ASRock board's single-thread performance, which was just 10 PPUs slower than the other two boards.
In our custom LAME MT MP3 encoding test, we convert a large WAV file to the MP3 format, which is a popular scenario that many end users work with on a day-to-day basis to provide portability and storage of their digital audio content. LAME is an open-source mid to high bit-rate and VBR (variable bit rate) MP3 audio encoder that is used widely around the world in a multitude of third party applications.
In this test, we created our own 223MB WAV audio file and converted it to the MP3 format using the multi-thread capable LAME MT application in single and multi-thread modes. Processing times are recorded below, listed in seconds. Shorter times equate to better performance.
Performance here is--once again--nearly identical across the board. The only variation, as in POV Ray, is the ASRock board's slightly lower performance in single-threaded work. It's just a matter of two seconds, but it's establishing a slight trend.
|Because AMD talks such big game about the integrated Radeon GPUs inside each Trinity APU, we skipped the low-res gaming benchmarks we normally apply to mobos with integrated graphics and went straight to the hard stuff: full HD, high quality gaming, albeit on games that are a few years old. We tested each motherboard with the top-of-the-line A10-5800K and its Radeon HD 7660D integrated GPU at stock clocks. We tested both games (Far Cry 2 and Left4Dead2) at 1920x1080, High Quality.
Far Cry 2, though a 2008 game, is very graphics intensive and challenging to midrange or entry-level GPUs. We used the in-game benchmarking tool to run the Ranch Long test three times and averaged the results. We set the resolution to 1920x1080p and used DirectX 10 with no anti-aliasing, low Fire, Physics, and Real Trees, and everything else set to High with HDR and Bloom enabled.
In every case, the benchmark returned frame rates that look at first glance to be playable, but that doesn't tell the whole story. There were regular downward frame rate spikes such that the game hitched every few seconds. It wasn't until we dropped the renderer to DirectX 9 and used the High preset that we were able to avoid these hitches and get the game to be playable at an average frame rate of 39fps with no hitches.
Unlike Far Cry 2, which looks a bit janky even at the highest settings, Left4Dead 2 looks and plays just fine on Trinity. We set the game to 1920x1080, moderate film grain, 4xMSAA, 4x Anisotropy, no Vsync, and high detail. We enabled multicore rendering and set paged pool memory to high. We recorded a timedemo of the first five minutes of Dead Center, then played it back several times for each board and averaged the results.
Even at such high settings, all three boards put out framerates above 40fps--perfectly playable, and it looked great. More importantly, during actual game play it was also great, although there were a few frame rate dips during Smoker attacks and other high-particle situations. Still, the game remained playable and fun as ever. We still wouldn't recommend a Trinity APU for a high-end gaming rig, but for moderate gaming it's perfectly acceptable.
|Total System Power Consumption|
We monitored the power usage of each system while benchmarking and testing, using a Watts Up Pro power meter. Since all components and test regimes are identical except for the motherboard, this helps isolate motherboard power draw at idle and under a heavy load. Please note that this is total power consumption for the whole system (monitor excluded), not just the motherboard. For reference, the A10-5800K APU is a 100W TDP part.
On each motherboard, idle and peak power consumption are within spitting distance of the numbers generated in our Virgo Desktop Experience tests, which had the A10-5800K on an Asus F2A85-M Pro with 8GB of RAM. That test setup had peak power draw of 139W and idled at 48W--closest to the Asus F2A85-V Pro in our roundup. The Gigabyte board drew the least amount of power by a slim margin compared to the Asus, while the micro-ATX ASRock board was consistently more power hungry than either, surprisingly.
|Summary and Conclusion|
|Performance Summary: There wasn't too much variation in performance between the three boards in this A85X roundup: all three wrung out good performance at stock speeds from the A10-5000K we used for testing. We saw more differentiation when it came to overclocking. The Asus board offered the easiest overclocking; we got the CPUs up to 4.4GHz and the GPU up to 1013MHz stably without doing any manual voltage tweaking. The Gigabyte board allowed us a stable 4.3GHz multiplier overclock with a 1000MHz GPU clock, but bluescreened at stock voltages once we pumped the multiplier up to 44x. The ASRock board's CPU OC presets (which include voltage adjustments) allowed stable CPU overclocks up to 4.6GHz with no tweaking, but we couldn't overclock the GPU at all without running into bluescreens in GPU tests. The lack of transparency in voltage options means it'll take some time to get a stable GPU overclock on the ASRock board.
Asus F2A85-V Pro: At $140, the Asus F2A85-V Pro is the most expensive of the three A85X boards we tested, but it also offers the easiest overclocking and it has an array of features, such as Fan Xpert 2, DirectKey, all 4-pin fan headers, and CrossFireX/Dual Graphics support, that will appeal to enthusiasts. Its UEFI is also the best of the three, being functional and easy to use without too much bling or lag. Our one reservation with this particular model, other than the price, is that those enthusiast features seem ill-matched to the platform. Serious performance junkies will want dedicated GPUs, more PCIe lanes, and more cores, but those things cost money. So that puts the Asus F2A85-V Pro in a weird place: it's an enthusiast-level board on a platform that's not really for performance enthusiasts. It's a great board, though, if you want to squeeze a decent overclock out of the Virgo platform and you don't mind spending a bit extra.
Gigabyte F2A85X-UP4: The Gigabyte F2A85X-UP4 is slightly cheaper than the Asus board, but it's better-looking--we're getting a little tired of the blue-and-blue of many mainstream boards. The Gigabyte's UEFI was the least appealing of the three, with lots of mouse lag and not a lot of navigability, but overclocking was easy, if not quite as easy as the Asus board. Both the ASRock and Asus boards have more official support for RAM overclocking; the Gigabyte only officially supports DDR3/1866 (the platform's official max) and lower. The Gigabyte board's power usage was also the best of the three by 20W at both peak and idle. If you're not going to be doing a lot of overclocking (and therefore not a lot of messing around in the UEFI), and want a competent, efficient full ATX board with all of the outputs and slots, one that uses less power than the competition and looks great doing so, the Gigabyte F2A85X-UP4 is your huckleberry.
ASRock FM2A85X Extreme4-M: Here we see a Trinity APU in what approaches its natural habitat: a micro-ATX motherboard. If the GPU is on the same die as the CPU, and it's good enough to use without a discrete graphics card, it's perfect for a small form factor build. While micro-ATX isn't quite as small as mini-ITX, the FM2A85X Extreme4-M is at least an acknowledgement that hey, maybe we don't need to be tied to the ATX form factor for every platform. The FM2A85X Extreme4-M doesn't have quite as many features as the ATX boards in our roundup, but it's also much cheaper at $90, and it doesn't leave too much out. There's no DisplayPort, but it has HDMI, optical out, and DVI, so it'd still make for a great HTPC or basic desktop build. It only has one PCIe x16 slot and one physical x16 slot that only runs at x4, but for Trinity that's not a dealbreaker. The FM2A85X Extreme4-M is also quite attractive, with its black-on-black color scheme and subtle gold and grey accents. The CPU overclocking presets are fantastic, though the GPU overclocking options are unnecessarily complicated.
Despite its lower price and smaller form factor, the ASRock board doesn't feel like a budget board. It's the best bet for someone who recognizes that you don't need full ATX for a Trinity build and is willing to trade complicated GPU overclocking for fantastic, simple CPU overclocks. And hey, it's $40 cheaper than the next option.
Any of these boards would be a solid choice for a Trinity build, but we can't help but think that Trinity's true potential lies in slim mini-ITX small form factor rigs. Why use space you don't need? We can't wait to test a mini-ITX A85X mobo. In the end, we're not offering an Editor's Choice award because all three boards excel at different things: The Asus board is the easiest to overclock, but it's the most expensive. The Gigabyte board is slightly cheaper and more power efficient, but slightly harder to overclock, and its UEFI could use some work. And the ASRock board is by far the cheapest and has a form factor that makes a lot of sense for Trinity, but its GPU clocking isn't very intutive and is hard to get stable. They're all good boards, but none of them rises so far above the rest that it stands out.
Asus F2A85-V Pro
ASRock FM2A85X Extreme4-M