You may remember a few months back I did a review on the BIOSTAR Hi-Fi Z77X motherboard. That motherboard had a marketing campaign centered around their enhanced Puro Hi-Fi audio solution. Along with the release of AMD Trinity FM2 APUs, for the first time BIOSTAR has incorporated the Puro Hi-Fi design into an AMD platform motherboard. Last time I used a BIOSTAR motherboard with the Puro Hi-Fi audio feature, I was quite impressed. Today’s review sample is the Hi-Fi A85W model, so let’s find out if an AMD version of BIOSTAR’s Hi-Fi motherboard continues to impress.
Specifications and Features
The specification list for the BIOSTAR Hi-Fi A85W is highlighted by the use of the high end A85X chipset, a whopping eight SATA 6 Gb/s ports, full support for the new Windows 8 operating system, and support for up to DDR3 2400 MHz memory. We’ll definitely be checking out the DDR3 2400 MHz memory claim; I haven’t run into a FM2 motherboard yet that even has an option in BIOS above DDR3 2133 MHz. To be honest though, I get three different stories from BIOSTAR regarding DDR3 2400 MHz support. The specifications web page says 2400 MHz support (OC); the features web page says 2000 MHz (OC) support; and then when I opened the users manual, it claims 2133 MHz support (OC). So, which is it BIOSTAR? I guess we’ll find out once we explore the UEFI BIOS.
Here are the official specifications as provided by BIOSTAR.
|BIOSTAR Hi-Fi A85W Motherboard Specifications|
|CPU SUPPORT||AMD A10 Processor
AMD A8 Processor
AMD A6 Processor
AMD A4 Processor
AMD E2 Processor
AMD Athlon™ II X4 Processor
Maximum CPU TDP (Thermal Design Power) : 100Watt
|MEMORY||Support Dual Channel DDR3 2400(OC)/2133(OC)/1866/1600/1333/1066/800 MHz
4 x DDR3 DIMM Memory Slot
Max. Supports up to 64GB Memory
|EXPANSION SLOT||2 x PCI-E x16 2.0 Slot (x16 + x4)
2 x PCI-E x1 2.0 Slot
2 x PCI Slots
|STORAGE||8 x SATA3 Connector
Support SATA RAID: 0,1,5,10
|USB||2 x USB 3.0 Port
1 x USB 3.0 Header
4 x USB 2.0 Port
2 x USB 2.0 Header
|LAN||Realtek RTL8111F – 10/100/1000 Controller|
|INTEGRATED VIDEO||By CPU model
AMD Dual Graphics Technology
|CODEC||Realtek ALC892 8-Channel Blu-ray Audio|
|REAR I/O||1 x PS/2 Keyboard
2 x USB 3.0 Port
4 x USB 2.0 Port
1 x HDMI Connector
1 x DVI Connector
1 x VGA Port
1 x RJ-45 Port
6 x Audio Connector
|INTERNAL I/O||1 x USB 3.0 Header
2 x USB 2.0 Header
8 x SATA3 6Gb/s Connector
1 x Front Audio Header
1 x Front Panel Header
1 x S/PDIF-OUT Header
1 x CPU FAN Header
2 x System FAN Header
1 x Serial Header
1 x CIR Header
|DIMENSION||ATX Form Factor Dimension: 30.5cm x 23.5cm ( W x L )|
|OS SUPPORT||Support Windows XP / Vista / 7 / 8
|ACCESSORIES||4 x SATA Cable
1 x I/O Shield
1 x DVD Driver
1 x User Manual
The Hi-Fi A85W features are numerous, so let’s dive right in. The first set of features are what BIOSTAR refers to as exclusive. I’m down with that description for the most part, but a few of them, not so much. I hardly think USB 3.0 and the use of solid capacitors can be classified as exclusive to BIOSTAR. In fact, if you care to dig deeper, almost all of the “exclusive” features can be found on other motherboards on the market. They are just named something different by the other guys. This isn’t to say these features aren’t wonderful to have, but sometimes a little over marketing can cloud the waters. I won’t single out BIOSTAR either, this over marketing thing is rampant across almost all manufacturers now days. Ok, I’m done with the over marketing spiel, let’s move on.
You’ll notice a lot of the “exclusive” features below have to do with the Puro Hi-Fi audio on this motherboard. Once past the Puro Hi-Fi features, most of the rest have to do with the bundled software and motherboard components. All images and descriptions are courtesy of BIOSTAR.
|Hi-Fi Power – Audio power is an important factor in audio quality. Most AV equipment isolates the power supply for each analog and digital signal to gather high-quality sound reproduction. Equipped with BIOSTAR Hi-Fi Power technology, it will utilize audio components with independent power design for a significant reduction in electronic noise and superb sound quality.|
|Hi-Fi Ground – BIOSTAR Hi-Fi Ground presents noise-blocking multi-layer PCB design which isolates analog audio signals from digital sources. The unique PCB layout is ideal for exceptional clarity and high fidelity sound. It’s focused on improving sound quality beyond the regular motherboard designs.|
|Hi-Fi 192/24 – BIOSTAR Hi-Fi series motherboards have a sampling rate of 192kHz/24-bit which delivers a high quality audio through an analog connection to your home theater system, multi-channel speakers and high-end headphone. You can enjoy real Blu-ray grade high-definition sound that you’ve never experienced before.|
|Hi-Fi AMP – The built-in amplifier can drive major high-end headphones with over 100dB loads and offer wide band-width, low noise, high slew rate and low distortion audio source from front panel I/O. Gaming enthusiasts can enjoy a fuller range of dynamic sound with crisper details and less distortion.|
|Hi-Fi Resistor – Metal-oxide film resistors are made of metal oxides such as tin oxide. The electric characteristics are greater stability and reliability than regular metal film resistors when operating in an extremely broad working temperature range. This special component is used in applications with high endurance audio demands.|
|Hi-Fi Cap – BIOSTAR Hi-Fi series motherboards come with high quality ‘Non-Polarized Electrolysis Electric audio capacitors’ for each audio channel circuit. The customized audio capacitors deliver low noise, low distortion, and wide bandwidth to achieve the highest sound resolution and sound expansion. The critical component will ensure the most realistic sound effects to gaming enthusiasts.|
|Hi-Fi 110dB+ – Embrace exceptional sound quality for the win with 110dB SNR and stylish and efficient EMI shield blocks electromagnetic interference to help provide cleaner audio. It has achieved a signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) of 110dB, yielding almost loss-less audio form rear audio connectors.|
|Smart Ear – Smart EAR is a windows-based audio utility which allows you to easily adjust system volume. With its user-friendly GUI, you can also increase or decrease impedance setting (Low/High Gain) to optimize your headphone performance. You can easily enjoy high-quality and awesome sound.|
|Blu-ray Audio – Upgrading your Audio performance in the easiest way is choosing BIOSTAR ultimate Motherboard. It does support Blu-ray audio DRM (compatible driver/software) and provide the higher audio output of 24 bit/ 192KHz than the 16 bit/ 48KHz from the normal MB. You will experience the high quality sound effect with pure Blu-Ray Audio.|
|SmartSpeedLAN – SmartSpeedLAN is a free software application which monitors and manages your PC’s network behavior. With user-friendly GUI, it allows you to select and prioritize different types of network traffic, including gaming, media streaming, communications or web surfing.You can also set any specific applications, choosing to prioritize or block accordingly. SmartSpeedLAN can feature automatic management options that use adaptive networking intelligence to ensure that you are getting the best online experience possible.|
|G.P.U (Green Power Utility) – BIOSTAR G.P.U (Green Power Utility) is a new function that enhances energy efficiency by disabling extra phases while CPU is under light loading. It integrates a friendly GUI to monitor the resourcing and response of your CPU thus optimizing the power saving function in your system. G.P.U. constantly sets up the best power efficiency in your system, be it for heavy 3D gaming, Internet or MSN charting.|
|BIO-Remote 2 – BIO-Remote2 Technology is featuring users a better Home Theater environment. Users who own either Android mobile or Apple goods are able to access and control your PC remotely; At this moment, you’re smart device became a intelligent and functional remote controller; more than that, BIO-Remote2 also includes both function of mouse pad and power point presentation mode.|
|eHot-Line Utiltiy – Integrated e-service automatically sends your technical support request to Biostar Globe tech support without any delay.|
|Charger Booster – Charger booster is the best and efficient charger solution for apple devices such as iPad, iPhone. Basically, Charger booster Technology is able to boost the charging time to be more efficiency and faster once any apple goods connecting to our Motherboard. With charger booster technology, you are able to charge your apple devices up to 42 % faster.|
|High Quality ESD – BIOSTAR Hi-Fi series motherboards provide high quality ESD (Electro-Static Discharge) solution for its front I/O panel. This function prevents static electricity and reduces the damage to the motherboards when you are plugging or unplugging your headphone.|
|USB 3.0 – Experience Fastest data transfers at 5 Gbps with USB 3.0–the new latest connectivity standard. Built to connect easily with next-generation components and peripherals, USB 3.0 transfers data 10X faster and backward compatible with previous USB 2.0 components.|
|100% Solid Caps – With armor-plated Biostar Technology, all capacitors are placed with 100% solid capacitors that have a lasting life cycle, durability and stability for crucial components.|
|6 Phase Power – 6 phase power design provides stable power for better overclocking.|
The next set of features is categorized under chipset and CPU. Here we find support for CrossfireX, DDR3, and onboard HDMI.
|Dual Channel DDR3 – It supports 2 or 4 DIMM Slots DDR3 memory that features data transfer rates of DDR3 2000(O.C.)/1800(O.C.)/1600/1333. The processor support 2 memory channels and setting the memory multiplier, allows selection of the channel speed. These clearly uplift the band width and boost the overall system performance.|
|ATI Hybrid CrossFireX™ Technology – ATI Hybrid CrossFireX™ takes your gaming experience to the next level, under a Windows Vista® environment. ATI Hybrid CrossFireX boosts PC performance by enabling the AMD Chipset’s integrated graphics processor and a discrete GPU (ATI Radeon™ HD 2400 Series ATI Radeon™ HD 3400 Series) to operate simultaneously with combined output to a single display for blis display for blisteringly-fast frame rates. Unleash the graphics performance that you’ve been waiting for on a mainstream Windows Vista® PC!|
|Integrated HDMI with HDCP – Onboard HDMI connector allows full video & audio support via standard DVI output. It has industry-leading high definition video quality.|
|Rapid Switch – No more meddling with the power and reset jumpers onboard. The power and reset buttons are already built onboard. It is convenient for DIY users to test the board without short-circuiting the wrong pins.|
|Rapid Debug 3 – Rapid Debug3 posts critical POST code information in a digital LED display. When system malfunction occurs, it auto-detects the device’s failure and translates the error codes on the digital LED. It also shows the CPU temperature on the same screen.|
The last set of features deals with the UEFI BIOS and related utilities.
|UEFI BIOS – Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) is a brand new framework that provides a revolutionary interface. It is a modern clear and easy-to-use graphical user interface. The UEFI comes with a colorful easy-understand icons leads users into the setup layer directly.|
|BIO-Flasher – Update BIOS effortlessly from a USB flash disk before entering the OS. BIO-Flasher is a convenient BIOS update tool. Just launch this tool and put the BIOS on USB pen driver before entering the OS. You can update your BIOS with only a few clicks without preparing an additional floppy disk or other complicated flash utility|
|T-Overclocker – T-overclocker presents a simple Windows-based system performance enhancement and utility management. It features several powerful yet easy to use tools such as overclocking for system performance enhancement, CPU and memory special enhancement, a smart-fan control for managing fan speed control of both CPU cooling fan, north-bridge chipset cooling fan, PC health for monitoring system status, and pre-set OC modes for easy OC.|
|BIOScreen Utility – Personalize your desktop with customizable boot logo. BIOScreen is the new feature that lets you personalize and create your own style with unique, custom-made boot logo.|
As you can see by the list above, the BIOSTAR HI-Fi A85W doesn’t lack in the feature department. We’ll see how all of these come together as we hone in for a closer look.
Packaging and First Look
A look at the front of the box leaves no doubt BIOSTAR wants you to know about their Puro Hi-Fi audio feature. In fact, almost the entire box front is dedicated to the Puro Hi-Fi features and software. The back of the box has a detailed icon list of many of the features, all of which are mentioned above. All four box sides are identical with BIOSTAR branding and the model of the board.
Inside the outer box is another solid white cardboard box. Lifting the lid exposes the accessories and the folded cardboard tray they call home. There isn’t much in the accessory pack, but you do get the basics needed to get a system up and running. There are four SATA cables securely packaged with a Velcro tie, the user manual, driver/software CD, and the I/O shield. Under the accessory tray we find the Hi-Fi A85W wrapped in an anti-static bag and resting on a thin foam bed.
Before we explore the Hi-Fi A85W in a more up-close and detailed manner, below are a few pictures that may stimulate your visual senses. As you peruse the pictures below, you may notice the Hi-Fi A85W is not a full sized ATX board, but rather what they call a compact ATX form factor. This correlates to the width of the board being roughly an inch shorter than the standard ATX form factor.
Up Close/Let the Chips Fall Where They May
We’ll start this section by looking at the outer extremities of the Hi-Fi A85W. Then we will move in for a closer look at the center area of the board, including some of the onboard ICs. Beginning at the bottom, we find the front panel audio out, S/PDIF out, Consumer Infrared, and com port connections. Next to these are a 3-pin system fan header and one of the two front panel USB 2.0 headers. Moving to the right side, we see the onboard power and reset buttons, along with the front panel case wiring connections.
Moving up the right side of the motherboard is where we find the eight SATA 6 Gb/s ports and the onboard post code LED display. Further up is where the vertical 24-pin ATX power connector resides. We also have our first look at the four DDR3 memory slots. In a good sign of things to come, we again see DDR3 2400 memory support printed on the motherboard.
The top of the Hi-Fi A85W doesn’t have a whole lot to discuss, other than the 4-pin CPU fan header and a first glimpse of the CPU socket area.
The left side is where all the I/O connections are found, and there are plenty to be had. Starting off with an overhead view, you can see the different blocks that house the I/O connections. You can also see the 4-pin AUX CPU power plug from this vantage point. Moving from left to right across the I/O area, we first see a PS/2 keyboard connection sitting atop two USB 2.0 ports. Next in line are the display connections, which include a Dual Link DVI, HDMI, and VGA. Following the display connections, we see the Realtek LAN port and two more USB 2.0 connections. Rounding out the I/O area is two USB 3.0 ports and the analog Realtek ALC892 8-channel (Blue-ray) audio jacks.
Our tour of the Hi-Fi A85W extremities ends up where the Puro Hi-Fi audio components are located. The Puro Hi-Fi audio feature is comprised of several important components that are explained in the features list at the beginning of this review. The audio features, as a whole, are BIOSTAR’s hope for attracting more of an audio enthusiast crowd than perhaps a overclocking enthusiast. The board is, after all, marketed as a potential HTPC solution. By using resistors, capacitors, EMI shielding, and a built in headphone amplifier that have all been designed with audio in mind, BIOSTAR manages to greatly enhance the sound quality when compared to motherboards that use standard integrated audio components. One of the main reasons for the sound clarity is the Hi-Fi ground feature, which ensures the Puro Hi-Fi audio is not infiltrated with outside noise or interference. This grounding line can be seen in the second picture below. Take note, the Hi-Fi ground goes through all the PCB layers and even separates the front and rear panel audio connectors. This ensures proper noise separation.
I took the time to hook up a set of 5.1 surround speakers to the system, and I enjoyed the same great experience as with the Hi-Fi Z77X. For an onboard sound solution, this is really hard to beat. If you enjoy watching a lot of movies in surround sound, then you’ll really enjoy the audio this board puts out. To me, movie watching is where the Puro Hi-Fi really shines. If you have a good set of headphones, you won’t be disappointed there either. The built in headphone amplifier works extremely well!
Moving in towards the center area of the Hi-Fi A85W, we’ll start with a look down the PCIe slots. Here we have two PCIe x16 2.0 slots (x16 and x4), two PCIe x1 2.0 Slots, and two PCI Slots. If you’re potentially looking at this motherboard for a HTPC application, having the two old style PCI slots will probably appeal to you for use with older TV/capture cards. Located between the two PCIe x16 slots is the battery, clear CMOS jumper, and the front panel USB 3.0 connector. If you end up using a dual slot graphics card on this board, you will have to remove it in order to get at the battery. I also found the location of the front panel USB 3.0 header to be in a rather odd location. I would much prefer to see it located at the bottom of the motherboard or even on the right side near the 24-pin ATX connector.
The FM2 CPU socket area is wide open and should accommodate just about any cooler I can think of. I doubt you will have any trouble fitting your favorite air cooler or water block on this board. As with most motherboards, a watchful eye on memory module height is in order to ward off potential clearance problems.
BIOSTAR has implemented a six phase CPU power delivery system on the Hi-Fi A85W. The MOSFET chips are passively cooled by an aluminum heatsink that has a “Puro Hi-Fi” logo cover applied to it. When the heatsink was removed, the thermal pad was found to be making excellent contact with the target areas. I’m not too fond of the plastic push-pin method of retention, but in this case it appears to work pretty well.
There is a BIOSTAR branded heatsink over the AMD A85X Hudson D4 FCH (Fusion Controller Hub), or what many of you refer to as the chipset. Again, the plastic push-pin method of retention is used to secure the heatsink. The thermal interface material (TIM) used is that thick, almost bubble gum like substance I’m beginning to see more and more of. Once the heatsink was removed and the FCH was properly cleaned, we can get an up close look at the A85X Hudson D4. One thing I did notice about the markings on the FCH is that they differ from the Sapphire A85XT motherboard I recently reviewed. That FCH was marked “FCH 1222″, whereas the FCH on this motherboard is marked “FCH 1224″. Both boards claim to use the same A85X Hudson D4 chipset.
Other than providing the ALC892 Audio Codec chip, Realtek was also called upon to provide the onboard LAN (RTL8111F) and the clock generator (RTM880N). While neither of these solutions are considered top of the line, they are more than capable of providing solid functionality.
The UEFI BIOS has been assigned to a Winbond 25Q32BVAIG 32M-Bit (4 Mb) chip. I believe this chip is removable and can be replaced should you encounter a bad BIOS flashing episode. BIOSTAR called upon the ever popular ITE IT8278F for Super/I/O abilities. As I’m sure you know, this chip is responsible for providing fan control and system monitoring capabilities.
The UEFI BIOS
When you first arrive inside of the UEFI BIOS, you land at the “Main” screen. From this page you can set the system language, date, and time. At the top of the page is the BIOS version information and some basic system statistics.
The “Advanced” section has nine sub-menus, most of which are things you’ve seen many times over. Within these sub-menus are where you would set your CPU C-states, SATA operation mode, and USB configuration. There are a couple more interesting sub-menus, which include Smart Fan Control and Hardware Monitoring. The Smart Fan Control is where you can set up fan speeds based on temperatures or have them run at full speed constantly. The Hardware Monitoring provides real time information on voltage readings and temperatures. For a more detailed look at all the options available in the Advanced section, peruse the thumbnails below.
The “Chipset” section involves everything Northbridge and Southbridge. Here is where you find both the PCIe and IGPU graphics settings and onboard device options.
Other than the obvious boot order options, the “Boot” section includes the options to enable or disable the post beep sound and the full screen logo. There is also a sub-menu for the CSM parameters.
The “Security” section is where you will find the options to set BIOS administrator and user passwords.
Now for the area us overclockers will hang out the most; the “O.N.E.” (Overclocking Navigation Engine) section. The entry page has settings for the CPU clock speed, voltages, and memory clock. As I mentioned earlier in the review, the investigation into DDR3 2400 MHz would take place once we got a look at the BIOS options. If you set the Memory Clock Mode to manual, the highest option available is DDR3 2133 MHz. If I set the Memory Clock Mode to XMP, it correctly identifies the DDR3 2400 MHz G.Skill kit I installed; but defaults back to DDR3 1866 MHz once the settings are saved and the system is rebooted. So, while support for DDR3 2400 MHz memory may be there, in order to get your memory to run at that speed you will have some work to do. Your best bet would be to set the Memory Clock Mode to 2133 MHz and then attempt to raise the FSB.
There are five sub-menus in the O.N.E. section you’ll need to access for setting the memory timings, HCT, and GPU phase control. There is also a sub-menu called “BIOSTAR Memory Insight”, where you can get information on your current memory configuration.
The final area of the UEFI BIOS is the “Save and Exit” section. Other than the obvious ability to save or discard any changes, you have the ability to save up to five profiles. You can also save and restore profiles using a storage device. The ability to use a storage device to save and load profiles is pretty cool because you are no longer limited to the amount allotted within BIOS.
The software BIOSTAR includes with the Hi-Fi A85W is geared towards getting the most from all the different features the motherboard offers. There are several utilities to enhance the Puro Hi-audio feature, including a Multichannel Calibration Tool, Smart Ear Volume Control for the headphone amplifier, and Creative’s THX Studio. BIO Remote2 is included for controlling your computer remotely, using your smart phone. The BIOScreen and BIOS updater allow you to change the boot splash screen and update the BIOS from the Windows desktop. The Smart Speed LAN utility allows you to prioritize internet traffic, which can reduce lag if you are doing simultaneous tasks that require internet access. The eHot-line utility gathers all your pertinent system information and then lets you email this information with your tech support request directly to BIOSTAR. G.P.U. (Green Power Utility) lets the user choose from four presets that range from maximum power savings to performance. This is accomplished by turning power delivery phases on, or off, depending on system demand.
Most of the software is covered in more detail in the features section of this review and again in the Hi-Fi Z77X review I did a couple of months ago. So, at the risk of repeating what I have already covered elsewhere, I’ll direct you to those two places to learn more about the included software.
The overclocking software included with the BIOSTAR Hi-Fi A85W is called Toverclocker. I will go over this utility in detail again, because the last time I did, it was on an Intel platform.
The first two tabs in Toverclocker are dedicated to information about the processor and memory. The “CPU” tab gives you the current speed of your processor, along with all the pertinent specifications. The “Memory” tab provides you with a timings table and other basic memory information. As you can see by the picture of the Memory tab, the timings table only shows values up to DDR3 1333 MHz; and this is with a DDR3 2400 MHz kit installed. You can also toggle the sub-tabs to get the same information for each of the four DIMM slots. In a nutshell, this section needs work.
The next tab is called “OC Tweaker”. This is where you can overclock your processor from within Windows. There are three sub-tabs where the CPU frequency, voltages, and preset overclocking can be manipulated. I despise the fact there is no CPU core multiplier adjustment here. All you can do is raise the BUS speed. Overclocking the CPU with only a BUS speed option isn’t going to get you very far. This section needs a lot of work if it’s going to be a viable Windows based overclocking tool. The “Voltage” sub-tab has adequate options for basic overclocking; this area is fine. If you enter the “Mode” sub-tab, there are several preset overclocking values; but be advised that you will want to set voltages as needed before attempting to use these. The preset overclocks are again based on raising the BUS speed only, it never changes the CPU ratio. This area needs much work too.
Under the “H/W monitor” tab are three sub-tabs where voltages, fan speeds, and temperatures can be viewed in real time. All of the information provided appears to be correct, except for the CPU temperatures. Call me skeptical, but I doubt a 10 °C CPU temperature is correct. When I view the CPU temperature in BIOS, it looks correct; why this does not transfer over correctly to Toverclocker is a mystery. CPU temperature monitoring needs work.
When I used Toverclocker on the Hi-Fi Z77X motherboard, it was a much better experience than what is found here. The utility could stand some reworking to better accommodate the FM2 platform. For now, overclocking via the UEFI BIOS is the way to go. For system monitoring, a third party solution might be worth looking for as well; but even those may not work correctly if the UEFI BIOS is not sending the information to Windows correctly.
Overclocking and Benchmarks
BIOSTAR Hi-Fi A85W Socket FM2 Motherboard
AMD A10-5800K Trinity APU (Overclockers Approved!)
G.Skill 2X8 DDR3-2400 MHz Gb F3-2400C10D-16GTX
OCZ Vertex4 128 GB SSD
EVGA Superclock CPU Cooler
Corsair HX1050 Power Supply
Window 7 Pro x64
We have two comparison motherboards this time around, which include the Sapphire PURE Platinum A85XT and the Gigabyte GA-F2A85X-UP4 that was used for the AMD Trinity APU review. For the purpose of keeping everything on a level playing field, we’ll run the comparison tests at stock and with a 4.4 GHz CPU overclock. The memory will be set to 1866 MHz to comply with AMD’s official memory speed support for the A10-5800K APU. Further overclocking will be reserved for the “Pushing the Limits” section.
I always like to start this section with a stability test at both stock and overclocked speeds. Something worth noting here is when the motherboard was set at its stock settings and at 100% load, the Turbo Core function did not work well at all. When the system stability test was run, the CPU speed never ramped up all the way to 4.2 GHz like it should. In fact, not only did it never reach the 4.2 GHz, but I observed some rather wild fluctuations in the core speed as the stress testing was performed. The CPU core speed dropped as low as 3.4 GHz several times for a second or two and then to 3.8 GHz, then to 4.0 Ghz… up and down, up and down we go. Keep in mind this happened while the stress test had the CPU under 100% load. Because of the fluctuation, I manually set the core multiplier to 42x and ran the stability test that way. The fluctuating stopped, and the stress test completed without errors.
Once the stock CPU speed testing was done, I tested the 4.4 GHz overclock and it also passed easily. Only a minor bump in voltage was needed to obtain stability at 4.4 GHz.
If you remember, earlier I suggested a third party solution for temperature monitoring might be in order. Well, the results are the same and even worse in some cases. AMD Overdrive shows the CPU temperature at 0 °C when overclocked and under load. So, suffice to say, any reliable temperature monitoring from within Windows is probably not going to happen. The only place I see accurate temperature readings is in BIOS; but once the system boots, things go awry. The CPU temperature displayed on the post code LED appears to be rather accurate, but why this doesn’t transfer to monitoring software is still an unknown at this time. In all fairness to BIOSTAR though, the temperature monitoring issue was also noticed in the Gigabyte GA-F2A85X-UP4 during the Trinity APU review. Out of the three FM2 motherboards I have reviewed, only the Sapphire A85XT and its accompanying TriXX software has been able to correctly monitor temperatures from within Windows.
We’ll begin the benchmark and testing phase with the ever popular SuperPI and WPrime. The SuperPI 1M and 32M results were not too kind to the Hi-Fi A85W. It finished behind the other two motherboards at both stock and overclocked speeds. We are not talking a huge difference here, but it was just a tad slower.
WPrime shows the Hi-Fi A85W coming out on top in both the 32M and 1024M while at its stock speed. When overclocked, it fell right in the middle. The Hi-Fi A85W beat the Gigabyte board and fell just a tad behind the Sapphire board in both tests.
Let’s dive into some CPU rendering, Cinebench style. In Cinebench R10, the Hi-Fi A85W came out on top in all areas, except for losing out to the Gigabyte board when overclocked. The Hi-Fi A85W fared just as well in Cinebench R11.5. Here we find the only blemish coming in the way of a tie with the Gigabyte board when both were overclocked.
Our next set of benchmarks are POV Ray 3.73RC3 and x264. In POV Ray, it was a complete sweep for the Hi-Fi A85W at both stock and overclocked speeds. The x264 pass 1 results show the Hi-Fi A85W falling right in the middle of the other two competing boards at stock and overclocked speeds. The same story held true in the pass 2 results, with the Hi-Fi A85W falling right in the middle of the other two motherboards again.
To round out our testing phase of the review, we’ll have a look at the AIDA64 CPU and FPU results. I run these tests just to see if something is amiss with the way a motherboard handles a CPU/APU. Typically, when comparing the exact same CPU/APU on the exact same chipset, the differences will be minimal. All of the results between the three comparison motherboards were indeed close and typically within a percentage point or two. The Hi-Fi A85W handled these tests jut as expected. No problems noticed here.
Pushing the Limits
Ok, first thing first. As I mentioned before about the available memory speed setting in BIOS, 2133 MHz was the highest “select able” option. I wanted to make sure that worked before ramping up the CPU speed. No problems were encountered here, and the system booted to Windows without any errors. Good start!
Getting to 4.6 GHz was pretty painless, just a core multiplier change to 46x, and of course, more voltage. I ran some benchmarks at this speed and everything completed just fine. The below results showed some good increases, especially when compared to the earlier stock results.
Unfortunately, this is where the overclocking pony ride came to a screeching halt. Raising the CPU core multiplier to anything over 46x resulted in a 5d post code error on the LED display. That post code is typically related to PCIe video card problems, but I’m using the integrated graphics. I tried everything I could think of, but to no avail. Still, 4.6 GHz isn’t too bad and was 200 MHz higher than what I was able to achieve on the Gigabyte motherboard. As far as overclocking goes, for now the Sapphire A85XT reigns supreme out of the three FM2 motherboards I have reviewed (it was able to hit 4.8 GHz).
One other quick note on overclocking, as it relates to the Trinity integrated graphics. The onboard HD 7660D was able to be overclocked to 1050 MHz from its stock speed of 800 MHz. This achievement seems to be standard fare for most FM2 platform motherboards. I have been able to easily accomplish this on all three FM2 boards reviewed so far. Nothing spectacular here, but I thought it was worth mentioning.
As I mentioned earlier in the review, the enthusiast this motherboard targets is the audiophile. However, I think you can add a HTPC enthusiast to that list as well. This isn’t to say the overclocking enthusiast is left completely out in the cold; the Hi-Fi A85W does overclock decently. Now for the kicker… the BIOSTAR Hi-Fi A85W sells for a mere $95 bucks at Newegg. At that price, you definitely have an affordable option for a very nice system or HTPC build.
The onboard audio is about as good as you can get with an integrated solution, there’s no doubt about that. Sure, it might not be as good as a higher end stand alone sound card, but the majority of people will find it more than adequate. Kudos to BIOSTAR for taking a Realtek onboard audio solution and getting about all you can from it. The audio related software bundled on the CD works great for getting the best experience possible from the Puro Hi-Fi feature.
On the overclocking side of things, one tends to get disappointed when hitting a wall like I did. However, when I remind myself of the $95 price tag, it’s easily overlooked; and I think the value still remains intact.
With its compact ATX form factor and great onboard audio, I’d have to say the Hi-Fi A85W is probably best suited for a HTPC application. BIOSTAR wisely markets this board as such too; and I think they have a nice offering in that regard. Even if a HTPC is not in your plans and you’re looking to build a low cost system, this is a very viable option to consider.
About the only real complaint I have with the Hi-Fi A85W is the Toverclocker utility and the inability to monitor CPU temperatures in Windows. The overclocking options in Toverclocker are very limited and quite honestly, don’t do you much good. To me, it’s not a big deal because I typically do all of my overclocking from within the BIOS anyway; but I know many people like to overclock from windows to test different settings. BIOSTAR is usually pretty good about timely BIOS updates, so I feel relatively confident these issues will be resolved.
Great sounding audio, a decent amount of overclocking, and a wide variety of potential uses would sum the Hi-Fi A85W up nicely. Couple that with a price that is extremely attractive; and I think we have an Overclocker’s Approved on our hands here!
-Dino DeCesari (Lvcoyote)