BIOSTAR A68N-5000 Mini ITX SOC Review

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For today’s visitor to the chopping block, we take a look at something a bit different from our normal review pieces. This BIOSTAR unit is a CPU/GPU/Motherboard all in one, also known as a “system-on-chip” setup. It comes fitted with an AMD A4-5000 Quad-Core APU and Radeon HD 8330 graphics in a mITX form factor, which makes for a very versatile board. The passive cooling system ensures silent operation, making it perfect for a HTPC or something similar. Who’s ready to take a look at the A68N-5000?

Specifications and Features

Here’s a quick look at the specifications of the A68N-5000 as provided by BIOSTAR. As seen, the board uses a typical two DIMM and one PCIe slot arrangement for something of the mITX form factor.

BIOSTAR A68N-5000
CHIPSET
  • N/A
CPU
  • AMD Fusion APU A4-5000 Quad-Core Processor
MEMORY
  • Support DDR3 / DDR3L 1600/1333/1066/800 MHz
  • 2 x DDR3 DIMM Memory Slot
  • Max. Supports up to 16GB Memory
EXPANSION SLOT
  • 1 x PCI-E x16 2.0 Slot (x4)
STORAGE
  • 2 x SATA3 Connector
USB
  • 2 x USB 3.0 Port
  • 2 x USB 2.0 Port
  • 2 x USB 2.0 Header
LAN
  • Realtek RTL8111G – 10/100/1000 Controller
INTEGRATED VIDEO
  • AMD Radeon™ HD8330 Graphics
  • On Board Graphic Max. Memory Share Up to 2GB
  • Supports DX11.1
  • Supports HDCP
CODEC
  • Realtek ALC662 6-Channel HD Audio
REAR I/O
  • 1 x PS/2 Mouse
  • 1 x PS/2 Keyboard
  • 2 x USB 3.0 Port
  • 2 x USB 2.0 Port
  • 1 x HDMI Connector
  • 1 x VGA Port
  • 1 x RJ-45 Port
  • 3 x Audio Connector
INTERNAL I/O
  • 1 x Printer Header
  • 2 x USB 2.0 Header
  • 2 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
  • 1 x System FAN Header
  • 1 x Serial Header
H/W MONITORING
  • CPU / System Temperature Monitoring
  • System Fan Monitoring
  • System Voltage Monitoring
DIMENSION
  • Mini ITX Form Factor Dimension: 17cm x 17cm ( W x L )
OS SUPPORT
  • Support Windows XP / 7 / 8 / 8.1
BUNDLED SOFTWARE
  • BIO-Remote2
ACCESSORIES
  • 2 x SATA Cable
  • 1 x I/O Shield
  • 1 x DVD Driver
  • 1 x Quick Guide
FEATURES
  • Windows 8 Ready
  • Supports Solid capacitor
  • Supports BIOS-Flasher
  • Supports Charger Booster
  • Supports BIOS Online Update

The following table lists the high-level feature set of the A68N-5000. All images and descriptions provided by BIOSTAR.

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AMD Fusion APU A4-5000 Quad-Core Processor

This motherboard supports integrated AMD Quad-Core Processor A4-5000 with AMD Radeon™ HD 8330 Graphics. This revolutionary APU (Accelerated Processing Unit) combines processing power and advanced DirectX 11.1 graphics in one small, energy-efficient design to enable accelerated performance and an industry-leading visual experience. It features single-channel DDR3 1333 memory support and accelerates data transfer rate up to 2.5GT/s.

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HD Audio

Provides high quality sound with minimal loss of audio fidelity.

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DX11.1

Direct3D 11.1 enables Direct3D 10 APIs and Direct3D 11 APIs to use one underlying rendering device. And it allows developers to achieve a high speed, fully conformant software rasterizer.

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Integrated HDMI with HDCP

Onboard HDMI connector allows full video & audio support. It has industry-leading high definition video quality.

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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.

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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.

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SATA 6Gb/s High Efficiency of Data transfer rate

SATAIII 6Gbps provides a higher bandwidth to retrieve and transfer HD media. With this super speed data transfer, SATAIII allows an incredible data boost which is 2x faster than the SATA 3G.

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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.

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Dual DDR3-1600

It supports 2 or 4 DIMM Slots DDR3 memory that features data transfer rates of DDR3 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.

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Moistureproof PCB

With the popularity of PC usage and working environment has getting deteriorating and moist(such as rural, coastal). The PCB will be oxidizing easily by damp or absorbed moisture. And then ionic migration or CAF(Conductive Anodic Filament) will be generated. Moisture-proof PCB meets high density and high reliability requirements for moisture proofing. 

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Low RdsOn P-Pak MOS

Low resistance design can significantly reduce the current out of the energy loss.
Low temperature, small size, excellent thermal conductivity.

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X.D.C (eXtreme Durable Capacitors)

Biostar adopts low ESR and high ripple conductive solid state caps that provide sufficient, stable power supply to the CPU. The life span can also be more than 6.25 x of ordinary liquid caps.

2014-10-04 17_49_01-A68N-5000 __ Motherboard __ BIOSTAR
ESD Protection

ESD (Electrostatic Discharge) is the major factor to destroy PC by electrical overstress(EOS) condition, ESD occurred by PC users when touch any devices connect to PC, which may result in damage to motherboard or parts .ESD protection is designed to protect the motherboard and equipment from damage by EOS

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USB Polyswitch

On board dedicated power fuse to help prevent USB port failure. It prevents USB Port overcurrent and safegurand your system and device lifespan.

2014-10-04 17_49_23-A68N-5000 __ Motherboard __ BIOSTAR
BIOS Virus Protection

When enabled, the BIOS will protect the boot sector and partition table by halting the system and flashing a warning message whether there’s an attempt to write to these areas.

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OC / OV / OH Protection

All BIOSTAR special circuit design detects overvoltage conditions and prevents voltage surges from spreading in real time. It also actively cuts off the overvoltage supply to protect your system. Over current protection, avoid motherboard from damage when doing overclock or an unusual current import. Over heat protection, avoid motherboard & CPU from burning when exceeding the temperature limitation.

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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.

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Header Zone

Users can easily assemble their own computer, a simple-swap data discs and other accessories.

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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. 

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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.

Retail Packaging

The retail packaging is simple and clean on the front, with a full feature set on the rear. Being an mITX form factor, BIOSTAR really packed some good information into a small space.

Retail Package - Front

Retail Package – Front

Retail Package - Rear

Retail Package – Rear

IMG_1947 IMG_1948

Accessories

The A68N-5000 comes with a manual, two SATA cables, an I/O Plate, and the driver CD. Simple and effective. You don’t need many accessories to get a small system running.

Accessory Package

Accessory Package

The BIOSTAR A68N-5000

Taking our first look at the front of the board the first thing seen is the passive heatsink. Plenty of heat dissipation here for an APU that only sips down 15W at full-tilt. There are two full-size DDR3 DIMM slots which support up to 16 GB of DDR3-1600 memory. The board has headers for two fans, the front case panel, two USB 2.0 connections, an SPDIF output, and front audio ports. There are two SATA III ports available along with one PCIe 2.0 x16 slot running at x4. The Realtek chips control the Gigabit LAN (RTL8111G) and also control the 5.1 channel audio (ALC662 CODEC).

A68N-5000 - Front

A68N-5000 – Front

On the rear of the A68N-5000 there is a clear separation of the audio section from the rest of the motherboard. This is very nice to see, as this separation usually only comes on higher end motherboards.

A68N-5000 - Rear

A68N-5000 – Rear

A Closer Look

This view gets a better look at the headers around the passive heatsink, and of the heatsink itself. Couple this SOC system with a set of low profile DDR3L RAM for one of the thinnest form factors possible.

A68N-5000 - Alternate View

A68N-5000 – Alternate View

Here’s a look at the I/O ports of the A68N-5000. There are two PS/2 ports, one HDMI port, one VGA connection, two USB 3.0 and two USB 2.0 ports, one Gigabit Ethernet jack, and three 3.5 mm audio plugs.

A68N-5000 - I/O Ports

A68N-5000 – I/O Ports

UEFI BIOS

Here are some screenshots of the Main and Advanced sections of the UEFI BIOS. Here there are controls for enabling/disabling features such as the network stack and USB ports, or working with the power saving features.

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And now for a look at the Chipset and Boot sections of the UEFI BIOS. Here there are options to enable/disable onboard audio and graphics, set your boot device order, and more.

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Last, but not least, there are the Security, Performance, and Save & Exit sections. Here the options to set memory speed/timings/voltage, save BIOS profiles, and other miscellaneous settings can be found.

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Test Setup and Benchmarks

Listed below is the test system used for benchmarking.

Test Setup
CPU AMD A4-5000
Motherboard BIOSTAR A68N-5000
RAM 2x4GB G.SKILL Ares 1333MHz CL9 9-9-24-1T
Graphics Card AMD Radeon HD8330
Solid State Drive 256GB Samsung 840 Pro
Power Supply EVGA SuperNOVA 850 G2
Operating System Windows 7 x64 SP1
Graphics Drivers Catalyst 14.4

CPU Benchmarks – SuperPi, wPrime, and Cinebench

SuperPi 1M

SuperPi 1M

wPrime 32M

wPrime 32M

Cinebench R11.5

Cinebench R11.5

GPU Benchmarks – Unigine Heaven and 3DMark

Unigine Heaven Basic

Unigine Heaven Basic

3DMark Sky Diver

3DMark Sky Diver

Memory Benchmark – MaxxMEM

MaxxMEM

MaxxMEM

SATA Benchmark – ATTO

ATTO

ATTO

General Impressions

This section will be subjective about my usage of the motherboard during tests and other tasks. The system was actually surprisingly quick. There seems to be a general misconception about the system on chip setups that they’re slow, but this one really isn’t. Tasks like web browsing and HD video playback were always smooth. It pulled files off of my NAS just as quick as any other system in my repertoire.

Conclusion

If you’re looking for a nice, quiet system to use as an HTPC or for web browsing this is a great solution for you. Don’t expect anything miraculous from it and you’ll be quite happy with how it handles basic tasks. For a small form factor system, it has all you could ask for. Gigabit, four rear USB ports and two front USB headers, and 2x SATA ports are plenty for the uses listed above. Need a little more graphical oomph? Drop a GPU in the PCIe slot and you’ll be set. The PCIe slot could also be used for a wireless adapter, if the system won’t be near your networking equipment. Did I mention that the A68N-5000 is inexpensive? Yeah, it is. Only $70 at Newegg for a CPU, GPU, and Motherboard all in one box. Sounds like the perfect start to a budget computer to me. Simple, effective, inexpensive, and approved!

Overclockers_clear_approvedClick the stamp for an explanation of what this means.

-Austin  (ATMINSIDE)

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Discussion
  1. Somehow i think passive cooled processors that are probably in need of a active cooled case are somewhat dishonest. Because there is probably to less airstream inside case and the passive heat sink could become to hot at high load (for example when decoding vids). The Kabini isnt known to be to heat tolerant, but i think 15 W should be doable at the cost of some performance (compared to 25 W Athlon 5350 APU which is usualy active cooled).
    About the caps, the term:
    X.D.C (eXtreme Durable Capacitors) Biostar adopts low ESR and high ripple conductive solid state caps

    ...isnt really true, most of the caps are standart electrolytic 105C and not low ESR solid state, i was only able to spot 3 solid state, a minority.
    So, most of the caps arnt made according to nowadays "solid state" PC standart. However, at least Biostar was using 105C rated caps which is usually a sign of good quality, but there is still some differences dependable on manufacturer. Whats that "XDC" anyway? Some funny marketing stuff? Oh well... However, its good to know that they are durable, i could personally kick all the bad caps into the deepest hole and hopefully they may never meet me anymore.
    RAM:
    The A4-5000 according to http://www.notebookcheck.com/AMD-A-Series-A4-5000-Notebook-Prozessor.92866.0.html is not having a double channel, its simply 2 memory slots able to expand the capacity, but without dual channel (in that term comparable to all low power Kabini). The CPU isnt having the required horsepower to make high memory speed truly useful but there is no need for "high horsepower", priority is maxed efficiency and highest economic value in any term. In this case the low power "partial SoC*" is surely outstanding. Its simply 2 DIMM slots for expansion of memory, but there wont be any change in performance in term 2 slots used. A single DIMM could be cheaper and it may be sufficient at the size of 4 GB.
    PCI-Express x16 slot:
    This is a new feature not available on the "old" AM1 boards (without partial SoC), however, i am not sure it would truly be useful for the intended use. As a gamer machine the CPU is clearly to less beefy (it would bottleneck the GPU), no matter the clock (and a passive CPU wont allow for OC anyway). So the PCIE slot could provide some GPU power for different uses but less likely for gamer use. In almost any term the integrated GPU (a 128 ALU GCN) is fully sufficient and dedicated GPU simply a feature that wont make to much sense. Ultimately i think the Biostar board may give some fun new specs but innovations may come in handy at other spots that are already available by the "old" AM1 boards.
    Alternate systems:
    The general performance for the intended use is surely sufficient and i dont think any knowledgeable PC user would consider the newest "partial SoC*" setups "slow" or "insufficient". However, for a price of around 100-110 $ (dependable on MB) a Athlon 5350 dedicated CPU setup paired with a custom board would already be possible and it got around 30% higher speed in overall but also around 30% higher cost. It can be paired with a case that got half the size of a shoebox but actively cooled. Overall the hardware quality of a dedicated setup is a bit higher too. The question truly is, can the A4-5000 "partial SoC" setup maintain a fully passive cooled condition, including passive case with half the size of a shoebox? I dont know but there is surely many possible options for a cheap, efficient and compact "basic PC". The true advantage of the Biostar A65N-5000 is the "passive cooling", price/performance ratio wont be better than a active cooled "non SoC*" solution.
    *SoC = System on a Chip. In usual the term SoC was commonly used in order to describe chips that got almost a entire system on a single die. However, the RAM modules and other chips (located on the MB) are still not on the same die, so in my mind i would say a "merged" AMD fusion processor (known as APU) is at least barely a real SoC, but a non merged "Fusion" APU-processor, not embedded into the MB, isnt a real SoC, although its still named "SoC" in many terms. In my mind such a chip is simply a "APU", the term of "CPU and GPU on the same die". I find the descriptions (many vendors such as Newegg are using it) rather confusing but personally i call something "partial SoC" in term the APU or any other combined chip is directly embedded into the MB. Its not truly a APU anymore because APUs are known to be dedicated chips "on a die", not "on a MB", but anyway, the situation is somewhat complicated so i use own terms in order to get myself some understanding.
    Surely a very good offer for a active cooled solution (~30% more performance) is that one, case already included so it offers more value than the Biostar SoC: http://www.newegg.com/Product/ComboBundleDetails.aspx?ItemList=Combo.1808680 (value offer... in my mind the case is to big but it surely is cheap and it doesnt take much more to make that system ready to run).
    Although in general im against MSI boards, the currently top of the line for AM1 seems to be http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813132098 i use it msyself and so far im very satisfied. It even got a Mosfet cooler (it may look like overkill at such low TDP but Overclockers know the deal "it is never cool enough") and of course full solid cap, simply so much love inside that board at a surprisingly low price tag.
    Thanks for the report. Systems like this are interesting for HTPCs and home servers. The latter is my use case. I recently had to replace the motherboard in mine and settled on an ASRock Q1900-ITX with a J1900 Celeron. Since the system I put it in is headless the video H/W was not important. Nor was CPU horsepower (though more is always better. :D ) The previous system was an Atom and performed admirably. For my uses I appreciated the two extra SATA ports. I use this for a NAS and have two large drives mirrored. The extra port allowed me to use an old laptop drive for a boot device and be able to use the entire other drives for storage. As a bonus, I can put an eSata cable on the fourth port and connect to external drives (of which I have one. ;) )
    A couple more thoughts come to mind as I consider this. Both boards have PS/2 ports, and not just one but two. I still have PS/2 keyboards but they are decades old! I have reluctantly set my IBM Model M aside because it would not work with a USB based KVM. (Less surprisingly I did not see any dual monitor KVMs that support both USB and PS/2 connections.)
    Something else that would be useful to know about this would be the power draw. I have a kill-a-Watt so I know that mine idles at about 27W. Of course this depends on the PSU and drives and perhaps whether or not there is a monitor connected. Even more interesting is that the Dell box provided by my client with I7-4770 and some kind of ATI 290 video card also idles at 27W!