With the upcoming release of the AMD Kaveri FM2+ APU, motherboard manufacturers will be ready and waiting with their AMD A88X chipset offerings. This new chipset is backward compatible with Richland and Trinity socket FM2 APUs. This is good news for those APU owners wanting what the A88X chipset offers, but who don’t necessarily want to change APUs. However, keep in mind, it doesn’t work the other way around as older socket FM2 motherboards will not work with the new Kaveri APU.
BIOSTAR has wasted no time getting a motherboard released with the new A88X chipset, and it falls within their popular Hi-Fi family of motherboard products. The BIOSTAR Hi-Fi A88W 3D appears to be a step forward in their Hi-Fi audio and now has 3D audio technology with multi-directional sound. I’ve reviewed other Hi-Fi motherboards from BIOSTAR and always came away impressed with the audio quality as well as their overclocking prowess. So, let’s find out how they did with this new offering!
Specifications and Features
Here are the specifications as provided by the BIOSTAR website. By the looks of it, Kaveri will support PCI-E 3.0… About time! Other than that, it looks like we have plenty of connectivity, both onboard and through the I/O area. So far, so good.
BIOSTAR Hi-Fi A88W 3D Specifications Chipset AMD A88X 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 2600(OC)/2400(OC)/2133/1866/1600/1333/1066/800 MHz
4 x DDR3 DIMM Memory Slot
Max. Supports up to 64GB Memory
EXPANSION SLOT 1 x PCI-E x16 3.0 Slot (supported by FM2+ CPU)
1 x PCI-E x16 2.0 Slot (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 RTL8111G – 10/100/1000 Controller MULTI GRAPHICS AMD CrossFireX 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 (Dual Link) 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
2 x CPU FAN Header
3 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 / 7 / 8 ACCESSORIES 4 x SATA Cable
1 x I/O Shield
1 x DVD Driver
1 x User Manual
FEATURES Windows 8 Ready
Supports PURO Hi-Fi 3D
Supports Smart Speed LAN
Supports 100% Solid capacitor
Supports Rapid Switch
Supports Rapid Debug3
Supports Charger Booster
Supports BIOS Online Update
The majority of high level features BIOSTAR wants to make sure you know about are related to audio design and performance. However, this is just one area the BIOSTAR 6+ Experience brings to the table. BIOSTAR’s 6+ Experience incorporates what they call “Audio+, Video+, Speed+, Durable+, Protection+, and DIY+.” All the below images and descriptions were shamelessly kidnapped from the BIOSTAR website.
Beginning with the Audio+ area of the 6+ Experience, there are ten components worth mentioning. Each of these 10 components work seamlessly with the onboard Realtek ALC892 audio codec. In turn, you get a much improved audio experience when compared to motherboards that use the ALC892 audio codec in its stock configuration. I’ll let BIOSTAR explain the 10 components outlined below.
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. Smart Ear 3D – Smart Ear 3D provides true reproduction of virtual 3D space using any headphones! It delivers the true 3D sounds for music, movies and also games. It’s fantastically, especially if you’ve never experienced this kind of acoustic phenomenon before. 3D Sound Fields – The six types of 3D Sound Fields are including Hi-Fi Theater, Hi-Fi Hall, Hi-Fi Game spots, Hi-Fi Studio, Hi-Fi Conference and Hi-Fi Bistro for your different applications. Biostar Hi-Fi 3D technology involves the virtaul placement of sound sources anywhere in 3 dimensional spaces, including behind, above or below. 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 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 3D – With the built-in new generation 3D amplifier, Biostar Hi-Fi 3D motherboard can drive major high-end headphones with over 100dB loads and up to 600ohm impedance. It allows you enjoy a fuller range of dynamic sound with crisper details and less distortion when you are using any headphones. Hi-Fi Pre AMP – Hi-Fi 3D Technology is built-in power amplifier to boost the speaker volume. It will increase double volume level with high-quality HD audio output. Hi-Fi 3D Technology not only improves on the headphone but also enhances your speakers’ sound volume. Hi-Fi preamp can boost the line level audio signals from analog and digital sources to levels that a power anplifier can detect and boost again to successfully power up the loadspeaker. Hi-V Caps – Hi-V Caps is “Metalized Polypropylene Film Capacitor” 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. Hi-Fi Ground – BIOSTAR Hi-Fi Ground presents noise-blocking mufti-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 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.
Under the Durable+ section, we only have mention of the 100% solid caps used throughout the motherboard. The Video+ section makes mention of the integrated HDMI with HDCP feature.
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. Integrated HDMI with HDCP – Onboard HDMI connector allows full video & audio support via standard DVI output. It has industry-leading high definition video quality.
The Speed+ features consist of six components dealing with different ways to increase performance across several sub systems.
PCI-E Gen 3.0 Ready – PCI-E 3.0 is the next evolution of the ubiquitous and general-purpose PCI Express I/O standard. At 8GT/s bit rate, the interconnect performance bandwidth is doubled over PCI-E 2.0, while preserving compatibility with software and mechanical interfaces. 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. 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. SATA 6 Gb/s High Efficiency 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. 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. 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.
The Protection+ features contain the High Quality ESD component and a free 90-day trial of BullGuard Internet Security software.
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. BullGuard Internet Security – BullGuard Internet Security comes with the broadest line-up of internet security features on the market, including: a cutting-edge dual Antivirus engine, Online Backup for your precious files, PC Tune Up to speed up your system, a Game Mode for a seamless gaming experience, Parental Control, Firewall, Safe Browsing and many more. Make the most of your digital life with Bullguard! (90 day free trial)
The last 6+ Experience set of features is the DIY+ components. These are enthusiast features for the most part and include the onboard power/reset switches, a UEFI BIOS, the debug LED, and BIO-Remote 2.
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. Rapid Switch 2 – Engineered by BIOSTAR, the exquisite onboard switches allow you to easily shut down and restart your system. 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. 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.
Packaging and First Look
The box itself is a pretty attractive collage of icons and features, which almost exclusively detail the 3D audio functions. The box graphics leave little doubt the big push here is the onboard 3D audio that the Hi-Fi A88W 3D aims to deliver.
Once inside the box, the accessories are sitting on top in a cardboard sleeve. Below that is the motherboard itself wrapped in an anti-static bag. There aren’t a whole lot of accessories, but you do get the I/O shield and four SATA cables. Also included are the driver DVD, user’s manual, and a leaflet describing how to use 3D audio and the SmartEAR utility.
Before we put the Hi-Fi A88W 3D under the microscope, here are some overview pictures from different angles. A black PCB with blue highlights is the motif here, and I think it’s pretty darn sharp looking!
The BIOSTAR Hi-Fi A88W 3D Up Close
Along the bottom-left edge of the motherboard, we find the front panel audio header, SPDIF out header, com port header, and two 4-pin fan headers. Moving to the bottom-right area, we find the USB 3.0 front panel header, two USB 2.0 headers, and the clear CMOS jumper. Also located here are the onboard power and reset buttons and all the case wiring headers.
On the right-lower area of the motherboard, there are eight SATA 6 Gb/s ports, all of which are native to the A88X chipset. Also located here is the onboard LED post code display. The right-upper area is where the 24-pin ATX power connector is located. Printed on the motherboard here is the claim of DDR3 2600+ support. From here, we can also see the four DIMM slots supporting up to 64 GB of memory.
Moving around to the top edge of the motherboard, there isn’t really a whole lot to show you here, but the CPU fan header and the 4-pin CPU AUX power connector are located here.
Continuing on the the board’s left side, we come to the I/O area along the top edge. There are four USB 2.0 ports, two USB 3.0 ports, a PS/2 port, and the Realtek RTL8111G Gigabit LAN port. For display connectivity, we have Dual Link DVI, HDMI, and VGA ports. The Realtek ALC892 8-channel Blu-ray audio codec jacks round out the I/O area.
The bottom-left area is where everything Hi-Fi audio is located. Most of what the Hi-Fi audio offers was discussed in the features section above, but we can get a good look at the actual components here. The Hi-Fi Pre-Amp, Ground, Amp, Caps, and Power areas are clearly defined by the printing on the motherboard. If you look closely at the pictures below, you’ll see the separation line that isolates the onboard Hi-Fi 3D audio from the motherboard. In a sense, this is about as close as you can get to a stand alone audio solution while still having it onboard.
Moving towards the center of the motherboard, we land at the PCI slots. Here we have one PCI-E x16 3.0 and one PCI-E x16 2.0 Slot, which support CrossfireX. There are also two PCI-E x1 2.0 slots and two PCI slots.
The CPU socket area is free of any obstructions that might prevent coolers from being installed. Memory height could be a concern, but that’s typical with most motherboards. I did notice a difference in the backplate design on this socket FM2+ versus the socket FM2. The threaded holes are recessed deeper into the backplate’s alignment holes. This won’t be a problem if you use a stock cooler or if your aftermarket cooler has it’s own backplate. However, if your aftermarket cooler uses the stock AMD backplate, there will be compatibility problems because longer screws will be needed. I can’t be certain if the backplate design is unique to this BIOSTAR motherboard or if it will be found on all socket FM2+ motherboards. Suffice to say, it’s something you will want to investigate ahead of time.
The two heatsinks attached to the Hi-Fi A88W 3D are attractive affairs and play a large part in the black and blue color scheme. Once removed, both heatsinks were found to be making excellent contact with the intended target points. Nothing to complain about here.
Realtek provides both the onboard audio codec and the Gigabit LAN. The ALC892 chip is under the interference shield, but we can give you a look at the RTL8111G Gigabit LAN chip. Realtek also provides the clock generator chip in the form of RTM880N-793 IC. The last picture below is an up-close view of the A88X FCH (Bolton D4).
BIOSTAR uses a 6-phase CPU power design on the Hi-Fi A88W 3D, which should be more than adequate for a board in this class.
Ok, we’ve had a good look at the motherboard from all angles. Let’s get this thing fired up and have a look around the UEFI BIOS.
The UEFI BIOS
The BIOSTAR UEFI BIOS is built around a red and black theme, which is a bit odd given the black and blue theme of the motherboard itself. Still though, it’s aesthetically pleasing and laid out well. Upon entering the UEFI BIOS you land at the Main tab. Here you get information on the BIOS version and the ability to set the time/date. Along the left side, high level system monitoring information is displayed. This information follows you throughout all the areas visited in the UEFI BIOS.
The Advanced tab is next in line and includes nine sub menus, mostly dealing with system setup. These items are pretty standard and are commonly found on most modern systems. The slideshow below shows the options available under all the sub menus.
Under the Chipset tab, we find South Bridge, North Bridge, and Onboard Device sub menus. Most important in this area is the ability to enable/disable onboard devices and configure the APU graphics, should you not have a discrete graphics card installed.
The next two tabs are Boot and Security. The Boot tab is where you set your drive and boot priorities. There are a few boot behavior options here as well, such as post beep and full screen logo display. The Security tab has the option to set administrator or user passwords.
The O.N.E tab is where the overclockers will spend the majority of their time. From here, you have your voltage controls, multiplier controls, and all the memory settings. It’s not the most detailed UEFI BIOS overclocking section I’ve seen, but there are plenty of options to get the most from your APU and memory.
Save & Exit is the last tab to explore. Here we have the option to save up to five profiles to the BIOS, or save as many as you like to an optional storage device. You can also discard and save any changes made during your EUFI BIOS session. If you need to restore the UEFI BIOS to defaults, that can be done here as well.
All and all, a pretty good UEFI BIOS implementation by BIOSTAR here. We’ll find out how well it works when we dive into overclocking later in the review.
BIOSTAR includes several software utilities on the included DVD to enhance the overall user experience. There are two utilities related to the UEFI BIOS – BIOScreen and T Series BIOS Update. BIOScreen is a utility that can be used to change the boot screen image to just about any picture you like. It will transform a picture to a compatible format, create a BIOS file with the new picture, and then update the BIOS for you. T Series BIOS Update is a windows based BIOS flashing tool that can seek out an update through the internet, update from a file saved locally, or even backup the existing BIOS file. I’m not typically one to recommend flashing the BIOS this way; but for the less tech savvy people, it can be useful.
The eHotline utility enables the user to collect system information and include it with a request for technical support. Once it collects the system information, you can explain your problem in a text box, and send the help request right through your e-mail client.
The Green Power II utility has four presets that can be used to best fit the way you use the system. The choices are Max Energy, Performance, Typical, and Medium. It also gives you real-time power consumption information at the lower left corner, if you’re interested in that sort of thing.
There are two remote control utilities that can be installed. The first one is called BIO-Remote and it works in conjunction with the optional remote control sold by BIOSTAR. This utility puts an icon in the task bar that enables the colored buttons on the remote control to launch any application of your choosing. The BIO-Remote2 utility can enable your smartphone or tablet to work as a remote control, as long as the computer and smart device are on the same network. After installing the BIO-Remote2 server utility on the computer, you will need to install the corresponding app on your smart device.
SmartSpeedLAN is a bandwidth prioritization utility that offers several presets or the ability to fine tune bandwidth usage specific to applications.
SmartEAR 3D is the software that allows 3D effects to be heard through speakers or headphones. You can choose between six custom presets based on the type of usage and adjust the preamp and gain control.
BIOSTAR has partnered with Magix to bring a multimedia suite of programs to users of BIOSTAR motherboards. These are slimmed down versions of Magix’s more expensive options, but they do work fine for basic music, picture, and video editing.
The final software piece is BIOSTAR’s Toverclocker windows based overclocking utility. As far as system monitoring and fan adjustment options go, Toverclocker works quite well. The actual overclocking options however, are very disappointing. There is no option to raise the CPU multiplier, memory frequency, or anything else useful for that matter. The only adjustments available are PCI-E and CPU bus clocks… not very helpful to say the least. The problems only seem to exist on BIOSTAR’s AMD platform motherboards as I’ve seen much better implementations of Toverclocker on Intel based systems. So for now, any meaningful overclocking will have to be done from within the UEFI BIOS.
Overclocking and Benchmarks
|Motherboard||BIOSTAR Hi-Fi A88W 3D|
|APU||AMD Richland A10 6800K|
|CPU Cooling||Swiftech H220 LCS AIO CPU Water Cooler|
|PSU||Thermaltake Smart M 750 Watt|
|HDD||Toshiba HDS721050DLE630 500 GB SATA 6 Gb/s|
|OS||Windows 7 X64 SP1|
First thing to do is check for stability at stock speeds. The A10 6800K has a Turbo Frequency of up to 4.4 GHz, so I manually set it to that speed for the stock stability test. I do this to eliminate core speed fluctuations and to make sure it’s indeed stable at the maximum Turbo Frequency. I also set the memory to the APU’s officially supported maximum frequency of 2133 MHz. As expected, a 15 minute run of AIDA64’s system stability test went off without a hitch.
Next, I wanted to see if the Hi-Fi A88w 3D was capable of getting the same 4.9 GHz stable overclock I achieved when I reviewed the A10 6800 APU and still be able to leave the memory speed at 2133 MHz. I was able to get there just as before… I’m liking the overclocking potential of this motherboard!
I ran several benchmarks at 4.4 GHz and 4.9 GHz, and those screenshots are below. First up is Cinebench R10 and R11.5.
Next up is WPrime 32M and 1024M, also run at 4.4 GHz and 4.9 GHz. I neglected to show the CPU-Z memory tab on the 4.9 GHz run, but it was the same as all the rest of the test runs shown.
SuperPI 1M and 32M completed at both speeds as well.
The AIDA64 Cache & Memory benchmark was also run and showed no abnormalities.
Just as I have found with AMD A85X chipset boards, I had to drop the memory down to 1866 MHz in order to get the APU to 5.0 GHz. We did get there though, and SuperPI 1M and WPrime 32M were able to complete.
I wasn’t able to find the BIOSTAR Hi-Fi A88W 3D available anywhere on line, but the folks at BIOSTAR tell us the MSRP will be $84.99. That makes it as inexpensive as any A88X chipset motherboard out there, which makes the asking price very attractive. Once the AMD Kaveri APUs hit the scene, this board offers full support and an easy upgrade path. However, you don’t necessarily have to wait for the Kaveri release as the Hi-Fi A88W 3D is backward compatible with Trinity and Richland APUs. Either way, you have a solid base for a desktop PC or even a HTPC application.
Overclocking is well supported, and I had no problem pushing the A10 6800K APU to the same levels obtained on previous A85X chipset motherboards. The only knock with overclocking is the inability of the Toverclocker utility to offer much in the way of desktop overclocking options. However, I personally prefer to overclock inside the UEFI BIOS anyway, and I suspect most of you do as well.
I’ve always found BIOSTAR’s Hi-Fi onboard audio to be one of the best out there, and it just got that much better with the option to use the SmartEAR 3D utility for simulated 3D effects. True, it won’t be as stunning as hardware based 3D audio; but for a software implementation, it’s not bad… not bad at all. I only had time to test it out with a set of headphones, but it did work remarkably well.
To wrap things up here, we have a terrific offering by BIOSTAR in the Hi-Fi A88W 3D at a price that’s very affordable. Good performance, great overclocking, and a unique onboard sound solution all wrapped up in a sub $90 package makes this an easy call… Overclockers approved!