As we discovered during our AMD Kaveri APU review, building a system around an AMD APU has several advantages over the competition. This holds especially true on the iGPU side of things where the on die R7 graphics provide a performance level that is a marked improvement from its predecessors. Getting the most from these APUs requires a motherboard that’s up to the task, and Gigabyte thinks they have an answer with their F2A88X-UP4 socket FM2+ motherboard. The board comes complete with many of the enthusiast features we’ve come to expect from Gigabyte and some new and improved ones too. So, let’s dive in and see what the Gigabyte F2A88X-UP4 has to offer!
Specifications and features
Below are the specifications attached to the F2A88X-UP4 as provided by the Gigabyte website. Of note is the abundance of connectivity options, whether that’s USB, SATA, or display. Speaking of display, we also have support for AMD’s Crossfire and Dual Display technologies. The onboard enthusiast features include power/reset buttons and a LED post code display.
Gigabyte F2A88X-UP4 Specifications
VIA® VL805 chip:
|Internal I/O Connectors||
|Back Panel Connectors||
As mentioned in the introduction, the F2A88X-UP4 comes with the familiar stack of Gigabyte features – many of which have been improved upon recently. The Ultra Durable 5 Plus design incorporates many component and design qualities that promise excellent performance. Gigabyte has updated the heatsink design found on many of their motherboards to ensure key components are kept cool. The Ultra Durable 5 Plus design now features robust, 100% digital PWM controllers and PowIRstage ICs from International Rectifier. This design is said to offer efficient and precise power delivery to the APU. There are many other enthusiast level features incorporated into the design of the F2A88X-UP4, which are outlined below. At the risk of being repetitive, I’ll step aside and let Gigabyte explain the features this board has to offer. All images and descriptions courtesy of Gigabyte.
Let’s begin the list with those that are more specific to the design of the motherboard and some of its unique Gigabyte features.
|GIGABYTE FM2+ series motherboards -based on AMD A88X chipset and feature the new FM2+ APU socket, and are designed to get the most from forthcoming Kaveri AMD APUs, while preserving compatibility for current AMD FM2 APUs. FM2+ AMD APUs offer native support for 8 GT/s PCI Express gen 3.0 as well as DX11.1 support integrating the high performance ‘Steamroller’ core. AMD socket FM2+ APUs also offer native support for 4K resolution displays on HDMI port.|
|GIGABYTE Ultra Durable™ 5 Plus – debuts on GIGABYTE motherboards, with a range of features and component choices that provide extreme performance, cool and efficient operation and extended motherboard lifespan.|
|All New Heat Sink Design –GIGABYTE motherboards feature new heatsink designs that offer uncompromisingly efficient cooling on key areas of the motherboard including the PWM area and chipset. GIGABYTE motherboards offer excellent cooling of the crucial APU power delivery area, ensuring even the most aggressive and extreme configurations will be kept well within optimal thermal parameters.|
|All IR® Digital Power Design – GIGABYTE Ultra Durable™ 5 Plus motherboards use industry-leading PWM controllers and PowIRstage™ ICs and from International Rectifier®. These components are 100% digital, offering incredible precision in delivering power to your AMD latest generation of APU. Designed from the ground up to complement each other, these industry-leading PWM controllers and PowIRstage™ ICs from IR® are optimized for cool and efficient operation, allowing users to get the absolute maximum performance from their next PC build.|
|GIGABYTE UEFI DualBIOS™ – GIGABYTE motherboards feature GIGABYTE DualBIOS™, an exclusive technology from GIGABYTE that protects arguably one of your PC’s most crucial components, the BIOS. GIGABYTE DualBIOS™ means that your motherboard has both a ‘Main BIOS’ and a ‘Backup BIOS’, making users protected from BIOS failure due to virus attack, hardware malfunction, improper OC settings or power failure during the update process.|
|8 USB 3.0 Ports – GIGABYTE Ultra Durable™ 5 Plus motherboards offer more high speed connectivity than ever before, packing up to 8 USB 3.0 ports per board. Each of these 8 USB 3.0 ports are also provided with a dedicated fuse, ensuring that an unexpected malfunction on one port, will affect only that port, isolating potential damage and protecting other connected devices.|
|Humidity Protection – Humidity can play havoc on a motherboard’s circuitry.GIGABYTE’s new Glass Fabric PCB design helps protect against electrical shorts due to humidity by reducing the gaps in spacing between PCB filaments.|
|Power Failure Protection – GIGABYTE also uses Anti-Surge ICs to protect the motherboard against power surges.|
|Electrostatic Protection – GIGABYTE motherboards feature High Resistance ICs which help protect the motherboard against electrostatic discharge.|
|2X Copper PCB – GIGABYTE’s exclusive 2X Copper PCBs design provides sufficient power trace paths between components to handle greater than normal power loads and to remove heat from the critical CPU power delivery area. This is essential to ensure the motherboard is able to handle the increased power loading that is necessary when overclocking.|
|High ESD Protection for USB and LAN – GIGABYTE motherboards raise the bar in terms of protecting your system, providing advanced electrostatic discharge (ESD) protection for both your Ethernet LAN and USB ports, both common sources of ESD-related failures. Each LAN and USB port is paired with a dedicated protection filter that can withstand high electrostatic discharges, protecting your system from common electrical surges and even direct lighting strikes.|
|One Fuse Per USB Port – On GIGABYTE motherboards each USB port has its own dedicated power fuse that prevents unwanted USB port failure, helping to safe guard your important data during transfer.|
|On/Off Charge Technology – GIGABYTE On/Off Charge technology allows you to charge your iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch regardless of whether your PC is on, in standby mode or even off. A derivative of GIGABYTE’s highly acclaimed 3x USB Power feature, On/Off Charge enables devices to draw more current from GIGABYTE motherboard USB ports than standard USB ports allow, so that charging from your PC can be as fast as with a charger.|
The last set of features outlines the many different display options the motherboard brings to the table.
|Multi Display Support with AMD Crossfire – Flexible graphics capabilities – Up to 2 VGA cards are supported for 2 way AMD CrossFire™ (running at x8, x8 bandwidth), delivering the ultimate in graphics performance for gaming enthusiasts who demand the highest frame rates without compromising on resolution.|
|AMD Dual Graphics Technology – The AMD FM2+ series platform showcases AMD Dual Graphics technology, allowing users to further boost 3D graphics performance by adding an additional discrete AMD Radeon™ HD 6000 series graphics card* to the system. This unique Dual Graphics technology means users can enjoy higher frame rates on the latest gaming titles, utilizing the processing power of both discrete and integrated graphics processors.|
|AMD Eyefinity Technology – Supporting multiple independent display outputs simultaneously, AMD Eyefinity technology delivers innovative graphics display capabilities enabling massive desktop workspaces and ultra-immersive visual environments for the ultimate panoramic computing experience.|
|Triple Monitor Support – GIGABYTE FM2+ series motherboards are taking advantage of AMD Eyefinity technology, to allow users to extend their OS desktop by connecting up to three high-resolution digital displays. Triple displays mean more real-estate for enhanced productivity, plus the ability to enjoy panoramic triple screen 3D gaming thanks to AMD’s optimized Eyefinity driver technology.|
|DisplayPort Support – Selected GIGABYTE motherboards feature DisplayPort, a next generation graphics display interface that delivers up to 10.8 Gbps of bandwidth over standard cables, providing billions of colors with the fastest refresh rates and the greatest color depths.|
|Dual-Link DVI Port – Designed to leverage the awesome potential of the latest AMD Fusion A-series APUs, GIGABYTE motherboards deliver an enhanced visual experience that includes advanced DX11® gaming, incredibly smooth HD multimedia playback and support for high resolution displays of up to 2560 x 1600 pixels by Dual-link DVI port.|
|4K Ultra HD Support – 4K resolution is the next technological milestone in high-definition content delivery, utilizing approximately 4,000 pixels on the horizontal axis, more than four times today’s standard HD pixel density. GIGABYTE FM2+ series motherboards provide native 4K support with FM2+ APU integrated graphics via Display port and HDMI port.|
|HDMI Interface – HDMI is latest High-Definition Multimedia Interface, which is able to provide up to 5Gb/s video transmitting bandwidth and also 8-channel high quality audio. Via transmitting uncompressed digital data, HDMI is able to reduce signal interference as transferring between digital and analog signal, seen and heard, direct from the source. In addition, HDMI is compatible with HDCP (High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection), which allowing playback of Blu-ray/ HD DVD and other protected contents.|
Looks like a pretty impressive list of specifications and features, so let’s get the box on our test bench and have a closer look!
Packaging and First Look
Red and black are the predominant colors used for the box graphics, which as you’ll see shortly, coincide with the color theme of the motherboard. Most of what we discussed above in the specifications and features section is what is illustrated on the box as well. The box top and bottom do a good job of explaining the vast majority of everything the motherboard offers. The box sides are used for additional branding and bar coding. A very attractive box indeed!
With the box top open, you’ll come to the accessories sitting on top, and the motherboard sitting below. The accessory pack is a rather limited affair and only includes six SATA cables, the I/O shield, driver/software DVD, and installation/user documentation. Sitting below the accessories is the motherboard itself wrapped in an anti-static bag.
Before we dive in for an up-close look at the F2A88X-UP4, here are some pictures taken from various angles. I really like the mostly black color with red accents, which should be easy to match up with other components to provide an eye catching final build.
The Gigabyte F2A88X-UP4 Up Close
Along the bottom-left edge of the motherboard, we find the four USB 2.0 headers, one USB 3.0 header, a COM port, and connections for the front panel audio and SPDIF out. Further to the right is where the first of four fan headers are located, along with the front panel switch/LED connections and a single SATA 3 connector.
Along the lower-right side, you’ll see the onboard post code LED display, the two chips that make up the DualBIOS feature, and six more SATA 3 ports. Just above the SATA ports, you can see the second front panel USB 3.0 header, which I rarely see on any motherboard. The upper-right section of the board contains the 24-pin power connector, another fan header, and the onboard reset/power buttons.
Moving up to the top of the motherboard, we find the Clear CMOS button and the CPU fan header located on the right side. The top-left has the 8-pin AUX CPU power connection, which is the ideal place to locate it.
The left side of the board contains the I/O blocks where most of your peripherals will be connected. Worth noting here are the four USB 3.0 connections, which are not native to the chipset and utilize the onboard VIA VL805 chip. You’ll also find all the needed display connections if you plan on using the iGPU built into AMD APUs. For audio, there are the analog jacks supporting up to 7.1 HD audio and an optical out port. Finally, there are two USB 2.0 ports, one LAN port, and a combination PS/2 port for either a keyboard or mouse.
The bottom-right edge of the motherboard doesn’t have a lot to discuss other than providing a platform for many of the onboard ICs. You can also see several of the solid caps that are used throughout the motherboard.
Turning our attention more towards the center area of the board, we’ll start by having a look at the PCI expansion slots. There are three PCI-E X1 slots and a standard PCI slot available for add on cards. For graphics, there is one each of a PCI-E x16, PCI-E x8, and PCI-E x4. The motherboard supports Crossfire, which will run at x8/x8 speed if the top two slots are used. A single card will run at x16 speed if installed in the top slot.
The four DIMM slots support up to 64 GB of DDR3 memory at DDR3 2400 MHz (OC) speeds.
The three attractive looking heatsinks cover the A88X FCH and the MOSFET area. The upper-left MOSFET heatsink is joined with the FCH heatsink via a heatpipe design. The CPU socket area is void of any major obstructions, but always pay attention to memory height when choosing a CPU air cooler. If water cooling is your game, there should be no problem using any waterblock on the market today.
All of the heatsinks are held in place with screws, which is a much more desirable method of retention than using plastic pushpins. Once removed, they were all found to be making excellent contact with their intended target.
Moving in for a close look at the ICs that handle many of the motherboard’s functions, we’ll start with the CPU power delivery area. There is an 8-phase power design for the CPU; and as advertised, there is an IR 3567A VRM controller. The MOSFET ICs are IR 3550M, which again is as advertised.
The next series of pictures show the various other ICs found on the F2A88X-UP4. Naturally, we have the A88X FCH chip, which the platform is based around. Handling the USB 3.0 ports at the I/O area is the Via Labs VL805-Q6 IC. There are four ASMedia ASM1480 ICs to handle the PCI-E switching functions. Realtek provides both the onboard LAN and audio functions through the RTL8111F and ALC892 CODEC chips respectively. The ITE8620E chip handles the Super I/O functions, such as system monitoring and fan control.
The UEFI BIOS
Entering the UEFI BIOS lands you right where all the overclocking action happens – the M.I.T. section. At the bottom of the screen, you see some basic system information along with a few real time monitor readings. The M.I.T. section has six sub menus, the first of which is M.I.T. Current Status. This screen is strictly informational in nature, but does provide a wealth of information on current system settings. The Advanced Frequency Settings sub menu is where you can set your CPU multiplier, CPU clock speed, and memory speed. The advanced Memory Settings sub menu has everything related to memory timings. From here, you can choose AMP or XMP memory profiles or set things manually if preferred. The Advanced Voltage Settings sub menu is just as the name implies and holds all the areas to adjust CPU, Memory, and several other key voltages. The PC Health Status sub menu gives you real time voltage and fans speed information and is also where you can control your fans based off of several preloaded profiles. The last sub menu in the M.I.T. section is Miscellaneous Settings. This is where you can set your graphics cards to run at Gen 3 if they support it. There is also a 3DMark01 Boost option that supposedly adds a few points to the score of that benchmark.
Under the System Information section, we have just that. This information is more geared towards the model of the motherboard and the BIOS version being used. You can also set the date and time from here.
The BIOS Features section is comprised mostly of boot behavior settings .
The Peripherals section is where you can control all the features built into the motherboard, such as USB, Lan, etc. There are three additional sub menus dealing with graphics configuration, SATA configuration, and Super I/O configuration.
The last two sections are Power Management and Save & Exit. These are pretty self explanatory by looking at the below pictures, but of note is the ability to save up to eight BIOS profiles in the Save & Exit section.
Included Software Bundle
Easy Tune6 is the utility provided for desktop system tweaking. It offers the ability to overclock, monitor critical system information, control fans, and provide CPU and memory information at a glance. The only thing missing is the ability to manipulate the graphics built into the APU as that tab is grayed out.
The first two tabs are related to motherboard, CPU, and memory information. The memory tab provides a nice memory table for quick reference.
The Tuner tab is where the overclockers will spend most of their time. The Easy Mode option only allows adjusting the system BUS, so it’s not really that useful. However, pressing the Advance Mode button allows full control of frequencies, ratios, and voltages.
The Smart tab is where you can control the CPU fan and two of the onboard system fan headers. You can set fan RPM based on temperatures using a graph like interface. The HW Monitor tab gives you voltage, fan, and temperature monitoring information. At the top of the window, you can click the icons for various other functions. These include a check for Gigabyte updates and a quick summary of high level system specs.
Additional software contained on the DVD includes all the needed drivers and some useful software too. Below is a list of all the included software with a brief explanation of each. There are several Gigabyte utilities and a full compliment of CyberLink media software as well. There are even a few more utilities available if you visit Gigabyte’s website. All and all, there is enough software available to take full advantage of everything the motherboard is capable of.
Overclocking and Benchmarks
|APU||AMD Kaveri A10-7850K|
|Memory||AMD Gamer Series DDR3 2400 2X4 GB Kit|
|CPU Cooling||Swiftech H220 LCS AIO CPU Water Cooler|
|PSU||Thermaltake Smart M 750 Watt|
|HDD||OCZ Vertex 2 240 GB SSD|
|OS||Windows 7 X64 SP1|
The Kaveri A10-7850K APU we are using today has a clock speed of 3.7 GHz with a boost clock speed of 4.0 GHz. Before we get into overclocking, it’s always a good idea to make sure you’re starting out with a stable system from the start. We’ll go ahead and lock it down at the boost clock speed of 4.0 GHz just to make sure it’s stable at its highest “stock” speed. No problems were encountered and it passed a 15 minute run of AIDA64’s System Stability Test. You might notice that the bus speed actually comes in at a tad over 100 MHz, which gives us a little added bonus on the CPU and Memory speeds.
In an effort to find a 24/7 overclock that allowed the memory to remain at 2400 MHz and also kept the APU voltages at a reasonable level, we ended up settling on 4.7 GHz. We’ll see how much we can add to that when we get to the “Pushing the Limits” Section of the review. APU core voltage was set at 1.425 V with LLC set to extreme, and another 15 minutes of AIDA’s System Stability Test passed with no problem. Even though it passed the stability test at these settings, I needed to raise the APU core voltage as high as 1.48 V to get through all of the benchmarks we used.
I ran our typical set of motherboard benchmarks at 4.0 GHz and again at our overclocked speed of 4.7 GHz. All of the tests scored right as expected and nothing sticks out as being a problem. We also noticed some nice scaling once the processor was overclocked, but that’s to be expected.
Cinebench (now includes version R15)
AIDA64 Cache & Memory Benchmark
PoV Ray 3.7
We don’t normally do graphics testing on our motherboard reviews, but I can tell you the R7 iGPU overclocked to 1026 MHz, which is a tad over a 300 MHz increase from the stock 720 MHz.
Nothing to complain about on the performance front as the F2A88X-UP4 proved rock solid throughout all the benchmark runs.
Pushing the Limits
I wasn’t able to get much more out of the APU, but I did manage another 100 MHz. That landed us at 4.8 GHz… not too shabby. I was able to get a quick run of SuperPi 1M and wPrime 32M complete, but that’s about it. It would take more voltage to the APU to stabilize it, but I was already over 1.5 V and thought it best to stop here. I’m sure it would go a bit higher if I lowered the memory speed, but hey… I’m stubborn like that! Still, I’m quite impressed with the overclocking this board allows. No gripes here!
Currently, the Gigabyte F2A88X-UP4 is selling for $109.99 at Newegg, which is exactly where it should be based on competitor offerings. From the very start, I was impressed with the looks and performance of the F2A88X-UP4. It not only looks the part, but delivers great performance on all fronts. Overclocking was a snap to accomplish on both the CPU and iGPU side of things, which should please both the novice and seasoned overclocker. While the UEFI BIOS might not be as elaborate as others I’ve seen, it’s more than adequate to get the most from your AMD APU.
There are plenty of onboard connectivity options with seven SATA ports, two onboard USB 3.0 front panel headers, and four USB 2.0 headers. There are also eSATA capabilities and an additional four USB 3.0 ports at the rear I/O area. Enthusiast features built onboard, such as the power/reset/clear CMOS buttons will come in handy when you’re using the board in an open air environment. Additionally, there is full support for Crossfire or Dual Graphics setups. Rounding things out is a nice software package that includes many different utilities and free media software. With all the features the board offers, it’s hard to argue with the price. A pretty stout system can be put together using this board with an AMD APU and for a very reasonable price.
All and all, we have a very nice offering from Gigabyte here. If you’re looking for a board that can get the most from your APU and look darn good doing it, then you’ll want to keep the F2A88X-UP4 on your short list.