We have definitely reviewed our fair share of socket FM2+ motherboards over the past few months, especially since AMD’s recent release of the Kaveri APU family. Today, MSI checks in with their latest socket FM2+ A88X chipset motherboard – The A88X-G45 Gaming. MSI has the gaming and overclocking crowd in its cross hairs with the release of this motherboard, and first impressions show a fully loaded offering with many unique enhancements. As you’ll see during the review, the board looks absolutely stunning and has many of the high level features gamers and PC enthusiasts look for. Looks and features only tell part of the story though, so let’s get the MSI A88X-G45 Gaming motherboard on our workbench and find out how it performs.
Specifications and Features
The below specifications were plucked from the MSI website. The gaming crowd will be happy to see the onboard Killer E2205 LAN controller, which is a step up from the commonly found Realtek controller. MSI also expanded the USB connectivity beyond what the A88X chipset offers by way of a 3rd party controller (VIA VL805). To keep you enthusiasts happy, we also have all the onboard buttons you could think of and a post code LED display. We’ll be going into all of this in greater detail as the review progresses, but perusing the below specifications gives you the impression that nary a stone was left unturned.
|MSI A88X-G45 Gaming Specifications|
|CPU||AMD Socket FM2+/ FM2 A-Series/Athlon™ Processors|
|Chipset||AMD A88X Chipset|
|Memory||Support four DDR3 1333/1600/1866/2133/2400 (OC) MHz. up to 32GB Max
– Supports Dual-Channel mode
|Slots||3 x PCIe x16 slots
– PCI_E2 supports PCIe 3.0 x16 speed
– PCI_E5 supports PCIe 2.0 x8 speed
3 x PCIe 2.0 x1 slots
1 x PCI slots
|Graphics||1 x VGA port, supporting a maximum resolution of 1920×1200 @ 60Hz, 24bpp
1 x DVI-D port, supporting the maximum resolutions of 2560×[email protected], 24bpp/ 1920×1200 @ 60Hz, 24bpp
1 x HDMI port, supporting the maximum resolutions of 4096×[email protected], 36bpp/ 3840×[email protected], 36bpp/1920×[email protected], 36bpp and 1920×[email protected], 36bpp
1 x DisplayPort, supporting a maximum resolution of 4096×[email protected], 24bpp
SATAIII controller integrated in AMD A88X chipset
AMD A88X Chipset
VIA VL805 Chipset
|Audio||Realtek® ALC1150 Codec
– 7.1-Channel High Definition Audio
– Supports S/PDIF output
|LAN||Killer E2205 Gigabit LAN controller
– 1 x LAN port on the backpanel
|Internal I/O||– 1 x 24-pin ATX main power connector
– 1 x 8-pin ATX 12V power connector
– 8 x SATA 6Gb/s connectors
– 3 x USB 2.0 connectors (supports additional 6 USB 2.0 ports)
– 1 x USB 3.0 connector
– 1 x 4-pin CPU fan connector
– 2 x 4-pin system fan connectors
– 2 x 3-pin system fan connectors
– 1 x Front panel audio connector
– 2 x System panel connectors
– 1 x Chassis Intrusion connector
– 1 x TPM module connector
– 1 x Serial port connector
– 1 x Clear CMOS jumper
– 1 x OC Genie button
– 1 x Power button
– 1 x Reset button
– 1 x OC Genie mode switch
– 1 x Slow mode booting switch
– 1 x 2-Digit Debug Code LEDs
|Back Panel I/O||– 1 x PS/2 keyboard/ mouse combo port
– 2 x USB 2.0 ports
– 6 x USB 3.0 ports
– 1 x VGA port
– 1 x DVI-D port
– 1 x HDMI port
– 1 x DisplayPor
– 1 x Optical S/PDIF-Out connector
– 1 x LAN (RJ45) port
– 6 x audio jacks
– This platform supports dual-display and triple-display function
|Multi-GPU||– Supports 3-Way AMD® CrossFireTM Technology|
|BIOS||– The motherboard BIOS provides “Plug & Play” BIOS which detects the peripheral devices and expansion cards of the board automatically.
– The motherboard provides a Desktop Management Interface(DMI) function which records your motherboard specifications.
|Dimensions||– 12 in. x 9.6 in. (30.5 cm x 24.4 cm) ATX Form Factor|
|Mounting||– 9 mounting holes|
To add value to the A88X-G45 Gaming motherboard, MSI has included a free copy of the new Assassin’s Creed Liberation HD PC game. All below images and descriptions courtesy MSI.
|The year is 1765. While the seeds of the American Revolution are being sewn in Boston and New York, Spanish forces in the South plot to seize control of Louisiana for the Templars, threatening to forever shift the balance of power in the New World. Assassin’s Creed Liberation HD takes full advantage of the latest hardware and introduces a complete graphical overhaul, re-mastered music and sound effects, and a revamped gameplay experience. You will get a full copy of Assassin’s Creed Liberation HD with the MSI FM2+ A88X-G45 GAMING motherboard.|
I was glad to see MSI incorporate an onboard LAN option that has excellent bandwidth prioritization options. The Killer NIC should go a long way towards an improved online gaming experience. Something else we don’t see too often on A88X chipset motherboards is support for 3-way Crossfire. MSI included an extra PCI-E 3.0 slot to make this possible. Kaveri APUs now support DDR3 2400 MHz memory speeds, so MSI made sure the motherboard fully supports it as well.
|The Killer E2200 Intelligent Networking Platform is built for maximum networking performance for online games and high-quality streaming media. Featuring Advanced Stream Detect? Killer E2200 automatically detects and accelerates game traffic ahead of other network traffic for smoother, stutter-free in-game performance and the competitive edge. With this exclusive, automatic traffic prioritization, games and real-time chat get priority over low-level system chatter, giving you the lowest latency for game data on the most controllable network hardware available.|
|MSI GAMING motherboards feature one or more PCI-Express 3.0 slots, perfectly aligned and with enough space for an optimal airflow when using multiple graphics cards. That way, you will never have to worry about an overheating PC, while you are enjoying the best graphics jumping off from your monitor when running AMD CrossFire gaming setup.|
|Tired of everlasting loading screens? The MSI Gaming series motherboards offer support for DDR3-2400+ memory modules. That way, you will not have to miss out on any gaming action because your in-game levels will be loaded superfast!|
The onboard audio features circuit isolation, a true 5 V audio signal via USB power, a headphone amplifier, and surround sound via the included Sound Blaster Cinema software.
|USB Audio Power is a breakthrough in Home Theater Entertainment audio quality. Using an unique design, the USB ports onboard provide a TRUE 5V signal that doesn’t drop when more devices are connected.This simply means better signal quality over USB, especially for devices that rely on a perfect signal, like USB DAC’s as they rely on a perfect transmission of audio bits from the motherboard to the DAC. This also means that external low-noise power supplies are no longer essential for better audio quality as USB Audio Power is able to deliver an optimum USB signal.|
|Reward your ears with true quality. Get ready for ear-drum shattering sound, with MSI Audio Boost! With Audio Boost we’re delivering the highest audio quality so you can enjoy crystal clear sound and music in games. Because the complete audio circuitry is isolated from other features, you’ll enjoy less interference and more stability. The built-in headphone amplifier allows you to use studio-grade headgear and get the most amazing sound quality out of your gaming PC.
|Hear your enemies perfectly, even on an ear-drum shattering battlefield. Thanks to Sound Blaster Cinema, you’re getting amazing surround sound with just stereo headphones. Your most important gaming sound effects are reproduced crystal clear allowing you to focus on your game even during extremely long gaming sessions. Powered by the SBX Pro Studio technologies, Sound Blaster Cinema enables you to clearly hear specific sounds in gaming environments, making your ears a decisive tool on the battlefield.|
Even the gaming device ports see some love on the A88X-G45 Gaming motherboard. The PS/2 connector and the two USB ports right below it feature optimized polling rates and are said to have 3X more gold than standard connectors.
|You want more FPS, lower ping, but why use a pro-gaming mouse with old-fashioned standards? MSI Gaming Device Port is optimized for high polling rate mice (500 to 1000 Hz) which lowers your mouse’s response time from 8 milliseconds to 1 millisecond! This gives a much smoother mouse response in games. The additional gold plating on the ports enhances the durability drastically and ensures your PS/2 and USB ports are always working when you ship out to a LAN party.
No enthusiast level MSI motherboard would be complete without their well known Military Class 4 components. The Hi-C Caps, Dark Caps, and Super Ferrite Chokes all work together to bring excellent power efficiency, lower ESR, and higher current capabilities for better overclocking and stability. OC Genie 4 is another cool feature added to the motherboard and allows easy in-hardware automatic overclocking.
|OC Genie is the world’s first built-in hardware overclocking technology on motherboards. With this new generation of OC Genie, we’re giving you even more performance. The OC Genie button works as you expect it to, but now you have even more control. Flick the OC_MODE switch from the normal “Turbo” to “GAMING” and your PC gets another adrenalin shot! For the more advanced overclockers, we give you complete control of your settings with “My OC Genie”.|
Click BIOS 4 is MSI’s newest UEFI BIOS implementation. It’s a full featured BIOS that will allow you to get the most from your system. Here are a few snippets, but we’ll have more details later.
On the software side of things, MSI’s Command Center desktop utility is a useful tool with many features we’ll explore later in the review.
What’s a gaming series motherboard without a little bling? MSI has you covered with their Dragon Heat Sink. It not only looks good, but is said to provide great thermal transfer and heat dissipation.
|With an awesome product comes an inspiring heat sink! Styled after the iconic MSI GAMING Dragon. The heat sink is oversized to provide the best thermal transfer and heat dissipation to enable your PC to just game 24 hours per day.|
Now that we’ve dredged through the specifications, features, and all the marketing claims, let’s get our first look at the MSI A88X-G45 Gaming motherboard.
Packaging and First Look
The predominantly red and black box is well appointed with information on the product. On the front, we have a large Assassin’s Creed picture with a mention of a few high level features. Around back, there is a more detailed list of many of the features we mentioned above. The box sides are home for additional branding and a multilingual list of basic specifications.
Once the box is opened, there is another black box that houses the motherboard and all the accessories. Sitting on top is a sheet listing several test results from a handful of benchmarks. The motherboard is wrapped in the customary anti-static bag and nicely secured. Below the motherboard is a cardboard separator with all the accessories sitting below. The accessories include the following items.
- Quick Start Guide
- User’s Manual
- 4x SATA Cables
- Case Badge
- I/O Shield
- Driver/Utility DVD
- Assassin’s Creed Liberation HD Game Redemption Card
- Door Hanger
In my opinion, the MSI A88X-G45 Gaming is a very attractive motherboard, especially if you’re fond of a red and black theme. The board has a black matte finish with red accents on the MOSFET and FCH heatsinks. Below is a series of pictures taken at various angles, enjoy!
The MSI A88X-G45 Gaming – Up Close
We’ll begin our tour of the MSI A88X-G45 Gaming with a look at the outer edges of the board. Along the bottom of the board, we see a pretty typical set of connections. On the left side are the front panel audio connector, 3-pin fan header, COMM port, TPM connector, and an internal USB 2.0 header. Moving to the right side, we find the front panel USB 3.0 header, two more USB 2.0 headers, the case wiring connectors, and the clear CMOS button.
Moving over to the right edge of the motherboard, we see the post code LED display, a 4-pin fan header, and eight SATA 3 ports located near the bottom. At the top of the right side is the 24-pin main power connector and a host of enthusiast features. The onboard power, reset, and OC Genie buttons are located here, as well as two switches of interest – Slow Mode and OC.
The OC Genie button works in conjunction with the OC switch and can be initiated by pressing the button until it locks in the down position. The OC switch’s two positions (Gear 1 and Gear 2) tell OC Genie how aggressive of an overclock to attempt. Gear 1 is the default setting, and Gear 2 is the more aggressive setting. The system should be powered off before working with either the OC button or OC switch. I tried the OC Genie button in Gear 1 and Gear 2, which resulted in a 4.2 GHz and 4.5 GHz overclock respectively. I didn’t check for stability, but both attempts booted right into windows and seemed fine.
The Slow Mode switch is for extreme overclocking sessions (think LN2). It can slow the CPU speed to aid successful boot attempts and to keep the system from crashing while trying to validate a successful benchmark score. Those extreme overclocking sessions also require extreme voltage monitoring, and MSI has you covered with a set of voltage read points located just north of the main power connector.
Along to top of the motherboard, you’ll find two more fan headers. One of these is a 3-pin affair, and the other is the 4-pin CPU fan header. The 8-pin CPU AUX 12 V power connector is located at the far upper-left corner, which is the perfect spot for it.
The upper-left side is where all the I/O ports are located, and the lower-left side has everything related to the onboard audio components. The I/O area is fully stocked with all the USB and display connections you could possibly need. The last image below is a pictorial explanation of all the connections.
At the bottom of the board’s left side, we can see the components that make up MSI’s Audio Boost onboard audio. The Realtek ALC1150 7.1 Codec is used as the basis, but it has been improved upon to perform much better than standard iterations. The entire audio area of the motherboard is isolated, which greatly reduces interference from other components. You’ll be able to see this isolation line first hand when the system is started because it is illuminated. An OPA1652 600Ω headphone amplifier can be found here as well, allowing you to use high-end headphones. High quality Hippon Chemi-con audio capacitors are used to provide noise filtering before the signal is sent to the gold plated audio connectors at the back I/O. The Realtek Codec and amplifier have an EMI shield covering them, which further helps to preserve a clean audio signal.
Moving in towards the center of the motherboard, we first see the seven expansion slots. There are three PCI-E x1, one legacy PCI, and three PCI-E x16 slots. A single graphics card installed in the top PCI-E x16 slot will run at x16 speed. If you setup Crossfire using two cards, they will run at x8/x8 speeds if the top two PCI-E x16 slots are used. The board also supports 3-way Crossfire if you introduce a third graphics card to the bottom PCI-E x16 slot. However, it will only run at x4 speed.
The four DIMM slots support up to 32 GB of dual-channel system memory at speeds up to DDR3 2400 MHz (OC). AMD Memory Profile (AMP) and Extreme Memory Profile (XMP) technologies are both supported.
Looking at the APU socket area, we see it’s free of any major obstructions and should accommodate a wide variety of air cooling options. As always, pay attention to memory height when using a cooler that might extend over their air space. I can’t imagine any water block that would have trouble fitting here, which is good news for the water cooling enthusiast.
All of the heatsinks are attached via screws that are accessible from the back of the board. Once removed, they were found to be making excellent contact with their intended targets. The MOSFET heatsinks are joined via a heatpipe and use a pad for thermal interface material. The FCH heatsink features the MSI Gaming Dragon emblem and is quite large. It uses a thick silver looking TIM we see used a lot in this application. All in all, the heatsinks are aesthetically pleasing and appear more than adequate for the task at hand.
With the heatsinks removed, we get a good look at the 6-phase CPU power design. Here we can see many of the components included in the Military Class 4 design that we discussed in the features list above.
We’ll conclude this section with a look at several of the ICs that provide many of the boards functions. Providing voltage regulation for the CPU power phases is Intersil’s ISL6377 IC, which is specifically designed for AMD Fusion CPU/GPU power control. Super I/O functions, such as system monitoring and fan control are handled by the Fintek F71878AD IC.
The EMI shield that covers the Realtek ALC1150 Codec is removable, which affords us an up close look at the IC. As we mentioned earlier, it’s the basis for which MSI’s Audio Boost is built upon. The onboard Killer E2205 LAN chip provides the network capabilities and is one of the better solutions available.
Four additional USB 3.0 ports at the rear I/O area are made possible by way of the VIA Labs VL805 IC. The PCI-E switching capabilities are handled by the four Pericom PI3PCIE3412ZHE ICs located just next to the top PCI-E slot.
MSI’s Click BIOS 4 UEFI
The UEFI BIOS is easy to navigate and makes finding what you need a snap to do. Upon entering, you’ll see basic system information and temperatures listed at the top that will follow you everywhere you go. Also located at the top are your boot priority options and the OC Genie button, if you’d rather try that feature from here instead of the button on the motherboard. The interface is broken down into six sections that can be accessed by clicking on them.
The Settings section includes five sub menus, the first of which is System Status. This sub menu is informational only, but does give you the option to set the date and time. The next sub menu is the Advanced area, which has nine sub menus of its own. All of these sub menus deal with system settings, such as enabling/disabling the onboard peripherals, graphics settings, USB configuration, and power management. The boot priority options and all of the exit BIOS options are located here as well. The slide show below contains 17 screen shots showing the different options available within the Settings section.
The OC section has everything related to getting the most from your APU, memory, and power delivery. From here, you can adjust the CPU multiplier, adjust a plethora of voltages, and set the memory configuration. There are a few sub menus at the bottom of this section that give you information on the CPU and memory. The last sub menu is CPU Features, which contains the APU power state options.
The M-Flash section is for flashing the BIOS firmware with a USB stick. This is by far the easiest and safest way to flash the BIOS. There’s no reason to even attempt a risky desktop BIOS flash when you have a tool this easy to use built right into the BIOS. Without a Dual-BIOS option or the ability to remove and replace the BIOS chip itself, extreme care should be taken when flashing the BIOS. The next section is called Overclocking Profiles and is exactly what the name implies. You can save six overclocking profiles to BIOS or an unlimited amount to a USB device.
The last two sections are Hardware Monitor and Board Explorer. The Hardware Monitor section gives you the ability to set fan speeds based on temperatures. You can control the CPU fan and two system fans if they are connected to the 4-pin fan headers on the motherboard. Vital temperatures and fan RPM readings can be found in the upper-right corner, while voltage readings are viewable at the bottom. The Board Explorer section is a way to quickly identify what components are installed by simply hovering the mouse pointer over any slot/port etc.
MSI Command Center/Bundled Software
Browsing the included DVD reveals many useful utilities at your disposal. After loading the DVD, you’re greeted with options to install drivers, utilities, or a few different pieces of software. The driver section has everything you need, but I’d recommend going to the individual chip manufacturer’s website to ensure you’re getting the latest versions. Under the utility section is where all the unique MSI utilities are found, and here is the list of those.
- Fast Boot – Works in conjunction with the MSI Fast Boot option in BIOS to speed up boot times. The utility can be used from the taskbar to boot directly into BIOS without the need to hit the delete key.
- Live Update 5 – Will scan computer and then search for driver, firmware, and software updates. It can be used in automatic mode or manual mode.
- Video Genie – A simple on/off switch utility for automatic color saturation enhancement, contrast enhancement, and intelligent gamma correction.
- Easy Viewer – Image viewer with several simple editing tasks, such as rotation and lighting.
- Command Center – Desktop system enhancement and overclocking utility (more below).
Also included on the DVD is a copy of 7-Zip, Google Chrome, and a free 60 day trial of Norton’s Internet Security software.
MSI’s Command Center application is a useful tool if you like overclocking from the desktop. You have the ability to adjust CPU clock speed, system BUS speed, and control up to three fans (CPU and two system). Missing from the overclocking options is the ability to manipulate the APU’s built in graphics or the system memory. All you can do with the memory is adjust the voltages, but there are no frequency or timing adjustments available. Command Center does offer a functional RAMDisk feature that can utilize extra memory capacity for creating a virtual drive.
The three buttons at the bottom labeled Advanced, Setting, and Information are where most of the action takes place. The Advanced button gives you access to all the voltage controls and the two system fan speed options. The Setting button brings you to the CPU fan options, monitoring, and mobile device control. From this area, you can also record monitoring information over a customizable time period and set warnings if a specified parameter exceeds a user defined threshold. The Information button can provide motherboard, CPU, memory, and real time monitoring information at a glance.
Overclocking and Benchmarks
|Motherboard||MSI A88X-G45 Gaming|
|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 used in the test system carries a 3.7 GHz clock speed with a boost clock speed of 4.0 GHz. I typically set the APU manually to the boost clock speed of 4.0 GHz when testing for stability and lock it down there. This ensures the APU is stable at the full range of speeds it will operate at when left at stock. The APU and motherboard both fully support DDR3 2400 MHz memory, so we set the memory at that speed for the stock stability test. I didn’t expect to run into any problems here and none were encountered. AIDA64’s stability test was run for 15 minutes and finished without any errors.
I wanted to find a 24/7 overclock that allowed the memory speed to remain at 2400 MHz and also keep the APU voltages/temperatures at a safe level. With that in mind, I settled on a 4.7 GHz overclock. We’ll see how much is left in the tank when we get to the “Pushing the Limits” Section of the review. APU core voltage was set at 1.464 V in BIOS, which led to a 1.472 V reading by CPU-Z with the system under load. Another 15 minutes of AIDA64’s stability test passed with no problem. Even though it passed the stability test, I did need to raise the APU core voltage a little over 1.5 V in order to complete all the benchmark tests we use.
With our stock and overclocked stability testing complete, it’s time to move to the benchmarks! First up is the three Cinebench runs, which include R10, R11.5, and R15. The scores are as expected and in fact, a little higher than previously reviewed A88X boards. As expected, we recorded some very nice scaling once the CPU was overclocked to 4.7 GHz.
Wprime 32M/1024M and SuperPi 1M/32M again showed excellent scaling when the overclock was applied. Again, these results were slightly better than other boards I’ve reviewed using the same APU.
The x264 and PoV Ray benchmarks were next on the hit list. Nothing to complain about here either as the results were just as expected.
The memory testing benchmarks come in the form of AIDA64 Cache & Memory and MaxxMEM.
As far as overclocking the R7 iGPU goes, I was able to get a tad over +300 MHz added to the stock speed of 720 MHz. With the iGPU speed set to 1029 MHz, I ran 3DMark Fire Strike, which resulted in the best score I’ve ever achieved for this APU’s R7 iGPU. It broke the 1700 barrier for the first time.
There certainly isn’t anything to complain about on the performance and overclocking ability of the A88X-G45 Gaming, it proved to be one of the best performing A88X motherboards I’ve reviewed to date.
Pushing the Limits
The A10-7850K APU I have usually tops out at 4.8 GHz, and once again, that’s where this stubborn piece of silicon maxed out. I was able to get into Windows and do a quick run of SuperPI 1M and Wprime 32M, but that’s about it. Taking it any further would require using risky voltages, if I wasn’t there already.
The MSI A88X-G45 Gaming is available at Newegg for $119.99, which is about $10 higher than the other high end A88x chipset motherboards. However, the A88X-G45 Gaming has several things that justify the extra cost when compared to the other boards. The OC Genie button, Slow Mode switch, and onboard power/reset buttons are the main reasons for the slightly higher cost.
The benchmark tests show the MSI A88X-G45 performing very well, and overclocking was a breeze. I really like the fact that the OC Genie button works as advertised and gives the novice a chance to overclock with just the press of a button. For the more seasoned overclocker, the Click BIOS 4 has everything you need to push the system to its limits. On the connectivity side, eight SATA 6.0 GB/s ports and plenty of USB 3.0/2.0 ports are available to satisfy the vast majority of users. The looks of the A88X-G45 Gaming leaves nothing to be desired in my opinion. The black matte finish with red accents makes it one of the more attractive motherboards I’ve come across in a while.
There are only a couple of small gripes I have with the board. The first being the absence of a dual BIOS feature, which is almost commonplace on most motherboards now days. Second would be the lack of any memory or iGPU manipulation options in the Command Center software, but in all reality, that’s easy enough to accomplish in BIOS. Other than those two small quibbles, there really isn’t anything to complain about.
So, in the end, we have a great performing board in the A88X-G45 Gaming that will appease both the gaming and overclocking crowd. If you’ve been looking for a higher end A88X based motherboard with great looks and performance, then the MSI A88X-G45 certainly deserves a good hard look.