Today's Hard|Forum Post
Today's Hard|Forum Post

ASUS A88X-PRO AMD Socket FM2+ Motherboard Review

It’s important to take a step back once in awhile and remember that not everyone can afford huge multi-GPU rigs and eight core CPUs. If you are in the market for a shiny new APU, you won’t want to miss our coverage of the ASUS A88X-Pro. This new FM2+ socket motherboard may not be the answer for you, but it could surely be a solution.

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Overclocking

When it comes to overclocking the ASUS A88X-PRO was literally the most difficult motherboard I’ve worked with in past memory. With regard to automated overclocking through the UEFI BIOS or through AI Suite III the system is quite easy to work with. Under manual control things were quite a bit different.

The A88X-PRO is quite sensitive to voltage adjustments on the CPU. Too little voltage and I’d end up with drive corruption. Sometimes I could repair, most of the time I’d have to reimage the machine. Normally when you see something like that you’ve got your voltage set too high for something that affects the chipset negatively.

In this case it turned out I didn’t have enough voltage. There is a fine line you have to tread with this particular A88X-PRO / A10 7850K combination and going too far creates thermal throttling problems and too little voltage meant drive corruption. Because of this it took a couple of days to dial in the system as the recovery time in between failures was pretty well long compared to how it was with most systems now days. From a BIOS / UEFI perspective recovery wasn’t an issue. The system performed nicely in that regard booting up immediately from a bad overclock.

4.1GHz (100x41) DDR3 1600MHz

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I started with ASUS AI Overclock Tuner in the UEFI BIOS which gave me results very quickly. The system rebooted and within a few seconds a result came back of 4.1GHz. Voltages were still left on automatic which is why it reported a bit low in CPU-Z.

4.1GHz (100x42) DDR3 1600MHz

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Using AI Suite III’s 4-Way optimization I set it for extreme tuning and the system quickly got stuck in a loop during the test. After 30 minutes or so I hit the reset button on the system. Once I got back to the desktop the system brought up the report and it showed me a final result of 4.2GHz.

4.5GHz (100x45) DDR3 1866MHz

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An overclock to 4.5GHz required 1.575v, CPU voltage, load-line calibration to high and CPU power duty control to extreme. DDR3 2400MHz speeds proved elusive but oddly the instabilities never resulted in disk corruption like incorrect CPU voltages. Other than the aforementioned settings there wasn’t much else to do. CPU voltage was absolutely the key component to getting it right. Working with the A88X-PRO was completely unlike Intel CPU based machines where the worst thing that happens is the system simply running too hot or hard locking with improper voltages. 4.6GHz seemed to be within my grasp at 1.6v but unfortunately the CPU would down-clock as the temperatures quickly got out of control with that much voltage.

Conclusions

Dan's Thoughts:

I’ll just throw it out there. I’m not a huge fan of the APU for the desktop. For laptops or systems that will never see a dedicated graphics card the appeal of these is certainly there as the integrated graphics far outstrip what Intel’s offering in the same segment. The CPU of course lags behind but I think the GPU / CPU power ratio just favors AMD in such situations. In essence the GPU gain is worth the CPU loss and thus the APU certainly has its place. I’m simply not convinced of the validity in the desktop market where a discrete graphics solution is to be used.

Having said that the A88X-PRO was exceptionally good to work with aside from the problem with manual overclocking and CPU voltage settings. In every other way the board meet all expectations and it just worked. The installation of the OS and software worked perfectly for me. Stability was absolutely perfect throughout all of my testing and you just can’t ask for anything more than that.

The system turned out to be a capable overclocker but caution and a backup or clone image of your drive is absolutely essential in my opinion to navigate the hazards of overclocking with this thing. Again I’m not generally an advocate of this CPU for the desktop but if you find yourself in need of an FM2+ compatible motherboard the A88X-PRO is a great choice for very little money.

Kyle's Thoughts:

While this APU platform is certainly not in the same class as an Intel Desktop Haswell processor, we tried to keep the same overall testing criteria so we could get a feel for the system overall in comparison to the Intel based systems. The 7850K APU we used costs around $170 online. To keep our 4.5GHz/1866MHz testing clocks, we purchased three different 7850K processors. So yes, we spent about $500 to find a 7850K capable of those clocks without throttling at those clock speeds.

In terms of CPU workload, you can see in the benchmarks, that the 7850K is simply not comparable to the Haswell processors from Intel, but you likely already knew that. That is not exactly breaking news.

As to our experiences with the ASUS A88X-Pro motherboard, things were overall very good though. The ASUS InstALL feature failed the first time using it. The menus were messed up and I could not get anything to run by hand either. A reboot solved all this. Keep in mind that I was attempting this at stock clock speeds. Beyond that the motherboard worked perfectly as it should except when pushing the A88X-Pro and the processor to the limits.

Overclocking the system was harrowing at best. It was much akin to overclocking years ago. Like Dan, I had issues with corrupting the OS when pushing the three processors to the predetermined 4.5GHz/1866MHz mark to get GHz to GHz benchmarks. We did use water cooling on the APU. I used a Koolance Exos system. Even with our extremely high voltages, the APU would run at 60C under load. With the APU there is a tremendous balancing act needed to get the APU voltage you want without throttling the clocks, but high enough so that you do not corrupt the data drive. This is all dependent, it seems to me, on the APU rather than the motherboard. The motherboard has all the bells and whistles you need BIOS-wise to do anything you want with the processor.

The AI Suite III software returned a 4.3GHz overclock to me but it was not 100% stable under our stress tests. It could however run 4.2GHz/1866MHz with the same BIOS settings. You simply have to pour voltage to this APU to get it to the edge of the envelope in terms of clocks, and the A88X-Pro can do this in spades.

I did find a great home for this A88X-Pro and one of the 7850K APUs in a build for a family member.

The Bottom Line

Many will compare overclocking these new AMD Kaveri APUs to days of overclocking Celerons, but that comparison does not ring true. These Kaveri APU is weak compared to the Intel counterparts, no matter how high you scale the Kaveri clocks. On the upside, the on-die graphics of the AMD Kaveri blow everything else out of the water. It is great to see an APU that can natively handle 2650x1600 desktop resolutions and this of course can make for a less expensive and lower power desktop build. But don’t think that this APU will be doing any kind of enthusiast gaming at higher resolutions on the desktop. For that you will find yourself very limited with the on-die graphics.

The ASUS A88X-Pro sells for $123.99 with Prime shipping. AMD Kaveri APU "K" products start at $149.99 for the 7700K model. This makes a very compelling argument for a basic system build that you can count on to be 100% stable for long term usage that has all the tools you need to properly overclock the APU.

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ASUS A88X-Pro

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