Redefining Price/Performance with AMD Motherboards
Motherboards are fascinating to me. They always have been. I remember voraciously reading motherboard reviews in the mid-90s. I simply could not get enough of them. Some new chipset from SiS, VIA, or ALi? I scoured the internet for information on them and what new features they would bring to the table. Back then motherboards did not have the retail presence they do now. The manufacturers were starting to learn to differentiate their products and cater to the enthusiasts who would not only buy and support these products, but also recommend them to friends/family/the world.
Today motherboards are really the foundation for any PC build. Choosing a motherboard is no longer just picking up some whitebox board that has a 440 BX chipset. Now users are much more active in debating what kind of features they need, what kind of feedback has this manufacturer received from consumers, what kind of ratings the board has on Amazon or Newegg. Features like build quality or overclocking performance sway users from company to company and product to product.
In the past 15 years or so we have seen some pretty rigid guidelines for pricing of motherboards. The super cheap “PC Chips” style motherboards existed below the $90 range. The decent, but unexciting motherboards with the bare minimum of features would go from $90 to $150. The $150 and beyond products were typically considered enthusiast class motherboards with expanded features, better build quality, and more robust power delivery options. Thankfully for consumers, this model is being shaken up by the latest generation of products from AMD.
MSI insures that everything is nicely packed and protected in their black and red box.
I mentioned in the previous Gigabyte G1.Sniper.A88X review that AMD and its partners do not have the luxury of offering a $150 and above FM2+ motherboard due to the nature (and pricing) of the latest FM2+ APUs. I am fairly sure the amount of people willing to spend $200 on a motherboard to house a $179 APU that seemingly overclocks as well on a cheap board as it does a more expensive one (meaning, not very well at all) is pretty low. If there is one bright side to the latest Kaveri APUs, it is that the graphics portion is extremely robust in both graphics and OpenCL applications. The hope for AMD and users alike is that HSA will in fact take off and provide a significant performance boost in a wide variety of applications that typically require quite a bit of horsepower.
Subject: Processors | July 9, 2014 - 05:42 PM | Josh Walrath
Tagged: nvidia, msi, Luxmark, Lightning, hsa, GTX 580, GCN, APU, amd, A88X, A10-7850K
When I first read many of the initial AMD A10 7850K reviews, my primary question was how would the APU act if there was a different GPU installed on the system and did not utilize the CrossFire X functionality that AMD talked about. Typically when a user installs a standalone graphics card on the AMD FM2/FM2+ platform, they disable the graphics portion of the APU. They also have to uninstall the AMD Catalyst driver suite. So this then leaves the APU as a CPU only, and all of that graphics silicon is left silent and dark.
Who in their right mind would pair a high end graphics card with the A10-7850K? This guy!
Does this need to be the case? Absolutely not! The GCN based graphics unit on the latest Kaveri APUs is pretty powerful when used in GPGPU/OpenCL applications. The 4 cores/2 modules and 8 GCN cores can push out around 856 GFlops when fully utilized. We also must consider that the APU is the first fully compliant HSA (Heterogeneous System Architecture) chip, and it handles memory accesses much more efficiently than standalone GPUs. The shared memory space with the CPU gets rid of a lot of the workarounds typically needed for GPGPU type applications. It makes sense that users would want to leverage the performance potential of a fully functioning APU while upgrading their overall graphics performance with a higher end standalone GPU.
To get this to work is very simple. Assuming that the user has been using the APU as their primary graphics controller, they should update to the latest Catalyst drivers. If the user is going to use an AMD card, then it would behoove them to totally uninstall the Catalyst driver and re-install only after the new card is installed. After this is completed restart the machine, go into the UEFI, and change the primary video boot device to PEG (PCI-Express Graphics) from the integrated unit. Save the setting and shut down the machine. Insert the new video card and attach the monitor cable(s) to it. Boot the machine and either re-install the Catalyst suite if an AMD card is used, or install the latest NVIDIA drivers if that is the graphics choice.
Windows 7 and Windows 8 allow users to install multiple graphics drivers from different vendors. In my case I utilized a last generation GTX 580 (the MSI N580GTX Lightning) along with the AMD A10 7850K. These products coexist happily together on the MSI A88X-G45 Gaming motherboard. The monitor is attached to the NVIDIA card and all games are routed through that since it is the primary graphics adapter. Performance seems unaffected with both drivers active.
I find it interesting that the GPU portion of the APU is named "Spectre". Who owns those 3dfx trademarks anymore?
When I load up Luxmark I see three entries: the APU (CPU and GPU portions), the GPU portion of the APU, and then the GTX 580. Luxmark defaults to the GPUs. We see these GPUs listed as “Spectre”, which is the GCN portion of the APU, and the NVIDIA GTX 580. Spectre supports OpenCL 1.2 while the GTX 580 is an OpenCL 1.1 compliant part.
With both GPUs active I can successfully run the Luxmark “Sala” test. The two units perform better together than when they are run separately. Adding in the CPU does increase the score, but not by very much (my guess here is that the APU is going to be very memory bandwidth bound in such a situation). Below we can see the results of the different units separate and together.
These results make me hopeful about the potential of AMD’s latest APU. It can run side by side with a standalone card, and applications can leverage the performance of this unit. Now all we need is more HSA aware software. More time and more testing is needed for setups such as this, and we need to see if HSA enabled software really does see a boost from using the GPU portion of the APU as compared to a pure CPU piece of software or code that will run on the standalone GPU.
Personally I find the idea of a heterogeneous solution such as this appealing. The standalone graphics card handles the actual graphics portions, the CPU handles that code, and the HSA software can then fully utilize the graphics portion of the APU in a very efficient manner. Unfortunately, we do not have hard numbers on the handful of HSA aware applications out there, especially when used in conjunction with standalone graphics. We know in theory that this can work (and should work), but until developers get out there and really optimize their code for such a solution, we simply do not know if having an APU will really net the user big gains as compared to something like the i7 4770 or 4790 running pure x86 code.
In the meantime, at least we know that these products work together without issue. The mixed mode OpenCL results make a nice case for improving overall performance in such a system. I would imagine with more time and more effort from developers, we could see some really interesting implementations that will fully utilize a system such as this one. Until then, happy experimenting!
FM2+ Has a High End?
AMD faces a bit of a quandary when it comes to their products. Their APUs are great at graphics, but not so great at general CPU performance. Their products are all under $200 for the CPU/APU but these APUs are not popular with the enthusiast and gaming crowd. Yes, they can make excellent budget gaming systems for those who do not demand ultra-high resolutions and quality settings, but it is still a tough sell for a lot of the mainstream market; the primary way AMD pushes these products is price.
Perhaps the irony here is that AMD is extremely competitive with Intel when it comes to chipset features. The latest A88X Fusion Control Hub is exceptionally well rounded with four native USB 3.0 ports, ten USB 2.0 ports, and eight SATA-6G ports. Performance of this chipset is not all that far off from what Intel offers with the Z87 chipset (USB and SATA-6G are slower, but not dramatically so). The chip also offers RAID 0, 1, 5, and 10 support as well as a 10/100/1000 Ethernet MAC (but a physical layer chip is still required).
Now we get back to price. AMD is not charging a whole lot for these FCH units, even the top end A88X. I do not have the exact number, but it is cheap as compared to the competing Intel option. Intel’s chipset business has made money for the company for years, but AMD does not have that luxury. AMD needs to bundle effectively to be competitive, so it is highly doubtful that the chipset division makes a net profit at the end of the day. Their job is to help push AMD’s CPU and APU offerings as much as possible.
These low cost FCH chips allow motherboard manufacturers to place a lot of customization on their board, but they are still limited in what they can do. A $200+ motherboard simply will not fly with consumers for the level of overall performance that even the latest AMD A10 7850K APU provides in CPU bound workloads. Unfortunately, HSA has not yet taken off to leverage the full potential of the Kaveri APU. We have had big developments, just not big enough that the majority of daily users out there will require an AMD APU. Until that happens, AMD will not be viewed favorably when it comes to its APU offerings in gaming or high performance systems.
The quandary obviously is how AMD and its motherboard partners can create inexpensive motherboards that are feature packed, yet will not break the bank or become burdensome towards APU sales? The FX series of processors from AMD do have a bit more leeway as the performance of the high end FX-8350 is not considered bad, and it is a decent overclocker. That platform can sustain higher motherboard costs due to this performance. The APU side, not so much. The answer to this quandary is tradeoffs.
Subject: Motherboards | April 22, 2014 - 01:59 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: amd, asus, A88X, FM2+, A88X-PRO
When building a budget system for yourself or someone else that either does not need a powerful CPU or is better served with a powerful GPU then AMD is really the manufacturer you should be looking to. The ASUS A88X-Pro, for ~$125, could serve as a solid backbone for your system with a pair of PCIe 16x 3.0 ports along with a single 4x, a pair of 1x and even two legacy PCI slots for your older hardware. The storage system can support six SATA 6Gbps ports and an additional pair of eSATA along with a half dozen USB 3.0 ports and an impressive 10 USB 2.0 ports. As the board is intended for use with an APU it sports D-Sub, HDMI, DisplayPort and DVI-D out but for gaming you are best served picking up a discrete GPU. [H]ard|OCP found overclocking to be a bit challenging as not upping the voltage enough sometimes caused drive corruption but for those willing to put in the effort a speed of 4.5GHz @ 1.575v is certainly achievable. See the full performance review right here.
"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."
Here are some more Motherboard articles from around the web:
- MSI A88X-G45 Gaming Motherboard Review @ Modders-Inc
- Gigabyte AM1M-S2H @ Phoronix
- Gigabyte G1.Sniper A88X Review @ Bjorn3D
- MSI A88X-G45 Gaming Motherboard Review @HiTech Legion
- Biostar Hi-Fi A88W 3D (AMD FM2+) @ techPowerUp
- ASUS Rampage IV Black Edition Motherboard Review @ Hardware Canucks
- ASUS Rampage IV Black Edition @ [H]ard|OCP
- MSI Z87M-GAMING Motherboard Review @ Madshrimps
- ASUS Maximus VI Impact LGA 1150 @ [H]ard|OCP
- ASRock Fatal1ty B85 Killer Motherboard @ Hardware Secrets
Subject: Motherboards | January 14, 2014 - 06:18 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: Kaveri, gigabyte, pcie 3.0, amd, FM2+, A88X, A55
City of Industry, California, January 14th, 2014 – GIGABYTE TECHNOLOGY Co. Ltd., a leading manufacturer of motherboards and graphics cards, today announced official support for next generation AMD A-Series APUs based on the highly anticipated ‘Kaveri’ architecture. GIGABYTE ‘Kaveri’ support includes current AMD A88X and A55 (rev3.0) platform motherboards plus forthcoming A78 platform motherboards.By enabling support on current GIGABYTE AMD motherboards for these new AMD A-Series APUs, GIGABYTE ensures our customers are able to take advantage of a whole new approach to PC architecture design,” commented Henry Kao, Vice President of GIGABYTE Motherboard Business Unit. “Combining the highest level of quality design with the most advanced set of features, GIGABYTE FM2+ motherboards offer the best user experience for these new A-Series APUs.”
“These FM2+ Series motherboards from GIGABYTE are the ultimate showcase for our new A-Series APUs,” said Bernd Lienhard, corporate vice president and general manager, Client Business Unit, AMD. “In collaboration with GIGABYTE, AMD is proud to enable a truly optimized user experience in terms of raw computer performance while creating an industry-leading visual and audio experience with the latest generation of our APUs.”
GIGABYTE FM2+ Series Motherboards
GIGABYTE FM2+ Series motherboards showcase a number of features and technologies that separate them from the competition, including GIGABYTE AMP-UP Audio which includes an upgradable OP Amp, studio-grade Nichicon capacitors and Gain Boost switches. True Digital Power Delivery is combined with Triple Display Support including AMD Dual Graphics and AMD Eyefinity Technology support. GIGABYTE FM2+ series motherboards also provide native 4K resolution support via Display port and HDMI ports.
GIGABYTE FM2+ Series motherboards also integrate a range of features designed to ensure the long term stability and longevity of your PC. GIGABYTE DualBIOS ensures users are protected from BIOS failure, while an exclusive 2x Copper PCB design optimizes heat dissipation from the critical power delivery areas of the motherboard. One-Fuse-per-Port ensures each USB port has its own dedicated power fuse that prevents unwanted USB port failure.
AMD Kaveri Platform Highlights
The latest AMD A10-7850K and A10-7700K APUs integrate an enhanced CPU core based on the ‘Steamroller’ architecture with a new and updated Radeon Graphics core. Supporting native 8 GT/s PCI Express gen 3.0 and DX11.1 graphics, these new AMD A-Series APUs also offer native support for 4K resolution displays on HDMI and DisplayPort.
Heterogeneous System Architecture (HSA)
AMD TrueAudio Technology
The latest AMD A-Series APUs are also the first equipped with AMD TrueAudio Technology a new programmable audio pipeline that fundamentally redefines how digital audio is processed. By allowing the graphics cores to handle sound processing for spatialization, reverb, limiters and simultaneous voice processing, game developers have greater artistic freedom than ever before, allowing for a vastly more realistic and compelling audio experience.
GIGABYTE FM2+ Series Motherboard Models
AMD A88X Platform
AMD A55 Platform (rev3.0 and above)
AMD A78 Platform (Forthcoming models)
Subject: Motherboards | January 6, 2014 - 04:19 AM | Ryan Shrout
Tagged: CES, CES 2014, video, msi, amd, A88X, Kabini, Kaveri
One of our first meetings at CES 2014 was with MSI. Below we have a video of the company's latest iterations on the AMD-family of motherboards including a Gaming Series mATX offering, a mini-ITX FM2+ board (perfect for Kaveri's release) as well as the only socketed AMD Kabini platform we have seen!
Follow all of our coverage of the show at http://pcper.com/ces!
Subject: Motherboards | July 28, 2013 - 07:40 PM | Tim Verry
Tagged: hUMA, Kaveri, hsa, fm2, asus, APU, A88X, A55, PCI-E 3.0, mATX
ASUS recently announced two new socket FM2+ motherboards that are compatible with AMD’s upcoming “Kaveri” Accelerated Processing Units (APUs). The new boards are the A88XMA and A55BM-A/USB3 and use the A88X and A55 AMD chipsets respectively. Pricing and availability have not yet been released, but the new boards confirm that users will need new motherboards in order to take advantage of AMD’s next generation APUs (though the new FM2+ boards are backwards compatible with the existing APUs, it will not work the other way around). Both motherboards should be available around the time of the Kaveri processor launch (2H 2013).
The AMD A88XMA FM2+ Motherboard.
Both the ASUS A88XMA and A55BM-A/USB3 motherboards come in the mATX form factor. The boards both have FM2+ processor sockets and expansion slots including a single PCI-E 3.0 x16 slot, one PCI-E 2.0 x1 slot, and one legacy PCI slot. The support for PCI-E 3.0 is new for AMD motherboards, and the extra bandwidth may prove useful for as graphics cards get faster and AMD works on its hUMA and HSA architectures to create a layer of virtual memory that can be simultaneously addressed by CPUs and GPUs. There will still be latency to deal with over the PCI-E bus, but more data can be moved back and forth in the same amount of time.
The two ASUS FM2+ motherboards also share the same rear IO options, which include:
- 2 x PS/2
3 x Video outputs:
- 1 x HDMI
- 1 x DVI
- 1 x VGA
- 2 x USB 3.0
- 2 x USB 2.0
- 1 x Gigabit Ethernet
- 3 x Analog audio jacks
The RJ45 jacks are backed by a Realtek 8111G Gigabit Ethernet controller and the audio jacks are handled by a Realtek ALC887-VD chipset. Finally, they also have UEFI BIOSes in common, but from there the two boards diverge in hardware capabilities.
The ASUS A88XMA is the higher-end of the two boards, and features a FM2+ socket, four DDR3 DIMM slots, and six SATA 3 6Gbps ports. It utilizes the AMD A88X chipset which is aimed at enthusiast platforms.
ASUS' A55BM-A/USB3 budget motherboard.
On the other hand, the A55BM-A/USB3 motherboard uses the cheaper A55 chipset. That motherboard features an FM2+ socket, two DDR3 DIMM slots, and six right angle SATA 2 3Gpbs ports. The A55Bm-A/USB3 should be significantly cheaper as a result of the A55 chipset and resulting hardware reductions. In most other respects, ASUS has managed to make the two baords remarkably similar, including aesthetics and basic board layout.
According to Bit-Tech, the two boards are are part of a larger family of boards with the new FM2+ sockets. As such, we should see additional ASUS boards that fill in the gaps between the two models closer to AMD's Kaveri launch. As noted above, ASUS has not provided official pricing or release date information yet.