Gigabyte GA-F2A85X-UP4 FM2 Motherboard Review: Overkill for Trinity?
“Sacrifices must be made” is a quote that is easily remembered by most US Air Force Academy graduates. Otto Lilienthal was not speaking about motherboards in particular, but he knew that any kind of progress would require sacrifices from those living on the bleeding edge. Gigabyte is faced with the afore-mentioned scenario of fitting as much as possible into an enthusiast style motherboard all the while keeping costs down. Sacrifices were made in this case, but happily these did not require any engineers at Gigabyte to die.
The contents of the box all spread out. Not overly impressive, but we really must consider where Gigabyte has actually spent the money. Board design is everything in this case.
Sacrifices in this case has more to do with the choice of components. The biggest cut would be the Etron USB 3.0 controller. This is a fair USB 3.0 controller, but not nearly as fast as the Renasas, ASMedia, or integrated AMD or Intel controllers. It is also very inexpensive. USB 3.0 components are now much more common, and there is often a need for more than four available ports. Adding this chip in brings the available ports up to six, and it does so at a reasonable price.
Audio also takes a bit of a hit, but this is one area that most people really do not seem to mind. The Realtek ALC892 is a decent audio CODEC for use on a motherboard, but Gigabyte is not breaking any new ground here with this choice. The audio is fair, but not outstanding. Quality will be lower than that seen on a standalone audio card, but it again is not a dealbreaker. Gigabyte does not add any extra features such as Dolby Digital or DTS encoding that other enthusiast level boards have.
The next sacrifice is that of the Gig-E connection. It also uses a fairly generic Realtek controller which is again a decent part with stable drivers, but adds no real performance or features to the mix. The Broadcom/Marvell/Intel controllers are all arguably superior in terms of CPU usage, throughput, and features but they also cost a great deal more.
The final sacrifice is that of a potentially usable SATA 6G port. The A85X, as mentioned before, features up to eight SATA 6G ports. Most enthusiast boards feature an e-SATA port available on the back plate. The most common procedure here is to utilize a 3rd party SATA controller that controls e-SATA duties and leaves the typically higher performance native ports to service internal storage. To again save on money Gigabyte elected to utilize one of the eight native ports for e-SATA duties, as well as shuffle off another port towards the bottom of the board and away from the other six SATA ports. This is not typically a bad tradeoff, as few people will utilize more than three ports at any one time. For those looking to really maximize their storage capabilities, they might have to look to another solution. My personal view here is that it is a excellent tradeoff, as anyone that really wants to do a RAID 5 type array is better off using a 3rd party card that is dedicated to fast RAID operations.
This is one good looking board. Sorta mean looking. It has to be to offset the use of the A10-5800K as an enthusiast level chip.
All of these sacrifices are not in vain. Gigabyte ended up doing some very interesting things with the UP4. First off is the new 3D BIOS. Ok, so perhaps it is not exactly new as Gigabyte has offered it for other boards in this past year. To me the 3D BIOS is a bit gimmicky, but it does look nice. Once we get past the pretty graphics portion the BIOS is laid out quite nicely. Everything is a few clicks away, but I was much more happy to just use the keyboard to make all the changes. All of the major BIOS settings were easily accessible and the UEFI implementation is good. I would rate it below Asus, but I would also rate it above MSI. The BIOS supports reading XMP and AMP based DIMMS, so those memory modules supporting either specification can be used by this motherboard.
Gigabyte also included some of their more common amenities. The board features the 2 oz. of copper that apparently helps to dissipate heat a bit better and improve conduction. It also uses a “glass fabric PCB” which I believe is essentially a woven glass manufacturing process which improves insulation and rigidity without impacting flexibility. The board does feature three PCI-E 16X slots, which should allow for CrossFire X. The bottom slot is only electrically 4X, but is still the full sized slot. That particular slot is also directly off the A85X FCH, so it is not powered by the integrated PCI-E controllers on the Trinity APU.
The biggest feature included with this board is the use of the IR digital power controller and the PowIRstage ICs. These are pretty high end units that are not inexpensive, especially compared to more common MOSFETs that we see on the vast majority of motherboards out there. These chips are supposed to have improved power capabilities with increased efficiency. They can also handle a lot more AMPs than current chips. These products would be key for overclocking, as they deliver smooth power without heating up dramatically. This is the most expensive part of the board and perhaps the most impressive.
The bundle with this board is very basic. The ATX backplate, manual, driver CD, and four SATA cables are included. The box is not overly flashy and it explains some of the features of the board in good detail. It is no surprise that the bundle is so limited given the price point of the motherboard. Gigabyte does include the Lucid Virtu software which allows the use of the integrated graphics in conjunction with a standalone graphics card. This software allows the big card to render games and other GPU heavy content while displaying out from the integrated graphics connections. Once the workload lightens Virtu switches the work to the IGP and allows the video card to go into a low power mode.
The back plate is nicely apportioned. Three outputs can be used at once with this board, though Eyefinity gaming using only the APU is not recommended.
In terms of board construction and layout, Gigabyte has done a very nice job. The color scheme is all black and grey, and this fits nicely with most enthusiast boards. It is not garish, but the included SATA cables are something of an obnoxious powder blue. The heatsink that covers the power phases is modestly sized, but considering that the IR chips used are cooler and more efficient, it does not need to be a big heatsink. The A85X FCH heatsink is decently sized as well, but it is low profile and will not interfere with add-in cards. The board also features a debug LED which will throw a code if there is a malfunction with the board. Finally, at the top of the board are power, reset, and clear CMOS buttons. This is nice for people running in an open air situation, but useless for those actually using a case.
The board natively supports Eyefinity, but there are limitations. Two digital outputs can be used together, but to get to three displays the analog output must be used. Until we get to a time when DisplayPort is much more widely supported, as well as having those handy hubs, users will likely be better off getting a video card that can support 3 displays simultaneously over a digital connection.
The layout of the board is actually really good from my perspective. It should allow the use of multiple configurations in single and multiple video cards without major placement issues. With one card a user can still utilize the single PCI slot, while in CrossFire the user will have plenty of space between the two video cards and still use the single PCI-E 1X slot at the top of the board for an add-in card of their choice.
The back panel features HDMI, DisplayPort, DVI, and DB-15/VGA outputs. It still has plenty of USB 2.0 and 3.0 ports for most uses, and the board features the front panel USB 3.0 connection which is being implemented in most modern cases. 7.1 analog audio outputs are supported as well as a single optical audio connection.
Finally we have the on/off USB charging technology support. Basically when enabled in BIOS, the USB ports can push out more power and still charge a device even when the computer is off. Since even I own a cellphone these days, charging these units on such a board as this is very handy.