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Which A88X Motherboard Is Best?

Which A88X-Based Board Should You Buy For Your Kaveri APU?
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The best board for fans of AMD's Kaveri architecture is a matter of perspective, since each buyer has different needs. It might surprise you, however, that price is not a major factor in this round-up. All of the boards cost between $105 and $120, and the most expensive model includes a game voucher worth at least as much as its price difference.

Anyone who doesn’t care about that game (and to be honest, it hasn't received the most flattering reviews) might be tempted by the chart above. But that purely objective graph also doesn't include the cost of added features, or what those extra capabilities might add to your experience beyond benchmarked performance. Incidentally, besides the included game code, MSI’s A88X-G45 Gaming also has the most inclusive feature set.

In fact, the least extravagant feature set doesn’t even belong to the cheapest board in this round-up. For $110, ASRock’s FM2A88X+ Killer doesn't support a third graphics card. For most folks, that won't be any sort of issue. After all, we're talking about AMD's mainstream APUs here, and any attempt to build a multi-GPU gaming platform is going to be an exercise in imbalance. But the factor still needs to be considered in a value comparison. ASRock does give you the higher-end Qualcomm Atheros Killer GbE controller, but so does MSI's A88X-G45 Gaming.

With its combination of premium integrated networking, three-way graphics card support, extra I/O panel-based USB 3.0 ports, and handy bench testing features, MSI’s A88X-G45 Gaming could have been our top choice for award recognition, and it is a great choice for a mainstream gaming platform with one or two discrete graphics card. It's telling, though, that something as minor as a single USB 3.0 header under the third graphics card slot is what complicates our decision. Not price. Not power. Not performance. But rather, layout.

Gigabyte’s F2A88X-UP4 nearly matches MSI’s feature set, and the Gigabyte board is also the least-expensive in today’s round-up. You do get a larger voltage regulator, if that matters to you, though our tests didn't expose any apparent benefits. Gigabyte also shares MSI’s triple-card USB 3.0 header conflict, but only with the F2A88X-UP4's second front-panel USB 3.0 header. That's right, the motherboard offers two. On the other hand, the F2A88X-UP4 has an issue where it shares one of only two remaining PCI Express slots with the third graphics card slot. As staunch opposition of slot sharing, that affects our judgement, too.

The final contender, Asus’ A88X-Pro, doesn’t have any of those problems. It also comes up shorter on features, though most of the missing capabilities are buttons that get hidden once your machine is buttoned up inside of a case. Asus even takes the precaution of moving its front-panel audio header forward by about an inch, compensating for the design issue of too many cases with leads that are too short. And the middle slot that Gigabyte loses? Asus replaces it with a PCI slot.

Most of us probably don’t care for legacy PCI, but it’s hard to deny an award to the only board in this round-up that doesn't come up noticeably short on features or land on our test bench with a significant design compromise. Even after tacking-on an extra $5 for Asus-exclusive features that many users like (but don’t want to pay for), and even coming up 50 MHz short of our top CPU overclock, Asus’ trouble-free $115 A88X-Pro takes the win.

Update: 3/20/2014: We love constructive feedback, and many of our readers let us know that the slow third x16-length slot offered by Asus, MSI, and Gigabyte isn’t an important consideration in their purchase decision. Configurations where the extra slot might be important, such as digital signage and crypto-currency mining, usually don’t need front-panel USB 3.0 (blocked on the A88X-G45) or an extra x1 slot (disabled in the F2A88X-UP4). The A88X-Pro retains its higher honor for enabling rarely-used hardware configurations, but the boards that don’t are equally viable to just about everyone. With that in mind, we’re adding our stamp of approval to the F2A88X-UP4 and A88X-G45 Gaming.

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  • 3 Hide
    gadgety , March 20, 2014 1:55 AM
    To me the point of Kaveri is great graphics in a small package, thus the MB would have to be as small as possible. M-ITX is currently the smallest. Someone should bring out a NUC sized board for the Kaveri.
  • -5 Hide
    blackmagnum , March 20, 2014 2:46 AM
    On the other side of the fence... Haswell+ Maxwell= performance/watt/buck. You're welcome.
  • -3 Hide
    ta152h , March 20, 2014 3:03 AM
    The IO device is called PS/2, not P/S 2. It stands for Personal System/2, the IBM product line from 1987. Also, there's a chance there's a big performance gain from Catalyst 14.2, instead of 14.1. Another site did benchmarks comparing 13.6 and 14.2, and the difference was dramatic. It most likely was the somewhere in the 13.6 to 14.1 range, though. I thought the days of one motherboard having significantly faster memory timings than the other died with the IMCs. After being shocked at the horrible performance of the Kaveri, and the almost complete failure of it, between the driver update, and advantage the Asus has, it's clear AMD pulled another "Hawaii", and put their technology in the worst possible light by not packaging it with the proper associated support technologies. Considering the long development cycles for these devices, it's hard to understand how AMD couldn't figure out a proper cooler for the Hawaii, or have drivers degrade performance so much for Kaveri, that within a month or so they were able to increase performance so dramatically. And now, it's clear the memory performance optimizations were far from complete. And Kaveri was a delayed product. It boggles the mind that they consistently fail to find such obvious shortcomings, when everyone else finds them pretty quickly. Clearly, their testing procedures need serious revision in scope.
  • -9 Hide
    ferooxidan , March 20, 2014 3:12 AM
    "To me the point of Kaveri is great graphics in a small package, thus the MB would have to be as small as possible. M-ITX is currently the smallest. Someone should bring out a NUC sized board for the Kaveri."No, the best NUC will be Haswell + Maxwell, period.
  • 0 Hide
    almarcy , March 20, 2014 3:26 AM
    Thank you for a useful grid of the current products. I am migrating from my current dinosaur. I am not at all interested in smaller, sleeker, tighter. Just faster. ~4 GHz with 2.4 GHz DDR3 for under $500. seems pretty irresistible :) 
  • 1 Hide
    Someone Somewhere , March 20, 2014 4:03 AM
    Can we see some benchmarks on the Killer card vs other competitors? It feels like FUD to me.
  • 0 Hide
    beerdette , March 20, 2014 5:45 AM
    "No, the best NUC will be Haswell + Maxwell, period."The point of Kaveri on a NUC would be not to have the space that a graphics card takes. So it wouldn't be the best NUC because then you need to add space for that card.
  • 0 Hide
    tourist , March 20, 2014 8:13 AM
    Very surprised you did not test the asrock extreme 6. Or even test a richland apu in the various boards to see how they would perform. I understand time is limited but readers wants to know.
  • 4 Hide
    vertexx , March 20, 2014 8:22 AM
    Is anyone actually going to buy an ATX Kaveri motherboard?
  • 1 Hide
    de5_Roy , March 20, 2014 8:54 AM
    Quote:
    Is anyone actually going to buy an ATX Kaveri motherboard?

    yes. but at a lower price range probably. first, a10 7850k itself has to come down in price by $40-50 outside microcenter.
  • 1 Hide
    vertexx , March 20, 2014 9:48 AM
    Quote:
    Quote:
    Is anyone actually going to buy an ATX Kaveri motherboard?

    yes. but at a lower price range probably. first, a10 7850k itself has to come down in price by $40-50 outside microcenter.


    Even beyond price, ATX seems pointless with a Kaveri APU. Myself, I'm waiting for the A8-7600 to build a very small (< 3 liters) ITX HTPC running the APU in 45W mode. Although I'm very excited about doing that build, I can't see any use case that makes sense for a Kaveri APU in an ATX form factor. Perhaps the A88x chipset has some feature benefit for building something using the 750 or 760k CPU in a budget build. But the only build I would even think about using a Kaveri APU in would be a mini-ITX PC/HTPC or laptop.

    Beyond that, I would love to see Lian-Li come out with a tiny case like the PC-Q02, PC-Q09 or PC-Q12, but with the design for a single 120mm CLC and a 300W SFX PSU to allow a decent overclock on a 7850k APU with the smallest form factor possible (i.e. < 8 liters). That type of build might get me jazzed up for the 7850k.
  • 1 Hide
    de5_Roy , March 20, 2014 10:02 AM
    Quote:

    Even beyond price, ATX seems pointless with a Kaveri APU. Myself, I'm waiting for the A8-7600 to build a very small (< 3 liters) ITX HTPC running the APU in 45W mode. Although I'm very excited about doing that build, I can't see any use case that makes sense for a Kaveri APU in an ATX form factor. Perhaps the A88x chipset has some feature benefit for building something using the 750 or 760k CPU in a budget build. But the only build I would even think about using a Kaveri APU in would be a mini-ITX PC/HTPC or laptop.

    Beyond that, I would love to see Lian-Li come out with a tiny case like the PC-Q02, PC-Q09 or PC-Q12, but with the design for a single 120mm CLC and a 300W SFX PSU to allow a decent overclock on a 7850k APU with the smallest form factor possible (i.e. < 8 liters). That type of build might get me jazzed up for the 7850k.

    yeah. but uatx or mini itx doesn't give easy access to that many sata or usb ports, usually.
    imo, the atx boards make for great media and casual gaming builds with 8 sata ports (at that price).
    in gigabyte's case, dual usb 3.0 headers open up more inputs for external storage.
    the typical apu buyer goes for cheaper uatx boards, followed by full or slightly narrower atx motherboards.
  • -1 Hide
    tourist , March 20, 2014 10:18 AM
    Quote:
    Quote:
    Quote:
    Is anyone actually going to buy an ATX Kaveri motherboard?

    yes. but at a lower price range probably. first, a10 7850k itself has to come down in price by $40-50 outside microcenter.


    Even beyond price, ATX seems pointless with a Kaveri APU. Myself, I'm waiting for the A8-7600 to build a very small (< 3 liters) ITX HTPC running the APU in 45W mode. Although I'm very excited about doing that build, I can't see any use case that makes sense for a Kaveri APU in an ATX form factor. Perhaps the A88x chipset has some feature benefit for building something using the 750 or 760k CPU in a budget build. But the only build I would even think about using a Kaveri APU in would be a mini-ITX PC/HTPC or laptop.

    Beyond that, I would love to see Lian-Li come out with a tiny case like the PC-Q02, PC-Q09 or PC-Q12, but with the design for a single 120mm CLC and a 300W SFX PSU to allow a decent overclock on a 7850k APU with the smallest form factor possible (i.e. < 8 liters). That type of build might get me jazzed up for the 7850k.


    It is not pointless atx has more usb, pcie.and sata ports available. Atx boards are stronger and have better heat dissipation. I have seen many matx boards crack from big air coolers hanging inside of the case. Your preference is just that your preference.
  • 2 Hide
    vertexx , March 20, 2014 10:38 AM
    Quote:
    It is not pointless atx has more usb, pcie.and sata ports available. Atx boards are stronger and have better heat dissipation. I have seen many matx boards crack from big air coolers hanging inside of the case. Your preference is just that your preference.

    Ok, so I'm just cracking up at the thought of a Kaveri APU build with 8 drives, dual graphics, and a big air cooler hanging off it - maybe it's just me, but it seems counter to the whole concept of the APU.

    I mean, the ASRock FM2A88X-ITX board is quite capable. 6 SATA 6.0Gb/s, 1 mPCIE/mSATA, 32GB RAM, total of 4 USB 3.0 and 8 USB 2.0.

    But you're right, that is my preference/opinion....
  • 3 Hide
    ruban71 , March 20, 2014 10:44 AM
    ATX? Multiple GPUs? Does AMD have an ace up its sleeve in the form of a new Kaveri Athlon?
  • 1 Hide
    felix666 , March 20, 2014 10:50 AM
    I just built a system using the A88X-Pro, and an A10-7850K. I wanted a full ATX board in order to install an enormous CPU heat sink ( a Zalman CNPS-14X) and have a silent system, as the box sits two feet away from my face. Mission accomplished! Funnily, under a heavy load the CPU temp has not exceeded 36 Celsius, so far. The box is a cheap Coolermaster mid-tower; there is plenty of space for future upgrades, as I keep my machine for quite a while. Of course the main drive is an SSD and this system rocks!Just one thing about these newer mobos, the CPU is not positioned at exactly the same place as the older ATX specifications. It made it necessary to cut the metal under the mobo, in order to install the reinforcements that come with the large heat sinks. All in all it isn't a bad thing, as it gives more clearance around the heat sink.
  • 1 Hide
    RedJaron , March 20, 2014 11:22 AM
    Quote:
    Can we see some benchmarks on the Killer card vs other competitors? It feels like FUD to me.
    I'm inclined to agree as well.


    Quote:
    Very surprised you did not test the asrock extreme 6.
    I'd also rather have the Extreme6 than this, but usually the explanation is "Because the manufacturer didn't submit that model."


    Quote:
    Ok, so I'm just cracking up at the thought of a Kaveri APU build with 8 drives, dual graphics, and a big air cooler hanging off it - maybe it's just me, but it seems counter to the whole concept of the APU.
    I think this is more often the point of the APU as well. But I will grant that anyone can have a niche desire for a build. Take Felix's build. Slap an oversized cooler on a mainstream CPU, dial the fan speed down and you get yourself a near silent and competent daily driver for cheap.


    I usually go for ASRock products, but this particular model is hard to get behind. They pull the eSATA, half the SATA cables, and still keep limiting the 4-pin fan headers. PLEASE, Tom's, can you tell these manufacturers that all fan headers should be PWM?

    And I don't get the PCI connectors either. Sure, someone may still have one legacy PCI device, but two? Meanwhile the PCIe x1 slots almost always bracket the top x16 slot so the lower one is usually blocked off. Here's an idea: put one of the old PCI slots right below the top x16 slot. My guess is the people who still have PCI cards are also the ones who don't have dual-slot GPUs, and vice versa. That way people who don't use the PCI slot never have to worry about covering up something they may actually need in the future.
  • 0 Hide
    tourist , March 20, 2014 12:30 PM
    Quote:
    Quote:
    It is not pointless atx has more usb, pcie.and sata ports available. Atx boards are stronger and have better heat dissipation. I have seen many matx boards crack from big air coolers hanging inside of the case. Your preference is just that your preference.

    Ok, so I'm just cracking up at the thought of a Kaveri APU build with 8 drives, dual graphics, and a big air cooler hanging off it - maybe it's just me, but it seems counter to the whole concept of the APU.

    I mean, the ASRock FM2A88X-ITX board is quite capable. 6 SATA 6.0Gb/s, 1 mPCIE/mSATA, 32GB RAM, total of 4 USB 3.0 and 8 USB 2.0.

    But you're right, that is my preference/opinion....


    Glad i could give you a laugh, I myself like a good matx board when the build warrants the use of one. I know some big UATX fans also. My asrock extreme 6 has 3 pcie 16 and 2 x1 slots. 7 x SATA3, 1 x eSATA, 6 x USB 3.0 (2 Front, 4 Rear), 8 x USB 2.0. supports dual graphics and 3 way cross fire.
  • 1 Hide
    vertexx , March 20, 2014 12:53 PM
    Quote:

    Glad i could give you a laugh, I myself like a good matx board when the build warrants the use of one. I know some big UATX fans also. My asrock extreme 6 has 3 pcie 16 and 2 x1 slots. 7 x SATA3, 1 x eSATA, 6 x USB 3.0 (2 Front, 4 Rear), 8 x USB 2.0. supports dual graphics and 3 way cross fire.


    Don't get me wrong - I've got no problem with ATX or uATX form factors. I have a uATX under my desk as my 2nd office PC (a laptop for work & uATX desktop for gaming, ripping or whatever when I need a break). It's still running an AMD Phenom II X4 965 that I paid $75 for plus a new R9 280x. AMD just hasn't given a good enough incentive to upgrade from that point, and I'm frankly considering a switch-over to an I5 for that system. I'm reluctant to upgrade in the AM3+ path, and the FM2 platform just hasn't provided anything better than what I have now.

    I'm also pretty excited about Kaveri in general, but for the ITX form factor. Felix666 above has a pretty good use case for Kaveri on ATX. An I3 with a fanless R7-250 would be faster but ~$40 more expensive (assuming you would still need the same heat sink). Anyway - didn't mean to ruffle any feathers....
  • 0 Hide
    horaciopz , March 20, 2014 1:05 PM
    I just hope that in the mid term of this year or late of it, AMD refresh they line of FX 8 processors in the FM2+ package, a Kaveri 8 core of 95w tdp may yield respectable numbers and these boards seem to be able to run that kind of processors pretty good. But since there arent any rumors of refreshing FX lineup and the roadmap shows that Piledriver will last the whole 2014, the hope is gone... Darn!
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