The second motherboard in today’s round-up with support for up to three PCIe x16 cards, Gigabyte’s F2A88X-UP4 combines an older ALC892 audio codec with a couple of extra front-panel USB 3.0 ports to attract buyers with different priorities. At $105, it’s also a little cheaper than the competing A88X-Pro.
Gigabyte scales its I/O panel down to a single eSATA port, but keeps the DisplayPort feature of its more expensive rival. This board also retains the outdated VGA connector, employs an eight-phase CPU power regulator, and includes a Port 80 diagnostics display. And that missing eSATA connector is instead found as an internal SATA port.
Up until this point, Gigabyte’s feature set appears on par with what Asus offers, and at slightly lower cost. But Gigabyte also attempts to boost value by adding two BIOSes, a firmware selector button, a power button to ease open-air testing, and a reset button for the same purpose.
Not all of the F2A88X-UP4’s features are available to all configurations, though. For example, the second front-panel USB 3.0 header is located beneath the bottom graphics card slot, and associated cables are too stiff to tuck under a graphics cooler. Populating one means losing the other. The seventh SATA connector could have similar issues, but only if your third graphics card is particularly long.
Furthermore, the bottom slot, wired up to four lanes, gets kicked down to x1 mode whenever a card is installed into the third PCIe x1 slot. We’re not sure why the firm didn’t share that interface with the middle PCIe x1 slot, or even eliminate the second x1 slot entirely and use its lane for the third slot, since any slot under the primary graphics card inevitably gets blocked by a heat sink and fan.
The front-panel audio header presents the only other installation difficulty; the cables of some cases are around half of an inch too short to reach the bottom-rear corner. We realize that most companies have placed this header there for years, but several chassis vendors continue shipping shorter leads. Many competing motherboard designs move their connectors forward slightly to compensate.
Imagining that your case has a long FP-Audio cable, that you don’t plan to use the seventh SATA header, you never plan to install a card into the third PCIe x1 slot, and you don’t have a second front-panel USB 3.0 breakout cable to install, the F2A88X-UP4 could be a great platform for dropping a trio of GPUs into for general-purpose computing. That's going to be an incredibly rare combination, though. If we instead treat the F2A88X-UP4 as a solution for up to two graphics cards, its layout similarly approaches perfection.
Gigabyte sets high standards for out-of-the-box SATA support, providing six internal cables for its seven-port F2A88X-UP4.
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.