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Which A88X-Based Board Should You Buy For Your Kaveri APU?

MSI A88X-G45 Gaming

An Assassin’s Creed Liberation HD registration key (worth $20 on Steam) and a Killer E2200 GbE controller add relevance to the Gaming Limited Edition label of MSI’s A88X-G45. The motherboard also exercises AMD’s triple graphics card option by splitting sixteen PCIe 3.0-capable lanes across two of its three x16-length slots (when a second card is added), and even bolsters rear-panel USB 3.0 to six ports through a third-party controller.

Add an OC switch for two levels of automatic overclocking via the OC Genie button, a Slow Mode switch to underclock (which can help with booting if you're using LN2), and you’ll begin to wonder what’s missing from the A88X-G45 Gaming. Power, reset, and CLR_CMOS buttons are still there, just in case you’re trying to run this motherboard outside of a case. A Port 80 diagnostics display is present for diagnosing an overclocking-incurred lock-up. And though the board has no eSATA connectivity, all eight of the chipset's ports are exposed internally. Even the eight-channel audio codec is the modern, ALC1150 version.

The $120 A88X-G45 Gaming does cost a little more than its rivals, but enthusiasts who want the free game will note that the included code more than offsets the price difference. MSI’s six-phase voltage regulator is the only specification that comes up a little short of Asus and Gigabyte, but we could have a tough time stressing even six phases with AMD’s mainstream Kaveri-based APU family.

Judging specifications alone, the A88X-G45 Gaming appears to be a top value. But only testing reveals whether the board can keep up with its competition.

And then there’s the matter of layout: MSI claims perfect slot spacing on its A88X-G45 Gaming webpage, but the image that shows three cards at triple-slot spacing is fictitious. A look at the board proves that the second and third x16 slots are double-slot spaced. In and of itself, that shouldn't be a problem for most cards, aside from the location of MSI's USB 3.0 header. Located beneath the bottom x16-length slot, the front-panel USB 3.0 header can’t be used in conjunction with any dual-slot card. Even some single-slot GPU coolers will get in the way, since the cables that plug here tend to be extra-stiff. Gigabyte has the same issue with its second USB 3.0 front-panel header. But at least the F2A88X-UP4 has a primary header in an easy-access location.

MSI beats Gigabyte's platform with PCIe x1 support. On the A88X-G45 Gaming, lane sharing occurs between x1 slots two and three, rather than sharing between the third x1 and third x16 slot. In other words, it is possible to use three dual-slot graphics cards at x8-x8-x4 mode, plus two PCIe x1 cards, simultaneously.

If we pretend that front-panel USB 3.0 doesn’t matter, the A88X-G45 Gaming appears a top competitor. But if we acknowledge that front-panel USB 3.0 is important to many builders, we need to treat the board as if it only supports two double-slot cards.

The A88X-G45 Gaming Limited Edition motherboard includes four SATA cables, documentation, and a certificate for the game titled on its box.

Thomas Soderstrom is a Senior Staff Editor at Tom's Hardware US. He tests and reviews cases, cooling, memory and motherboards.