We don't give out awards for concise and easy-to-remember names, but we certainly appreciate Asus’ effort to keep nomenclature simple. Big on features, the A88X-Pro adds DisplayPort, eSATA, a Port 80 diagnostics display, USB BIOS Flashback, and a larger CPU voltage regulator for around $5 compared to ASRock's competing platform.
That’s a pretty long feature list for such a small bump up in price, but realistically, the added cost for some new functionality is low. The eSATA ports, for example, come from the A88X FCH's SATA 6Gb/s controller, and they only benefit builders who need no more than six internal 6 Gb/s connectors.
The A88X-Pro’s Realtek-supplied GbE controller is cheaper than the Qualcomm Atheros Killer E2205 on ASRock's platform, but Asus' feature advantage doesn't stop with the already-mentioned list. Enthusiasts who want to add multiple graphics cards will find that the A88X-Pro has three PCIe x16 slots, including the four-lane slot exposed by ASRock. The middle interface on this particular board is fed by eight lanes from the top slot, via four dual-lane PCIe switches.
Only one of the PCIe x1 slots will be available to power users adding discrete graphics on top of AMD's integrated Radeon engine, since the dual-slot coolers found on most performance-oriented cards block the second x1 link. On the other hand, if you go the three-card route, you'll still have access to a legacy PCI slot in the middle of the board, in addition to the top x1 slot. Mainstream APUs and multi-card graphics arrays are far from balanced in a gaming machine, but they could be a realistic option for anyone who needs a lot of compute potential for, say, a cryptocurrency mining rig.
The A88X-Pro’s layout is nearly perfect for every case I’ve tested, owing to the USB 3.0 header mounted above card slots and front-panel audio header slid around an inch forward from its traditional bottom-rear corner. That last part remains unbelievably important, since we’re still finding new cases with FP-Audio cables around half of an inch too short.
Without any good reason to criticize this layout, I can still point to Asus’ non-standard front-panel I/O header as the reason why case manufacturers haven’t been able to unify that bundle of leads.
Asus’ A88X-Pro includes four SATA cables, or twice as many found in ASRock's bundle. We also find a couple of header extensions, which can be used to bundle loose front-panel cable ends together prior to connecting the board. These wouldn't be necessary if everyone used the same layout, but they're still handy in today's non-unified world.