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

Four Motherboards For AMD's Kaveri-Based APUs

Enthusiasts are a vocal bunch, and they're quick to point out when certain companies force obsolescence more frequently than others. A good example was when Intel switched from LGA 1156 to LGA 1155 for the sake of integration. The platform controller hubs themselves were interchangeable, and many of the folks shopping for upgrade parts couldn't fathom replacing an entire platform for the sake of a relatively-insignificant component.

Fans of AMD see their brand of choice a little differently, pointing out that the company has used the same processor interface over and over again. Minor alterations often allow previous-gen CPUs to drop into new platforms. By necessity, the reverse typically isn't true, though. AMD often leaves owners of older motherboards unable to upgrade their CPU. At least the motherboard makers are happy.

Not that we fault either company either way. Yes, we're quick to fire off criticism when a company kills a platform after just one generation. But we also understand that changes to power delivery, on-die functionality, and requisite pin-outs take precedence over forward or backward compatibility.

Our A88X block diagram looks familiar, as it should. The chipset claims a new XHCI version for improved peripheral compatibility and/or stability. Typically, changes that small would qualify as a new stepping of the previous product, rather than an update deserving of a new model designation.

Personally, I believe that the primary reason for the new chipset name is to assure builders that they’re getting PCIe 3.0-capable circuitry. Also, AMD's “new” socket is meant to prevent builders from accidentally putting Kaveri-based APUs into boards that haven't been updated to accept it.

Welcome to AMD’s version of Intel’s LGA 1156 to 1155 transition, with the usual AMD twist that you can at least upgrade your motherboard while using your old CPU, even if we don't expect a whole lot of that to happen.

Rather, Kaveri is the only reason we can think of for anyone who owns an A85X platform to take the A88X plunge. Fortunately, that's a pretty compelling justification to upgrade all on its own. AMD is hoping to leverage its work germinating the HSA Foundation, back software development of heterogeneous computing-aware applications, and ultimately demonstrate its GCN-based graphics hardware accelerating workloads beyond gaming. Some of our benchmarks already utilize AMD's shaders via OpenCL, and our hats are off to AMD for its role in advocating the use of whichever hardware resources yield the best overall experience. Hopefully, more developers follow suit.

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A88X ATX Motherboard Features
Row 0 - Cell 0 ASRock FM2A88X+ KillerAsus A88X-ProGigabyte F2A88X-UP4MSI A88X-G45 Gaming
PCB Revision1.
Voltage RegulatorSix phasesEight phasesEight phasesSix phases
BIOSP1.80 (02/20/2014)0904 (02/19/2014)F5c (02/06/2014)1.0 (01/23/2014)
100.0 MHz BCLK99.80 (-0.20%)99.98 (-0.02%)100.51 (+0.51%)100.48 (+0.48%)
I/O Panel Connectors
P/S 21111
USB 3.04446
USB 2.04222
CLR_CMOS Button1NoneNoneNone
Digital Audio OutOpticalOpticalOpticalOptical
Digital Audio InNoneNoneNoneNone
Analog Audio5566
Video OutVGA, DVI-D, HDMIDisplayPort, HDMI, VGA, DVI-DVGA, DVI-D, HDMI, DisplayPortVGA, DVI-D, HDMI, DisplayPort
Other DevicesNoneDual eSATA, USB BIOS FlashbackeSATANone
Internal Interfaces
PCIe 3.0 x161 (x16 link)2 (x16/x0 or x8/x8)2 (x16/x0 or x8/x8)2 (x16/x0 or x8/x8)
PCIe 2.0 x161 (x4 link)1 (x4 link)1 (x4 link)1 (x4 link)
PCIe 2.0 x1223 (1-shared w/slot above)3 (2 share 1-lane)
USB 3.01 (2-ports)1 (2-ports)2 (4-ports)1 (2-ports)
USB 2.03 (6-ports)4 (8-ports)4 (8-ports)3 (6-ports)
SATA 6.0 Gb/s8678
4-Pin Fan2533
3-Pin Fan4None12
S/PDIF I/ONoneOutput-onlyOutput-onlyNone
Internal ButtonsNoneMemOK, BIOS_FLBK, DirectKeyPower, Reset, CMOS selectorOC Genie, Power, Reset, CLR_CMOS
Internal SwitchNoneEPU, TPUNoneOC mode, Slow mode
Diagnostics PanelNoneNumericNumericNumeric
Other Devices3x PCI, Serial COM portSerial COM portSerial COM portSerial COM port
Mass Storage Controllers
Chipset SATA8 x SATA 6Gb/s6 x SATA 6Gb/s 2 x eSATA 6Gb/s7 x SATA 6Gb/s 1 x eSATA 6Gb/s8 x SATA 6Gb/s
Chipset RAID Modes0, 1, 5, 100, 1, 5, 100, 1, 5, 100, 1, 5, 10
Add-In SATANoneNoneNoneNone
USB 3.0ASM1042 PCIe (2-ports)ASM1042 PCIe (2-ports)VLI VL805 PCIe (4-ports)VLI VL805 PCIe (4-ports)
Primary LANKiller E2205 PCIeRTL8111GR PCIeRTL8111F PCIeKiller E2205 PCIe
Secondary LANNoneNoneNoneNone
HD Audio CodecALC1150ALC1150ALC892ALC1150
DDL/DTS ConnectDTS ConnectNoneNoneNone
WarrantyThree yearsThree yearsThree yearsThree years

All four major manufacturers are targeting the performance-mainstream market with full-sized A88X-based motherboards priced from $105 to $120, and the most expensive one includes a game certificate worth at least $20. Builders who value that title at full price will find a mere $15 separating the field. With pricing differences almost trivial, let’s take a look at what each of these boards can give us for roughly $112.

Thomas Soderstrom
Thomas Soderstrom is a Senior Staff Editor at Tom's Hardware US. He tests and reviews cases, cooling, memory and motherboards.
  • gadgety
    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.
  • blackmagnum
    On the other side of the fence... Haswell+ Maxwell= performance/watt/buck. You're welcome.
  • ta152h
    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.
  • ferooxidan
    "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.
  • almarcy
    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 :)
  • Someone Somewhere
    Can we see some benchmarks on the Killer card vs other competitors? It feels like FUD to me.
  • beerdette
    "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.
  • vertexx
    Is anyone actually going to buy an ATX Kaveri motherboard?
  • de5_Roy
    12925440 said:
    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.
  • vertexx
    12925643 said:
    12925440 said:
    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.