Meet Socket FM2 Platform: Closer Look at Asus F2A85-V Pro
AMD presented the mainboard makers with a pretty tricky task. On the one hand, Socket FM2 mainboards should be quite feature-rich: the functionality of the new AMD A85X and the overclocking potential of the new Trinity processors clearly point at this. However, on the other hand, Socket FM2 processors are priced below $130, which makes it questionable whether there is real need for mainboards, which do not fall into the entry-level category and offer more than just basic functionality. Of course, different manufacturers will end up finding their own balance between manufacturing quality, functionality and low price, so we should see a great variety of Socket FM2 mainboard modifications.
While we were working on this review, we were offered multiple implementation of the new Virgo platform from various mainboard makers. But for our today’s tests we selected Asus F2A85-V Pro.
This mainboard is an excellent illustration of what I have just said above about the balance between functionality and price, because Asus F2A85-V Pro is the top Socket FM2 mainboard in the Asus line-up of products, but here we do not see anything excessive or extremely creative. The features of this product are rather reserved: there are hardly any additional controllers, and the voltage regulator circuitry and cooling system are not too complex.
Just take a look at the official mainboard specifications:
Well, the list is pretty modest. If you have an idea about the structure of Asus mainboard models, then you understand that F2A85-V Pro doesn’t even reach the “Pro” level compared with the Intel mainboards families. And there is a tremendous gap between the functionality of the Asus F2A85-V Pro and the top LGA 1155 mainboards from Deluxe or Premium series. Of course, all this results from the positioning of the Socket FM2 platform, which requires Asus F2A85-V Pro to cost no more than $120: a more expensive product would hardly become popular.
However, luckily, the hunt for lower price point didn’t affect the quality of this mainboard. From our experience with Asus F2A85-V Pro we can state that it is a well-built product, which made our testing of the new Socket FM2 go smooth and problem-free.
Moreover, with Asus F2A85-V Pro you can build a system as powerful, as the new AMD Trinity processors allow. The expansion capabilities are as good as they can get: Asus F2A85-V Pro even has three PCI Express x16 slots, which could be occupied by graphics cards: one, two or three. However, it is important to remember that the first (blue) slot only works as x16 if the white slot next to it remains empty. In CrossFireX configurations the first two slots will work as x8, and the third black slot always works as x4. Moreover, the PCI Express bus works only in 2.0 mode, but this isn’t Asus’ fault: for some reason AMD engineers didn’t implement PCI Express 3.0 controller in their new Trinity processors.
However, the focus of the Asus F2A85-V Pro design is not only on the discrete graphics accelerators. If you are planning to utilize the integrated graphics core of your processor in this mainboard, then check out its backpanel: you will simply love it. There you will find all four types of ports for connecting displays: analogue D-Sub, supporting up to 1920x1600@60Hz, Dual-Link DVI-D, HDMI, and high-speed Display Port supporting resolutions up to 4096x2160@60Hz. The only thing to keep in mind is that Trinity processors support only three simultaneously connected monitors, so you won’t be able to use DVI-D and HDMI outs together at the same time.
Among the definite advantages of the Asus F2A85-V Pro mainboard we should point out their proprietary digital design of the processor voltage regulator circuitry. It is capable of setting voltage for all APU units with highest precision, and on top of that can control the intensity of Vdroop under heavy operational load. Overall, the voltage regulator consists of six phases for the computing part of the APU and two phases for the graphics core. Of course, it doesn’t make the due impression against the background of multi-phase voltage regulators of the LGA 1155 mainboards. However, high-quality electronic components made the circuitry exceptionally efficient and prevented it from heating up a lot under heavy loads. Therefore, we have no complaints about the cooling system implemented on Asus F2A85-V Pro. Yes, it is very simplistic, and they used not very reliable plastic push-pins with springs to fasten the heatsinks, but it does do its job well.
The memory DIMM slots on Asus F2A85-V Pro are powered via special dual-phase voltage regulator, and the slots are connected to the processor socket using their proprietary T-topology design that equals the trace length and therefore data travel time in different channels. It provides better stability with high-frequency memory modules, which is important for Socket FM2 platforms, because the performance of the graphics integrated into the processor depends heavily on the DDR3 SDRAM speed.
We have always liked Asus mainboards for their attention to various details. The Asus F2A85-V Pro doesn’t have that many interesting peculiarities, but its overall layout definitely came out good. At least, we didn’t have any problems during system assembly. Yes, enthusiasts will miss the POST controller, convenient Power On, Reset and Clear CMOS buttons, and maybe even voltage control points for the manual voltage monitoring using a multimeter. All these features are common in expensive mainboards, and a Socket FM2 product cannot be one of them by mere definition. However, there was enough room on F2A85-V Pro for a different type of functionality: the board has a MemOK! button for fixing memory settings, DirectKey for automatic BIOS access and BIOS Flashback for automatic BIOS updating.
The graphics UEFI BIOS interface is completely flawless. It is typical of all Asus mainboards and therefore is multi-functional, well-optimized and very convenient to work with. This is what the basic section with the settings for the major system knots – processor and memory – looks like:
The users get so many settings and parameters to play with, that we can regard Asus F2A85-V Pro also as an overclocker product. You can adjust base clock frequency (with 1 MHz increment), as well as processor multipliers. If you have an unlocked CPU with “K” index in the model name, you will be able to configure multipliers for the processors computing cores, its unified North Bridge and graphics core. The memory, however, may be overclocked with any processor. The DDR3-800 through DDR3-2400 with 266 MHz increments are the available and fully operational memory modes.
You can also configure all memory timings. Moreover, the mainboard supports not only the pretty rare AMD Memory Profile, but also the widely spread Intel’s XMP profiles.
There are no limitations in the voltage department. The processor Vcore may be pushed as far up as 1.9 V. the memory DIMM voltage may also be raised to 2.1 V. It is also important that you can set the voltage below nominal values, too, as it allows using DDR3L memory modules or lower the power consumption and heat dissipation of the platform manually.
The board also offers great hardware monitoring options. It allows controlling two temperatures: general system temp and processor temp (and since the situation with the thermal sensors inside the AMD processors is still quite messed up, the board uses its one diode for that matter). It also controls the rotation speeds of all five fans that can be connected to it.
You can adjust the rotation speed of these fans in the BIOS, or by using the bundled software utilities. However, it is important to remember that the fans will only be adjustable if they use a four-pin power connector.