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ASUS A88XM-Plus: BIOS Interface

We tested Socket FM2 mainboards over a year ago and ASUS’s BIOS has changed considerably since then. The product unification goes beyond packaging and mainboard design. It covers BIOS capabilities, too. So the BIOS interface is almost the same as with LGA1150 products except for a few differences due to unique features of the Socket FM2+ platform. As before, the BIOS interface opens in the simplified EZ Mode by default. It provides basic system information and allows to do some initial setting-up. Pressing the F5 key loads standard settings. After setting up your fans and system date and time, you can apply XMP profiles to your memory modules and check out information about the connected storage devices. You can also specify the order of boot devices by simply moving them with your mouse. The F7 key is used to switch from EZ Mode to Advanced Mode whereas the F3 key lets you quickly go to any of the most frequently used BIOS sections.

You can switch from EZ to Advanced Mode or press F3 every time you enter the BIOS (by the way, this hot button works in the other BIOS sections as well), yet it may be easier to make the BIOS open in Advanced Mode by default. In this case, you will see the familiar Main section where you can read some basic system information, change the interface language and set up date and time. User and admin passwords can be specified in its Security subsection.

The Main section is not the first on the list, though. It is preceded by the new My Favorites section which helps collect frequently used BIOS options in one place. Empty by default, it only contains instructions on adding and removing options with your mouse and keyboard.

There are some limitations. You can’t add certain sections and subsections. The user manual says that even individual options which contain submenus can’t be added, but this limitation has already been removed. The list of options displayed upon your pressing the F3 key has no such limitations and you can edit it in the same way by removing and adding entries. So, you have to use both the My Favorites section and the quick access menu, which is not very convenient. Moreover, like other sections, My Favorites cannot be set as the start BIOS screen.

Most of the overclocking-related options are collected in the Ai Tweaker section. It contains an enormous number of adjustable parameters and you don’t even see all of them by default because they are set up by the mainboard automatically. You will find a lot of previously hidden options as soon as you get down to manual setting-up. You can set the Ai Overclock Tuner option at D.O.C.P. to automatically set up your memory subsystem parameters or at Manual. The EPU Power Saving Mode lets you choose from three levels of power savings.  To reduce power consumption at the expense of the processor’s performance, you can set the Target TDP at 45 to 65 watts. The GPU Boost option allows you to set the clock rate of the integrated graphics core manually or use one of the two predefined overclock modes (Turbo and Extreme). The OC Tuner option is necessary for automatic system overclocking.

You don’t have to move into the monitoring section to keep track of system voltages because they are shown right next to each BIOS option that lets you change a particular voltage. Voltages can be set higher or lower than the default level. There are quite a lot of options related to power supply and the digital power system called DIGI+. You can control ASUS’s exclusive power-saving technologies right here, in the BIOS. One of them allows changing the number of active phases in the CPU voltage regulator depending on load. Load Line Calibration for the CPU and the CPU-integrated North Bridge can now be not only enabled or disabled but also set to a certain level (it helps counteract the voltage drop occurring at high loads).

Some of the setup options are available in individual subsections in order not to clutter the main section. There is a separate page for memory timings with lots of options. Using the scrollbar, you can see all the timings set up by the mainboard for the two memory channels. You can adjust just some of them, leaving the others at their defaults.

The Ai Tweaker section ends here but we still haven’t found a group of very important settings that control CPU-related technologies. That’s a typical downside of many mainboards from many brands because all of them use AMI BIOS for their UEFI BIOS implementations. And AMI BIOS has a few questionable layout solutions.

The options of the Advanced section should be familiar to you and their names are self-descriptive. They let you set up the chipset and additional I/O controllers.

The CPU Configuration subsection reports you basic information about the CPU and allows to control important CPU-related technologies pertaining to power saving, performance, virtualization and security.

The Monitor section is where you can check out the current temperatures, voltages and fan speeds. You can select a speed regulation mode for any of the fans supported by the mainboard: Standard, Silent, Turbo or max speed. Or you can set them up manually, too. The two system fan connectors can regulate the speed of 3-pin fans but the CPU fan connector doesn’t support that.

System startup options can be found in the Boot section. It’s here that you can change the start mode from EZ to Advanced. While setting the mainboard up for the first time, you may want to disable the Fast Boot parameter to make it easier to enter the BIOS interface.

Next goes the Tools section with a couple of most important subsections plus a nearly useless one.

The integrated BIOS update tool called EZ Flash 2 is perhaps the handiest and most functional among the utilities of its kind. The support for NTFS partitions is only implemented in the BIOS update tools from ASUS and Intel as yet. Unfortunately, the option of saving the current BIOS prior to updating it has been removed altogether. ASUS mainboards allow you to store and load up to eight profiles with full BIOS settings. Each profile can be given a descriptive name. BIOS profiles can be shared by saving and loading them from external disks. The profiles do not save the option of turning the startup picture off.

Like on mainboards from many other brands, we can now see the information written into the memory modules' SPD unit, including XMP profiles. It is not handy that we find it in the Tools section because memory timings are adjusted in a different part of the BIOS interface.

In the center right of the screen, above the list of active hotkeys, there are two buttons: Quick Note and Last Modified.

The former lets you write down some notes for yourself and the latter shows a list of your last changes which is retained even after you reboot your computer. So you can always check out which BIOS changes you made the last time. You don’t even have to enter the BIOS interface for that as the Save to USB option lets you save that list on an external drive.

Similar to the Last Modified feature, the BIOS Setting Change popup window is also very handy, showing the list of changes to be applied. It provides an easy way to control your changes before actually applying them. This window also makes it easy to compare the current settings with what is written in the BIOS profiles. By loading a profile you will see its key differences from the current settings in the BIOS Setting Change window that opens up.

Summing it up, ASUS’s EFI BIOS only called for a correction of certain errors and the new version is indeed better than before. Some changes are not significant like the slightly enhanced functionality of the previously useless EZ Mode. Others are more important, like the new My Favorites section, the opportunity to write down notes and edit the list of frequently accessed BIOS options you can open up by pressing F3. The Last Modified feature will come in handy, too. The popup window BIOS Setting Change is also useful, showing a list of BIOS changes to be applied.

Some errors persist, though. For example, ASUS mainboards do not save your turning off the startup picture in BIOS profiles. Important power-related options would be more appropriate in the Ai Tweaker section - they are too hard to access currently. The My Favorite page has limitations about what options you can add to it and cannot be used as the start page. It is also sad that Socket FM2+ mainboards still cannot regulate 3-pin CPU fans.

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