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ASUS A88XM-Plus: Working in Default and Overclocked Mode

We had no difficulty assembling our test configuration with the ASUS A88XM-Plus. We launched the mainboard successfully and updated its firmware using the BIOS-integrated ASUS EZ Flash 2 utility. The mainboard worked without serious problems yet there were quite a few minor downsides.

As is typical of ASUS mainboards, the startup picture only mentions that you can press Del or F2 to enter the BIOS interface. ASUS persists in not telling us anything about the other active hotkeys. For example, you can press F8 to open a menu for choosing an out-of-order boot device but you can only learn about that from the user manual.

You can disable the startup picture with the Tab key (temporarily) or in the BIOS (permanently), but you won’t see any prompts, either. What you will see is information about the mainboard’s model name, BIOS version, CPU model, the amount and frequency of system memory, the number and type of USB devices, and about the connected storage devices. The real processor clock rate is not reported, though. Our AMD A10-7850K processor has a base clock rate of 3700 MHz but it is going to go up to 4 GHz without any overclocking due to the Turbo Core technology.

Modern mainboards start up very fast and this may even present a problem for users of ASUS mainboards. It is only during the first launch that the mainboard lets you enter its BIOS easily. After that, the startup procedure gets so fast that you can hardly have any time to hit the required key. With some ASUS mainboards you can use a dedicated DirectKey for that purpose, but it's not convenient. Instead of rebooting and entering the BIOS, it shuts the computer down first. Then you have to power it up again and find yourself in the BIOS. The problem is the A88XM-Plus has no such DirectKey. You can use the ASUS Boot Setting utility instead. Its functionality is okay, but you have to install it first. Moreover, it only runs under Microsoft Windows. So when you’re setting up your mainboard after purchasing it, you may want to disable the Fast Boot option in the Boot section, which is turned on by default.

We had no other problems with the A88XM-Plus at its default settings. It is only when we tried to overclock it that we had some troubles. First of all, our configuration turned out to be unstable when we applied the XMP profiles to our memory modules. The memory clock rate and timings were changed according to the profile data but the computer couldn’t pass our tests. We easily corrected this by slightly increasing the North Bridge voltage, yet we hadn't seen such a problem with any other mainboard. By the way, the BIOS screenshots show that the mainboard sets its memory voltage at 1.6 volts by default although the standard level for DDR3 SDRAM is 1.5 volts. We wonder if this is done on purpose, meaning that the mainboard is indeed unstable with memory and needs to use an increased voltage even at default settings. It may be just an accidental error in the settings, though.

Being unstable at increased memory and processor clock rates, the mainboard would issue BSODs or hang up, and we found it hard to quickly correct its parameters. The mainboard would just refuse to reboot because it couldn't recognize our boot drive. The Crucial m4 SSD would get identified again after a few minutes of being idle, but sometimes we had to wait for hours. Fortunately, we found the 070H firmware update at the Crucial website which resolved the mentioned issue. The update had been actually released over a year ago. We just didn't know about it because we had never had such problems with that SSD.

Well, we did have one problem with it. And that was during our last-year tests of the AMD Socket FM2 platform: the Crucial m4 would disconnect then in the same manner, too. It must be the drive's fault which is cured by the firmware update, yet it's odd that it worked normally for years with various LGA2011 and LGA1155 mainboards and only malfunctioned with AMD's Socket FM2 and FM2+ ones. It makes us suspicious about AMD’s chipsets, really.

The memory and SSD related issues successfully solved, we quickly moved on with our overclocking experiments. The OC Tuner option in the mainboard’s BIOS lets you overclock automatically to 4.1 GHz for the processor and 900 MHz for the integrated graphics core. These are not the best results possible and the memory clock rate isn’t increased at all although it should ensure a strong effect on performance without a significant increase in power consumption.

When we overclocked manually, our AMD A10-7850K processor could work at 4.2 GHz (boosted to 4.4 GHz) without our increasing its voltage. The GPU Boost option lets you overclock the integrated graphics core automatically. If you set it at Turbo Mode, the resulting clock rate will be 900 MHz (and the North Bridge voltage will be stepped up by 0.1 volts). And if you choose Extreme Mode, the graphics core will be clocked at 960 MHz and the North Bridge voltage will be increased by 0.15 volts. Instead of using GPU Boost, we manually set the clock rate at 960 MHz and the voltage at 0.1 volts. That was also enough to clock system memory at 2133 MHz.

Two points should be noted about the animated picture above. First of all, it is the North Bridge frequency. At the default settings it is lowered to 1400 MHz at low loads and goes up to 1800 MHz at high loads. It should be the same in the overclocked mode, yet we mostly saw it working at 1400 MHz, both at low and high loads. The North Bridge only worked at 1800 MHz occasionally when transitioning from high to low loads or vice versa. Although this parameter doesn't have a strong effect on overall computer performance, such small factors may sum up to a high total, so the developers should do something about that.

And the second problem is about the integrated graphics core’s clock rate. By default, it is 720 MHz at high loads and 350 MHz in idle mode. This power-saving trick ceases to work at overclocking, so the clock rate remains constant at 960 MHz. The graphics core's voltage is constant in this case, too. We'll see the negative effect of this issue in our power consumption tests, but now let's move on to the Gigabyte.

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