Articles: Mainboards

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Testbed Configuration

We carried out our tests on a testbed that included the following components:

  • Asus F2A85-V PRO rev.1.03 mainboard (Socket FM2, AMD A85X, BIOS version 5109);
  • AMD A10-5800K CPU (3.8-4.2 GHz, 4 cores, AMD Radeon HD 7660D 800 MHz, 32 nm, 100 W, 0.825-1.475 V, FM2);
  • AMD Radeon HD 7660D integrated graphics (800 MHz, 384 ALU, 32 nm, DirectX 11);
  • 2 x 4 GB DDR3 SDRAM Corsair Vengeance CMZ16GX3M4X1866C9R (1866 MHz, 9-10-9-27 timings, 1.5 V voltage);
  • Crucial m4 SSD (CT256M4SSD2, 256 GB, SATA 6 Gbps);
  • Noctua NH-D14 CPU cooler;
  • ARCTIC MX-2 thermal interface;
  • Enermax NAXN ENM850EWT PSU;
  • Open testbed built using Antec Skeleton system case.

We used Microsoft Windows 8 Enterprise 64 bit (Microsoft Windows, Version 6.2, Build 9200) operating system, AMD Chipset Drivers version 12.10, AMD Catalyst graphics card driver version 12.10.

Operational and Overclocking Specifics

The assembly of an Asus F2A85-V PRO based testbed didn’t cause any problems. The first system boot also ran smoothly. Upon system boot the board displays a startup image, which, unfortunately, still doesn’t contain any hints about the list of available hot keys, unlike the products from other mainboard makers. For example, they could mention that F8 leads to a menu where you could select a boot-up device, while pressing the Tab key would hide the startup image altogether.

You can hide the startup image not only for the current system boot-up by pressing the Tab key, but also completely disable it with the help of the “Full Screen Logo” option in the BIOS itself. Although, this setting will not stick in the BIOS profiles. If you disable the startup image, the system will display the correct processor frequency, memory frequency and size, as well as information about the connected external devices and drives.

However, contemporary Asus mainboards start so quickly that you will hardly be able to register this information anyway. Fast boot-up and transition to OS loading is a definite advantage of any mainboard, but it becomes a shortcoming at the system configuration stage. It may become very annoying when you simply miss the right moment to press the Del key in order to access the BIOS Setup. Therefore, the above mentioned DirectKey button could receive a highly positive welcome on our part, had it not been for some of the unique peculiarities in the implementation of this feature.

The first time we came across a GO2BIOS button with similar functionality was during our MSI Z77 MPOWER mainboard review. Back then we simply mentioned the new button, because its functionality was quite straight-forward and obvious, so there was no read need in any additional comments. By pressing this GO2BIOS on the MSI mainboard leads you to the BIOS during next system boot-up or restart without any action on user’s part. You could press this button at any time: when the system is powered off, when you are in the BIOS or when the operating system has been loaded. The DirectKey button on Asus F2A85-V PRO mainboard works differently. It sort of duplicates the Power On/Off button by adding the automatic BIOS access feature. It is very convenient when you power on the system with this button and immediately access the BIOS, however, at the system configuration stage you usually require a system reboot, rather than power on. Imagine that you made some changes in the BIOS Setup, noticed some issues after the OS has been loaded and wish to go back into the BIOS to correct the settings. In case of an MSI board you would push the GO2BIOS button and enter the BIOS Setup automatically after the system reboots. In case of an Asus board you will push the DirectKey button, the system will power off. Then you power it back on and only after that you get redirected to the BIOS Setup. In other words, there is an additional step – powering the system off and on, which could be pretty inconvenient.

However, the mainboard functionality allows to avoid using DirectKey button at all and at the same time have no negative experience neither during system configuring nor during regular work. “POST Delay Time” parameter allows to delay the start by up to 10 seconds, so almost anyone can manage to hit the Del key within this time to access the BIOS. And those who need even more time could prohibit OS loading until the Ecs key has been pressed. This allows us to increase the startup delay to our liking for system configuring purposes and lower it to minimum afterwards in order to enjoy the almost momentary boot-up.

In our Gigabyte GA-F2A85X-UP4 review we pointed out that it provided the correct nominal mode, only the memory was working at the correct frequency of 1333 MHz, but instead of the 9-9-9-24 timings recorded in the modules SPD we saw 9-9-10-24. Strange as it might seem, but the same is true for Asus F2A85-V PRO mainboard as well. Actually, you can see in the BIOS that the board reads the modules SPD absolutely correctly, but for some reason sets slightly different timings. However, the differences are minimal and therefore not critical. It could be that both mainboards simply take into consideration some peculiarities of the memory controller in the AMD processors.

It looks like one of the mainboard’s most obvious and predictable, but not any less upsetting shortcomings uncovered during our test session is its inability to adjust the rotation speed of the processor fans with three-pin connectors. Our Noctua NH-D14 CPU cooler has two fans and both of them are three-pin fans. With Gigabyte mainboard we used an enclosed Y-splitter to connect the fans and enjoyed our system, which adjusted the fan rotation speeds on its own depending on the operational mode and load type. With Asus  mainboard we had to use a ZM-MC1 adapter that was left from one of the Zalman coolers to connect to the 5 V plugs and switching to full speed during system overclocking.

However, before we proceed with the discussion of our overclocking experiments, we would like to clarify a few things. In our Gigabyte GA-F2A85X-UP4 mainboard review we learned that increasing the graphics core frequency didn’t affect the system power consumption that much, but this negative effect was constant and could be observed even when the system stayed idle. At the same time we could even notice some performance drop in computing-intensive tasks, but most importantly the performance in graphics applications didn’t improve that much at all. Processor overclocking also didn’t help much in terms of improving the computing performance and proved practically completely useless for graphics applications and games. Moreover, it was the increase in the CPU frequency and higher voltages that triggered rapid increase in system power consumption. All this suggested that processor overclocking wasn’t such a good idea after all for both: computing as well as graphics cores. However, we did encourage everyone to increase the memory frequency. It had practically no effect on the power consumption, but could do a lot of good for almost any type of tasks, and would ensure a remarkable performance boost in games.

So, why do we go down the same path again and start overclocking the processor? The response is obvious: we need to run a standard check and tell you all we know about the peculiarities of this particular mainboard. Our story would be incomplete without the overclocking coverage, but most importantly overclocking allows us to test any mainboard in the most efficient and productive manner. If a mainboard works correctly during overclocking or in any other non-nominal mode, then we could be almost 100 % certain that in favorable conditions it will also be stable. Overclocking of all system components is not a goal, but merely a tool, an efficient way of checking out a mainboard. Please, do not take it as a call for immediate action. We still recommend to only increase the memory frequency in all Socket FM2 systems and not to overclock anything else.

As usual, Gigabyte mainboards do not have any tools for automatic overclocking in their BIOS, the manufacturer recommends using their proprietary Easy Tune 6 utility. Only if you enable Turbo CPB parameter in the BIOS, the processor clock frequency multiplier will always increase to the maximum value allowed for this model by the Turbo Core technology under heavy load. In our case it is 42x. As for Asus mainboards, their BIOS has a special OC Tuner parameter, which allows you to overclock the system automatically. After we rebooted the system, the graphics core frequency increased from 800 to 950 MHz and the CPU got overclocked to 4.3 GHz.

The disadvantages of this automatic overclocking are obvious. The processor and graphics core frequencies have been increased, but the memory frequency remained the same. In other words, this OC Tuner parameter does exactly the opposite:  it increases the settings that we do not recommend increasing at all, but doesn’t touch the one that we encourage to bump up. All power-saving technologies stay up and running and in idle mode the CPU clock speed will drop to 1.4 GHz and the Vcore will go down as well, which is undoubtedly a good thing. Too bad that Turbo Core technology doesn’t get disabled. In our previous review we saw that AMD A10-5800K processor could be considered excessively overclocked. It is simply unable to handle its original nominal frequencies. Turbo Core technology can increase its clock speed to 4.2 GHz only under very low operational loads, while under heavy loads the frequency drops even below the nominal value, to 3.4 GHz. So, it doesn’t really matter that the OC Tuner parameter increased the CPU clock frequency to 4.3 GHz, this number could be even higher, but under heavy load it will still drop anyway that is why we cannot declare the automatic overclocking on Asus F2A85-V PRO a success.

However, manual overclocking went smoothly in all respects. The mainboard’s specifications list AMD Memory Profile (AMP) support, but the mainboard still allowed us to use the settings from the Extreme Memory Profile (XMP) and even slightly adjust the timings afterwards. We managed to push the CPU clock speed to 4.5 GHz, while Turbo Core technology was disabled, so the frequency wouldn’t drop under heavy loads.

However, it will drop in idle mode, because all power-saving technologies remained intact. The processor Vcore would also be lowered in idle mode.

The graphics core frequency was boosted from 800 to 1086 MHz.

As a result, we ended up with the same exact overclocking results as with Gigabyte GA-F2A85X-UP4. Moreover, we have no concerns regarding the user-friendliness of the Asus F2A85-V PRO overclocking process, unlike Gigabyte mainboard, which doesn’t have the most convenient implementation of the graphics core frequency increase function. Its BIOS allows adjusting the frequency with 1 MHz increments, but the problem is that the clock frequency generator changes the frequency with a variable increment that is why we had to identify the most optimal frequencies by trial and error method. The GPU Boost parameter on the Asus mainboard offers us to choose from two preset overclocking profiles for the integrated graphics core, which can increase its frequency to 950 or 1013 MHz. If we decide on manual overclocking, the mainboard will offer us a frequency selection that will actually correspond to the graphics core overclocking pattern.

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