Articles: Mainboards

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Testbed Configuration

We performed all our tests on a testbed built with the following components:

  • MSI FM2-A85XA-G65, MS-7793 ver. 1.1 (Socket FM2, AMD A85X, BIOS version 1.6);
  • AMD A10-5800K processor (3.8-4.2 GHz, 4 cores, 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);
  • Gigabyte GV-T797OC-3GD (AMD Radeon HD 7970, Tahiti, 28 nm, 1000/5500 MHz, 384-bit GDDR5 3072 MB);
  • Kingston SSD Now V+ Series SSD (SNVP325-S2, 128 GB, SATA 3 Gbps);
  • Noctua NH-D14 CPU cooler;
  • ARCTIC MX-2 thermal interface;
  • Enhance EPS-1280GA 800 W 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 13.1, AMD Catalyst graphics card driver version 13.1.

Operational and Overclocking Specifics

Unlike MSI’s mainboards for Intel processors, the MSI FM2-A85XA-G65 doesn’t mention any hotkeys on its startup picture.

If you disable that picture, you will see a couple of hotkey prompts at the bottom of the screen. Besides that, the mainboard reports information about BIOS version, CPU frequency, system memory frequency and amount, and connected storage devices. The reported CPU clock rate may differ from the real one though, as we’ll see shortly.

Today’s mainboards start up very fast, so you don’t have much time to hit the key to enter their BIOS but we couldn’t find an onboard GO2BIOS button or a startup delay option in the BIOS. We didn’t have problems accessing the BIOS interface of the MSI FM2-A85XA-G65, though.

We found a number of reasons to criticize the ASRock FM2A85X Extreme6 in our previous review, but we also noted a lot of advantages such as the detailed help information on most of its BIOS options. That’s why we’ve become aware of a downside of the MSI Click BIOS II feature now: MSI mainboards don't offer any description of how it works. MSI Click BIOS II is not only the name of the mainboard's BIOS Setup but also a utility which duplicates BIOS settings and allows changing them from Windows. The utility offers descriptions for its parameters but they are not always correct. We doubt that an AMD processor can use Intel SVID Mode as shown in the screenshot. But while it’s easy to correct the description in the utility, the BIOS interface doesn’t even have a place to write it into.

As we know from our experience, MSI mainboards are okay at their default settings but act up as soon as you try to change any parameters. The MSI FM2-A85XA-G65 turned out to be unable to change memory frequency at first. We could apply an XMP profile or change the frequency manually and the BIOS saved everything and displayed the changes, but they didn’t come into effect the next time we rebooted the system. After trying various solutions in vain, we turned the mainboard off, reset its settings and found the ability to change memory frequency restored in a miraculous way.

All of the power-saving technologies are disabled by default in the ECO section. Of course, we tried to turn them on to check out their effect. The effect was paradoxical because the mainboard’s power consumption grew up with them! This could be observed at any load but especially when the CPU was idle. By the way, turning the ECO section options on or off also enables AMD Turbo Core Technology. Such subtle and inexplicable interrelations of BIOS options are a typical downside of MSI mainboards. It wouldn’t be unwise to check out if the mainboard has changed something without your knowing each time you adjust a setting.

Power-saving technologies that increase power consumption are a blatant flaw but we couldn’t find its cause. The mainboard lacks CPU Phase LEDs that would show the number of active power phases in the CPU voltage regulator, so we couldn’t monitor whether the exclusive power-saving modes were active or not. We installed the MSI Control Center utility for that purpose but it couldn't provide us with that information, either. The utility has changed since we last reviewed it, so we guess we should cover its functionality briefly here.

Its start screen reports information about the mainboard, CPU and memory. When you click More, you get more details about those components. In the bottom part of the window you can adjust multipliers, frequencies and voltages. Everything is exactly as it was but we can note a small arrow on the right. Clicking it opens up a new info panel with monitoring information.

The OC Genie tab reminds you that you can automatically overclock your system using the OC Genie technology. It is the third way to enable it, besides a hardware button and a BIOS option.

We looked for more information on the exclusive power-saving technologies in the Green Power section but only found an option to regulate one CPU and two system fans. We had no use for it because the mainboard couldn't regulate 3-pin CPU fans.

The Record section is new for us. You can select parameters you’re interested in and watch them change over time in a chart. You can specify thresholds in the bottom of the window so that the utility warned you each time a parameter goes out of the specified range.

Another new section is Mobile Control. You can use it to control your computer from a smartphone. To enable this feature, you should install an appropriate app on your mobile gadget and add Wi-Fi to your computer.

The control elements in the top right corner of the program window allow you to view its version, minimize or close it, or leave a small window with information about the current clock rates (CPU and integrated graphics core) and CPU temperature.

We had MSI Control Center and MSI Click BIOS II installed concurrently. It was handy to switch between them by clicking the icon in the top right corner. Unfortunately, the MSI software leaves a lot of junk in the system after you uninstall it.

MSI Control Center helped us recall that the OC Genie technology could be used to overclock the computer (by using the utility, pressing a hardware button on the mainboard or choosing a corresponding BIOS option). We tried this feature but were not impressed with its result. The base clock rate grew to 105 MHz and the CPU multiplier was increased to x39, so the CPU worked at 4085 MHz. The memory and graphics core frequencies were also increased a little while the power-saving technologies were turned off.

Well, automatic overclocking features can’t really match manual overclocking when you can choose the most optimal values for each parameter, but MSI mainboards don’t make it easy. As opposed to mainboards from other brands, they cannot increase CPU voltage in Offset mode by adding a certain value to the default level, therefore you can’t avoid turning power-saving technologies off when overclocking the CPU. You have to fix the voltage at a constant level, which disables the technologies that lower it at low loads. Well, CPUs with an unlocked multiplier can be overclocked without changing their voltage, even though to a lower clock rate. In this case, we’ll be able to keep the power-saving technologies up and running.

We disabled AMD Turbo Core in the mainboard’s BIOS, raised the CPU multiplier to x43, and had an odd thing happening to us. When the OS booted up, the CPU multiplier was not higher than x38. So, the Turbo Core technology had been turned off but the multiplier hadn't been increased. Oddly too, Turbo Core would turn on and the CPU would return to its default settings after the next reboot. The mainboard didn’t drop the clock rate due to CPU overload because the CPU voltage had been left intact. When the startup picture was turned off, the mainboard displayed the same CPU multiplier as we had set up in its BIOS, but the multiplier was x38 after the OS was booted up. We then tried to lower the multiplier or increase voltage, but the mainboard behaved in the same way.

Recalling that we had had problems changing the memory frequency, we just shut down our system, reset the mainboard and found it to regain the ability to change the CPU multiplier. It’s hard to tell what exactly makes the mainboard’s BIOS behave like that. Every time we tried to change anything in its multipliers of frequencies, we did so starting from its default settings.

Anyway, the CPU was found capable of working at 4.1 GHz at its default voltage. That's not high enough to check out the mainboard's capabilities and compare it with other models, so we had to increase the voltage to achieve the same results as with the other mainboards. The graphics core was overclocked to 1086 MHz, the CPU to 4.5 GHz and the system memory to 1867 MHz (with adjusted timings).

Everything is like with the ASUS and Gigabyte, but the power-saving technologies were disabled on the overclocked MSI FM2-A85XA-G65. The CPU multiplier would be dropped at low loads but the voltage would remain at the same high level.

Summing up this part of our review, we want to make it clear that we do not recommend overclocking Socket FM2 CPUs period. As we explained in our review of the Gigabyte GA-F2A85X-UP4 mainboard, raising the clock rate of the integrated GPU doesn't increase the system power consumption much, yet this increase is permanent and sticks in the idle mode. This overclocking may lead to a performance reduction in computing tasks, and there are no significant benefits in terms of 3D graphics performance. Overclocking the CPU itself doesn’t improve performance much in computing tasks, either, and is useless for 3D applications and games, but the higher clock rate and voltage result in an exceedingly high power consumption of the overclocked system. Therefore we recommend avoiding to overclock the CPU, both - its x86 and graphics cores, but do recommend to increase the memory clock rate. This won’t affect the computer power draw but will have a positive effect on performance in every type of applications, especially in games.

We only overclock all system components in our tests because we want to check out every capability of the reviewed mainboard. Our report wouldn’t be complete without information about overclockability. Moreover, overclocking helps to test a mainboard efficiently. If it works without any problems with nonstandard settings, we can guarantee that it's going to ensure stable and problem-free operation for a long time in the nominal mode. Overclocking all components is not a goal but a means to test a mainboard comprehensively. So again, we recommend you to only overclock system memory on Socket FM2 platforms and leave the other clock rates at their nominal values.

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