ASUS F2A85-V PRO Motherboard Reviewformerstaff - November 28, 2012
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The F2A85-V PRO is a good looking black (actually black) ATX form factor measuring a standard 12 inch x 9.6 inch ( 30.5 cm x 24.4 cm ). The A85-V is a top of the line board built around the AMD A85X chipset or FCH Hudson D4 'Fusion Control Hub' as AMD is calling it. The board is FM2 socketed for the second generation AMD APUs. While this generation replaces the FM1 'Llano' APUs, the Trinity FM2 A Series APUs are not backwards compatible with the FM1 APUs. This breaks a tradition of AMD sockets being compatible for more than one generation, however the first generation Athlon based APUs are of a completely different architecture than the 'Piledriver'and GCN based Trinity APUs.
The board is a four tone affair using the familiar 'cornflower' blue, with a deeper blue and various white and black ports and slots rounding out the color scheme. The board is littered with the usual high quality components such as Japanese solid capacitors. The heat sink arrangement is in three parts on the A85-V PRO with the larger two being connected via heat pipe. While still prominent, one of the first things I noticed was how small the VRM heatsink was on a board that has such high-end overclocking features, but more on that in a bit. The back of the board reveals the usual sturdy metal backing plate for APU heat sink attachment and the business end of the push-pin type holds for the heatsink array. ASUS seems to have bumped the font size on this board with large white lettering prominently spelling out the features at various locations around the PCB. Features we will go around the board and have a look at starting now.
Taking a look at the connectivity of the back I/O panel you get the first clue regarding the versatility and upgrade ability of this platform. From right to left you get one PS/2 keyboard/mouse combo port, one DVI-D port, one D-Sub port, one DisplayPort, one HDMI poty, one eSATA, one Ethernet port using the Realtek 8111F controller, four USB 3.0 (blue), and two USB 2.0, with the A85X Hudson D4 chipset controlling two of the USB 3.0 and two of the 2.0 USB ports. The ASMedia 3.0 controller operates the other two rear USB 3.0 ports. Rounding it out are one Optical S/PDIF out and six audio jacks supporting the Realtek® ALC892 8-Channel High Definition Audio CODEC.
Among that list is four display connections. You can use a combination of any three to run triple display Eyefinity from the motherboard and the graphics provided by the APU. Further down the back of the V-PRO there are a wealth of graphics options to be had. You can load it up now, or you can grow into them as your computing needs change. There are one PCIe x1 2.0 slots, two legacy PCI slots, and three PCIe 2.0 x 16 'Q'-Slots that run as an x16 when a single card is used, x8/x8 when two single GPU cards in Crossfire are used or Quad Crossfire with two dual GPU cards. There is also a third full length PCIe 'Q'-Slot that runs at x4 mode making triple card Crossfire possible. The 'Q'-Slot is the proprietary PCIe slot locking system. It is basically a fishtail shaped lock that pushes open and pulls closed rather than the flexible plastic or spring-loaded type. The third graphics option is that you can purchase an HD 6570 or HD 6670 and engage AMD 'Dual Graphics' that automatically combines the on-die graphics with the discrete graphics to boost your GPU horsepower. Placed around the board are a total of five fan connectors; one CPU and four chassis.
Along the bottom of the board is where most of the front panel and internal connectivity is located. The SPDIF out on top of the front panel audio connector and next to that is the first of four USB 2.0 10-pin connectors. In the next image to the right of the last (blue) USB is the TPU switch, a feature that automatically optimizes your GPU for faster and stable speeds. Above the TPU is the 'Direct Key' button, which allows you to enter the BIOS/setup at anytime without a restart and delete key. The Direct Key can also be accessed without opening the case or getting to the motherboard by plugging in your two-pin front panel reset leads to the Direct Key leads. When you use the reset button, it will restart and take you directly to the BIOS. To the right is the standby Power LED light, and atop the LED is the Clear CMOS jumper.
On the far right edge of the board is the front panel power and reset connection. Above this is a nifty feature called BIOS Flashback. Using only standby power you can update or re-flash your BIOS with a flash drive containing the BIOS version you wish to update to. Upon inserting the flash memory, you just press the BIOS Flashback button, hold it for three seconds, and the BIOS will be automatically updated. BIOS Flashback can even update the BIOS without a CPU or memory installed. The BIOS chip sits just below and center the 'SB' heatsink, and is a removable design on the PRO.
Along the right side of the board we have the SATA connectivity via seven of the eight SATA ports. The eighth is in the form of the eSATA port on the back I/O panel. The eight ports are controlled by the A85X-Hudson D4 controller. They are nicely located with no interference issues and one placed vertically at the upper end of the stack. They are all SATA 6Gb/s and support support RAID 0, 1, 5, 10, and JBOD. Up top on the right are the four dual-channel DIMMs that have two digitally controlled power phases dedicated to them. ASUS has integrated 'T-Topology' replacing the standard daisy chain DIMMs. The distance between DIMM 0 and DIMM 1 are of equal distance removing latency discrepancies.
ASUS says that in experimental testing an additional 15% of DRAM overclocking can be expected as a result of T-Topology and the DRAM frequency not being capped by the CPU itself under full load. The A85X chipset natively supports 1866MHz memory speeds and up to 2400MHz overclocked. The board/controller has been made ready for 16GB modules and 64GB of total memory when such sticks are made available and come to market. Below the DIMMs are the 24-pin ATX power connector, a 20-pin USB 3.0 connector, and the ASUS 'Mem-OK' button. The Mem-OK button will patch any memory compatibility issues that you run into and allow your machine to post. I have actually used the Mem-OK feature in the past and it works, I am not sure how, but it does.
Up top we find the 8-pin CPU power connector and the EPU switch. The EPU switch is your 'Green' switch to maximize electrical efficiency throughout the system. It can be enabled or disabled with the motherboard switch and adjusted from within the BIOS to the extent you wish to trade performance for energy savings.
Moving toward the center we get a look at the FM2 socket for the A series. The A85-V PRO is equipped with Digi+Power Control using a 6+2 phase power design. The Digi+Power features 'Dual Intelligent Processors' for the APU and the DRAM by changing the switching frequencies as the VRM, APU, and DRAM tuning occurs. Also implemented with the digital power delivery is VRM EMI reduction. This reduces electromagnetic interference to surrounding components. The result is much more precise voltage to the components as the power delivery profile changes and the overclocking changes are made. ASUS gives you complete control of this aspect in the BIOS where you can choose between 10% to 30% more capacitance to the memory, CPU, CPU/NB, and DRAM.
Topping off all of this digitally controlled 12" x 9.6" board are electric blue heat sinks. I mentioned that they surprised me a bit when I saw how small they were on a board with such overclocking prowess and features. They are small because they can be. The digital power control and all of the adjustable VRM switching frequencies apparently translates into a cooler running VRM and Northbridge. The smaller heat pipe-connected heat sinks stayed cool throughout testing and overclocking. The only objection I have is that they use push-pins to anchor the heat sinks to the PCB. This is usually not a problem unless you bump them and they lift up and rock to one side. The seal of the thermal pad/TIM gets broken and can cause problems.
There is the trip around the hardware. Let's have a look at how ASUS turns over the reigns to the new user as well as the advanced overclocker.