ECS A85F2-A Golden Reviewformerstaff - February 12, 2013
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ECS A85F2-A Golden Closer Look:
The A85F2-A Golden is a two tone affair of black and gold only. The PCB is genuinely black and not the dark brown some of the "black" boards have adopted. This is good news for anyone who wants to light it up with a side window. I was expecting the gold plated capacitors, inductors, and heat sinks (anodized) to look a bit more overpowering than they do, however the gold accents around the board turned out to be a very nice accoutrement to the backdrop of the black PCB.
The FM2 socket is the updated generation to last year's FM1 Llano APU series. While this generation replaces those, 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 A85X or Hudson D4 Fusion Control Hub (FCH) is the top of the food chain for the FM2/Vishera based APUs. The A85X is the big brother to the A55 and A75 FM2 chipsets that boast less features. If this platform tickles your fancy and you are looking to save money, beware that the FM1 APUs also have an A75 chipset that is not compatible with the FM2 Vishera based APUs.
The ECS A85F2-A Golden is a standard ATX form factor measuring 12" x 8.66". On the back of the board there is the standard stamped steel backplate for securing and reinforcing an aftermarket heat sink. Like the other A85X boards we have looked at so far, the ECS Golden is wrought with features we will have a look at, starting now.
The back panel connectivity is loaded for a motherboard of this range. You have two USB 2.0 ports, four USB 3.0 ports, one eSATA 6Gb/s port, one D-sub (VGA) port, one DVI port, one HDMI port, one DisplayPort, one RJ45 LAN connector, six audio jacks (one Line in, three Line out, one microphone, and one optical out), and lastly one Clear_CMOS button. One of the great and unique features is in the four video outs (DVI, VGA, HDMI, and Display Port) that ECS has dubbed '4most Disply'. From these you can run three monitors in Eyefinity from the motherboard and on-die graphics of the A-Series APU. A truly great feature for low cost gaming and productivity.
On the other side you have the discrete option, from a single AMD video card to dual, triple, or even quad-Crossfire. It's one of the great features that makes the A-Series and the A85X D4 Hudson Fusion Controller Hub such a versatile machine. The two full length PCIe slots are mechanically x16 2.0. When running Crossfire the second slot runs electrically at x8 2.0. They are triple spaced, which aids in cooling a dual card Crossfire setup, or for the use of one of the many triple slot video cards with the monster coolers. In between there are a pair of PCIe x1 slots for the latest audio cards, and at the bottom a pair of legacy PCI slots for any older drives/devices you may migrate from a previous build. The layout is common to all of the A85X boards I have seen thus far and is very well thought out. If you decide to go with two discrete VGAs you can still place an audio card between them (save the use of the aforementioned triple slot video cards).
Starting along the bottom of the board is where the majority of the front panel connectivity is located. From left to right is the front panel audio header, the COM onboard serial port header, the S/PDIF out, and the speaker header. To the right are a pair of fan headers for system fan and power cooling. The 20-pin front panel USB 3.0 connector is next followed by a pair of USB 2.0 headers surrounding the onboard clear CMOS jumper pin.On the far right bottom is another USB 2.0 header supporting the EZ Charger feature of the ECS A85F2-A Golden.
Surrounded by gold plated solid capacitors, hyper alloy chokes, and golden anodized heatsinks we find the seven SATA 6Gb/s ports (plus one eSATA) all supported by the AMD A85X FCH and capable of RAID0, RAID1, RAID5, and RAID 10 configurations. They are arranged in such a way as to not cause any interference problems should you decide to take full advantage of the graphic interfaces and fill it up. To the left arranged vertically up the right side are the front panel switch, LED, and reset header. To the right is the 24-pin ATX main board power connector. Up the right a bit farther we come to the four, dual channel 240-pin DDR3 memory slots. While the native support for the memory is 1866MHz, ECS boasts support for up to 2600MHz overclocked RAM. The A85F2-A Golden supports 64GB of system dual channel memory when 16GB modules are fully available and support speeds of 1333/1600/1866/2133(OC)/2400(OC)/2600(OC). Those DIMMs in the bottom pictuire all have a 15 micron golden plating on the 240 contact points for greater transfer. Not only is the gold plating thicker, but it also creates additional contact area on the pin contact points.
Up to the top of the board we find another fan header and the CPU 8-pin power connector, and of course more gold bathed components that are treated to be even more oxidation resistant. I will get into this in depth in a moment. In the center of all this is the familiar FM2 socket with the rectangle cutout in the center and the lever actuated tension plate.
If you hold the retail packaging at the right angle in a room with a 60 watt bulb you can be temporarily blinded. The extensive dual flapped and windowed box is completely covered in literature extolling the virtues of the value of gold, both electronically and aesthetically. In short, the 'Golden' aspect is a huge feature of the A85F2-A Golden. ECS is betting that you are going to like to have a bit of bling on the other side of the window in your case. I have to say, what I first thought was going to be on the gaudy side is actually tastefully done. ECS pulled the golden touches back so the gold plating becomes an accoutrement rather than a blinding distraction. The chokes here are all what ECS is calling 'Hyper alloy'; basically it is a very high grade of metal that goes into the fabrication of the choke. The usual Ferrite iron core is replaced by what ECS claims is a much more efficient alloy core that provides everything from better EMS filtering to lower temperatures to the ability to conduct more energy; ostensibly for more stable and higher overclocking. What I have not been able to ferret out is if this Hyper Alloy involves the core only or the core and wire winding.
Set against a very nice high gloss jet black PCB, the gold plated chokes/inductors, I/O enclosures, and anodized heat sinks reflect each other adding a very polished look to the board. The tops of the inductors have a deliberately rough surface that is gold plated and produces a rather cool effect. When viewing them from off center, they take on a black shadow appearance that appears and disappears depending on your vantage point. ECS has plated most of the critical contact points on the A85F2-A. So besides gaining the distinctive look from all this Au plating, you also get the benefit of gold being one of the most conductive (both electrically and thermally) of the practical metals for superior heat dissipation and electrical transfer.
If you look closely you can count out the 4+1 power phase delivery; four phases for the CPU and one phase for the system memory. I am wondering how much of a factor this lower phase design will effect overclocking, if at all, compared to boards with the higher 6+2/8+2/8+2+2 phasing. The lower phased boards are not as worrisome to the overclocker as they were a couple years ago due to capacitor and MOSFET advancement in design and materials. I must admit though, putting the screws to a board with less than six phases still provokes a visceral pang about blowing things up.
The ECS Golden certainly has looks and high quality components going for it. Let's have a look at the BIOS and utilities and see what the software brings to the A85X lineup.